Opening Week Day 1: The Hook

May 6th, 2007

That’s right, twelve hundred words on the first 3 seconds of the song. 

Just as an aside, the examples I’m going to give throughout are not always the best shows in the world… and will occasionally be terrible shows, but they exemplify whatever aspect that I’m currently talking about. The examples are also just that… examples. There are many more that I’m either saving to talk about later, am unaware of, have slipped my mind, or are just not as good at whatever the current topic is as the given example.  

Based on studies of drivers responding to stimuli, the average human’s reaction time falls around 250 milliseconds, the average human’s instinctual decision making time (as shown in driver reactions to stimuli) is about another half second, and the average human’s movement speed once a decision is reached is around another quarter of a second. Now… watching anime is a somewhat different situation than potentially being involved in a five car pileup, so let’s go ahead and say the brain is working leisurely and triple every number.

Approximately three seconds. That’s how long an opening has to catch your attention before you make and carry out the decision to skip it, wander off, go to the bathroom, or any number of activities instead of watching it. If you aren’t watching it by the end of the five second mark, you won’t be watching it at the end of the 60 second mark.

The opening hook comes and goes in popular western music all the time. Sousa’s marches are infamous for having a sudden spark that immediately grabs the attention of the audience and doesn’t let go. It wanes a bit in jazz, revives in early rock, but is nearly gone for most of disco (I’ll get to why tomorrow)  and funk… though heavy metal has a special fondness for it.

Journey’s Any Way You Want It

From the very first note, your attention is immediately grabbed. You may not be a fan of the song, but you can’t help but be pulled into the music immediately. And I’ve yet to meet a man who can say that the initial riffs of songs like Clapton’s Layla or Loverboy’s Woking For The Weekend don’t immediately get their foot tapping… even if their taste doesn’t soon override that instinct.

Anime openings are no different. You could have a relatively decent song, but if you push all the interesting parts of the song to the bridge and leave the first few seconds of the opening to just sit on their own, nobody will every see what makes it interesting. Hell, sometimes they even just go straight to Sousa marches.

Ranma 1/2’s Fourth Opening

Hear that trumpet fanfare kicking things off? That’s military tradition at its finest and it flips the little node in your brain that says “this is loud and full of sound, I should probably be focused on it.”

Happy Lesson’s First Opening

In Happy Lesson’s case, what is there to be interested about or excited for in the first few seconds? The song is low key, there’s nothing happening visually, and it isn’t hard to imagine the tune being played at 3am on a “lite rock” station. The bridge at the 50 second mark is the most interesting part of the song, but that’s about 45 seconds too late to catch people.

Erementar Gerad’s Opening

Like Any Way You Want It, or the Sousa marches, Erementar Gerad makes an immediate demand on your attention, which puts it far ahead of Happy Lesson’s opening. The chance of you making it to the crucial second 5 are a hell of a lot better.

That’s not the only way to hook an audience though. The brain processes speech and music in different ways. One of the speech thereapy methods for those with stuttering problems is to teach them to sing in a monotone instead of try to speak. People also have a much easier time listening to music and speech at the same time and then being able to recall details of both than when trying to listen to two voices speaking or two songs playing. Even with a lack of understanding of the language, as many anime possess, this still holds true.

The Slayers Opening

Lina’s opening speech elicits a different mental reaction than simply starting with the song itself. People are less likely to turn away when addressed than turn away from the ‘undirected’ song, and by the time her speech is concluded, the music rising in the background has finished its own intro and has reached full swing. Likewise, you see this all the time in long running shows like One Piece of Inuyasha… the recap of the previous show or the show’s premise at the start of the episode that leads into the song itself.

One Piece’s First Opening

You’d think that hearing about the exploits of Gold Roger would get old after awhile, but like I said, it’s human nature to not want to turn away from a voice addressing you.

There’s no reason to be honest with an opening either. After all, it’s trying to sell the show to you, and if you think advertisement is honest… well… I’ve got some prime land in the Everglades to sell you. This is a bit of a less used trick, but you still see it pop up from time to time.

Galaxy Angel’s Second Opening

The first 15 seconds of the opening are just a staged joke. Nothing about them insinuates that you’re watching an opening and like it’s human nature to not ‘interrupt’ while someone is speaking to you, it’s human nature to not want to cut off a scene in the middle of it.

Music isn’t the only way to catch your attention either.

Azumanga Daioh’s Opening

There’s something enchanting and hilarious about a bunch of girls being thrown into the air in various forms of distress or elation and this image is one of the things that sticks out the most as an identifying sign of the series. I propose to you that only the truly souless would feel nothing at all when seeing those first few seconds of school girls in flight regardless of what song was playing in the background.

I’d also really be remiss if I didn’t say at least something about this one.

Cowboy Bebop’s Opening

Bebop’s opening is the epitome of how to forcefully grab the audience’s attention both visually and auditorily. Loud music and sharp notes falling off to nothing, flashing lights… this is nature’s way of saying “Yo! Eyes and ears front and center… NOW!”

All that said, first impressions are not everything. Knowing that the rest of the song is awful, personal taste, or simple overexposure are all things that can and will easily override whatever natural tendency a person has. Likewise, knowing that at the 30 second mark, there is a great bridge, or a killer animation sequence, or some damn fine fanservice can keep people interested even despite a terrible start. For many shows, an exciting hook doesn’t even fit and is totally out of place, but as with all things, first impressions are damn important, and making sure that your audience is focused on your show after two seconds is something that some shows don’t manage across 20 minutes.

Tomorrow, we extend the scope, and look all the way until the title roll. That’s right, we’re not even going to get to past the first 5% of the opening until Tuesday. Look forward to some dangling phrases, some serious power chords, and a discussion of how exactly a discotech works.

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