OP/ED Op-Eds: The Best of Fall 2021

Hey kids! Remember this feature? In my latest attempt to semi-regularly resurrect some of the semi-regular features we used to run in the past, it’s long due time to talk about the best anime music of this season again. Last time I did one of these, I lamented the fact that anime music seemed to be going the way of K-pop and becoming legitimately mainstream, but now, two years later, we’re not quite that far gone just yet. The pandemic has a lot of odd things to our culture, but it looks like there are some lines not even our depraved abomination of a species will cross. Anyway, did you know we have someone on staff now whose actual, literal job is making people listen to anime music? In this economy? If that’s not a legitimate reason to bring this feature back, I don’t know anymore. Let’s do Peter’s job for them and select the cream of this season’s crop!

“unified perspective” by agraph ft. ANI (The Heike Story)

I’ve thought up about a good dozen different angles from which to consider this song, but all of them essentially boil down to an extended reference to Radiohead’s turn-of-the-century masterpiece, Kid A. Disillusioned by fame after becoming one of the biggest music acts in the world with their melancholy, sophisticated take on anthemic rock, the band took the proverbial axe to their career by trading in their guitars for eldritch electronics, deconstructing traditional song structures and writing their lyrics by randomly drawing disturbing phrases from a hat. Their label deemed the resulting collection of songs “commercial suicide”. Nevertheless, Kid A became another success, despite being generally considered to contain some of the most heart-wrenching, unnerving and terrifying music of all time.

I can’t imagine a world in which The Heike Story composer Kensuke Ushio — credited for this ending theme by his stage name agraph — didn’t listen to Kid A when envisioning what the downfall and systematic decimation of the Taira clan should sound like. The wailing echoes in the background, the chilling, unfeeling synths, the crackling beats, the distorted, distant chimes ushering in that unforgettable, jarring shift into a deliberately antimelodic unraveling of sound — they all make me envision Stanley Donwood’s iconic vision of a dystopian future as much as they make me picture Naoko Yamada’s depiction of a tragic past. Granted, Thom Yorke never quite rapped on, say, “Idiotheque”, but this song is certainly convincing me he could have.

Bold and bizarre as it may be, though, the reference to Kid A is an artistic choice that makes sense. The Heike Story is a story of decrepit and doomed power being butchered and replaced. Kid A is the sound of — depending on your interpretation, the band’s collective psyche, or even the entirety of human civilization — coming apart, and is widely considered to be one of the nails in the coffin of rock’s reign over the commercial mainstream. In both cases, change sounds spectral; it challenges you, as it should. “unified perspective” hardly invokes the setting of The Heike Story, and often barely even conveys its tone, as the show masterfully adopts director Yamada’s knack for portraying the mundane as a veil to obscure the sheer tragedy it chronicles. Yet like this tragedy, it is undeniable, unmistakeable and eventually, inevitable. It’s no coincidence that they picked this song is the show’s ending theme. It is a memento mori, reminding viewers that as Yamada’s glimpses of domestic charm grow fewer and farther in between, the unraveling has already begun — musically, narratively, historically, metaphysically. Anime don’t often get a say in which songs get to represent them, but here, everything’s in its right place.

“Kokotsu Labyrinth” by Masaaki Endoh (Sakugan)

Regardless of how Sakugan shakes out as a show in the end, it’s got a banger of an OP. I’ve been a fan of Masaaki Endoh’s work with JAM Project and otherwise ever since I was exposed to the evergreen GaoGaiGar OP, and it’s always great to hear his bombastic shouting. It’s a perfect fit for the promise of a rollicking, wacky, father-daughter, babychild-bigfriend adventure. As for whether the show lives up to that promise, well..

“Kokotsu Labyrinth” by Masaaki Endoh (Sakugan)

I’m a confirmed fan of two things – Masaaki Endoh and enjoyably retro throwback openings, and hey we’ve got both in one package here. ‘Labyrinth’ is a big, bold, brassy affair that alternates between jazzy swing and anthemic rock, a fair bit more easygoing than the frantic numbers Endoh made his name on. Still, the power of his vocals and his singularly unique voice are as enjoyable as ever, and they’re accompanied well by a very stylish visual presentation that’s clearly custom tailored to fit the track, always something I appreciate. It’s just as boisterous and energetic as the show it fronts.

“Hikaru Toki” by Hitsuji Bungaku (The Heike Story)

Often, when I think about my favorite opening and ending sequences of a given season, the answer comes to me pretty quickly. After all, a good OP is often an encapsulation of all the best qualities of the show it headlines. It wasn’t until its final episode that I realized “Hikaru Toki” from The Heike Story was my standout of the season. I watched the OP one last time, looking at the genuinely warm moments portrayed by its characters. It finally dawned on me that nearly all of them had either perished or were forced to endure some of the worst tragedies imaginable. And so the OP becomes nostalgic and bittersweet in equal measure, reminding you of the Taira clan’s beautiful humanity that makes their inevitable destruction all the more tragic to witness. The Heike Story’s OP asks you not to just remember the Taira as they died, but how they lived.

“Akeboshi” by LiSA (Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – Mugen Train Arc)

Given this is a TV retelling of the movie they put out last year, I don’t think anyone would have been all that surprised if they slapped some instrumental music onto the front of this instead of getting a fully-fledged new OP and ED. I’m glad they did though, because I am a big fan of LiSA. Akeboshi is another solid tune from her, taking advantage of her powerful vocals and throwing in an earworm of a chorus as a bonus. Two thumbs up from me, but to be honest I’d be more than happy giving the top slot to her ED, the Sakugan OP and the Ranking of Kings OP too.

“Hikaru Toki” by Hitsuji Bungaku (The Heike Story)

Even for those who know absolutely nothing about the historical events surrounding this series (or who have no desire to look them up on Wikipedia), it’s extremely clear that Heike Monogatari is a tragedy in the making, approaching both the main cast and the viewer with Shakespearean-like inevitability. It’s for this reason that the opening credits sequence stands out all the more. A generally cheerful-sounding slice-of-life affair showcasing the main characters going about their lives and getting along like any rambunctious family, the track is low-key but far from gloomy, accompanied by shots of the cast laughing and playing around, only occasionally interspersed with some of the anime’s darker and bloodier scenes. The OP’s sense of nostalgia both belies and emphasizes the impending doom of the Heike/Taira clan – a weekly reminder of the show’s steadily unfolding disaster.

Did your favourite make the cut? Did we overlook a massive hit? Should we kick Euri off the team for being a filthy normie? Does anyone even read this bit anymore? Make sure to let us know in the comments!

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