This really 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 think that for most of us, the idea behind those sequences are fairly obvious, but it never hurts to put it in writing so that any misconceptions (mine or the readers’) can be dispelled.
So yes, Shinmaru covers the business side by noting that these sequences are a way for music companies to bring new artists to light and expose their music to different audiences. If you want to divide the domains between OPs and EDs, then OPs generally give us an idea of what the series is about and since it’s generally the first thing the viewer will see, it’ll most likely use good art/animation to draw the audience in.
That’s not to say that there are times when the studios will try to be misleading. If you want a good example, look no further than Renkin 3-kyu Magical? Pokaan, which creates expectations that the series would involve some great magical, cosmic struggle with some yuri thrown in for good measure. Of course, audiences hoping to get that kind of action are bound to be disappointed by the story, which is mostly about us watching the characters in the OP go through hilarious hi-jinks as they try to adapt to modern-day society. But hey, if the goal was to make the audience curious about the show, it worked!
Anyways, my favorite OPs tend to be relevant to the story, so the ARIA OPs are always going to get a thumbs up from me. But when it comes to a strong mesh between the opening and the actual story, I think Gankutsuou’s “We Were Lovers” stands out the most. That the lyrics are in English gives us a grasp of what’s going on in the way it captures Edmond Dantes’s sentiments and the feelings of vengeance that stir deep within him. So taken in sum, the music is really poignant in the way it captures the pain, the lyrics give the audience a feel for how the story unfolds, and the art/animation gives us a glimpse of Gonzo’s effort in the series. That it was composed specifically for the anime rather than sell CDs probably helps too unless I’m gravely mistaken and this got a lot of people to buy Jean-Jacques Burnel CDs.
But EDs. Yes, it’s true that there’s no real discernible pattern that one can put one’s finger upon, and the closest that I’ve come is to suggest that it’s there to ingrain themselves in the viewer’s mind by providing the lingering effect that will allow people to contemplate on whatever has just taken place in the show or to make us look forward to the next episode. That most of them don’t really deliver this kind of effect means that it’s probably wrong and that there actually is no pattern, so I’ll just save myself the hassle and say that the ones that I enjoy the most do achieve this effect, and I love them all the more for it.
So which shows manage to nail this down pat? Well, Wolf’s Rain’s “Gravity” definitely comes to mind. The lyrics within the song give us an idea of how long the wolf pack has been searching for their paradise, and though the conditions are right, there’s still a struggle that they must overcome if they’re to reach it. These feelings tie in with the show rather well and definitely leaves that lingering effect as we too come to empathize with their need to seek out that sanctuary and their determination to make it.
Or how about Welcome to the NHK’s “Odoru Akachan Ningen.” That sequence sure ties in well with in the series. Kenji Ootsuki’s harsh vocals are pretty good at capturing the insanity possessed by those who are looking to regress by turning into that “kidult” rather than live up to the demands of society and nails Tatsuhiro Sato’s state where he withdraws from society rather than confront it directly. The lyrics and animation do a good job of capturing his delusional tendencies borne from his crazed mindset that it’s a mad mad world and this song nails it. I might not have a great deal of affinity for it, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t leave that strong impression behind. I certainly remember it a lot more vividly than I do the show’s second ED at any rate.
OPs are definitely more clear-cut than EDs and in general, they hit their purpose better. EDs are not as memorable because though we might want them to leave behind that strong association with the series, they generally do not. That’s why the two examples I cited will stay with me: they enrich the viewing experience by matching the content of the music and animation to the show’s primary plotline, ending each episode on a note so as to render the entire entity unforgettable.