Anime · Lists · Music

The Five types of anime theme songs

A few years ago, around this time in March, I created some of my own customized bracketologies. I don’t do them anymore because they seem to be done by kangaroo men now. I mean, have you seen some of this year’s tournaments? Grantland’s The Wire character; Jezebel’s Sex vs. chocolate? It’s gotten to the point where the best 2011 tournament took over a calendar year to complete. (I can do a separate post about the ridiculous seedings in these tournaments, but I’ll pass.)One tournament I created was for Best Anime OP theme song. It didn’t take long for me to see several flaws in my tournament. The biggest, and most obvious one was on language(s). Upon review, I realized that in order to do a themes song tournament right, I’d have to run 5 different ones. Otherwise, I would end up with a match-up that is not apples vs. oranges, but more like apples vs. studebakers. Here is my classification of the different type of anime theme songs. (Note: I will reference OP theme songs, but the same applies to END theme songs as well).

Type I – All Japanese lyrics  (example: “Last Regrets” from Kanon)

This is not as common as you think. In fact, most theme songs you will hear will fall under category Type II. I was hard pressed to find one in my collection that was from a series that was not: (a) obscure; and (b) mediocre or terrible. If you do hear a Type I theme, it will more likely than not, be a more traditional Japanese song, and not a catchy, j-pop single. Since I am not Japanese speaker, I will have a natural inclination against these songs. Conversely, self-proclaimed otaku will be more biased towards these songs. If there ever was a song that could be labeled as a category Type I½, it would be “Cruel Angel’s Thesis” from Neon Genesis Evangelion. I can’t decide whether or not the word “thesis” is gratuitous or not within the context of the song. And for those who care, my #1 seed was “Kiseki no Umi” from Record of Lodoss War: Chronicles of the Heroic Knight.

Type II – Japanese lyrics, with gratuitous English mixed in, aka: “Engrish” (example: “Give a reason” from The Slayers NEXT)

If you are listening to an anime theme song, and you think to yourself, “Hey did I just hear something in English in the middle of the song,” chances are, you are correct. For the same reason we find certain foreign words “exotic” Japanese singers decide to throw in random English words and phrases, just because it sounds cool or cute to them. English can be thrown into any part of the song – from the first line of the first verse, to the last line of the chorus. The Japanese language has loaned several words from English, but most of those words are from the 20th and 21st century (i.e.: modern technology words). Yet, that does not explain the glut of superfluous English in j-pop.

Type III – All English lyrics (example: “Go Where No One’s Gone Before” from Licensed by Royalty)

There are not many in this category. It just seems that way, since a series with an all-English theme song is likely to get distributed to North America. I’ll be honest, unless the singer mangles the English language badly and sounds like a drunken-Brittany Spears, or a sober Kesha (I’m looking at you Berserk), I’m gonna like it. An English OP theme is also a great way to attract new fans to the genre. I was able to instantly convert someone into a fan based on Samurai Champloo’s “Battlecry.”

Type IV – all or mostly Instrumental (example: “Tank” from Cowboy Bebop)

I know I’m going to get flak on this one. Especially with “Tank.” First of all, what we hear is spoken word, not singing. Second, that’s what, 20 words? As much as I hate to use the qualifier “mostly”, I have to add that in that word to cover my sorry ass so I can include such songs that have a few spoken words thrown at the beginning of the song. Of course, a great OP theme can sucker me into watching a crappy series. It might be a future post of mine – Great OP/awful series, but here’s a preview – don’t watch Texhnolyze. Type IV can be broken down into sub-groups: IV(a) – Jazz; IV(b) – traditional Japanese; IV(c) – traditional non-Japanese (i.e.: from another country); IV(d) – techno/electronica. This category is going to have the highest degree of bias one way or the other, or the biggest case of YMMV. Those that can’t stand the schmaltzy, bubblegum-pop lyrics, or just the Japanese language in general will lean positively toward this group. Those who don’t like the genres of jazz, techno, or classical music will lean negatively against this group. Regardless, it is unfair to have an instrumental song go head-to-head against a song with lyrics in any setting.

Type V – includes a language that is not Japanese or English (example: “Inner Universe” from Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex)

And then we have songs that are (partially) sung in a language that is not Japanese nor English. Unlike Type II songs, it’s not just a random word or phrase. Type V songs have full lines or verses in another foreign language. And I’m not talking about languages spoken by Japan’s neighbors (Korean & Chinese). I mean there are themes songs sung in western languages such as Russian, French, Italian, and German. I’m sure there are others, but those are only the ones I’ve heard. Unfortunately, my favorite Type V anime song is neither an OP or END theme. It’s the Latin, Gregorian chant techno beat song, “Salva Nos” from Noir.

So who would win a 2012 Tournament? It’s hard for me to catch up on modern series, so I’d be hard pressed to seed a series that is more recent that say… K-ON! (yes the exclamation point is part of the title). Then there is the problem of trying to judge series that have tons of theme songs. Heck, Bleach is the Big East conference of anime – that show could place 11 or 12 songs into a Type II tournament by itself. I’m also afraid some old school series would not get a fair shake. The bottom line is that it is a thought experiment that would take a tremendous amount of time and energy, which is a luxury I can not afford at the moment in time.


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