They may be vastly outnumbered by the number of vocal OPs, but instrumental anime openings have plenty to recommend them. For those viewers who aren’t the biggest fans of J-pop, instrumentals can be far preferable. Their lack of lyrics also means that for viewers without a working knowledge of Japanese, there’s no need to peer at subtitles (assuming they’re there in the first place) while also trying to concentrate on sometimes fast-paced or frenetic visuals. And of course, for any anime viewer, the very fact that the vocal-to-instrumental OP ratio is so unbalanced makes the latter stand out purely by default.
That said, there are still a good number of instrumental anime OPs around, some of them better or more attention-grabbing than others. Based on a combination of the music itself as well as the visuals, I’ve managed to narrow that number down to my top five (plus an honourable mention) – a couple of which will hopefully be new to at least a few readers.
Honourable mention: Trigun
Hard rock not really being my thing, I can’t in all honesty say that Trigun’s OP is one of my favourites in any context. Having said that, it’s an incredibly iconic track, and listening to it does bring back a lot of fond memories – chiefly involving staying up until 2am to watch anime on Adult Swim, accompanied by a couple of bags of potato chips and several bottles of soft drink. I imagine that anyone with a particular fondness for the electric guitar would like this, as well as anyone with a particular fondness for the likes of Led Zeppelin. In fact, it’s pretty hard for me to imagine that ‘H.T.’ is not at least tangentially inspired by ‘Black Dog’.
Texhnolyze is something of an outlier on this list. First off, it’s the only OP whose music is by a non-Japanese group or artist – Juno Reactor is a British musical collective. Secondly, this particular song, ‘Guardian Angel’, was originally released in 1995, while the anime aired almost a decade later. I’ve seen a few people complain over the years about how the opening doesn’t suit the show itself, but personally I think the music (a punk-rock, techno and trance-inspired electronic piece) is well-suited to Texhnolyze’s dark and dystopian cyberpunk themes. As in the actual series, the OP’s visuals stick mainly to sepia and greyscale colourations, flickering static-like over the screen and adding to the unsettling but decidedly compelling atmosphere.
4. Michiko to Hatchin
Words like ‘bold’, ‘flamboyant’, and ‘sexy’ immediately spring to mind whenever I think of the OP for Michiko to Hatchin. A high-energy Latin-inspired tune, ‘Paraiso’ is written and performed by SOIL&”PIMP”SESSIONS, a Tokyo club jazz (self-coined “death jazz”) sextet. At times, the piano and sax sound as though they’re competing with each other for attention, lending the OP a highly energetic and exotic atmosphere – enhanced by the occasional shouts in Spanish over a megaphone and, of course, the heavily stylized (almost pop art-like) and undeniably sensual visuals. For a Thelma and Louise-like anime set in the slums of Brazil a fictional South American country, it’s a match made in heaven.
3. Lupin III (2015)
A fresh play on an old classic, 2015’s Lupin III is a jazzy remix of the track by original composer Ohno Yuji, himself a jazz musician. The tune was first released on vinyl in the late 70s, but it’s been altered and updated countless times over the past decades and for good reason – the tune is not only hugely iconic but also ridiculously catchy. With a wonderfully smooth sax line and eye-popping (literally) [http://grapee.jp/en/44309] visuals, Lupin III’s OP is a lot of fun to watch, and at times very reminiscent of a certain other anime title that has yet to make its appearance on this list. And in my case, that could only ever be construed as a compliment.
The OP for Baccano! doesn’t quite have the same kind of intense visual flair as the previous two anime titles do (although it does do a fantastic job of introducing a very large and colourful cast in a very short space of time), but it sets the mood for the show damn near perfectly. What better choice of music for a series taking place mainly in 1920s USA than a catchy jazz fusion piece, heavy on the alto sax and bringing with it all the psychotically fun atmosphere of opportunistic 20s American gangsters? Not much info is out there regarding the band, an all-female jazz group named Paradise Lunch, but ‘Gun’s & Roses’ is as funky a track as anyone could wish for. There’s actually a vocal version of the OP as well, but frankly it’s nowhere near as good as the instrumental original.
1. Cowboy Bebop
No doubt everyone and their Welsh Corgi saw this one coming, but sometimes you just can’t beat a classic – and while there are older tracks on this list, Cowboy Bebop’s OP is as classic as they come. Much of Bebop’s soundtrack is made up of jazz tunes, but ‘Tank!’, performed by Japanese jazz band The Seatbelts and composed by the now legendary Kanno Yoko, really is something else – a swinging, big-band jazz piece complete with a double bass and bongo drums. With an OP that oozes this much fun and style both musically and visually, it’s no wonder ‘Tank’ consistently comes out on top as one of the best and most memorable anime OPs of all time.
Question of the post: Obviously there are plenty more instrumental anime OPs out there. Did I miss out on any of your top favourites?