Welcome back to another edition of The Anime Playlist — your short guide into some of the best anime openings, endings, and original soundtracks along with some brief anime impressions! Since it’s been a while — practically two seasons late at this point! — let’s chat first.
Those of you who read my last playlist might recall I was working on splitting these articles up into two parts: one for the music and one with impressions. A lot can change in the course of a few months: new responsibilities, fresh talent and a breath of inspiration — all of which briefly describes where I stand both professionally and creatively speaking having returned to a regular, onsite work schedule.
Around the time I started drafting what would have been the “Spring 2021 Anime Impressions” article, I quickly realized I had underestimated the amount of work I would have to put in to cover the season. As I narrowed it down further, I started asking more questions: “Do I have to cover So I’m a Spider, So What? What is the minimum number of words needed to sum up Bottom-tier Character Tomozaki? Would this be easier if I just covered the shows I liked?”
“What if I just focus on exactly one thing?”
Stating it out loud, it seems so obvious given my current strengths. But between my caffeine-fueled work routine in the day and actually devoting an evening to writing these articles, things almost never go according to plan. At worst, it becomes another unfinished draft in my collection, and at best, it becomes the foundation of what comes after. In the case of the article above, that would eventually morph into my review of Kemono Jihen.
Whether you’ve been following this blog or work in any creative field, that’s probably the most consistent part of any art — the lack of consistency. Or rather, the ability to change gears midway when things go awry. Case in point, my last review underwent several changes even after committing to one subject. Though I didn’t get to cover everything I initially wanted, the soundtrack was regrettably one such casualty.
As much as I’d like to revisit the topic, I bring this up to illustrate something that plays into the common theme of this piece. Actually, it’s an idea that’s been on my mind for about a year during my time in lockdown:
“What if I start covering anime soundtracks?”
I’ve been doing these playlists for several years now, yet I’ve never taken the time to highlight a show’s score. This season, I’ve decided to briefly highlight original soundtrack in addition to the usual single tracks. While the list will be shorter, I’ve included my original playlist, with the usual Best OP/ED of the season.
As for that previous idea? For now, I’d rather focus on one thing…. SEO metrics be damned!
Song: Taiga yo Tomo ni Naite Kure
Anime: Zombie Land Saga Revenge
It took three years, but once again Saga’s very own idol group has returned from the grave in the follow up to 2018’s Zombie Land Saga! Though I previously watched the show in both languages, this time I decided to wait on the simuldub, which is currently ongoing at the time of this writing. As one of my most anticipated sequels — more on that later — Revenge, as the title implies, ups the ante after the group finds themselves back at the bottom. Between its first six episodes, it throws a lot right from the start: there were laughs, drama and surprises, and even a tear — sometimes within the span of one episode! It’s hard for me to predict what its latter half has in store, yet if it can keep up this pace, I have no doubt in my mind a new legend will rise when all is said and done.
Speaking of legends, I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up the score. Once again performed by Franchouchou and their respective voice actors, Revenge introduces a number of new vocal songs that serve both narrative and entertainment purposes. While the sequel’s first half isn’t as subversive as the previous season — and that one started with a metal show! — a larger focus is placed on the individual members as new obstacles arise from achieving their comeback, with their individual pieces forming much of the story’s emotional core.
That said, it should come as no surprise that Revenge’s opening is a ridiculously over-the-top bombardment of what I like to call “sensory candy.” Backed by MAPPA’s explosive animation, Taiga yo Tomo ni Naite Kure (O Saga, Cry With Me) starts off on a thunderous prelude, playfully ribbing on the group’s fall and declaring their intent to settle the score. Not content to stick to convention, the group gleefully draws inspiration beyond its idol aspirations, bouncing from awe-inspiring, melodic, and raw lyrics and instrumentation throughout the three and half minute song. While all six members are featured prominently, the brief pause just before the main chorus followed by Sakura (Kaede Hondo) and Junko’s (Maki Kawase) sound-deafening roar sent chills down my spine!
Artist: Masayoshi Oishi
Another sequel from 2018 — this will be a recurring theme — SSSS.Dynazenon is worthy follow up to the underappreciated SSSS.Gridman, a celebration of the kaiju genre and best of all, a fantastic showcase of the medium in a season already filled to the brim with future AOTY contenders. Technically functioning as a sequel with some connective ties to its predecessor, Dynazenon (as I’ll be calling it) is its own original story, set in a new world with its own set of unique rules that govern its populace.
Those of you familiar with Gridman will no doubt be well acquainted with the general premise, but for those with no passing knowledge, Dynazenon is less of a monster mash story than its cover leads on, preferring to dabble in heavier and psychological themes as our rag tag team of students and adults navigate their inner conflicts through the background of its destructible city when the Kaiju come knocking. Despite sharing similarities, Dynazenon is its own (robotic) beast as the story pivots in a different direction while weaving new mysteries in the ongoing Gridman Universe, all while keeping with the larger theme of what it means to be alive.
While those mysteries are best left to discover independently, I don’t mind revealing the secret behind Dynazenon’s amazing soundtrack. In addition to SSSS.Gridman composer Shiro Sagisu own thematic score highlighting the larger than life Kaiju battles, the mid-summer slice of life scenes and dynamic transformations of its namesake, OxT vocalist Masayoshi Oishi (Overlord) returns to perform the show’s main opening. Mixing the look and feel of a Saturday morning cartoon with a sweeping orchestra, the self-titled Imperfect is a collective harmony of rock and electronic beats delivered with a heightened sense of urgency through Oishi’s vocals.
Though I can’t decide yet which series or opening I preferred (too close to call!), SSSS.Dynazenon’s bold new take marks a triumphant return to Trigger’s continuing adaption of the Hyper Agent, and a peek at its future.
Song: Theme of the NOMAD
Artist: mabanua (Composer)
Anime: Megalo Box 2: Nomad
(I guess 2018 really was the best year of anime, huh?)
Yet another title to unexpectedly receive a sequel, 2018’s Megalo Box was a scrappy underdog that quickly climbed its way into near critical acclaim, including my own personal AOTY (*Note: I started publishing my official anime lists in 2019). An original series loosely based on the famous Ashita no Joe (Tomorrow’s Joe), the show heavily borrows elements from the aforementioned Joe and reimagines them in a much more futuristic setting where boxing is done via mechanical exoskeletons. Though the plot, characters, and setting will be familiar to sport aficionados, its unique sense of art and cinematography coupled with its ease of access to even the most casual of viewers drew many comparisons to titles like Cowboy Bepop.
Or as that one friend you knew in high school calls it, “the anime that doesn’t look like anime!”
Season 2 (Nomad) jumps ahead several years as the once celebrated boxer Gearless Joe finds himself fighting personal demons that I won’t spoil here. Rather than keeping with the traditional underdog to champ storyline, Nomad leans heavier into personal conflicts and broader issues as the story checks in on the old cast and introduces some new faces into Joe’s growing orbit. Whereas season 1 was more straightforward in its story and themes, season 2 takes notable detours that will undoubtedly stir up further discussion, if not controversy. It’s an anime I’ve been thinking of a lot lately and one of the few to comment on global problems, while greatly expanding the world of Megalo Box through one specific element at the start of the series.
For now, I’d like to save those thoughts for another day and move onto the music. Artist mabauna (BNA: Brand New Animal) made a name for himself in anime following his impressive work composing the music for the original Megalo Box. Clocking in at more than an hour, the new soundtrack, like the show’s nomadic subtitle implies, draws inspiration from various Latin American and ethic cultures in addition to the hip hop infused stylings of the first season. Listening to it again while coming up with this piece, it’s hard for me to pinpoint what I would call the “hit single.” Caught in the middle between my Central American roots and my upbringing in the US, it oozes a sense of nostalgia while weaving in a more modern sound — a duality of sorts.
For a traveler without a place to call home, the theme of the NOMAD captures this emotion better than anything I can commit to paper here. Featuring a complete rendition of the first show’s main theme, its soothing acoustics, thumping chants and soft drum work tells a new chapter. Once an underdog prepared to sacrifice his life in pursuit of the ultimate challenge, Nomad punches deeper by asking what happens when the gloves finally come off.
Song: Sing My Pleasure
Artist: Vivy (Kairi Yagi)
Anime: Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song
With the sequels out of the way, let’s move onto some new stuff!
The sci-fi time travel and musically charged brainchild of Tappei Nagatsuki, Eiji Umehara and Wit Studio, Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song told a century long epic of Androids and the impending cyber apocalypse. Rather than focus on the destination, Vivy is all about the journey towards that singular endpoint as the titular AI finds herself caught up in a seemingly interconnected web of events that ultimately seal humanity’s fate in one reality. But as time moves forward in real time, the songstress soon finds her own future clouded in doubt and hesitation.
To cut things short, it’s a uniquely complex and mind bending story that picks apart the self-existential dread of autonomous machines and purpose. And while it can be argued that some of this will feel vaguely familiar to those with even the slightest affinity for science fiction, its slick presentation, well written characters and carefully threaded mysteries carry the narrative to its logical conclusion. I do have some minor quibbles with some of the late endgame materials, but overall, an excellent showcase from the studio that’s clearly aiming for a third award from yours truly!
Of course, no discussion of anime music this year would be complete without mentioning the superb work of composer Satoru Kōsaki. Blurring the line between sci-fi, fantasy, and Jpop, almost every episode begins or ends on some extravagant performance. I fathom to think what this show’s production costs look like, yet what intrigues me most are the vocal performances featured throughout, with Kairi Yagi lending her talent as Vivy’s singing voice (*Note: Atsumi Tanezaki voices the character’s regular dialogue).
As much as I’d like to pick through some of the later tracks, the show’s main theme Sing My Pleasure also doubles as the show’s opening, and is used periodically to great effect from one transition to the next. From its distinguished opening line to its dramatic buildup leading up to its climax, this nearly five minute song intensifies as the main orchestra and Yagi’s vocals give way to an emotional reprise — but not before culminating into my very own guilty pleasure or “eargasm” at the 3:08 mark.
Artist: Skirt and DJ PUNPEE
I previously covered Odd Taxi in AniTAY’s Spring 2021 collab, so I’ll point you in that direction for a more comprehensive breakdown. Simply put, it’s the best original anime Crunchyroll has put out despite not actually being an official Original, and arguably made better for it given their already shaky track record.
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If you’re a regular reader, chances are good you’ve heard this title pop up once or twice, with comparisons ranging to everything from Beastars to Durarara!!, and yet as I was preparing the previous collab entry and having since finished the show as of this writing, I find those descriptors to be somewhat inaccurate. In fact, I’d argue it’s a show that defies conventional categorization, despite sharing some surface level elements in storytelling and narration. Sure, there’s talking animals, interconnected stories and various narrators, and even some intentional misdirection, but Odd Taxi’s flavor of murder mystery isn’t so much a vehicle to weigh in on societal ills as it is a character examination of its quirky cast of down-on-their luck citizens who got mixed up with the wrong crowd.
To say anymore would be a disservice to the narrative, so I’d encourage you to check it out on your own time — as I’m sure I’ll be talking about in the not too distant future! Yet for all this focus on the show’s story and writing, I haven’t even addressed the oddest portion of this mix — the unlikely trio of OMSB, PUNPEE and VaVa who worked on the show’s music. Odd Taxi’s bizarre blend of everything from lo-fi and industrial sounds to hip hop and idol music broadcasts the range and talent brought in to bring this colorful night lit cityscape and its denizens to life. It’s the kind of score I can see myself pulling up on a busy day in the office or to add some background noise whenever I’m working on a more focused topic here on this blog.
Speaking of bizarre, the self-titled opening bearing the show’s name is its own animal defying conventional openings. Performed by singer-songwriter Skirt (Wataru Sawabe) and rap artist DJ PUNPEE, the duo’s unlikely pairing becomes even stranger in their four minute music video. Riding in a familiar taxi, the video takes a few narrative cues and visuals from the anime, letting on more than it seems at first glance. But even with no knowledge of those narrative winks, ODDTAXI’s handcrafted visuals in the anime’s opening combined with the artist’s easygoing vocals and tranquil beats make for one incredibly smooth listening experience.
Song: a hollow shadow
Artist: Kenichiro Suehiro (Composer)
Anime: Shadows House
One of the hardest challenges of covering any medium is that no matter how much time you put into it, you’re going to inevitably miss things. That was the case with this season’s hidden gem Shadows House, which came highly recommended from our very own Doctorkev at the time of broadcast. Having finished the recently concluded English dub, I can safely say despite walking in with almost no prior knowledge of the premise that I walked away pleasantly surprised from this fairly unusual title.
Veiled in Darkness: Shadows House is This Season’s Hidden Gem
Taking thematic cues from 1971 period drama Upstairs, Downstairs but moving the setting to a survival horror mansion…
In order to keep this as vague as possible, the best way I can describe Shadows House is as a sort of amalgam of survival horror (with an emphasis on survival), mystery and Victorian gothic architecture mixed in with some expressive (“cute”) designs and lighthearted tone. From the character designs and backgrounds to the writing, soundtrack and voice work, every element is smartly utilized to underlie its central mystery, often placing and intentionally misdirecting its main party as much as its audience. Throughout its 12 episode run, there was a never a dull or predictable moment where I could accurately predict the direction it would take. Even when the story paused for a bit of brevity or events unfolded as one would expect, there was almost always another twist waiting underneath the dark corridors of the titular Shadows House.
While it’s not uncommon today to see clashing genre and art designs breaking the monotony of those aforementioned genres, the wit and charm of Shadows House’s major players along with Cloverworks animation and Kenichiro Suehiro’s (Re:Zero, Fire Force) classical score breathes new life into its autonomous dolls. Its main opening “a hollow shadow” best exemplifies this, opting for instrumental orchestra to set the stage compared my earlier entries. The term “atmosphere” gets tossed around every so often, but Suehiro’s ability to weave tension, playfulness and fear into a short one and half minute jingle showcases the title’s atmosphere far greater than some shows manage to pull off in their pilot, if not series.
As time consuming as these posts have grown due to my unstable schedule, its titles like this that make the effort of continuing these lists all the more rewarding. Fun, challenging with a touch of atmospheric dread roaming the empty halls, why not pay a visit to the Shadows House? I guarantee it will be a memorable stay….
I had a lot to say this season, but at the risk of making this longer than necessary, I’ll just speed run these:
Song: Cry Baby
Artist: Official Hige Dandism
Anime: Tokyo Revengers
Artist: STEREO DIVE FOUNDATION
Anime: Moriarty the Patriot Part 2
Song: Aria of Life
Artist: Wagakki Band
Anime: Mars Red
1. Taiga yo Tomo ni Naite Kure — Franchouchou (Zombie Land Saga: Revenge)
2. Imperfect — Masayoshi Oishi (SSSS.Dynazenon) [Best OP]
3. Theme of the NOMAD — mabanua (Megalo Box 2: Nomad)
4. Sing My Pleasure — Vivy (Kairi Yagi; Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song)
5. ODDTAXI — Skirt and DJ PUNPEE (Odd Taxi)
6. a hollow shadow — Kenichiro Suehiro (Shadows House)
7. Cry Baby — Official Hige Dandism (Tokyo Revengers)
8. OMEGA — STEREO DIVE FOUNDATION (Moriarty the Patriot Part 2)
9. Aria of Life — Wagakki Band (Mars Red)
10. Fluorite Eye’s Song — Vivy (Kairi Yagi; Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song) [Best ED]
As always, thanks again for your patience and for sticking around until the end! Hopefully the summer one shouldn’t take nearly as long as this one did, but I plan to have it done before the fall season gets completely underway.
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A Light In The Darkness — Kemono Jihen
When it comes to anime, no genre is more synonymous with the medium than Shonen. Having spent nearly three decades…