The opening themes of anime are a really fun part of the experience. They set the tone for the show and give us an exciting preview of what to expect. A lot of shows in the West have done away with theme songs- even some cartoons are going without them. But anime stolidly supplies us with a minute and a half of music and animation at the beginning of every episode and often the theme song will triumphantly blare in the background. Anime themes can be silly, fun, sad or action packed. Some of them earn a place in every fan’s memory and become irrevocably associated with the show. Let’s look at some of the coolest and often most memorable theme songs that anime has to offer. Be sure to chime in with your favorite themes in the comments!
“Guren no Yumiya”, Attack on Titan’s theme, might be one of the biggest examples of the power an anime theme song can have. The song’s title translates as “Crimson Bow and Arrow” and uses multiple German lyrics throughout to match the setting of the anime, including the famous “sie sind das Essen? Wir sind die Jaeger!” opening line, which roughly translates to “Are we the prey? No, we are the hunters!”
The song exploded throughout the Internet when it first got out. The combination of the song’s dramatic vocals and high energy tune made it extremely popular- it really made you want to go kill some Titans! Soon people were discovering that this theme song could, in fact be made to go with anything. Sadly, most of the mashups have been taken down, but in AoT’s heyday, you couldn’t turn an internet corner without seeing one- the song was mashed up with beer commericials, Rugrats clips and vids of Bollywood dancers. There are also a few English covers, here's one to try on for size.
The popularity of the piece wasn’t just limited to anime fans- it topped music charts all over Japan and quickly became the most popular karaoke song despite the fact lyrics weren’t provided.
“Moonlight Densetsu” or “Moonlight Destiny” was the opening theme to the original Sailor Moon anime for the first four seasons. It was first performed by the group DALI, then later performed by Moon Lips, a group composed of the five main voice actresses for the musicals based off the series.
I have to admit that personally I feel both the opening theme for the fitth season (Sailor Star Song) and the opening for Sailor Moon Crystal (Moon Pride) get across the spirit of Sailor Moon a little better. "Moonlight Densetsu" is a romantic ballad and while the romance between Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Mask is a big focus of the original anime, I would argue it’s not the main focus.
But there’s no denying that I hold a very nostalgic affection for the song as a fan of Sailor Moon and the song is both iconic and has great staying power. The series did many lovely music box versions ot the theme and you can’t here the simple opening melody without thinking Sailor Moon. When the credits rolled on the last episode of the series and you hear the song start up, it’s hard not to want to cry.
It was extremely popular when it first came out too- the original single was certified Gold. To this day, it’s the most popular song from the 1990’s for karaoke in Japan. Fans carry it in their hearts as well and there have been numerous covers and reimaginings and tributes to the song, both official and unofficial. You can find a jazz version, a Vocaloid version, a metal version, a choir version and more. The song has been covered by numerous bands, Japanese and otherwise.
Known as “Zankoku na Tenshi no These” in Japan, the iconic theme song of Neon Genesis Evangelion has an interesting history.
Director Hideaki Anno has stated that he actually wanted to use classical Russian music for the opening of the series (specifically Borodin’s Polovetsian Dances), but the network nixed it, thinking viewers would prefer good old J-pop. This was really good decision from them on the business front- “A Cruel Angel’s Thesis”was honored in 2011 for continuing to make good cash fifteen years after it’s debut.
The network wanting a typical peppy opening song does also explain why the melody of the song is weirdly upbeat for a series that repeatedly punches you in the face with tragedy- though the title and the lyrics five you a good idea there’s dark stuff going on regardless. The series would later take the “upbeat music for dark things” to its furthest extreme in various Evangelion movies, playing cutesy sounding songs during scenes of horrible destruction.
There are several different versions of the song within the franchise itself. Two instrumental versions play during the series final episode (“The Heady Feeling of Freedom” and “Good, or Don’t Be”). A 2009 version of the song was also created for the reboot movies.
Another fun fact about the song is that it originally had a male chorus, but that was cut because the director wanted the song to convey “maternal affection.” Indeed, lyrics like “rise up, young boy and become a legend” give the impression of a mom encouraging the main character to believe in himself a little more (and Mom has her work cut out for her).
Saying “A Cruel Angel’s Thesis” is widely covered seems like an understatement. Basically ever member of the show’s cast has covered the song in their own personal album. Megumi Ogata, the voice of Shinji, has a notable version where she screams her character’s classic “I MUSN’T RUN AWAY!” catchphrase in the middle of the song. Japanese heavy metal bands, idols, you name it- they’ve covered this song. Many fans have as well, of course- you can find a pretty good English cover here, for instance.
“Rinbu Revolution”, which would be roughly translated as “Rondo” or “Round Dance” Revolution in English, is another one of those themes that just automatically evoke all the feelings of the series it belongs to for me. The song captures the feel of the series perfectly. It’s a high energy tune about growing up and changing the world and freeing yourself. It also contains references to the romantic tension between our two leading ladies (as well as subtle foreshadowing for some moments in the series). Lines like “let’s live our live heroically, let’s live our lives with style” and “take my revolution” are the kind you just want to belt out.
There are also multiple versions of this song. “Rose and Release” is the non-lyrical version of the song that plays during the very end of the show (very effectively, I might add. It’s another that makes me want to cry every time). There’s also the super long nearly eight minute version titled “Rinbu Revolution- Adolescence Rush” that plays during the Utena movie.
It might not be quite as famous as the songs previously talked about, but this song is doubtless well loved. You can see this in professional singer Minori Chihara’s live concert cover of the song. She sings the song as the audience enthusiastically chants back at her, yelling “REVOLUTION” and waving their glowsticks. It’s quite a sight to behold.