The Role of OPs and EDs

After posting about some inappropriate EDs last week, I thought a bit more about the subject, specifically about what the hell we expect from OPs and EDs. And it probably isn’t a shocker to know that OPs in general have a fairly defined role (with leeway on execution), while EDs are a different story altogether.

Really, there are three basic things that OPs deliver on:

1) A good song. Could be a hard rockin’ song, or a catchy pop tune, or what the hell ever, as long as it will catch people’s attention. The creators don’t want the songs to turn people away from the channel; even better if they immediately want to go out and buy every record made by the band performing the song.

2) Good accompanying animation. Obviously the studio doesn’t want a steaming pile of shit to be the first thing potential viewers see; they want the viewer to see some kickass, richly detailed animation to open the series, get to the actual show itself and then think, “Wow, what a steaming pile of shit!” (except it will be too late to change the channel by that point because people are lazy). If you’re flipping channels around the time shows begin, your eye will be caught by something that looks interesting. And then it’s a crapshoot as to whether what comes after will be good or not, but you know, good things happen sometimes.

3) The OP sequence gives the viewer a decent idea of what the series is about. Certain characters will be highlighted, they’ll prance around doing crap that you can expect them to do during the course of the series, and the attentive viewer may get a feel for the themes of a series (aka the pretentious bullshit dorks like me gobble up). When the viewer sees the OP for Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, for instance, he or she should glean from the OP that the series is about a midget and his pet suit of armor and how they fight crazy villains and stuff. When the viewer sees the first Eureka Seven OP, he or she should be able to sense that Renton and Eureka are hot for each other, and that surfing robots give mecha maniacs hard-ons.

Now, exactly how to execute these three mandates into a single interesting package is entirely up to the studio — that’s the fun and creativity of making an OP sequence, right? And there are of course numerous examples of OPs that absolutely nail these crucial rules. I bagged on Baccano‘s lame ED sequence in my previous post, so I’ll make up for that by using its awesome OP, “Guns and Roses”:

Now that is a badass OP sequence right there. The music kicks ass (anime needs more awesome jazz in general), the visuals are distinct and interesting, and the viewer really gets a feel for the various characters and what they do, whether it’s gambling, drinking, blowing shit up or throwing knives around like a madman (the OP is like a giant character chart!). Something else the OP does that is interesting is prepare the viewer for Baccano‘s style of storytelling — it leaps from character to character, smoothly transitioning as it moves along and highlights the connections between people (some hidden, and some out in the open). That’s A+ work right there.

Speaking of highlighting storytelling style, another OP that successfully pulls off this trick is K-On! No, really, it’s true! I am specifically thinking of the second OP sequence here. Take a gander:

See how that OP just copy/pastes Azusa into the otherwise exact same sequence from the beginning of the series? It cleverly mirrors how Azusa is copy/pasted into all the same stories from the first half of K-On! Those lovable rascals at Kyoto Animation were just preparing their viewers for all the same crap they had already watched earlier in the show! How good-hearted of them!

Anyway, studios hopefully try to make OPs kickass and strongly representative of a series so that normal viewers will get potentially hooked onto a series, and so that geeks with no lives can analyze them. But what about the poor, neglected EDs? If a guy like zzeroparticle — who runs a music blog! — can write, and I am paraphrasing here, “Shit, man, there really aren’t that many truly memorable EDs!” then what hope do they have?

We have to admit a few things here: 1) EDs just are not as important as OPs. They play at the end of an episode — theoretically, the viewer has already made his or her decision about the series. That person won’t be like, “Fuck, man, Big O really blew huge cock until I saw that sweet ass credits scroll at the end!” That leads into 2) Anime studios are cheap. Not all anime are made on the cheap, of course, but let’s not pretend anime studios are above saving a bit of cash, even during the best of times. (Not that I disapprove of this, mind, since I am such a penny-pinching bastard myself.) What better way to kick the budget up a couple of notches by half-assing the ED sequence? Who’s going to give a shit, right? And those two combine into 3) There’s no real accepted, widespread way to do ED sequences . . . although that might be less true with each new season.

Now, I can’t sit here and definitively say that the way studios approach EDs has completely changed over such and such time, because I just don’t know that. But in the short time I have kept up with the current seasons (about a year-and-a-half now), I have seen more bold attempts to give EDs unique identities.

From what I’ve seen, EDs fall into three categories: 1) Pretty basic credit scroll with little to no animation; good way to save some money, although people such as myself might not give a shit if there’s an awesome song attached (think Cowboy Bebop‘s ED), 2) Basic credit scroll but with a decent attempt at animation, although nothing too fancy (think Wolf’s Rain‘s ED) and 3) Studios actually break the bank and create what amounts to a second OP (think Eden of the East‘s ED).

Now I could just be a total friggin’ n00b, and EDs could have been made in the same ratio for years without me noticing (I barely watched the things until recently, so that is very possible), but I do think studios are trying a bit more. I took a cheap shot at K-On! earlier, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy its ED. Hanamaru Kindergarten has had a different ED each episode, and SHAFT of course usually likes to go wild with its EDs (as with everything else). And there are some more I’m forgetting because my memory blows. These are of course the exception, rather than the rule, but it’s a start, right?

EDs can be as fun and interesting as OPs — their identity is ambiguous (are they used to let people down slowly after an episode? to amp them up even more? to just say, “OK, the episode is over, now get the fuck outta here”?), and I say that ambiguity is a positive. It’s free reign to do whatever the hell a studio wants with the ED! In the grand scheme of things, who is going to care that much if it sucks? If the studio has to shave a bit of money, then that’s what has to happen . . . but if they get a chance to try something different or interesting, then why not?

A favorite ED sequence of mine — and I’ve probably blown this series in enough places, but one more never hurt — is Kaiji‘s. It’s not terribly complicated, but in combination with the OP it tells the viewer absolutely everything there is to know about Kaiji.

There’s the OP. Simple story: Kaiji falls into the trap of gambling (with the Japanese Ramones ripping out an awesome tune behind him), but since he’s such a badass he’s all, “FUCK YEAH GAMBLING”, is seduced by the promise of big cash and is ready to lay a gambling beatdown on the rat bastards who put him in such crappy situations. Then each episode happens and Kaiji gets the crap beaten out of him physically and spiritually. It’s pretty much a guarantee that Kaiji will end an episode more fucked than he was at the beginning. And then the ED plays.

Really, that song and animation just hit a home run with the misery Kaiji feels each episode. It reminds me of a basic situation of westerns, actually: The cowboy wandering from town to town, never able to settle down because that’s not what he is good at doing. It’s the same with Kaiji — he may be tough as nails, but he’s also a gambling drifter. That’s what he is. The ED makes sure you know that. And you know what the most brilliant part is? If you marathon Kaiji, you start the OP up after you finish the ED . . . and the cycle starts again, just like in the series itself!

It’s not complex, but it just works, you know? And I love that. EDs don’t have to tie into the series in some grand, amazing way, but they’re as much a part of the show as the OP. They deserve a bit more respect, right?

Anyway, I have probably blabbered on long enough. How about you fine people share some of your favorite EDs? Do you actually look for anything in an ED sequence? Is there one (or more) you can point to and say, “Now that is what an ED should be”? Any other OP/ED combos you can think of that really tell the whole story about a series?

21 Responses to “The Role of OPs and EDs”

  1. I actually like Index’s first OP psi-missing. The first techno sound you’ll hear from it is awesome. (although I can’t say I was so enthralled by the video combined with it)

    ED huh… Of all EDs I think this is the one I liked most -> Aria’s Rainbow. It’s much more upbeat compare to Undine which is the OP.

    • “PSI-Missing” is pretty rad, yeah. I really liked that and Toradora’s first OP, “Pre-Parade”, when those two shows first came out.

  2. On the topic of ARIA, one fairly unique approach it has is a lack of a set OP sequence. It’s still going about telling a story even when the OP song is rolling.

    I wish all EDs could be as good as “Futuristic Imagination”, I really do. That whole sequence is a work of art. Kasai’s anime also tend to have really good ED songs and sequences and in these cases, they serve a purpose since Kasai adores cliffhangers. Series like Honey and Clover and Kimikiss often end episodes with a really dramatic cliffhanger which then blends into the opening of the generally tender songs Kasai uses for the ED. The fact that the ED songs are so important for the lingering mood that he wants to leave the audience with when an episode is over makes for a pretty good incentive for choosing good songs.

    An aside about the Kaiji combo… it probably doesn’t mean anything, but it’s interesting how the Kaiji OP and ED are much shorter than most other series. Also, LOL at the backhand compliment at K-On!. That show was as lazy as undergrads.

    • Huh, that’s an interesting detail about ARIA I was not aware of. Now I have to see it even more!

      Your point about Kasai’s series is why I love when shows go beyond the call of duty with their EDs. Maybe I’m just spoiled by the really good ones, but again, the ED is just as much a part of the show as everything else — why not do something interesting and fun with it to enhance the show? Anything that can be used in a visual/aural medium should be used.

      And somehow I knew you in particular would appreciate the ribbing at K-On’s expense. :p

  3. The best ED of all time, bar none, is the Hare+Guu Deluxe ending. It’s just amazing in every single way possible. Actually, Hare+Guu is just amazing in general and everyone should watch it (says the guy with the Hare Gravatar) but the ending to Deluxe stands out above everything else.

    Talking about combo op/eds, I always liked the constrast between the songs in Detroit Metal City

    • Hare+Guu had awesome OPs and EDs. Very different from the usual pop/rock songs you usually hear in series, and it always seemed as if the creators had a ton of fun coming up with the accompanying animation.

      lol I was thinking of Detroit Metal City too. It was especially hilarious hearing the ED after the more offensive endings of the series.

  4. fathomlessblue Says:

    @scamp. thanks for reminding me about Hare and Guu/Jungle Guu. its been such a long time since i watched any of that show, just saw the op and ed on youtube. ace.

    My favorite op probably has to be the one for serial experiments lain. unique animation (like the series itself), a surreal vibe highlighting the themes of alienation and confusion in the wired/net world and an excellent english (and not engrish) song that captures the melancholy of the series. the op kind of makes it clear from the beginning that your in for something strange but doesn’t seem impenetrable to confound to viewer entirely. thats left for the series itself to do, lol.

    fave ed’s are probably the already mentioned wolfs rain (even if the series suffered from stupid ending syndrome) and the ending for now and then, here and there. both very simple but highlight the feel of the series in both video and music.

    i also really enjoy the op and ed of k-on! as well as the series in general. thats probably only because i haven’t watched enough moe to become jaded by it yet.

    on a final note i love when an anime seamlessly phases the ed into the final parts of a particular episode. fmab’s been doing that with a number of their endings and the results have always been v. effective.

    • Lain’s OP is a classic, yeah. Love that song.

      I enjoyed the first half of K-On! but the second half soured me on the series . . . since, you know, it’s exactly the same as the first half + Azusa.

      Your last point actually touches upon a wrinkle that I couldn’t find a spot for in this post — lately it seems as if more shows are finding the best spots in individual episodes in which to integrate the ED, and then using the remaining time to craft mini-cliffhangers. (FMA: Brotherhood does this, Gundam 00 did this in the second season, and there are probably others I can’t recall off the top of my head.) It’s an interesting strategy that I actually like when it is employed well.

      • fathomlessblue Says:

        ha, im with you on k-on! it should have much more focus on music and less on beach trips. i really enjoyed the ova/ep 14 by giving ‘some’ insight into a japanese live house, of course they kinda spoiled it by showing nearly none of the actual performance. oh well, maybe the new series might have more focus on the tunes. thinking about it a series about the teachers increasingly heavy music group may have been a better idea. xD

  5. One cheap ending I like is the Kannazuki no Miko ending. You want to see the whole picture, but no, you get one face, then another face, then one face with a bit of the other face, etc., which tortures you for a minute until you finally get the whole thing. Another benefit of being cheap endings is that they can spawn cheap parodies. Draw your couple of choice. BAM, you have the KnM ending.

    • I watched that ED after reading your comment, and as someone who appreciates cheapness — especially cheapness as brazen as in KnM’s ED — I had to applaud.

  6. Personally my favorite EDs are the ones where they show the characters doing various things unrelated to the show, or a montage of pictures of characters doing stuff. This usually works via photo montage or actual photos, or just still frames of characters.

    Of course you didn’t mention the most truly epic ED of all time… the one from Haruhi, which combined random still frames with the most copied anime dance routine of all time.

    • I didn’t mention Haruhi’s ED because I thought it would be too obvious . . . then again, I did mention Cowboy Bebop’s ED. :p

  7. When it comes to OPs, nothing can beat Doraemon’s OP’s national iconic-ness XD Just about every Japanese person knows how to sing it; it’s practically a national anthem lol. A lot of OP and ED songs can work as stand-alone songs or even as the OP/ED for some other series, but Doraemon’s were specifically written for the show. Two of the EDs were sang by Doraemon’s voice actor. Come to think of it, shows that are aimed at younger audiences seem to have a better chance of having that type of OP/EDs. Chi’s Sweet Home is one example of that. Sang by Chi’s voice actor, it’s short and sweet, just like the show itself, and it blasts you with CUTENESS BEAM just like the show itself, and the lyrics speak for this particular show. Don’t think Chi’s has an ED though.

    Another OP/ED combo I like is the one for Sailor Moon S. I particularly like how the opening sequence changes subtly as the show’s content changes.
    ….God I feel old now.

    Come to think of it, has Japanese anime always been changing their OP/EDs as often as they do now? Sailor Moon used the same opening song until Sailor Stars, and I don’t remember the older shows’ openings ever changing. And how come Japanese anime have such elaborate OP/EDs? American cartoons and TV shows have much shorter opening songs, which are usually just a short instrumental tune, and they don’t usually bother with an ED; they’d just re-use the OP for the credit roll.

    • Yeah, I’ve noticed that series as recent as a few years ago would stick to one OP/ED for the duration (assuming they were longer than one cour, anyway). For longer series (like FMA: Brotherhood), changing the OP/ED seems to be a nice way to mark the beginning of a new season. I personally don’t mind when a series sticks to one OP/ED the whole way through, especially if I like them both.

      American series have relatively simple title/credit sequences because they have less time to work with, due to commercials. In a given half-hour, about 22-24 minutes will be devoted to actual content; the actual time is often much closer to the former than the latter. So the creators eschew elaborate titles/credits but get to use that time for additional content. Much as I like OP/EDs, they’re not really a deal breaker for me, so I don’t particularly care if American series skimp on those, haha. Plenty of ‘em are still memorable even with the time limit, anyway.

      • I think the shorter time slot is just one part of the story though. Even though Japanese TV shows have a longer/more flexible time to work with, they could have had shorter OP/EDs in favor of more content too. Unless there’s some sort of international convention that says X amount of time is for content, and the rest can be used for OP/ED/commercials. Also, why have different songs for the OP and the ED? Sometimes when Japanese anime are localized for North America, the dubbing company would toss the ED and instead, stick to the American convention of recycling the OP for the end credits, and for all practical purposes that worked just fine (and probably more budget-friendly too).

        I think OPs and EDs in Japanese anime have become more and more elaborate over time, and it’s interesting to see that a cult is rising around just the OP and EDs. In reviews for American shows, you rarely see the reviewer saying something about the OP/ED (if there is one). But in reviews for anime the OP/ED will usually get mentioned. Recent anime are having completely new OPs and EDs as often as every 13 episodes, and there are entire blog posts about OPs and EDs.

  8. [...] should have been written up sooner, especially since Shinmaru over at Unmei Kaihen has put up a good post outlining the purpose behind those OPs and EDs and I’ll just expand on it a bit further. I [...]

  9. [...] role most opening and ending themes play within an anime. And the most common function is that of a glorified music video meant to promote a song and the group performing it, and, of course, the actual anime itself. The [...]

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