It’s Not That Deep: An Anigay OP/ED Piece
Welcome to the Anigay OP/ED section, in which we will be diving into the wonderful, ridiculous world of anime opening and ending animations. One of my personal obsessions is the myriad ways that anime makes use of these sequences, be it for foreshadowing, symbolism, building aesthetic, highlighting themes, playing with the power of repetition and subversion of expectations, or just being ridiculously beautiful.
To launch this section, and in celebration of summer and associated aquatic activities, we begin with a tour of a strikingly ubiquitous OP/ED trope — drowning, sinking, floating, or generally being underwater. “But Rebecca, can you really write a whole article about OP/EDs of queer anime that involve being underwater? That is…extremely specific,” you may be thinking to yourself. The answer is yes, it is extremely specific; and yes, I absolutely can. In fact there are shows I left out of this article because I got tired of making gifs. What is behind this trend? Does the water represent the oppressiveness of the heteronormative paradigm in which we are all constantly drowning, desperate to let our true identities breathe freely? Or are bubbles just really fun to animate?
Trick question, the answer is obviously both! But I’ll leave the deeper questions of the queer symbolism of drowning to future OP/ED scholars; for today let’s just enjoy gazing at these gorgeously animated sequences. So without further ado, we begin our tour with….
Banana Fish (2018)
Absolutely classic, elegantly simple imagery reinforced by the unfinished, rough sketch art style. Bonus points for the fetal position evoking the underwater environment as not just a place of isolation, but also one of safety, protection, and innocence. If you’ve watched Banana Fish I definitely don’t have to explain the relevance of any of this imagery to Ash’s story, and if you haven’t watched Banana Fish you can get a good sense of Ash’s emotional life just from this clip.
Land of the Lustrous (2017)
The underwater imagery in the Land of the Lustrous OP is serving about seventeen purposes at once, and the margins of this article are too small to contain all of them. (And speaking of too small, I spent hours of my life trying to get this gif in under Medium’s size requirements, and the result is a disservice to the actual animation. Please go watch it.) Notice that unlike every other example I found, Phos is floating upward; and their pose, while not exactly the fetal position that Ash was in above, is still evocative of birth and awakening. Of course, rising from the depths of the sea into life is tied literally to the worldbuilding of the story, and awakening from innocence is tied thematically into Phos’s character arc.
Shout-out as well to the ED — not technically underwater, but still using imagery of fluid (arguably liquid mercury rather than water but who’s counting) and reflection to emphasize isolation. It’s also just one of the most gorgeous EDs in all of anime.
Given that Ikuhara’s most recent creation is simultaneously a love letter to and deconstruction of every (gay) anime trope in existence, it would honestly be odd if the OP didn’t include anyone falling through water. Here we eschew the water-as-womb symbolism — this is drowning, pure and simple. I joked(?) earlier about all this drowning imagery representing the heteronormative paradigm that isolates and oppresses our true selves, but since that’s literally what Sarazanmai is about I say we go with it here. No point overthinking these things.
(Fun fact: I wrote the first draft of this article before the last episode of Sarazanmai aired, meaning that the fact that the last episode is like 60% “falling through water = loss of connection” symbolism is just further evidence for my theory that all Ikuhara anime do not “exist” “objectively” in the traditional sense; rather they are dynamically constructed by complex quantum interactions between the concept of anime and the subconscious mind of the viewer. Prove me wrong.)
Is it cheating to include a show that’s literally about swimming in this list? Well, yes, but also who cares, it’s my list. This is our first example that actually depicts the connection that pulls our sinking protagonist back to the surface. To break down the intricate symbolism here: Drowning — bad; gay hand holding — good. I’ll level with you, I haven’t watched this show, but based on this OP clip alone I’m gonna go ahead and say it seems pretty gay. Lemme take a stab at the plot: Red-haired guy from the first gif is the sassy Rival with whom our sinking Jesus-pose protagonist guy has over-the-top sexual tension, but due to a near-tragic accident at the All-Japan High School Swimming Finals our protagonist has sworn to quit swimming forever — that is, until the mysterious and oddly charming hand-holding guy from gif #2 reignites his love of the sport. I just made all that up based only on the OP, so go watch the show and tell me how I did!
The OP of the ludicrous (and ludicrously queer) Kakegurui was directed by the great Sayo Yamamoto, and does not disappoint. Drowning? Check. Pretty bubbles? Check. Homoeroticism? Check. Floating…fruit? Sure why not. In contrast to Free, here Kirari does not pull Yumeko toward the surface; rather, they descend um, together. Kakegurui is a show I originally told myself I was watching ironically, but given that as soon as season two was finally released on Netflix I binged the whole thing in a day it’s hard to maintain that pretense anymore. If you enjoy extremely queer girls with a ton of sexual agency and confidence engaging in ridiculous power struggles with each other for control of a high school student council that essentially rules the world, I unironically recommend it.
Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju (2017)
Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju (of which this is the second season) is at the top of my list of shows that I haven’t watched yet because I’ve heard such good things that I want to watch it “when I can really pay attention and appreciate it,” which is the millennial equivalent of “when pigs fly.” The gorgeous OP of the second season is certainly a great advertisement for the artistry and emotional depth of the show. This has everything — falling, sinking, isolation, grasping hands, all the good stuff. My favorite moment is the transition to the droplets falling on Yotaro’s cheeks, the first invocation we’ve seen of water as tears. Twice in this short sequence Kikuhiko makes the choice to fall or sink into the water, which to me makes this the most heartbreaking to watch. I also can’t stop staring at how the light of the moon and the circle of the spotlight mirror each other. Damn.
Spiritpact ~Bond of the Underworld~ (2018)
I saved the gayest for last. Spiritpact goes all out with its OP/EDs, especially in the second season. Why are they underwater here? Who knows — because bubbles are pretty? Because the water is a place of cleansing, lifting away Tanmoku Ki’s tears and stripping him (figuratively and uh, literally) of his burdens? Because it lies at the crossroads of illusion and reality, of isolation and connection? Because it makes You’s hair ribbons swirl around elegantly? Okay yeah it’s probably the ribbon thing. In any case, this OP perfectly encapsulates the show: overly beautiful aesthetic, overly melodramatic romance, and constantly about two notches gayer than you expect it to be. (Seriously, was the last push of the shirt off his shoulder necessary here? We got the idea!)
And that’s all the gifs I had the patience to make! I hope you’ve enjoyed this survey of some truly gorgeous OP/ED animations from some extremely queer shows. Any good ones I missed? Let us know! And stay tuned for next time when we take a look at the other most common gay OP/ED trope — orbiting each other in space! (Yes, seriously.)