There’s one thing that’s always there in most TV shows, the theme song. They’re there to get us hyped for the show, setting the mood for what’s about to come. Whether it’s the catchy music or because you can’t get the lyrics out of your head, if you like the show you are bound to associate the song with whatever show it’s aired with.
In Japan, anime theme songs are a serious business, and arguably it’s an industry of itself. In modern times, it’s common for record companies to pay studios to use one of their songs (especially if the show’s voice actor sings in it) to play as the show’s theme song. As a result, it’s common for newer shows to have theme songs that have very little to do with the series itself. But back in the day, as recent as the 1990s, theme songs were often written for the show, and is meant to be related to what the show is about. I want to highlight those theme songs.
Now, like all “Top 5” lists, these are subjective and are entirely based on on my own personal taste. But I feel that these anime openings deserves a look.
1. Kaibutsu Kun
Aired April 21, 1968-March 23, 1969 on TBS
Produced by Studio Zero (odd-numbered episodes) and TMS Entertainment (even-numbered episodes)
Most anime are based on a manga, but this is one of the few that actually acknowledges the source material. The intro, which I believe was animated at Studio Zero, shows a comic page, where the camera pans to different panels, showing Kaibutsu Kun beating up Godzilla-like monsters while Dracula, Werewolf, and Franken cheers. The bragging theme song that has the main character singing how awesome he is plays as this goes on.
There are actually two versions of this intro. The first version, used in episodes 1-6, is one long camera pan, moving from one panel to the next without any scene cutting until the very end. They re-shot the opening for the later episodes, where they actually cut to different panels. My guess for the re-shoot is so the animation timing actually matches to the music, as well as correcting some animation mistakes and cel-painting errors. In some shots, the Werewolf’s hands are painted wrong, causing a flicker; this was corrected in the re-shot version.
I’m wondering how the camera pan in the first version was filmed. I was told that Japanese camera stands were designed differently than the typical Oxford camera American studios used, but even then I’m trying to figure out how they laid the whole thing out. Any animation peeps reading this want to take a guess?
Here are both versions of the intro:
2. Ganso Tensai Bakabon
Aired October 6, 1975-September 26, 1977 on Nippon Television
Produced by TMS Entertainment
After a short-lived first series, TMS decided to give the “Tensai Bakabon” franchise another shot, this time trying to be close to the original comic. And they succeeded, with the second series running longer than the first. To this day, fans still declare this to be the best of the four TV shows.
The opening was directed by Osamu Dezaki and it perfectly captures the anarchic tone of the comic, with nonsense lyrics (“A dragonfly and a frog got married. Thus, dragon frog”), shots of chaos and destruction, and bright, vivid colors.
3. Hustle Punch
Aired November 1, 1965-April 25, 1966 on NET
Produced by Toei Animation
Before he co-founded Studio Ghibli, Isao Takahata was just another director working in made-for-TV anime. At Toei, he was seemingly used whenever the studio needed a director for opening title sequence. One of those titles that he did was Hustle Punch, which gives us a glimpse of what we’re going to see, where Punch and his friends try to outwith Professor Gari-Gari and his henchmen. The bright and upbeat theme song also makes it a very entertaining intro.
4. Goku no Daiboken
Aired January 7-September 30, 1967 on Fuji Television
Produced by Mushi Production
Osamu Tezuka’s version of “Journey to the West” had a TV version that had little resemblance to the comic he drew, but made for a funny show. Like most openings, the animation here is better than how most episodes looked, but it still perfectly captures the insanity of the style with a lot going on. Very fast-paced.
5. Fight!! Pyuta
Aired April 6-September 28, 1968 on MBS
Produced by Hoso Doga
A short-lived series about a boy and his inventor grandfather, who creates devices that enables them to go on adventures, while always being followed by the villain Warusa the 7th and his thick-headed assistant Braky.
The opening is, for its time, very fast-paced and very bizarre. You’d have to freeze-frame certain parts just to see and process what just happened, so I wonder how the viewers felt about it in the 1960s, before VCRs and the ilk existed.