Our Top 5 Best and Worst American Anime Openings
We don't see this as much today, but back in the '80s, '90s, and early 2000's, it was fairly common practice for localization teams to replace anime openings with completely new ones for markets outside of Japan. Companies like Nelvana, DiC, and especially 4Kids Entertainment were notorious for this.
Visual: There’s a lot going on in the Sailor Moon opening, in part because it’s longer than your standard American cartoon opening, clocking in at one minute, thirty seconds. This is because animation company DiC, who licensed the adaptation, opted to use a number of elements of the original Japanese intro, including the opening song’s melody. As a result, the viewer is bombarded with a number of characters, though the Sailor Scouts are the only ones identified. The show certainly looks like a wild ride, but without the accompanying lyrics, you’d likely have no idea what the hell is going on here.
Audio: Immediate points off for rhyming “Jupiter” with “new to her;” that’s the kind of approximate rhyming that is not only groan inducing, but would bring an English teacher to tears of despair. The rest of the lyrics aren't much better in that sense, but it does include some key phrases that at least give the listener an idea as to what to expect. “Fighting evil by moonlight, winning love by daylight,” indicates that Sailor Moon is leading a double life, akin to that of a superhero. Musically this is actually well done. The immediate rhythm is driving with crisp drums and a pulsing bass. There’s a great key change after the second verse upon the introduction of the other Sailor scouts and it’s even topped off by a brief but effective guitar solo.
Overall Rating: B
Pokemon: Season 1
Visual: Though Ash and Pikachu are the main stars of Pokemon, the show and games are really about the variety of creatures in this fantastic world; the intro showcases a great number of them along with the main protagonists and villains. We’re given images of Ash and his Pokemon battling and bonding; two core tenants of the show’s overall theme.
Audio: The Pokemon theme song, as sung by Jason Paige, is corny but not overly so. It’s hard to avoid a bit of cheese factor when the chorus includes the series’ then catch phrase, “Gotta catch ‘em all”, but when you look beyond that, the song itself has a decent mix of typical ‘90s pop/rock instrumentation (power chords and keyboards) and a legitimately empowered vocal.
Overall Rating: B+
Visual: There’s a lot of criticism levied at the American adaptation of Cardcaptors for how it butchered story lines, cut content, and destroyed character development. Still, based on the intro that was put together here, they made this show look like a non-stop, action packed, fantasy adventure. We get some striking visuals of mystical powers, monsters, a kid holding a sword, and a decent idea of the premise behind the show.
Audio: Well, if there were any doubts as to what the show’s about, the opening theme to Cardcaptors clears that up pretty quick; the Clow Cards, each with a unique power, were released by mistake and need to be captured and returned. The lyrics are well sung with some strong harmonized vocal effects, though the chant section of the piece - listing off a few of the Clow Card types - is unnecessary and cheesy. The backing musical track is fairly sparse, relying more on light keyboards and percussion to emphasize the vocal. If you listen, you can hear some of the arrangement's finer details, such as the keyboard flourish that occurs right before the final recitation of the title.
Overall Rating: A
Visual: Kids, cards, monsters, Egyptian imagery; in the span of one minute we get to see pretty much everything Yu-Gi-Oh! is about, even if the connections between everything are a bit much to take in. The intro is preceded by some expositional narration that puts things in a bit more context and that goes a long way towards making this work so well.
Audio: Wow. Even today, in 2017, this is one of the most exceptionally well done introductory themes ever done. The primarily instrumental piece, “Your Move!” combines elements of techno, orchestra, and Egyptian motifs to create a beautifully distinct sound. It’s true to the spirit of the anime’s themes and lets the audience know that the stakes in this game are serious.
Overall Rating: A
Toonami - Various Shows
Visual: During Toonami’s peak in popularity, there was a routine kind of approach to making intros for their various shows they’d broadcast; take a CG spaceship and host named TOM and have him show some great clips and lines from an anime. It was an easy way of introducing the viewer to what they were about to see while also keeping Toonami’s running theme of it being a spaceship, directly broadcasting its feed to the viewers.
Audio: This is where Toonami really shined. In addition to them using a bunch of audio clips from the anime, they’d set everything to a backdrop of drum and bass/electronic music. The composer for these songs, Joe Boyd Vigil, did an absolutely stellar job putting these together. Two particular themes, "Tension," used for Tenchi Muyo! and "Gundams Are On Earth," used for Gundam Wing are especially wonderful and dynamic.
Top 5 Worst
Kirby: Right Back At Ya
Visual: Fortunately for Kirby, his popularity as a video game character precedes him, meaning the intro for his show, Kirby Right Back At Ya didn’t need to do a lot to introduce him to the audience. It’s not a terribly interesting intro by any means, but the animation and characters do look crisp, with a combination of CG and traditional animation coming together to create a unique look.
Audio: Kirby has "more than you think, he’s got maximum pink." Guess that’s the best line they could come up with to describe him. As confusing as the phrase “maximum pink” may be, the music selection is even more baffling. The theme song is a swinging, big band number, complete with a piano and muted trumpet solo. It’s well performed but completely ill-fitting. Because nothing says Kirby like the music of the American Jazz Age.
One Piece - 4Kids Version
Visual: If there’s one thing this opening to One Piece does well, it’s showcasing the thematic elements of the story alongside the diverse cast. You do get a legitimate sense of high-seas adventure and an appreciation for some of the personality and physical traits of the characters like Luffy and Zoro.
Audio: Nothing good could come of trying to combine the plot of One Piece with cliché pirate sayings, into a rap... and nothing good did come out of it. This song is a train wreck of epic proportions with its crowning moment of awful being the lyric, “Yo-ho-ho he took a bite of Gum Gum!”
Overall Rating: D-
Samurai Pizza Cats
Visual: Well, it does show us pizza, cats, and…something akin to samurai; armored cats with swords. It’s a zany intro for what looks to be a zany show; it just also looks ridiculously, weirdly, stupid. I should reiterate this is a commentary purely on the opening of Samurai Pizza Cats and not the show itself, which was uniquely written to include a bunch of English language pop culture references.
Audio: The singer is doing an obvious impression of the late actor and comedian, Paul Lynde. Why Paul Lynde? Did the production company think kids would react more positively to an anime with a theme song sung by Uncle Arthur from Bewitched? It’s camp to the highest degree, and though it may be ironically enjoyable in that sense, it’s still nowhere near being legitimately good.
Digimon Adventure: Season 1
Visual: Digimon Adventure reveals some plot elements in its opening to help bring viewers into the story. We see a bunch of kids being flung into the sky and flying through some sort of dimensional void full of text, and later landing on an island. We also see the titular Digimon creatures with other, similar Digimon, being superimposed over them; indicating change and evolution is a factor here. Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess as to what’s going on. It certainly doesn’t do the show’s eventual, more serious tone, any favors.
Audio: This is easily one of the worst theme songs I’ve ever heard in my life. The lyric mostly consists of “Digimon, digital monsters, Digimon are the CHAMPIONS!” Champions is an odd choice of word to use considering that their quest is not one of competition, but of survival. The vocals are grating, the sad excuses for change-ups fall flat, and the actual arrangement is extremely simplistic and repetitive. They can’t even end the song strongly, it just abruptly terminates with one last, rushed utterance of, “DIGIMON!”
Overall Rating: F
Visual:…It’s cute…and that’s about it. There’s almost nothing else to the Hamtaro intro but little hamsters with giant eyes that stare directly into your soul.
Audio: Good lord is this a mess of a song. The lyrics are sung with various vocal effects of pitch changes and auto-tune, and even the name “Hamtaro” is pronounced multiple different ways. The phrase, “My Ham-Ham” pops up at one point, as does a roll call of some of the other hamsters, none of which are immediately identifiable in the accompanying video, and all of which sound like the various circles of cuteness Hell.
Overall Rating: F
Dragon Ball Z
Visual: DRAGON, DRAGON!!!!!!!!!!!
Audio: ROCK THE DRAGON, DRAGON BALL Z
Overall Rating: OVER 9000!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
(Fun Fact: "Rock The Dragon" was written and performed by Ron Wasserman, most well known for also writing and performing the music for Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. If you're familiar with the lyrical depth of those works, this should come as little surprise.)