My Anime OP/ED 3×3, Celebrating Two Years of the Otaku Exhibition

I have spent a lot of time thinking about what to do for the blog’s second anniversary. If I thought one year was a fluke, two puts that suspicion to bed. Funnily enough, some people want to hear what I have to say about anime, and even more of them than last year. For that, I am sincerely grateful.

I prefer to be snarky and sardonic, but it’s humbling to see how many people are willing to read my work. I’d still be writing it, even if it was one person or even none at all, but we crossed 50,000 total views earlier this year, and that’s just crazy to me. I began this blog because I needed the space and structure to write consistently, and it gave me an avenue to express all the thoughts I had crammed in my brain. Two years later, it may be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Last year, it was easy to come up with an anniversary post. The 3×3 is a staple of anime essayists, but now, I was operating in uncharted waters. I know another 3×3 may not seem that different, but I’m open about the fact that I’m not good at critiquing music. I don’t have the technical understanding to appreciate or analyze it as well as I’d like, but, this following year, I’d like to challenge what my content can and should be.

So, thank you for tuning in for another year of the Otaku Exhibition, and let’s start the music.

The Music Video – Jujutsu Kaisen ED 1, Lost in Paradise by ALI feat. AKLO

I’ll admit that this category is kind of a cheat. Openings are music videos by their nature, relying on music and visuals to tell a story rather than dialogue or traditional plot structure. Even so, I remember being a kid just getting into anime and realizing the magic of the AMV, and I never expected to have an officially produced ED recreate that feeling so faithfully.

Most openings and endings are able to pair their animation and music nicely, but few do it as well as Lost in Paradise. It’s visually vibrant, and the song is bursting with a frenetic energy that heightens the experience. Lost in Paradise has the benefit of being an ED, and thereby doesn’t have to communicate Jujutsu Kaisen’s tone or story, but what makes it special is how it depicts the characters.

Jujutsu Kaisen, in spite of its excellent comedic chops, is often gripped by a suffocating dark tone. I can see the use of both Lost in Paradise and the comedic asides in the form of Juju-stroll as palette cleansers. If you ever watched Attack on Titan weekly, you know the feeling of something terrible happening and you’re just looking at the end credits like, “how am I supposed to go back to my life for a week after that?”

It was actually a brilliant decision to cap off every episode in that first cour with the cast walking down a runway, showing off their casual clothes and what they get up to in their free time. The character animations are just so expressive, and the music and choreography are infectious. Even when Megumi is being dour, or they’re just flipping by snapshots of Yuji, Nobara, or Gojo eating or shopping, it’s hard to tear your eyes away.

But hey, Lost in Paradise is great, everyone knows that already, so let’s pivot towards a bit of a personal pick.

The Story so Far – Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood OP 4, Period by CHEMISTRY

Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood wasn’t my first anime, but it was the first anime that made me realize I need to see more stuff like this. Besides, it has five openings, and they’d all be the best OP in a lesser show, so it’s only fair I include my absolute favorite. Huh, in hindsight, there’s a lot of artists with all-caps names.

I love Period for representing where the story is now. Edward and Alphonse have been separated, to the point where it shows them running through each other and still winding up alone. Except, they’re not alone, even if they’re apart. As they look around, they become surrounded by their close friends, collaborators, and all the people they’ve helped. Eventually, there’s so many people there for them that the frame can’t contain them all.

Even if the brothers are separated, they’re not truly apart, shown by them both battling the homunculus Pride in the OP’s climactic fight. Finally, Ed and Al are reunited in the center of a transmutation circle, opening and shattering the Doors of Truth before the state alchemist’s pocket watch comes back into frame. In spite of their distance, they’re still bound by the bond they share, in the promise carved into the watch.

Oh, and I just really like the song.

The Whole Story – Your Name, Dream Lantern by RADWIMPS

Dang it, another all-caps name! Ugh, I don’t even care at this point, let’s move on.

Rather than elegantly describe the current state of a story arc in your opening, why not tell the entire story in two minutes and set it to one of the greatest soundtracks in anime? Yeah, Makoto Shinkai was a jerk for frontloading Your Name with spoilers, but since the movie and the opening are that good, I’ll give him a pass.

With no subtlety whatsoever, Dream Lantern tears into the fabric of what we love about an OP. There are so many songs I listen to every day because they preceded a story I love, and they still evoke the same emotions every time I hit play. Dream Lantern is just one of those, but it may be the best.

It’s phenomenal on a first viewing, but I believe it gets better every time you watch Your Name and the more you come to appreciate the film. It’s my favorite movie for a reason, and I love that it came with a song that perfectly emulates the emotional resonance of a 2-hour movie. How often does that happen?

About as often as you get an anime OP that leaves your chest tight and eyes burning, because I’m sure someone’s just cutting onions, right? Right?

The Current Conflict – Re:Zero OP 3, Realize by Konomi Suzuki

I promise this is not the same idea as what I said about FMAB, because Realize bears a strong resemblance to that style of storytelling. You could look at it from the angle that the opening is trying to tell you about this story arc, but deeper down, it’s explaining the specific problems Subaru is facing right now.

Subaru walks past the memories of his parents and the past that haunts him, under the shadow of Echidna as he is surrounded by enemies on all sides. As the text on screen straight-up tells you, “to save you I don’t care how many times I die.” And that’s exactly what he does, throwing himself at death time and time again to save the girl he loves and his friends, but it’s not the full story. Rather, it’s summarizing the personal problem Subaru must overcome in order to conquer these external problems.

It takes him the first half of this season to realize what he’s doing is destructive to himself as well as to the people who care about him. In the first season, Subaru learned that he was being selfish and only really looking out for himself, but here he has veered off into the direction of self-destructiveness.

The question posed in Realize is actually answered in the following opening, Long Shot. Satella asks Subaru to “treasure himself”, heartbroken at seeing what he’s putting himself through, and Long Shot ends with the lyrics declaring that they won’t trace someone else’s life, that they accept and know who they are. It’s only once Subaru learns to rely on others instead of constantly sacrificing himself that he manages to escape the sanctuary and thwart the attack on the manor.

But you may have guessed I was going to talk about Re:Zero; it’s my favorite anime for a reason, so let’s check on one that isn’t quite as obvious.

The Vignette – The Case Study of Vanitas OP 1 – Sora to Utsuro by sasanomaly

Ha! An opening by an artist with a lower-caps name!

The Case Study of Vanitas is a bizarre anime, in that you could be watching it for the plot, the action, or the fanservice, and no matter what you pick, you’ll be happy. The key to that is the way mangaka Jun Mochizuki balances tone. Vanitas is disturbingly dark, hilarious, emotional, and quite often steamy. Throw some dice to figure out what kind of episode you’re going to get.

A great way to convey this is through the vignette style of opening, where you’re trying to tell a short story. Think of how Kaguya-sama’s second opening, Daddy Daddy Do, is actually a basic Kaguya sketch set to music. Sora to Utsuro instead follows a day in the life of its main characters, Vanitas and Noé, as they go sightseeing in Paris.

Noé is enchanted by the city of lights, while Vanitas grows increasingly impatient with his friend’s unwaning enthusiasm for some of the locales he might take for granted. It captures a lighter side of these characters, and informs why they’d be friends in the first place, each possessing traits that the other lacks. Seeing as their friendship is the basis of the story and carries the emotional weight of its heavier scenes, this opening is working hard to provide important context for the series.

And the OP is even working double-time to introduce us to its grand setting, the steampunk-ified Paris, home to all manner of vampires and nightmares as well as technological wonders. The first cour spends a lot of time in the streets and alleys of Paris, so it’s arguably just as important to familiarize us with the character played by the city as well as with the characters themselves.

And as our next entry will show you, I really appreciate when an anime is able to paint a picture of its characters organically in openings and endings.

The Usual Suspects, Fruits Basket ED 3 – Eden by Monkey Majik

When I asked if Fruits Basket was overrated, I spent a lot of time praising the way the anime handles its ensemble cast; no surprise that the EDs follow suit. Eden is a lovely song that manages to embody the contrasting tones of the series. Fruits Basket’s characters are often overwhelmed by their own isolation they feel as beings who are simply other, but by the end of the series, each of the Zodiac are handed a lifeline in the form of friends and loved ones who see them for who they are, not what they represent.

I love alternate clothing styles for characters, especially in official art like an ED. Dressing each of the Zodiac and Tohru in traditional Japanese clothing positioned along side vibrant landscapes is a wonderful aesthetic. Normally, I would take points off for just being a slideshow, but the art is so expressive that I can’t fault it.

How would you draw the loneliness Kyo feels as he seeks an escape from the prison of being the cat? What about Haru’s constant struggle with the anger and bitterness always bubbling beneath the surface? Maybe we could go simpler and depict pure smugness radiating from Shigure, or emphasize the dichotomy between Yuki and Akito by placing them in direct opposition to one another.

An ED is at its best when it is able to boil down complex stories to mere visuals, using the thousand words that a picture is worth effectively, and perhaps no opening does it better than this next entry.

The Buffet – Mob Psycho 100 OP 2, 99.9 by Mob Choir

99.9 is crammed with so much information that even on a surface level, it can make my head hurt. Something as simple as the lineup of our main characters is presented in such an engaging manner that it drags your gaze along whether you like it or not.

There’s so many moments where you blink and you miss it. The grid of character portraits is joined by symbols that may not even be important in the story yet, like the sunflower and the broccoli. The details fly so quickly that only on the hundredth viewing you’ll realize in the psychedelic kaleidoscope sequence that while the whole Body Improvement Club is working out in sync, Mob is flailing to keep up as best he can.

And then that final fight is just nuts. I realize I may be pushing it here by including three openings from a studio Bones production, but who cares when they look this good? I don’t know if there’s something in the water over at Bones or if it’s just a coincidence that so many of their OPs pop off, so be grateful I restricted myself to three.

99.9 is such a gallery of how good traditional animation can be, so I’ll switch gears to an opening that’s not traditionally animated at all.

Beastars OP 1 – Wild Side by ALI

I love when anime mess with their art style in an opening, but to completely shift to stop-motion is ingenious. Wild Side, also by ALI, depicts both sides of Legoshi and Haru’s relationship: the predator and the prey, and the boy and the girl. Needless to say, the song called Wild Side about some animals is on the nose.

I’m enchanted by how endearing the character animations are. I can’t imagine how painstaking it was to pull off convincing dance choreography, but the effect is undeniably worth it. The details are immaculate, from the tufts of Legoshi’s fur to the fuzz of Haru’s, right down to the gross dripping drool down Legoshi’s chops.

It’s equal parts Burtonesque spooky and a charming walk through the two characters’ dynamic, right down to the characteristic wag of Legoshi’s tail. I can’t even bring myself to analyze it further because the presentation is so magical that I get distracted whenever I try.

I originally planned to split this post into two parts, and it’s now that I regret not following through on that; I can’t work in a “to be continued” meme.

The Meme – JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure ED 1, Roundabout by Yes

Yes is already an all-time musical great, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee, so how much higher could they climb? You’re exactly right, the only thing left was to be the iconic ending to JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. Even brushing aside the proud musical tradition of JoJo, can we talk about how smart it is to use the cue of your ED as a cliffhanger?

The ED itself has an interesting blood draining motif, but it’s that iconic guitar riff from Roundabout that makes the ending. The only confusing part is why haven’t more anime done this? You see anime using their ED or OP for an extra emotional hit or in a climactic battle, but Roundabout’s use immediately lends mystique and tension to the end of every episode.

You’d be wrong to think that its popularity as a meme or knowing that a cliffhanger is coming would weaken its impact, besides. JoJo has been in the forefront of sound design in the anime industry since 2012, but I don’t want that to overshadow the brilliance of Roundabout’s presence in Phantom Blood and Battle Tendency.

Okay, that was it, 9 defining openings and endings in anime, but to truly be comprehensive, let’s toss in some honorable mentions.

I picked each of my 3×3 as representing the best in different approaches, but that forced me to exclude a lot of my favorites. Most openings fundamentally try to do the same thing: introduce you to characters, represent the vibe of the show, include some foreshadowing, etc.

So my favorite ‘basic’ or music video style openings are:

  • Fate stay/night: Unlimited Blade Works OP 2, Brave Shine by Aimer
  • Anohana OP 1, Circle Game by Galileo Galilei
  • Haikyuu OP 4, Ah Yeah!! by Sukima Switch
  • Wotakoi OP 1, Fiction by Sumika
  • Link Click OP 1, Dive Back in Time by Bai Sha JAWS
  • Horimiya OP 1, Iro Kousui by You Kamiyama

So, there goes two years of the Otaku Exhibition. It’s been quite the journey, and unlike last year, I’m not changing my upload schedule. Even so, there’s some news that may affect it in spite of that.

My wife and I are expecting out first child next year, so I’ll hope you pardon some late or missed posts, especially in the spring and summer. I don’t like to get into really personal stuff like this, but it’s hard enough juggling life as is, and it’s always been important to me that this blog was consistent and reliable, so I want to be open about anything that might affect that.

So, yeah, the third year of the Otaku Exhibition may be a little different. If I can manage it, I’d like to start expanding in the kind of content I create. You can always check out my Twitter @ExhibitionOtaku for the hot anime takes that don’t make it here, but I dunno, maybe a TikTok coming soon? A Patreon so you can throw money at me like a dancing monkey? I’m spit-balling at this point.

Let me just take a moment again to thank you all for tuning in this year, and I hope you’ll keep coming back in our third year, and hopefully even more beyond that. Until next time, thanks for reading.

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