Opening Week Day 3: “What Am I Watching Here?”

May 8th, 2007

Being self-referential is pretty much the oldest trick in the book, especially if you’re a magical girl.

Something that American TV seems to have never fully grasped is the ability to have an opening theme that exists outside of the show. There was a pretty large rise in letting Indy artists have some freedom and try to make a career instead of being known as “that guy that sings the Mr Ed jingle” during the 80s, but that was pretty much squelched soon after by the replacing them with an extra 60 seconds of advertisements. You still saw some slip through the cracks though… how else would the Rembrandts have even appeared on the map without the assistance of Friends?

Perfect Stranger’s Opening


Step by Step’s Opening

The difference between the two is largely the target demographic. While Step By Step does have some degree of subtlty in its connection (as compared to… let’s say… the Brady Bunch Theme), it’s definitely nowhere near the esoteric leap of faith required to connect Perfect Stranger’s theme to its content. The lower the age of the target demographic, the more probable it will become that the show’s opening theme will be there to explicitly remind them what it is they’re watching, who the main characters are, and why exactly they’re watching it. 

In American cartoons, due to their continued portrayal as for kids, pretty much almost exclusively have nothing but self-referential themes. The few that don’t typically end up with simple instrumental themes. I’m not even certain that I can name a single American cartoon that has a legitimate non-instrumental single that doesn’t talk about the show itself, while just spin a wheel for 80s sitcoms and you can find a billion marketted to the exact same crowd that seem to stand on their own.

Enough about American TV though, let’s move on to anime. Why would you even want a self-referential theme in a show not aimed at the extremely young. The easiest answer is that recognition breeds anticipation, and the more people anticipate a show after the opening is played, the easier it is to build off that than when people are disinterested. Parody is also another fairly common reason you see explicit self-reference going on, and lately, there have been almost two or three magical girl parodies released for every ‘normal’ magical girl show.

Futari wa Pretty Cure’s First Opening

Pretty Cure is the latest and greatest of the never ending magical girl shows out there, and I don’t think it manages to make it 15 seconds at a time without saying its own name or reminding you that it’s about a pair of magical girls fighting monsters together. Honestly though, let’s face it… 9 year old children don’t have the attention span to sit through a commercial break, this kind of reinforcement that they’re watching their favorite show is pretty much perfect for them.

Ashita no Nadja’s Opening

I did promise you magical girls and lots of them, didn’t I? Nadja is another magical girl/romance series aimed at a fairly young crowd, and like any crowd that could possibly be eating bugs one day instead of watching the show, better make sure they remember who Nadja is and her general moral center.

Overman King Gainer’s Opening

The oldschool super robot shows in general all have some pretty great and hilarious opening to watch these days. Basically the entire opening has people chanting “King Gainer” in the background, and then you recall that the show really was aimed at the 9-14 crowd in order to sell their action figure robots, beam swords, rocket lunch boxes and the like. Even when compared against some of the better contemporary giant robot show themes like Seed’s 4th theme Realize, hearing about the show and being reminded about the hot blooded action possibly coming up flips enough switches in people’s mind to make them anticipate the episode all the more.

Bokusatsu Tenshi Dokuro-chan’s Opening

This is where things start getting fun. Dokuro-chan is… among other things… largely a parody of other magical girl shows with the villain and the heroine being one and the same. The opening pokes fun at itself, showing scenes of mass violence, bloodshed, and hints of various sexual acts while encapsulated in the childish presentation of the self-narration. The juxtaposition of the ‘innocent’ presentation and the very mature themes presented is a large portion of Dokuro’s charm.

RE:Cutie Honey’s Opening

I know I’m cheating and using the recent OVA instead of the original 70s opening, but Koda Kumi is such a better singer. Anyway, this falls into the more subtle category with the song basically singing nonstop about Honey as a sexual object, which admittedly is a pretty major draw of the series, while the visuals do all the work to show the action side of the series, along with the semi-glimpses of Honey’s flesh. The target audience is definitely not particularly young, but the self-referential nature of it does work very well as a reminder that this series is a throwback to about three decades prior.

There are other ways to be a hell of a lot more subtle and reinforce the idea that the audience is watching the correct show to get those anticipatory juices flowing. Luckily, most VAs are pretty accomplished singers as well.

Inukami’s Opening

The theme is sung by the lead voice actress for the series, and while very little of it explictly states much about her character, those familiar with the series know that the song is pretty much completely built around that character.

Negima!?’s First Opening

Interestingly, the lyrics in the song are pretty much just generic J-pop, but they’re prefaced by a set of character quotes from some of the major players. Pretty much nobody not already familiar with the series would be able to place them or tell you where they came from, but those that do recognize them immediately realize the ties and their recognition solidies that bond they have to the show.

I think that’s probably enough to say on self-referentiality. It’s something that is not particularly common in anime anyway outside of shows aimed at the 12 and under crowd… which is a little silly since it’s the de facto standard for all western cartoons no matter what the target age bracket. Cartoons remain viewed as chilidish in the west though, and really, I can’t think of a better argument for it than that.

Tomorrow, we’re going to be looking at something of an offshoot to this… making sure you’ve got the right opening for your show. Or perhaps… the right show for your opening.

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