As I wrote in my Anime Expo itinerary, one of the events that I had been looking forwards to seeing was Alex Leavitt’s panel covering anime OPs and EDs since I was interested in listening what he had to say about the music and the animation behind that. Alex started things off by giving a bit of background information and how he had already given this talk over at Anime Boston. I didn’t recall a post discussing his talk in great detail from any of the Anime Boston goers, so I think I might as well throw my two cents into the mix. But before I go any further, let me say this: the panel was conducted really well and Alex definitely demonstrated a good amount of knowledge on the subject, especially the history behind the various OP/EDs as well as doing a good comparative analysis on how OP/EDs have evolved over time. The material managed to hit that sweet spot between breadth and depth given the audience makeup, and judging from the crowd reactions, most people were enthusiastic and enjoyed the talk a lot. The only issue was that it was too short (you could seriously make a semester-long lecture series seeing just how much material one can cover). So with that in mind, here were the thoughts that went through my head during that talk:
Alex started things off by talking about the OP to Astro Boy, which I thought matched the core ideas of the show by using a children’s chorus singing in a way that clearly lauds the title character and puts him on a heroic pedestal and showed how well-liked he was by the general populace. The animation itself mostly showed him doing heroic deeds which complemented the message of the music rather well. It definitely showed its age though and Alex talks about that later (and so will I).
Next up was the OP to Space Battleship Yamato, which used a song that brings to mind the image of a long odyssey. The use of a male chorus during this segment gave it a grand atmosphere, conveying a sort of boldness that channels that age-old mantra “where no man has gone before.” I don’t think the OP’s grandiosity is something that Yamato pioneered since people back then did view space as that final frontier to be explored by the brave and the ambitious and even though we’ve advanced pretty far since the 1970s, I could almost swear that modern shows like Tytania take its cue from Yamato, insofar as OPs are concerned.
Rounding out the OPs of older shows is none other than Mazinger Z which was technically the first super robot show to grace the TV screen. As is expected, the OP uses a heroic, glorifying theme and the accompanying animation shows the robot Mazinger Z (I can safely assume that’s the robot shown in the OP) doing what I’ll simplify into “cool stuff” like shooting its arm to do a long range punch, having the head unite with the torso, and so on. After taking us through this OP, Alex then went on to show the American version, which was nothing short of cheesy. The vocals were pretty bad, but what made the piece hilariously awful was that squeal/scream at the very end, which really took the cake. Sadly, this wouldn’t be the only OP that would be used as an example of how things fell apart when brought over to the States. More on that later.
The OP to The Big O left me a bit puzzled though since I wasn’t quite sure what the stated purpose of that particular OP was. I think it had to do with the fact that the OP animation gave us very little idea of what the series is about (I think I saw a robot here and there) and the music itself gives off that generic 1970s spy music except the lyrics served no purpose other than to hit the audience over the head by telling them that they were, indeed, watching The Big O. You know, just in case they thought they were watching a James Bond movie which, from my standpoint, seemed like what the OP animation was trying to emulate.
At this point, Alex begins talking about how OPs have begun to evolve. That is, they were no longer just music overlaid on the animation sequence; a concentrated effort was made to have the two complement each other. The first example he used to highlight that was the OP to Serial Experiments Lain and the whole mysterious vibe you get from the animation captures what the show was all about. As for the music, “Duvet” remains one of my favorite OP/EDs with its melancholy, lamenting feel. The match here between the music and the animation isn’t perfect, and the next example that he uses much better illustrates this.
The three iterations of Cutie Honey serves as his example, and the interesting thing to note about it is the way he uses the same piece in all three iterations even if the effect is a bit different in each one. The original Cutie Honey’s animation had that 1970s feel to it, both in the animation and the music, though the striking thing was the animation, which, for that time period, was pretty risque given all the fanservice elements they threw around. Cutie Honey Flash, which aired in 1997, was toned down a whole lot given its target audience. The music followed suit by delivering a performance that doesn’t have quite the energy of the original song (I guess the difference in the performers had something to do with that). Finally, with the Re: Cutie Honey OVA, we saw a return to the fanservice elements, appropriately aged to fit the mores of the twenty first century and though the music for this one had a more pop-ish flavor to it, you could still feel the old version of the song just lurking beneath the surface. Unlike most of the earlier samples he showed us, Cutie Honey’s animation and music meshed together really well and that one step effectively brings us closer to the OP/EDs of today.
This would be about the halfway point of his talk. Obviously, there’s more coming, but I figure that people might want to search these OPs out and digest them so to speak. There’s a lot of history to go through and I’d highly encourage exploring the examples that Alex used to get a feel for how things have changed since the 1970s. Anyhow, you can expect Part 2 sometime tomorrow, so stay tuned for that!