English Lyric Anime Songs – Serious Songs for Serious Anime

English language theme songs are rare in anime, but it recently occurred to me that some of them rank among the best I’ve heard used in the medium. If there’s a tendency in the use of songs sung by native English speakers, especially those that appear on this list, it’s that they’re more somber and subdued, and appear in more serious anime. Whether this is a coincidence, or there’s a train of logic underlying this, I’m not sure, but there’s an admirable quality to the songs in this list, a level of sophistication well above the average anime tune. All of them are, in my opinion, underloved, and the type of which I’d have no complaint about hearing in anime more often. (Image found on oreno.imouto.org. Link mildly NSFW.)

English by birth, but French by ethnicity, Jean-Jacques Burnel wrote “We Were Lovers” as a song that tells a story, a song made specifically for the anime it opens, Gankutsuou. It pours the feelings of love, revenge and regret that make up the anime’s story into the open, leaving nothing concealed. Each time it threatens to build to something intense, it quickly dissipates into a trickle of tender romantic sentiments and a deluded sense of optimism with the lyrics “nothing can go wrong”.

Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo – We Were Lovers by Jean-Jacques Burnel »

It’s a pity Scottish indie group The Delgados broke up, and after hearing Gunslinger Girl‘s OP song “The Light Before We Land”, you’ll probably agree. The song undergoes two very eclectic transitions right at the beginning, starting as an angelic hymn then exploding into a melody carried by violins and a heavily distorted bass before finally settling on an acoustic guitar riff with an off-kilter beat. Lead vocalist Emma Pollock’s singing is dreamlike and relaxing, but the lyrics are troubled at times, but also emphasize a sense of purpose.

Gunslinger Girl – The Light Before We Land by The Delgados »

Ally Kerr, also Scottish, is known in anime circles for the determined song that blessed the brilliant Mushishi, “The Sore Feet Song”. Mushishi is an anime about a journey, so it’s fitting that this is also true of its OP. Ally Kerr’s wondering love-struck pariah who “stole ten thousand pounds, ten thousand pounds to see you” and “robbed convenient stores ‘cos I thought they’d make it easier” is a far cry from Mushishi‘s noble, but analytical Ginko, but the subdued tone of the song is the perfect opener for the sentimental and tender drama that appears in all of Mushishi‘s stories.

Mushishi – The Sore Feet Song by Ally Kerr »

English artist David Sylvian’s “For The Love Of Life” is an incredibly haunting song, which evolves into something disturbing and ironic when it complements Monster’s ED sequence and its images of a terrible creature who devours a kingdom. In many ways “For The Love Of Life” is a song about acceptance of one’s place in life, but it’s simultaneously anti-complacent, challenging its listeners with lines like “we could lose it all but we’ll go down fighting… And what of the children? Surely they can’t be blamed for our mistakes.” It’s a slow song, but it never meanders… every note and every lyric has a staid intensity.

Monster – For The Love Of Life by David Sylvian »

London is home of some of the best music makers in the world, and that’s true even when it comes to anime, with its residents, Boa, responsible for what I consider one of anime’s all-time best theme songs, Serial Experiments Lain’s OP song, “Duvet”. A much more sprightly song than the others on this list, Boa’s lead vocalist Jasmine Rodgers sings with an almost Celtic inflection. The song’s verses vindictively point outwards, but the choruses become noticeably introverted with lines like “I am hurting, I have lost it all, I am losing, help me to breathe”. At every moment, Rodger’s emotions permeate the right mood. Everything is carried by a delightfully melodic baseline, especially the uplifting guitar instrumental through the middle of the song.

Serial Experiments Lain – Duvet by Boa »

I don’t want to write too much about The Seatbelts’ triumphant song, “Blue” because I feel like every word I write could unwittingly demean it. What’s the right word to describe it? Sublime? Iconic? It is instantly evocative of and just as heavy as the unforgettable scene in Cowboy Bebop that it connects to. It’s a masterpiece song fitting of the masterpiece anime that it closes. The Seatbelts are a vastly different band from the others mentioned in this list. Lead by one of anime’s most accomplished musicians, Kanno Yoko, The Seatbelts was a vast composition of Japanese, New Yorker and Parisian jazz and blues musicians, including Yamane Mai, who, with her strong singing voice, provides the vocals for “Blue”.

Cowboy Bebop – Blue by The Seatbelts »

These songs are all amazing in their own way, and often accompany anime that tend to be more serious, more mature. The commonality between them kinda suggests that something underlies this trend. What that “something” is, I’ve got no idea, but I’m interested in hearing theories. There are plenty of other impressive English lyric songs that are most notable for their appearance in anime, and if you have some favourites I haven’t listed here, I’d like to know about them. If there’s one trait these songs share, it’s that they don’t get the love they deserve.

Sorrow-kun

Guest Contributor & Editor-in-Chief of The Nihon Review.

17 thoughts on “English Lyric Anime Songs – Serious Songs for Serious Anime

  • November 21, 2010 at 2:14 am
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    I thought of one possibility of how English being the default “fancy language” in Japan immediately affords a certain amount of situational/topical gravity to the song, and by extension the anime and its audience. This might also apply backwards during the song selection process, where the producers might transliterate the lyrics of a shortlisted song as thoroughly as possible so as to avoid *any* sort of cognitive dissonance as a form of perceived offense to the song’s writers and performers.

    As an example, Gundam X is easily one of the less serious titles in its parent franchise, but its first ending song, “Human Touch” by Warren Wiebe is a beautifully soulful song of love. And as it turned out, Gundam X’s romantic component became one of its more celebrated aspects while other parts ended up relatively unimpressive when taken in contrast to the other shows in the franchise.

    Oh by the way, I wholeheartedly recommend that song. Gundam or not, it’s definitely worth a listen at least: http://youtu.be/y32Q1ks4hX4

    An anomaly which doesn’t exactly fit the bill is the Backstreet Boys’ songs in Hanada Shounen-shi. Though I guess one can say that it fits the show’s style of mixing heartfelt stories about the spiritual with toilet jokes. Then again, is it just simple boyband marketing? I can’t tell. 😛

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  • November 21, 2010 at 4:38 am
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    ahh i love almost all these songs. not too fond of the style of Gunslinger Girl one and I haven’t heard the monster one yet since i haven’t seen that series. soon though!

    the sore feet song is one of my all time favourites and i play it all the time

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  • November 21, 2010 at 2:05 pm
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    An excellent collection of songs. I agree Duvet could be on top of any list of opening themes (anime, or even TV from around the world). David Sylvian has been one of my favorite performers since the 1980s when I used to listen to him in the band, Japan. Yamane/Seatbelts … impossible to go wrong with this combination, and Blue is one of those songs you always want on your iPod in case you find yourself standing alone, staring out across some huge vista.

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  • November 21, 2010 at 4:25 pm
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    @ottocycle
    I’m also wondering if it has something to do with the funding of the shows. None of these series are cheap anime, and I’m wondering if, given the right budget, producers of anime of this nature are willing to go international for their performers to set the mood that they want. Eden of the East is an example of this, although it differs slightly from the rest of the list in that, the band is mainstream and the song isn’t best known for its use in an anime.

    @chii
    “Duvet” and “For the Love of Life” are my two favourites. “The Sore Feet Song” is also excellent. I’m really fascinated by the story it tells in its lyrics. The character that Kerr sings about almost sounds like he’d be more fitting in Kaiji than Mushishi. 😛

    @Joojoobees
    I might have to go and listen to more of Sylvian’s stuff. Going by “For the Love of Life” and the description of his background on Wikipedia (which obviously I looked at while researching this article), it sounds like his music would be right up my alley. I, honestly, can’t listen to “Blue” that often. I get teary eyed each time I do. :)

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  • November 21, 2010 at 6:07 pm
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    The thing I’ve found most interesting about this list is that the bulk of them are all from the UK. It does make me wonder why the musical selections seem to be from that region and not so much North America (OK, the Backstreet Boys cited in ottocycle’s comment would be one I suppose). Even when you branch out and look at groups like Oasis… yeah, they’re English too!

    Also, the only thing I can hassle you for is not including Maaya Sakamoto’s “Gravity” which does a pretty damn good job at capturing Wolf’s Rain’s sentiments rather beautifully.

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  • November 21, 2010 at 6:52 pm
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    Whoa, no mention of the ed track for Gankutsuou? That track was awesome. I digress.

    Good catch with the rest of the tracks above. I’ve always been fond of The Delgados, and finding out they had a track in an anime, Gunslinger Girls to boot, made my day even so back when I discovered this. Unfortunately I have no theory behind why English lyric tracks made their way to animes or their significance. I do wonder why the producer/composer of the soundtrack reached out to find talent outside the Japanese market to convey the mood of the anime.

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  • November 21, 2010 at 8:20 pm
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    “Duvet” remains one of my favorite all-time opening, and favorite songs in generally. It’s wonderful in that at first listen, it doesn’t seem to fit the series at all, but it somehow does fit it perfectly.

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  • November 22, 2010 at 1:14 am
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    @zzeroparticle
    Yeah, the fact that most of these artists are from the UK is something I noticed as well. I remembered that you were a fan of “Gravity”. It’s a good song, but I didn’t include it because I haven’t actually seen Wolf’s Rain, so it’s hard for me to make judgments about its “seriousness”.

    @Rhythmroo
    Oh yeah, no disagreements about the ED song for Gankutsuou. I can kinda see zzeroparticle lining me up with a baseball bat for saying this, but I actually like the ED better than the OP. I didn’t include it because it was such a vastly different song from the others I listed. It’s not as subdued or somber as the other ones… it’s much more intense, almost predatory in tone.

    @TWWK
    “Duvet” is a great stand-alone listen as well. Great to listen to in almost any context.

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  • November 22, 2010 at 4:55 am
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    @Sorrow-kun
    I’m inclined to agree on that possibility as well. And yes, while Eden of the East is an exception, I find it worth noting that it is noitaminA which tends to select theme songs closer to the mainstream, so that might have weighed in on getting the Oasis song selected.

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  • November 25, 2010 at 2:44 am
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    We Were Lovers was so sweet and it’s strange that I always felt like I had heard it before. I didn’t know it was originally written for this anime.

    I’d also like to add ‘Never’, ‘Carry me away’ and ‘the tree song’ from Kaiba to the list. They had English lyrics as well :)

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  • November 25, 2010 at 9:51 am
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    One of the songs that came to mind was Kagami Seira’s “Super Special” from Choas; Head. While it’s not purely English, a large majority of the song is. Kagami Seira also did the 2 songs from Kaiba that Canne mentioned, which are incredibly gorgeous songs that I highly recommend. The show is quite special as well.

    Another song that wouldn’t quite qualify for the list due to the actually ED being in Japanese, but the English version of Guin Saga’s “This is my road” is another beautiful song. Kanon’s voice is quite stunning performing it.

    Let’s of course not forget Evangelion’s ED, the multiple cover’s of “Fly me to the Moon.”

    While not an OP or ED, Lia’s two insert songs in School Rumble, “Girls Can Rock,” and “Feel like a Girl” always come to mind when I think of English songs in anime.

    And of course there’s the wonderful Engrish of Spice and Wolf’s ED, “Ringo Biyori.” Though that song is so heavy in the Engrish department, it’s almost hard to consider it English :)

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  • November 26, 2010 at 7:04 am
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    What came to my mind first was “The Garden of Everything”, sung by Steve Conte and Maaya Sakamoto in Rahxephon. Arguably, Maaya Sakamoto sang Japanese, but I still think it’s a wonderful English song in anime.

    I love “The Sore Feet Song”, it’s such a unique yet fitting song for Mushishi

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  • November 26, 2010 at 11:38 am
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    This is an interesting trend to point out, and you’re right that these songs tend to show up in darker or at least more serious anime. The first two to come to mind for me are the Eden of the East OP and one of the GitS: SAC EDs (you know the one). The songs themselves seem to be above average but I’m sure that part of their allure is in the fact that they’re entirely different from what viewers expects from anison. Unconsciously, when you begin a show and hear an English OP with a sombre tone, you know you’re in for something more unique than your average super-commercialized moe or mecha/shounen series. That uniqueness isn’t necessarily a good thing but I think it does a good job of alerting you that whatever you’re about to watch is more interesting than the generic synopsis implies.

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  • November 27, 2010 at 3:45 pm
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    Nearly forgot about Euphoric Field from Ef ~ A tale of memories. Love that song.

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  • May 9, 2011 at 5:35 pm
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    I think Paranoid Android deserves an honorable mention. =)

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  • May 9, 2011 at 6:13 pm
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    @Natalia
    If only because it’s one of the greatest songs ever. :)

    Reply

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