Welcome to a very special edition of my seasonal anisong round up, a list of some of my favorite openings, endings, and soundtracks of the season. Normally, I publish this closer to the end of the season or start of the next one, but I’m starting this one slightly ahead of schedule as we have some exciting and ongoing content in the coming weeks as the year and the decade come to a close.
This was originally published 12/21/19, but I added a bonus “14th entry” after a certain streaming service decided to drop another anime show I didn’t get a chance to feature last time. Enjoy!
Fall 2019 was particularly heavy with returning sequels and continuing series, but a few standout series also dominated the conversation. Whether it be drama, comedy, action, or just plain insanity, this season had a little something for everyone. For this anisong list, I decided to go all out and include as many tracks as possible. Five is usually the sweet spot I reach for, but this list sees that number bumped up to a whopping 13 tracks from 11 different shows.
As always, anything that aired in the given season that is legally accessible is fair game. Due to the expanded list, I’m changing things up a bit this round by compiling this into a playlist and categorizing these to fit a specific theme, genre, or some other commonality. I’ve also included the official music videos if they are available for those interested.
So with that out of the way, care to take a ride?
Song: Motor City
Artist: Kenichi Asai
Anime: No Guns Life
One of the new shows debuting this season, No Guns Life quickly entered my radar with its over the top premise (a man with a gun for a head) and cyberpunk aesthetics. Since then, I’ve been eagerly anticipating each week as our chain smoking protagonist deals out one liners and gun punches (literally), all while dealing with the other minor inconveniences in his life before it gets complicated. But between its cool action scenes and watching Juzo play gun dad, there is a surprising amount of depth to its cybernetically enhanced cast of characters. I wrote about this for AniTAY’s seasonal “Shows You Should Be Watching” article, but all you really needs to know is it’s the one about the man with a gun for a head. I’m never going to get tired of describing this show.
Like any good cyberpunk story, No Guns Life main opening has a little of everything; incredible character designs, cool cars and machines, and explosions, all tied together by an interesting city backdrop. The real star of this opening, however, has to be rock artist Kenichi Asai (Bleach, Level E). Motor City gives the show more of a punk rock feel and a sense of nostalgia in contrast to its futuristic setup. Everything about this song, to be blunt, is just every bit as cool as the show itself. From the barrage of guitar riffs to the vocals fierce energy and defiant lyrics, this is a song that is just begging to be used out for a night on the town without giving a damn who’s listening nearby.
Artist: Who-ya Extended
Anime: Psycho-Pass 3
The original Psycho-Pass proved to be a fan favorite in the crime/sci-fi genre, with a less than favorable sequel and a few follow up films released shortly after. Now five years after the sequel series, I wasn’t sure what to expect with Amazon obtaining the streaming rights and announcing the season would be eight 45 minute episodes. As someone who loved the first season and mostly enjoyed the second, the new season has placed most of those worries to rest with its focus on the committed crimes, the themes of freedom vs control, and some of the best chase and fight sequences of any cop show this year.
Making their debut with their single, Q-vism by Who-ya Extended crafted a delightfully elaborate tune, leaning towards pop rock with a mix of electronic sounds and soaring vocals. The opening itself has a comic book feel, with characters rendered in black and white or shades of coloring in front of bold, dominant single color backgrounds. With its very catchy opening lyrics and beats before transitioning into its main chorus at the 40 second mark, followed by a number of character montages and action scenes, Who-ya Extended delivers an upbeat track that immediately distinguishes it from the previous seasons, marking a brand new take on the franchise.
Song: Take On Fever
Anime: Special 7: Special Crime Investigation Unit
The other buddy cop show airing this season, Special 7: Special Crime Investigation Unit is, for all intents and purposes, our “dumb, but fun” cop show in a similar vein to last season’s Cop Craft, right down to the magic and the supernatural elements. In the first episode, we go from bank robbery to blowing up a bridge to stop an armored vehicle, and that’s before I get into some of the other misfits (which include a dwarf sniper, a vampire swordswoman, a homunculus “ninja,” and an elf) that compose what the rest of the department likes to call “a bunch of rogues burning the budget.” While the main plot leaves a lot to be desired (stopping a terrorist organization from obtaining the power of dragons), it’s a nice counterbalance to this season’s Psycho-Pass 3 that’s filled with all the bad cop puns and questionable use of force you could possibly want.
Like Psycho-Pass 3, Special 7’s opening utilizes a similar comic art style with black and white panels and bold color backgrounds. Here, the comic book look and feel complements the show’s action scenes (note: the video above is an earlier version as the one utilized after the pilot is not up) on top of its cast of mythical superhumans. Take on Fever by rock band OLDCODEX (Free!, God Eater), likewise, aims for a much heavier sound in contrast to the previous entry, wasting no time for build up with a pure, adrenaline rush of guitar and drum fury. Fun fact: vocalist Ta_2 (voice actor Tatsuhisa Suzuki) is also the voice of Kujaku “Analyzer” Nijo in the show.
Artist: PELICAN FANCLUB
Anime: Dr. Stone
I’ve covered Dr. Stone in my previous list, along with my distaste for most shonen OPs for some of the longer running series (Editor’s note: nope, I’m not hyperlinking that opening again). On the show itself, it has proven to be one of the highlights from last season and a great example on how to spin the genre in new directions. This season had some of my favorite episodes the series has done so far; specifically the brief detour with Senku’s father that paints a new light in his quest to restart civilization; only to be followed up with his latest invention with the war against Tsukasa’s Empire of Might all but inevitable.
There is an unspoken rule that the first theme of any anime becomes the unofficial theme for that series moving forward (shonen in particular seems to love using them for insert songs). So while most people will probably have “Good Morning World!” stuck to their eardrums, Sangenshoku (“Three Primary Colors”) should not be overlooked. PELICAN FANCLUB’s first anisong collaboration maintains Dr. Stone’s optimism with a cheerful, yet more serious rock song that paves the way for a much larger conflict with Tsukasa and his army. I particularly liked the buildup in tempo and anticipation as the scene transitions between shots of the main cast before climaxing at the 1 minute mark and ending with two very powerful images that contrast the hopeful nature of the show and the most recent revelations.
Song: Phantom Joke
Artist: UNISON SQUARE GARDEN
Anime: Fate/Grand Order - Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia
If the recent El Melloi II has taught me anything, it’s that it is possible to tell new types of stories within the context of the extended Fate universe and have fun with it, even at the expense of throwing all logic out and the kitchen sink. Featuring an extended cast of servants and beautifully animated fights, Fate/Grand Order - Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia should very much fit that mold. The problem is I’m not seeing it thus far. As someone not familiar with the source game, perhaps I’m missing something here. While I don’t have as much affinity for the series now as I did starting out, I can usually count on being entertained at the very least. Still, whereas other series has one or two interesting characters or hooks to dive into, I haven’t found a compelling reason to recommend this show to anyone who hasn’t dabbled in at least some Fate lore at one point in time. Three episodes in, I would say Fate GO is a slow burn, but one I suspect will gradually pick up now that we’ve gotten most of the introductions out of the way and the action picks up.
Fate GO’s opening is something of a departure from Fate’s previous openings, opting for a fun J-Pop infused spectacle in contrast to the some of the main series’ penchant for melodic or symphonic music. UNISON SQUARE GARDEN (Blood Blockade Battlefront, March comes in like a lion) delivers a lighthearted and catchy tune that further emphasizes the show’s focus on the real reason we’re all watching:
to admire the very well animated “physiques” to see history’s greatest historical figures come together and beat the crap out of each other like some unholy video game crossover funded out of your gatcha dollars.
Artist: Blue Encount
Anime: My Hero Academia
Love it or hate it, My Hero Academia has been a force to be reckoned with, easily dominating any anime conversation and seemingly that show almost everyone is watching. Towards the beginning of the season, Izuku “Deku” Midoriya is facing an identity crisis when he is forced to let a young girl go when confronted by the season’s big bad, Overhaul. While MHA is still a show about superhero antics, it is these ethical dilemmas that start to dive further in what it means to be a hero and doing the right thing versus serving the greater good. It remains to be seen how much the show will delve into this aspect this season as the action ramps up, but judging by the opening, I expect it to be addressed sooner rather than later.
This will probably draw some controversy, but Polaris is probably the second best opening the series has done thus far; first being Uverworld’s Odd Future. Musical tastes will vary, but Blue Encount (Gintama, Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans) manages to deliver a well-tuned rock song while fitting the greater narrative of this season. Even without the lyrics, there is an underlying feeling of loss and determination conveyed throughout the opening hidden beneath the character montages. This feeling is further amplified at the 44 second mark when the song comes to a standstill to highlight the vocals before reprising again with the main chorus and culminating with one final attempt by Midoriya to “uphold his promise.”
Artist: Halo at Yojohan
Right off the heels of its impactful first arc earlier this year, Radiant’s second season has quietly become one of the best shonen airing this season; crafting a much more personal story that delves further into the main cast’s relationships in what I called one of the most emotional episodes the series has done. Telling the story about a wizard who wishes to end all conflict between his kind and humanity, this new chapter takes Seth on a journey that goes beyond the standard narrative of aiming to become the best, seeking adventure, or searching for greater power out of a personal goal. I’ve written extensively on the topic already, but I feel its first season doesn’t get nearly enough credit for its character and world building in the midst of this year’s high profile shonen titles. By the end of this first cour, Radiant ultimately reminded me of what I love about the genre and why I took up writing in the first place.
Naraku (roughly “abyss” or “hell”) by Halo at Yojohan is reflective of this new chapter, trading the first season’s lighthearted (if somewhat comical), bright outlook for a somewhat darker view, both visually and musically speaking. Within the first 15 seconds, it establishes a somber tone, opening things off with a character who played a critical role that set current events in motion (note: this image changes per episode). Similar to the previous entry, there is a sense of regret and loss in this opening as the dark power dwelling within Seth threatens to swallow him whole. When the song reprises at the 50 second mark, it climaxes to usher a sense of conviction through a quick series of battles before ending on a huge cliffhanger that teases a heartbreaking reunion.
Song: Still Standing
Anime: Fairy Gone
After an underwhelming first season, I didn’t think I’d be covering Fairy Gone again. On paper, I should love this show: a steampunk story following a group of soldiers and their fairy familiars in the aftermath of a great war penned by Ao Jūmonji, the author of Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash (a series I quite liked). In practice, Fairy Gone is a mess of bureaucracy, conspiracies, and almost nothing in the form of character development that amounts to one of the most convoluted stories I’ve seen this year. Whereas Grimgar had fantastic characters despite being stuck in a typical RPG setting, Fairy Gone has an interesting world, but underdeveloped characters. While season 2 started off on a slightly better note, had Jūmonji and PA Works spent a little more time building up its characters, I think we could have had a more memorable story overall.
That said, there is quite a bit I do like taken separately; notably the excellent soundtrack and visuals. I’ve featured (K)NoW_NAME before, but they continue to produce some of their best work here with another powerful opening, Still Standing. It’s an epic symphony filled with a sweeping wind of classic instruments, guitar work, and one of the best “duet” portions past the 1 minute mark of any opening this year. I know I’ve said this already, but there is really only one word I can use to describe this: “epic.”
Artist: coldrain (feat. Ryo from CRYSTAL LAKE)
Anime: Fire Force
Returning from last season, Fire Force has been a somewhat hotly contended anime in recent weeks (pun definitely intended). Story wise, I’m not finding a whole lot of depth in between the excellent fight sequences and some questionable elements. Though I find myself enjoying the show quite a bit with its likable cast of weirdos, it’s hard to ignore some of its recurring issues. In spite of that, Fire Force is a well-polished shonen in a year that’s already given us more than a handful of new fan favorites. With that intro out of the way, I need to drop another confession:
This is a bad opening. There, I said it. Aside from the drop in quality from the gorgeous first opening, this song does not pair well with its show. Nothing about this show screams “Metal,” unless you count the company’s new mechanic, Vulcan and the occasional references to Shinra’s nickname (the Devil’s Footprints). It feels like such a drastic shift in tone, but nothing in the story so far has led me to believe it’s about to become a murder fest (unless I’m missing something).
All that said, the song itself is a banger, which is very much in my wheelhouse. It’s quite an accomplishment that somehow Vinland Saga did not have the most Metal AF song this season! Under normal circumstances, this would probably be an honorable mention, but because of the way I opted to compile this list, I thought this would be a good turning point for my next entry….
Song: Survive of Vision
Anime: Blade of the Immortal
Possibly the most violent and seizure inducing show on this list, Blade of the Immortal (2019) is yet another strong entry in Amazon’s never-ending quest to compete for your anime dollars. It’s an epic revenge tale about a girl who hires an immortal swordsman to avenge her parent’s deaths and seeing the first hand consequences for everything that comes with it. What’s interesting is even though the series’ antagonists commit some horrible atrocities, very few of them are painted in black and white. It’s this middle ground that leaves room for doubt as the revenge driven Rin and undying Mugen continue their journey for the man responsible for slaughtering Rin’s parents.
Survive of Vision by Kiyoharu is very much the embodiment of the show’s portrayal of revenge and death. From the chilling vocals to the serene arrangements and visuals, Survive of Vision tells a hauntingly tragic tale on one’s descent into a life of vengeance. It’s also the most horribly depressing entry on this list, and yet, I find myself drawn and mystified to these kinds of art forms.
Or perhaps somewhere deep inside, in the darkest corner of my soul, there is an unquenchable thirst for blood and death that continuously draws me into these dark fantasy titles…
Song: Jinsei wa Senjou da
Artist: Kalen Anzai
Anime: Black Clover
I’ve been doing these lists for quite some time now and surprisingly have yet to cover a Black Clover song. When it comes to long running shonen, there is a high probability not all of them will be up to par. At worst, they become another bland insert song to transition into the next arc (Editor’s note: Looking at you Bor… oh, just pick any long running series!). I think that sums up my feelings on Black Clover as whole; acceptable, but never pushing beyond that I can wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone but the most diehard shonen fans. That said, there were some highlights this year; the tournament arc and introduction to Zora, the episode 100 milestone and epic three way fight, and most recently, a significant power upgrade for Noelle.
So while most of Black Clover’s intros/endings haven’t done much for me, from time to time I’ll find a hidden gem. Jinsei wa Senjou da (Life is a Battlefield) by Kalen Anzai is one of those I initially overlooked. Making her debut earlier this year, Anzai delivers a simple, yet effective ending that draws a line between hope and despair. It’s a passionate song that reminds me despite its shortcomings, this was someone’s gateway anime. For that, I’m happy that this series was able to find an audience, including Anzai herself:
“Everyone in the Black Bull squad is straightforward when it comes to their feelings, and they believe in their friends. It’s something that always gives me courage. I’m honoured to have the opportunity to sing the ending theme for a series I love so much.”
“This song is akin to Asta, [touching on things like] the pain felt in the face of adversity, and sewing courage, so I’d be overjoyed if it gets across to people in some way when it plays in the series.”
Song: Stay Gold
Anime: Fairy Gone
Once more, (K)NoW_NAME continues to deliver an incredible soundtrack. In contrast to Fairy Gone’s opening, Stay Gold is a bittersweet melody that focuses on Marlya as she reflects on better days before it was burned away and the new comrades she has made on her journey to find her missing friend. Opting for a brighter tone, (K)NoW_NAME finishes each episode with a series of inspiring vocals.
Song: Chitto mo Shiranakatta
Artist: Emi Nakamura
Finishing off this list, Radiant’s second ending is a dramatic departure from season 1’s cheerful self-titled closing theme. Chitto mo Shiranakatta (I Did Not Know at All) by Emi Nakamura (MEGALOBOX, The Laughing Salesman NEW) is a beautifully emotional song inspired by many of the recent events currently driving the new season. With a number of characters on unclear paths, Nakamura conveys several of the thoughts and feelings going through the main cast. As the story progressed, we are starting to see the layers of depth that went into building this world and how its characters are evolving from the series and genre that initially inspired them. Nakamura, who composed and performed the ending, also appears to have taken this into consideration:
“I am very honored to be involved in a series born in France. In its fantasy setting of RADIANT, there is a real world that can be created only by Tony (Valente)-san, who grew up in France, and I made this song by repeating my feelings and real friends to the characters in RADIANT. Being involved in this fantasy world was a new challenge for me, who had been singing about real things. The staff in the production team of RADIANT, thank you for this excellent opportunity.”
Bonus Track (12/26/19):
Artist: Voices From Mars
Anime: Carole & Tuesday
Have you ever wondered why people sing? Wanting someone else to hear you sing, perhaps is actually something strange.... I don’t need to convey this to anyone. It’s enough to have that one person I want to truly convey my feelings to. I don’t care if they don’t reach him. If my feelings are real, I know many people will empathize.
This is a first for me, but I just had to add one more entry after Netflix decided to dump the second half of Carole & Tuesday (on Christmas Eve no less) and I decided to do something completely out of character…
I binge watched it. I’ll probably never do that again.
My distaste for Netflix’s stance on simulcasts aside, Carole & Tuesday closed things out beautifully in what no doubt will be one of the best soundtracks of any anime series this year. I wish I could just pick out a handful to highlight, but in the end, I have to give the most credit to the series finale insert song “Mother.” It’s hard for me to explain this song without getting into spoilers, but with a sweeping 7 minute finale featuring a number of highlighted artists from episodes prior, Carole and Tuesday delivers one of its finest songs that speaks clearly from the heart. Even as the world around them (and ours by extension) becomes increasingly hostile, it’s a reminder of the importance of creativity, media, and the ability to share our artistic outlets in spite of it.
I’ve posted a lot of things this year, but as long as I can be genuine and honest about it, I know there will always be someone eager to listen.
1. Motor City - Kenichi Asai (No Guns Life)
2. Q-vism – Who-ya Extended (Psycho-Pass 3)
3. Take on Fever – OLDCODEX (Special 7)
4. Sangenshoku – PELICAN FANCLUB (Dr. Stone)
5. Phantom Joke – UNISON SQUARE GARDEN (Fate GO)
6. Polaris – Blue Encount (My Hero Academia)
7. Naraku – Halo at Yojohan (Radiant)
8. Still Standing – (K)NoW_NAME (Fairy Gone)
9. Mayday (feat. Ryo) – coldrain (Fire Force)
10. Survive of Vision – Kiyoharu (Blade of the Immortal)
11. Jinsei wa Senjou da – Kalen Anzai (Black Clover)
12. Stay Gold – (K)NoW_NAME (Fairy Gone)
13. Chitto mo Shiranakatta – Emi Nakamura (Radiant)
14. Bonus: Mother – Voices of Mars (Carole & Tuesday)
This concludes my anisong round up for Fall 2019. I don’t typically do ordered lists, but if you are curious about the exact order, the arrangement for this list was intentionally setup to complement each other, with 1 and 13 being my personal favorite opening and ending songs, respectively. Starting off with more upbeat tracks (1 – 3) and rock oriented songs (4 – 8), the list became progressively darker as we get further down (9 – 10) before ending on softer and slightly evocative tunes (11 – 13).
This was one of the larger anisong lists I’ve done, but I had a lot of fun putting it together. Though this will not likely be a recurring format, I’m thinking about revamping this series next year. So now I turn it over to you. Any favorite anisongs I missed this season or what were your favorites? Any complaints can be fielded over to this gentleman, or I suppose you could drop me a comment below. I will see you all next year!
Here for the afterparty, I see?
Dark Aether is a writer/contributor for TAY and AniTAY. You can follow him on Twitter @UndeadAether.