Opening Week Day 2: The Mighty Mighty Introduction

May 7th, 2007

Because, let’s face it, nobody ever got thrown off the stage at the Apollo after the first couple notes.

Having a vibrant and forceful hook isn’t the only way to start a song. There are… believe it or not… musical phrases and sequences that are interesting and impossible to accomplish in three seconds, especially if your song is not the most energetic around. If the rest of your opening is good enough, then all you might need is something that piques the interest of the audience and gives them the final push in the decision to stay or to go… and like hooks, they come in all shapes, sizes and forms.

The introduction in general is where things start getting into more personal taste though, and things start to diverge here a lot more than in something as simple as the hook. Some people detest percussive starts, others (like me) have a special hatred for fanfares, so this segment at least is prone to a lot more variation from person to person, but there are many recurring concepts and trends that do bear a look at.

I may as well start off with “disco theory” since it provides a good segue from the normal hook. In the 1970s, discotheques were the place for the hip kids to hang out, and with them came the rise of the modern disc jockey. The point of the discotheque, however, was to be constantly stimulated and dance and dance and dance. Songs didn’t end so much as they continuously ran into eachother. As one was fading, another was beginning and to assist in the process, many of the disco greats had arrythmic beginnings so that they could seamlessly blend with just about everything and anything. If you want a contemporary parallel, trance and techno parties are pretty much what the disco scene has evolved into.

Inuyasha’s 6th Opening

Honestly, I really wanted to use this one for talking about the hooks as well, but the song is so explicitly disco through and through that I had to reserve it for this. It’s hard to talk about the arrythmic opening well enough to differentiate it from the speech hook though, so let’s move on to another disco opening.

Air’s Opening

Notice how the beginning riff feels incomplete until the four on the floor beat kicks in and the song actually properly begins? The dangling phrases at the start are almost synonymous with great disco hits like Disco Inferno or Kung Fu Fighting. There’s really nothing to hook you at the start though, but it strings you along until the song actually begins and gets you to that title roll. At that point, mental investment kicks in and “hell, you’ve already watched this far… may as well keep watching.”

Kannazuki no Miko’s Opening

This is just another highly arrythmic introductory phrase, more in the techno style and more contemporary in general style than the two previous two. I really don’t have much else to say beyond that.

Maburaho’s Opening

Maburaho manipulates the audience in a slightly different way. Music is built on phrasing patterns and most rock (which pretty much all popular music nowadays falls under the broad umbrella thereof) is furthermore built on four bar phrases. Maburaho’s introduction is a staggering twelve bar phrase. Each measure leads into the next by the singer’s inflection raising at the end of the measure indicating that there’s more to it, and with the almost Wall of Sound effect it has going on (a recording technique that leaves no ‘blank’ space in the song), it’s difficult to mentally process and thus interrupt the phrase before it’s completely finished.

Full Metal Alchemist’s Second Opening

The percussive intro is a long standing staple of rock music. Songs like We Will Rock You, or We’re Not Gonna Take It are instantly recognizable by nothing but the first measure of their drumbeat. Ready, Steady, Go extends even beyond that and follows it up with the vocal phrases leading into each other after the percussive opening and keeps the phrase going all the way through the title roll.

Dual! Parallel Trouble Adventure’s Opening

Simple builds into the start of the song are also relatively effective ways to kick things off. Funk in particular is notorious for these kinds of builds, though they tend to be a lot longer and more percussive in nature. In essence, it creates a prelude for the opening and thus, ends up artificially extending the phrase to encompass both.

Kage Kara Mamoru’s Opening

Do you hear those chords? Those are perfect fifths, also known as power chords. Heavy metal is pretty much an entire genre of music based around power chords, though usually a lot more distortion is present. Any major chord though, is aesthetically pleasing to the ear and something that we enjoy hearing. There’s a reason Pachelbel’s Canon in D is so universally played and enjoyed, and one of the major reasons is its solid and consistent chord progression throughout that makes it soothing to the mind. Power chords are obviously a bit less soothing, but they’re still notes that are individually pleasant to hear.

And now, we come to something that I sincerely despise seeing in an opening, but it pops up time and time again, and often in the strangest of places. When you can’t quite figure out how to get to the title roll, and your song doesn’t have a good pause at the start for it… better just make something up entirely.

The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi’s Opening

Fanfares like this are something that are almost totally absent from popular music… they just don’t have a purpose. They don’t sound anything at all like the song, which on a radio, means that people will turn away from the unfamiliar and look for a new station. In anime though… it provides basically a generic way to get from the opening notes to the title roll and the real song when the song itself lacks a strong enough beginning to get there on its own.

Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A’s Opening

Even when the fanfare is good and something at least arguably visually interesting is going on, it just strikes me as tacked on and totally unncessary. This is largely a pet peeve though, and I think I’ll just stop talking about it now.

Magic Knight Rayearth’s Opening

You see this in rock all the time… the refrain as the opening, but due to the fact that an anime opening only has about 90 seconds for their song instead of three to four minutes, there’s usually just not enough space for it, but what works for rock, works for anime as well. And prevents you from using silly fanfares.

Like hooks, the song isn’t the only thing going on in the introduction either. You’d be amazed at what the most innocent of shows attempt and succeed at getting away with. Being visually stimulating across 5 to 10 seconds is rough though… especially when your audience is diverse and are watching the show for many different reasons. If you peg your audience though…

Comic Party Revolution’s Opening

Fanservice. Pure titillation of the male sex drive. You’re probably not quick enough to take it in and exactly process the 18 pictures of partially closed or tantalizing pictures of girls that flash past you, but this isn’t Fight Club and its single frame of a porn. Your brain processes the images unconcsciously even while the eyes are still trying to figure out what they just saw, and by the time a decision is reached, new images are appearing to draw your attention in. Shameless? Yes. Effective? Definitely. Well… unless you’re female. Sorry XX crowd.

That covers quite a range of the different ways to open an opening relatively effectively, but is no means complete. Many use a very abbreviated version of the above to quickly get into the meat of the song… such as a quick cymbal roll (Zero no Tsukaima’s opening comes to mind) as do many rock songs, and when a song is naturally slower and more somber, you probably aren’t going to have any kind of interesting event happening in the first few seconds. Of course, you’re probably unlikely to watch the rest of the opening either.

Until tomorrow then, when we look at the single biggest difference between American openings and Japanese and how it can make even the best shows a silly joke.

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