Monday, July 16, 2012

The Top (Arguably) Ten Shonen Anime Themes

  People love top ten lists... they really do. I've slowly realized that I am drawn to them even if the subject matter isn't particularly engrossing. Last week I was perusing the internet and found good ol' Nostalgia Critic doing a Top Ten F*ck Yeah Theme Songs (literally named this way). Which got me to thinking about anime related theme songs or just regular music in anime, specifically in the shonen genre. The genre lends itself to some great visuals and over dramatic situations, the music surely has to follow suit right? As I took a stroll down memory lane, I found out this was exactly the case, and I've decided to dig up the Top Ten (Arguably, of course) Shonen Anime Themes.

Who will make the cut!?

 Cutie Honey
  All the openings

  Perhaps it's best we get something out of the way, this is the last time you'll see a legitimate "opening" theme in this list. The reason for that is mostly because I do think it would be a bit of a cop out to list only opening themes, that and the fact that shonen anime has produced some truly fantastic tracks that should be singled out - as opposed to mentioning songs written by pop stars to be then used in said anime. So while that holds true, I have to give Cutie Honey's opening the proper props (I swear I'm not trying to make a lame pun there) for not only being extremely catchy, but also consistent. 

 For those who don't know, Cutie Honey is a Go Nagai creation dealing with (in most, if not all of the versions) a female android with the power to transform into different people, which usually involves a bit (read: a lot) of fan service in true Nagai fashion. She fights crime with a heart of gold and purity and all that fun stuff. Not exactly the best (or worst) of shonen's outings but man, the opening theme... for almost 40 years has been remade and remixed and it remains consistently catchy and pop-ish. Have a listen, and try getting it out of your head!  

Shin Mazinger Shougeki!  Z-Hen
God Scrander

  Go Nagai's work is twice on this list, and while I wish I had more of him in here, the fact of the matter is that not all his work has produced nearly as much fandom as Mazinger Z. Chances are, you know someone who has no idea what anime is, but knows what Mazinger Z is (at least in Latin America and in the Caribbean this is almost a gospel truth). Mazinger Z is to giant robots what The Godfather is to crime movies. It has been remade, copied, imitated and outright parodied plenty of times in the past couple of decades. One of said remakes gave us a fantastic track called "God Scrander," which in it by itself would be reason enough to include in the list, but it helps that not only does the music gives itself that initial nostalgia blast for the series, but the orchestra gives it that air of grandeur the story needs to make the conflict and drama that much more potent.

Ranma 1/2
Koori Jou No Ougon Pea

  Good old Ranma 1/2, the story of a boy who, when doused with cold water, turns into a girl. When doused with hot water, he returns back to being a boy. That alone would be comedy gold, but put in: multiple suitors (of both sexes), a tomboy fiance, an insane school (seriously... Principal Kuno) and all sorts of shenanigans, make this one of the better comedic outings for shonen. But at its heart Ranma 1/2 was more of a "will they or won't then?" story regarding the relationship between the eponymous Ranma Saotome and his fiance Akane Tendo.

The series' music tended to be softer than most entries here, and perhaps some of those tracks are better than this one making the list. But, there's something about  
Koori Jou No Ougon Pea 
(listed as "Fight Music" in most official soundtracks) that does it for me on a personal level. Maybe it's because it reminds me of the NES days and Mega Man music. Or maybe it's how amped it sounds compared to the rest of the themes used in the series. Whatever it may be, it makes the list for making me want to go out and fight a panda!

Hajime No Ippo
Sense of Tense

  Boxing. The Sport of Kings. The Truest of Sports. At least, that's how I've always viewed it. Even with people behind the scenes paying money to throw fights or make sure a referee makes a dubious call, or judges giving the "right" fighter the win; boxing is a simple, and almost pure, sport. But within its initial simplicity lies a maze of concepts that most of us wouldn't dare try to unravel. The training, the discipline and even the honor that permeates smaller communities when it comes to boxing.

  Hajime no Ippo follows the story of shy high school student Makunouchi Ippo as he rises through the ranks of Japan's boxing world and eventually the entire World as a stage. The anime isn't short of epic fights (all while still trying to maintain a rooted realism within the confines of actual boxing) and the music follows suit. The track that always got me, however, is not epic, at least not by definition. True to its name it is a tense track, usually played when something that gives our main character(s) a situation or news that puts a wrench on the otherwise lighthearted crew. Every time this track makes itself heard, you know sh*t is about to go down in a couple of episodes down the line!     

Dragon Ball Z
Majin (Super) Buu theme (U.S. Version)

  I'm not even going to attempt to explain what Dragon Ball Z is in this column. That should go without saying. Chances are, if you're here, you're either well versed in the lore of Son Goku, Vegeta, etc. or you at least have friends that know exactly what has gone down in that particular Universe. What I will talk about is what I consider one of the greatest injustices to an anime dub, and how out of that came one of the greatest tracks of all of shonen anime.

  For those not following, the Japanese version of Dragon Ball Z is a very different monster than the U.S. version, in every which way. Sure, they tell the same story, but the way it's told is completely different. Not being happy with just dubbing the voices, the production team in Funimation decided to also change ALL of the original music, and I do mean all of it. It was replaced with synthesizer music, usually with a heavy rock/metal vibe to is, whichI always felt it betrayed the traditional "Chinese" vibe the original had. Especially considering Dragon Ball (before Z) was heavily inspired by the Chinese novel "Journey to the West."

  And then there's Majin Buu, the final villain of Dragon Ball Z, a pink monster that took a whopping 70 or so episodes to take care of. Someone at Funimation decided this guy was to have his own set of theme song(s). And not one of them disappoint. Considering they completely missed out on how Dragon Ball works thematically it amazes me that they understood the character of Majin Buu so well. And maybe that's because they had spent so much time dubbing the show that it finally sank down as to how these characters worked, or maybe they just really enjoyed Majin Buu, all I know is - whatever the reason may be - we lucked out with this one.


The Raising Fighting Spirit 

  Oh, Naruto, what is there left to say about the once great shonen about ninjas? I'd rather not go into Naruto deeper than I need go. Suffice it to say I have no intention of finishing the series anytime soon (and judging from the occasional peek here and there...) but I will admit that once upon a time Naruto was a magnificent anime. It was so great that in picking the best track out of it was legitimately difficult. For all of it's shortcomings as a story, Naruto did provide quite a few themes that resonate still to this very day. But if I had to pick one that both encompasses the series at its peak and just makes you want to cheer for the guy; look no further than The Raising Fighting Spirit. Enjoy!  


Never Could Have Been Worse/Perfect Night

  Ok, so yes, this is technically cheating. Two tracks in one spot? Yep, can't pick one over the other - I'm torn, what can I say? Trigun was one of those shows that either grabbed you or it didn't: the long red coat, the blonde hair, the goofy glasses, and the ginormous gun Vash the Stampede always had at the ready. The show also had the distinction of being one of those shows you watched, and if you had never read the manga beforehand, you had no idea what you were getting yourself into. This happens a lot in shonen (One Piece and Cutie Honey immediately come to mind) and it was very shocking when Trigun shifted from semi-lighthearted cowboy anime to "revenge story sci-fi."

  I think that's probably why I have two songs listed here, because the duality of the show - much like Vash himself - was so heavily accented that it carried over to it's soundtrack. Where Never Could Have Been Worse plays on Western motifs and has a more peaceful and heroic tone (much like Vash); Perfect Night (ironically named) is the stuff of nightmares, especially considering the character who adopted the theme, one Legato Bluesummers, a man obsessed with breaking the will of Vash. The same chord being played over and over throughout the song and the slow creeping sensation that "someone" is coming to get you was not something that I could easily forget. And I'm sure Vash felt the same way...    


Fiesta De Guerra

  One of these days, I'll actually finishing up a list about my issues with Bleach, a show I've had a long rocky relationship with. To be perfectly honest, the anime still actually entertains me, the manga on the other hand. And my main problem with Bleach is that the manga plays out like a slow (and I mean sloooow) storyboard for an animated project. Whereas the anime fills the gaps that the manga has perfectly: the animation, voice acting and MUSIC being infinitely superior than the 'story" Tite Kubo provides. This is another show where choosing just ONE track is hard, because it's produced a lot of solid outings in the music department (opening themes notwithstanding of course). That being said, because the show (by fault of the manga) has managed to butcher Spanish horribly I opted with the one track that seems the most "Spanish" based. Fiesta de Guerra (Party of War) is an amazing track - even if it belongs to the long Espada "arc" that went nowhere.

One Piece

  You would think for a guy that waltz about the internet calling himself Straw Hat Rican, that One Piece would always be on his number one spot for all things, all the time. And while I do personally believe it is the current shonen anime to watch (the manga is arguably better, but that's a subject for another day), I don't think it has the best tracks of all time. But I did have difficulty picking just one (once again), and that has to do with the duality of the show (see: Trigun). It's something that carries over to the "number one" recipient too, as far as what the shows dual themes are.

But enough about that, the first track Overtaken is the "de-facto" theme for the show to use whenever the hero(es) are about to get serious. It gets you in the mood for it, and it also harkens back to the original opening theme song (that's being remixed officially twice to be replayed in the show) and to the actual theme of, well, pirates. It's something that Naruto perfected with their music, where you felt it was all appropriate for a ninja story.

  Difficult, on the other hand, would be the "villain" piece. Usually reserved to a handful of villains and/or moments in the show, it is the musical equivalent of despair within the confines of the show. Usually when the track is heard you can only watch in horror as something truly heinous is about to occur or it's already too late and has come to pass. And for that, they both get the number 2 spot...


Rurouni Kenshin
Last Wolf Suite
  My goodness, this track. I don't even have a story or a funny quip to set it up. Suffice it to say, when sh*t is about to go down in the samurai world of Rurouni Kenshin this song sets all the pieces in motion - and great battles await! Just take a listen, and if you've never watched Rurouni Kenshin before, I dare you not to want to watch it after hearing this beast of a shonen track.

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