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! Once more, I find myself posting these later than usual — a combination of procrastination, some small detours, and an unexpected roadblock last month. Fortunately, I’ve made much of a recovery now that my nervous system appears to be playing nice again.
Anyhow, I don’t have a lot to add to this normally lengthy introduction. My tentative schedule for the remainder of the year is to try and get two more featured articles this season, a couple of recap posts covering everything I’ve written so far along with the final playlist, and wrap things up with the usual best of the year summaries. I’ve got a lot ahead of me these next two months, not all of which may come to pass the way I expect it to. Regardless, I hope you look forward to it as much as I enjoyed putting this piece together. On that note, let’s get started:
Song: Sora to Utsuro
Anime: The Case Study of Vanitas
Halloween might have ended, but my thirst for stories rooted in the supernatural is year-round. Fortunately, there has never been a better time to be a horror or dark fantasy fan as games, movies, and even anime have been all but eager to indulge my ever growing appetite. But for the faint of heart… actually, you should still avert your eyes. This might get messy!
Almost everyone loves a good monster story, but very few can hold a candle to arguably the most famous creature of all. From Castlevania to Hellsing, the vampire mythos has thrilled and inspired both fans and creators alike, having spawned some of the greatest names and franchises across all corners of the globe. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t heard at least one variation of the shadowy Nosferatu, which makes creating new stories all the more challenging in today’s pop culture boom.
As someone who’s taken in more monster movies than I care to admit, The Case Study of Vanitas is a welcome contemporary take on the formula and a much needed breather in a rather dry summer season (it’s partly why this list was cut short!). Set in a gothic steampunk version of Paris, Vanitas asks the question of what happens when the vampires have their own boogeyman to contend with as vampire society comes under threat while a human claiming to be their salvation holds the key to stop their pending doomsday. While its titular antihero Vanitas is equal parts a charismatic man of mystery as much as he is a cunning manipulator, if not cutthroat, it marks a perfect contrast to our romanticization as usually portrayed in media.
Despite the doom and unusually bloody theatrics, the show and its music are wonderfully composed befitting Vanitas’s more laid-back atmosphere and appreciation for the finer details. Sora to Utsuro by Sasanomaly (Kokkoku) is another play on words with multiple translations, but they all share the common meaning of the Latin word “Vanitas.” Opening with a montage of Vanitas and Noé going about their day, the song is as much a musical equivalent to an artist’s still life as it is an intentional framing device to set the show’s overall tone. Featuring a bright and overt color palette paired with a classical orchestration, melody and Sasanomaly’s easygoing vocals, it’s a fitting piece and a celebratory love letter from the mundane to the abstract parts of everyday life, even as we approach our own inevitable demise.
Aristocratic by birth and driven by temptation, The Case Study of Vanitas makes a compelling case by not only reexamining what makes a good vampire story, but by embracing what makes them so appealing in the first place. Or perhaps, we all just want a little thrill before our time runs out.
Song: Hoshi no Orchestra (Starry Orchestra)
Anime: Kageki Shoujo!!
As a writer working on a less predictable schedule, I sometimes wonder the number of shows that will inevitably fall through the cracks. Finding time to squeeze in every recommendation that gets tossed at my desk, much less cover it, can be a herculean task in an already packed schedule, which is to say I can afford to be pickier these days! But when the stars align and the right show comes my way that would have been missed under different circumstances, it reminds me why I enjoy writing about them.
Kageki Shoujo!! (Opera Girl!) is one such title that fills me with stage fright as award season draws closer. Based on the shojo manga of the same name, it follows an elite school specializing in theater and performing arts as aspiring actresses enroll with the dream of performing on the grandest stage available — the Kouka Theatre Troupe. Following the cool headed former idol Ai Narata and the unpredictable and unusually tall Sarasa Watanabe, this 13 episode drama takes us on a journey bouncing between performances both fictional and real as the new class dives head first into the world of professional theater.
Technique, ability, talent, personality, uniqueness — these are but a few touching points the show knocks on in the sometimes grim business of performing arts. I say grim because the show certainly holds nothing back when it comes to portraying the darker side of showbiz. Depression, eating disorders, anxiety, and other measurements of physical and psychological turmoil, Kageki Shoujo!! runs the gauntlet of emotions for being a one cour show backed by some incredible visuals, art direction, voice acting and stellar music direction.
It should come as no surprise that its main opening and ending themes share many of those same attributes. Hoshi no Orchestra (Starry Orchestra) by saji (Ashiru no Sora, Shaman King ) is very much theater in motion and a brilliantly cut opener — an anime cornucopia of starlight backed by peppy and upbeat tempo. I hesitate to call this an “earful of joy,” but what really touched the lizard part of my brain as I compile these lists was the buildup at the 36 second mark before the main chorus kicks in.
Song: Hoshi no Tabibito (Stellar Traveler)
Artist: Sayaka Senbongi, Yumiri Hanamori
Anime: Kageki Shoujo!!
Performing the ending theme as their respective characters Sarasa Watanabe and Ai Narata, Sayaka Senbongi (Mumei in Kabeneri of the Iron Fortress, Haru in Beastars) and Yumiri Hanamori (Kon in Kemono Jihen, Ryuji Ayukawa in Blue Period) deliver a captivating duet as their characters reach their coveted destination in the spotlight. Hoshi no Tabibito (Stellar Traveler) is emblematic of this in what I can only call a serenade of hopes and dreams. While I’m quite fond of the ending visuals, the shortened version only captures a small fragment of the full version’s symphony and the two leads more evocative moments in the song’s latter half.
At first, I thought it may be hyperbole to call this the best show of the season, but I can happily say I was proven wrong. There’s no better way to say this, so I’ll say it anyways — Kageki Shoujo!! is one hell of a performance.
Artist: Ayumi Mano
Anime: The Duke of Death and His Maid
Speaking of shows I was happy to have been proven wrong, The Duke of Death and His Maid managed to overcome its 3D visuals to deliver something entirely unique. Seeing as I covered this show on the previous collab (which you can read here), I’ll skip the overview or you can read an even more detailed breakdown from our contributor TGRIP on why it’s one of the best “non-teasing” anime in recent memory here.
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As I’ve stated before, I’m normally not a fan of this subgenre despite occupying writing space with more seasoned experts on the subject. Rather than asking “will they, won’t they,” Duke takes a simple concept and spins it on its head by taking away the most intimate form of love possible — the power of touch. For as simple as the premise is, its applications become infinite as even the easiest task becomes a literal matter of life and death and a compelling reason to seek out a cure. Like its namesake, Duke is a show of dualities. At times it’s funny and sweet. As events transpire, it becomes foreboding and grim. It’s a show about forbidden love and passion while also dealing with the curse of magic and birthright. And despite initial reservations about the chosen art style, it becomes more clearly well thought out in portraying the setting and tone while emphasizing the source’s character work and world building.
Though the opening is no doubt a highlight to most with myself even making a mention of it in my previous write up, Ayumi Mano’s (Amiru Sumeragi in Blue Reflection Ray, Lady Isabel Neville in next year’s Requiem of the Rose King) solo as Alice Lendrott is a bit of tonal shift compared to the catchier and more playful Mangetsu to Silhouette no Yuro. As the show’s narrative dives deeper into Alice’s backstory, the ending becomes more prominent with the introduction of another barrier that I won’t spoil here, with one notable moment towards the end as the episode in question continues on with the ending theme in the background. This is one of my favorite transitional tools in anime when it is used to convey a point or set the mood. As the series draws to a close, the colder, almost haunting melody gives way to a deeper introspective into Alice as the show conveys her true feelings more clearly.
Since I’ve talked about this in depth before, I’ll just sum it up here. Whether you are a fan of the subgenre or have sworn it off entirely, The Duke of Death and His Maid is a welcome delight and a creative new entry in the field of romantic comedies with a greater handle on its narrative than I gave it credit for. Don’t let the visuals deceive you, it might just surprise you in more ways than one.
Artist: Polkadot Stingray
Anime: Godzilla: Singular Point
Folks, I work with machines for a living. I can build, process, and troubleshoot my way out of almost any technical challenge with time and some help with a little-known tool called Google. Hell, I’ve even had to walk people through and translate some of my techno babble into human speak. Bear this in mind as you read onward. About a week or two after I started Godzilla: Singular Point, I came across a Twitter post from a content creator I regularly follow. Out of respect for their privacy, I won’t link the tweet, but the comment stayed in the back of my mind as I wrote this section.
Before I summarize, I should preface this with a couple caveats: 1.) I am not a very big Godzilla fan (I’ve not cared for many of the recent films for reference) and 2.) I had watched the first two episodes of Singular Point and at that point was fairly positive. Being quite familiar with this person’s own body of work as a self-professed Godzilla aficionado, it came as a bit of shock — and future foreshadowing — that they were not a fan of SP. “Okay, maybe it just didn’t gel with them given their history. But what about someone on the other end?” 10 episodes later, I found my answer:
Godzilla: Singular Point isn’t good — it’s a mess.
Now before you decide to charge up your atomic breath, hear me out. By no means is this a complaint about the lack of monster mashing or the fact that show barely features the giant lizard bearing its name. If it’s any consolation, I nearly fell asleep watching Godzilla vs Kong! What could have been an interesting deviation for franchise instead devolves into a series of pseudo-science, boring lectures and repetitive hypotheticals as our two main leads try to solve an impending disaster of — wait, why I am explaining this?
Godzilla: Singular Point suffers from the worst kind of technical jargon (untranslated) choosing to dump nearly all of it on viewers in the hopes of making compelling television, broken up with some occasional monster intervention to make up for the rest of the show’s lackluster thesis-turned-script. SP is like designing a manual for an end user and then not bothering to review it to ensure it can be understood by the least common denominator — the audience. Even if you’re in it for the visuals, it barely makes use of its monsters which should be the highlight. Instead, it’s used to carry the already convoluted plot by having its characters repeatedly breakdown and stop to “science” the shit out of the problem — or at least that is what I’d like to say. That’s because for all the physics and quantum theories it so proudly boasts like a new graduate unprepared for their first job, this shares more in common with Watch Dogs than Dr. Stone from the moment it pivots into spiritual and prophecy bullshit.
Fortunately, here at The Anime Playlist I have but one requirement, and that is have a killer opening or ending! I feature many shows on these lists of varying quality in both show and song, but that remains my singular point (heh) of consistency. Though I’ve indirectly referenced this group on a prior list, this marks the first time I’ve featured rock band Polkadot Stingray (Radiant) on the general round up, a missed opportunity on my part that I’ve been meaning to correct for quite some time. As a visual appetizer, it sells the show far better than what we got in the final product with its old-school aesthetic and clever Easter eggs from the franchi- HOLY SHIT, IS THAT MECHA GODZILLA?!
*ahem* Anyways, it’s a bit of shocker they haven’t been tapped more frequently because Aoi (blue) highlights their musical strengths in one complete package. Clean vocals, excellent guitar and drum work and, my personal favorite from the full version, a lighthearted expression in both musical and thematic terms. Even though Aoi doesn’t perfectly align with Godzilla: Singular Point in the same way that their self-titled Radiant did in the show of the same name, I highly recommend checking out the band’s official music video linked above. It’s less than five minutes and tells a rather interesting story even without the King of The Monsters making any form of cameo.
I really wish I could have loved this show as much as I do the music, but this is where I find myself with Netflix’s latest attempt to bring Godzilla to the world of anime. And while the argument can be made this is the best attempt thus far given the criticism of the previous Netflix films, if the biggest point in your favor is “it’s not that bad” or “it’s not as bad as X,” then what does it bring to the table on its own terms? What compelling reason or experience does it offer that cannot be found elsewhere?
You don’t need to be a computer or science expert to know Godzilla Singular Point didn’t bother to review its service manual, much less consult outside its field of experts. For all its technical mannerisms and theories, its failure to understand and utilize its titular character is by far its most-telling flaw. But hey, at least we got two good songs out of it!
Song: Tsukiumi no Yurikago (Moon Ocean’s Cradle)
Artist: Mia Regina
Anime: The Aquatope on White Sand
Song: Yasashii Suisei (Comet)
Anime: Beastars (Season 2)
1. Sora to Utsuro — Sasanomaly (The Case Study of Vanitas)
2. Hoshi no Orchestra (Starry Orchestra) — saji (Kageki Shoujo!!) [Best OP]
3. Hoshi no Tabibito (Stellar Traveler) — Sayaka Senbongi, Yumiri Hanamori (Kageki Shoujo!!) [Best ED]
4. Nocturne — Ayumi Mano (The Duke of Death and His Maid)
5. Aoi — Polkadot Stingray (Godzilla: Singular Point)
6. Tsukiumi no Yurikago (Moon Ocean’s Cradle) — Mia Regina (The Aquatope on White Sand)
7. Yasashii Suisei (Comet) — Yoasobi (Beastars)
8. Shounen Shoujo (acoustic*) — Ging Nang Boyz (Sonny Boy)
*Note: As the acoustic version is not officially available on YouTube, I’m posting the original version below.
Well, this marks a first for the playlist: a show winning both best OP and ED in the same season! Stay tuned for the Fall one sometime before the end of December, followed by the best of year shortly after. Until then, I will see you all very soon!
(Eight episodes. It took eight goddamn episodes but he finally-)
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