The Best Anime of 2018
The Best Anime Theme Song of 2018
“His/Story” (Thunderbolt Fantasy 2)
Though not an anime, Thunderbolt Fantasy owes much of its aesthetics and storytelling to animation. This season's opening theme song is one of the most hummable songs of the shows on anime streaming services this year. Set to visuals of a myriad swords soaring through the air and the puppets in battle, flinging their gorgeous hair this way and that, the frenetic energy of the song is palpable, leaving its audience pumped and primed for the spectacle of the combat they'll find within these episodes.
This song is a friggin' banger and if you haven't watched Imai perform it in the studio, you're missing out. His guttural vocal work is really intense and sets the tone for the anime's retro roots. Parts of the song remind me of something Billy Idol or Duran Duran might do but harder. “Bite” makes you want to drive motorcycles really fast, drink whiskey sours, and get in bar fights. I probably shouldn't do any of those things, but when Imai utters “I'd rather be a dead animal than your piece of meat!” I can't help but feel like some rebellious bad-ass riding my motorcycle into the horizon of a dystopian wasteland.
“Inkya Inparusu” (Asobi Asobase)
This is kind of a strange pick, since I doubt I'd ever want to listen to Asobi Asobase's ending theme on its own. However, once you put it into the context of the series, this howling torrent of metal angst becomes a great example of how a theme song can be integrated into the overall experience. Asobi Asobase essentially pulled off a genre bait-and-switch on a weekly basis; the soothing tone and pastel colors of the opening theme had all the hallmarks of a “cute characters doing cute things” series, but the show's raunchy sense of humor shattered that illusion over the course of each episode. By the time the ending theme came around, the descent into genre satire was complete and the show left us with a minute and a half of the main characters screaming over distorted guitar chords and pounding drums. It wasn't exactly easy listening, but it was an integral part of what made the series so much fun to watch.
Kakatte Koi Yo (Megalobox)
Megalo Box remains an amazing exercise in aesthetic, and the way it capped off each episode was no exception. A proper text crawl of credits surrounded by neon lights and lead into with alternate episode titles and evocative quotations? Pure class. And while it may have taken me longer than it should have to realize that the animals pictured in the ending corresponded to the boxers in the show's tournament, that's probably because my brain was entirely occupied by NakamuraEmi's bouncing rap number utterly refusing to stop playing in there. Don't worry, this was that rare case of a song getting stuck in your head and being fine with that, as this utter delight of a tune captured the endurant spirit of Megalo Box, and the one-of-a-kind-ness of the song mixed with that credits crawl was one more piece of the show's particularly unique puzzle.
GeGeGe no Kitaro (Gegege no Kitaro)
There's a reason this song has been around since 1968. It's ridiculously catchy and easy to sing – when I showed an episode of Kitaro to one of my classes, everyone was singing along by the third round of “ge ge ge no ge.” And much as I loved the opener for 100 Sleeping Princes and the Kingdom of Dreams, this is the one I'm going to be singing long after the show ends.
"Red Swan" (Attack on Titan season 3)
There were a number of good theme songs throughout 2018, but this is the one I keep using for comparison and find myself unable to turn away. The song featuring vocalist Hyde from L'Arc-en-Ciel is beautifully sung and wonderfully lyrical on its own, but what makes it a winner is the way it uses its visuals to draw connections between the past and present, which is a recurring theme throughout the third season. My initial concern that it was too dramatic a stylistic contrast to the blockbuster openers of previous seasons eventually faded as this effort grew on me. Honorable mention probably goes to “Voracity,” the fitting opener for Overlord 3 by MYTH&ROID.
“Reset” (Run with the Wind)
Some anime songs are good. Some are simply good at conveying the underlying mood of their show. This one is both. It captures the resilient “try, try again” attitude that endurance athletes require; meanwhile its catchy melody and modest BPM make it the perfect soundtrack for your next jog.
"Shining Days" (Laid-Back Camp)
For me, 2018 was the year when ending themes slapped way harder than their opening counterparts, from Jojo's Bizarre Adventure's hilariously sleazy, catchy slice of '90s R&B cheese, to Attack on Titan's eerie yet heartrending Historia-focused chorale. (The part where she and Ymir reach out to each other gets me every time.) None of the OPs I remember from this year really rocked my world, but some were fun and brought joy and excitement with each new episode. As I reviewed this year's offerings, the one that stood out the most was Laid-Back Camp's jaunty little number. Much has been said about how well it mimics the Jackson Five, and as a Motown fan I won't lie that that's a big part of its appeal for me, too. What really makes it work is the way that it captures the feeling of the show. It has a little more energy to it than Laid-Back Camp, which lives up to its name, but it's still pretty chill and fun. It's breezy, and cute, and just a nice tune to spend a little time with… which is why I watched the show it came from, too. Laid-Back Camp always felt to me a little like playing Animal Crossing, at least in the early goings of a new game when it's still an escape instead of an irritating obligation. Which means that "SHINING DAYS" feels like playing one of the soulful, funky K.K. tracks on a Technicolor boombox in my Animal Crossing house.
“Inkya Inparusu” (Asobi Asobase)
I'm a sucker for pop-idol/metal fusion, and I love it when the main characters of a series get to sing their own theme song. Asobi Asobase combined those two loves into one hell of a banger for their ending theme, and it's just as much of a joke as it is a legitimately badass song. Prior to premiering, you see, all signs indicated that Asobi Asobase would be your typically fluffy slice-of-life comedy, so anyone not familiar with the manga (like me) was immediately put into shock by the chaotic, gross-out nonsense that the Pastimers Club actually gets into. As if boob-slap fights and watching a school principal drink what could very well have been his students' pee wasn't enough, Asobi Asobase uses its ED to get one final laugh on anyone who came into the show looking for a “cute girls doing cute things” affair. The sequence's sketchy, nightmarish visuals perfectly complement the accompanying guitar shredding, blast beat drums, and death-metal yawps – even as a kind of prank, this is the kind of idol metal that gives Babymetal a run for their money. It helps that all three of the shows core actresses are great singers, especially Hina Kino's Hanako. She's already so adept in her inhuman screeching that she is perfectly suited to take the lead on this crunchy, infectious anthem to the pain of being a gross, weird, middle-school outcast.
“Winding Road” (Golden Kamuy)
It's intriguing to hear an anime theme song by Man with a Mission, an established act who don't tailor their music to the media it's paired up with, but still match the themes of the works so well. Here's a song with a strong guitar riff, and lyrics that match the tone of Golden Kamuy, mangaka Satoru Noda's historical action/drama/horror/mystery/kooky gag comedy that became an anime courtesy of Geno Studio. The song's lyrics, delivered by Tokyo Tanaka and Jean-Ken Johnny in a pleasingly clear, coherent mixture of English and Japanese, are at turns accusatory, fearful, congratulatory, sarcastic, and hopeful, lining up surprisingly well with the beats of Noda's story. “Someday, we will find out the truth…” the song's opening line, neatly encapsulates what drives the main characters forward, and would make a killer advertising tagline for the series. Man with a Mission have been expertly building a beachhead with anime fans for years now; it would be surprising to me that they hadn't done a stateside con appearance, if I didn't already know how damn busy they are everywhere else. They've done tours in North America with Cash Cash and Jimmy Eat World, and have also supplied theme songs for New Japan Pro Wrestling and the Sunwolves pro rugby team. Their most recent album got a near-simultaneous worldwide release in August, and they seem on the brink of blowing up. If you want to start following Man with a Mission or Golden Kamuy, this song's as good a start as any.
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