Who Makes Anime's Opening Sequences?

by Justin Sevakis,

Adam asks:

You've talked before about how music gets chosen for opening and ending sequences, but I'm curious about the animating side of it. I've noticed most openings and endings specifically credit a single storyboard, director, and animation director. What do these people do, how do they get chosen to do the opening/ending, and how soon before broadcast is the opening and ending complete?

Opening and ending sequences (mostly the former) are hugely important to everyone. Fans love 'em. To anime creators, they represent a series' best foot forward -- something that can make or break a show to its audience. (There are a handful of series failures that some have partially blamed on a lame opening sequence boring away viewers.) Many shows are considered to have timeless, classic opening sequences, even if the shows they're attached to kind of suck (Record of Lodoss War: Chronicles of the Heroic Knight being one of the most infamous examples). Fans have compile lists of favorites, extract the music from them, and built them into best-of collections and playlists since the earliest days of fandom in the West.

And what is an opening sequence but a short, 90-second music video? It needs to be well-animated, and should be and thematically congruous with the show it represents. It shouldn't look TOO different from the show itself. It should focus on its main characters and whatever central relationships that the show will concern itself. And above all, it should be cool.

The opening sequence for a show is started fairly early during development, often before other animation work starts. The series director chooses the song along with the show's production committee (which often includes a record label or talent agency offering up a handful of possible song choices). Once that's decided, the director may or may not have a certain concept or image in mind.

Occasionally the director will tackle and storyboard that opening himself, but more often than not he doesn't have the time. So instead, he will ask a skilled key animator that he knows and trusts to pull out all the stops. In some cases an opening sequence can be an important step up in the career of a key animator, on their way to doing more important work like storyboards and even directing. As an opening sequence doesn't really need to make literal sense, it's a good way to prove whether they can construct an emotionally compelling sequence of shots together, without risking any impact on the overall story if they screw up.

The director and production committee will have some amount of oversight over that animator's work -- especially if that animator is in charge of the whole thing -- but often that animator gets quite a bit of creative freedom to really go nuts and flex his or her muscles. The animation is usually much more involved -- including lots of nitty-gritty effects work in Photoshop and After Effects.

There are only a handful of animators that are really capable of doing an entire opening sequence themselves. Usually there's a small team of people working on it. Sometimes the entire thing is even outsourced to a different studio, as the main staff is usually very busy working on the show itself.

Ending sequences are quite a bit less high-pressure. Sequences are often only animated in a limited way, often with a lot of pans over very nice artwork, or some sort of inventive way to make a little work stretch a long way. Ending sequences are often simple enough that they actually can be done by one person, and many times that person is more of a gifted illustrator than a full-out key animator. Occasionally these get out-sourced to a special team as well. My favorite ending sequence(s) of all time, the constantly-changing one for Bunny Drop (to "High High High" by kasarinchu), was produced by GekidanInuCurry, a 2-person team of visual artists that usually work on commercials and music videos. (They also worked on the opening to Sayonara Zetsubou-sensei, another non-traditional sequence.)

Like most of anime production, no two shows are exactly the same in how they're made or the story behind their opening and ending sequence. Some shows put almost no work into theirs, while others end up with an enduring piece of art that gets remembered long after its corresponding show has faded from memory. Some artists take months and months on their work, while others might only get a couple of weeks to turn in something fancy-looking. But if there's one sure thing about anime production, it's this: making it was probably a lot of work, and at some point turned into a panicked chaos.

Got questions for me? Send them in! The e-mail address, as always, is answerman (at!)

Justin Sevakis is the founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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