Something occurred to me on my walk as I listened to the anime openings on my playlist: someone once asked me “Why do you listen to Japanese music when you don’t understand what they’re saying?”. I perceived this in an accusatory tone, and felt attacked by the criticism, despite recognizing the ridiculous sentiment it carried. At the time I wasn’t able to argue against it, so I shirked it off in my timid demeanour, bottling up the frustration at my inability to articulate any argument for it.
However, as I look back on it now, I understand that was an outsider view with an utter lack of imagination. What is achieved exactly by only listening to what you comprehend when music is so much more than mere words? This might all seem silly, but it does raise a good question as to why we enjoy the music and lyrics from anime when most of us don’t speak or understand Japanese (to varying degrees).
Well, the way I see it is similar to how I experience songs sung in English, the ones I still cannot interpret what the lyrics are purely through listening (I would need to do a google search). Those songs still manage to evoke emotions in me, despite the lack of translation between words and the music itself, or a misinterpretation on the listener’s part as a result of the instrumentals making the singer’s words ambiguously heard. How is this that different from the experience I get when I willingly engross myself in foreign music – not limited to Japanese, also French, Spanish, etc.? Either way, the spoken content is insignificant if I am still able to capture the sense of the emotions being conveyed.
And while misinterpretation might be completely missing the point with songs of one’s own native language, when listening to songs practically entirely foreign in terms of comprehension and translation, there is less risk or danger in misunderstanding since the focus is shifted away from what the lyrics actually mean, and more to what they present in conjunction with the music’s effect on the listener. It also helps that with anime openings, these are accompanied by animated visuals as cues for what the song signifies.
As much as I’d like to, I won’t be commenting on the instrumental aspect of anime song/music as I am not well-versed in it to be able to do it justice as a supportive reasoning behind my enjoyment in anime song/music. My purpose here is to discuss the emotions felt from my own personal experience with anime song/music without the aid of visuals (purely the song aspect). For a better insight into the songs I typically listen to on walks, here is my playlist:
- Pre-Parade (Toradora OP1)
- Boku no Hero Academia – Opening Full The Day
- Angel Beats Opening
- Assassination Classroom Season 2 – Official Opening
- Assassination Classroom Season 2 Opening 2 ‘Bye Bye Yesterday’
- Baccano – BACCANO no Theme
- Chobits Opening
- Code Geass Opening 1
- Darker than Black Opening 1
- Durarara!! Opening 1
- Durarara!! Opening 2
- Fairy Tail – Invoke Magic
- Fairy Tail Vs Hades – Raienryuu no Hoeru
- Fate-Zero OP Full
- Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood Opening 1 – Again
- Hellsing Opening (Full Song)
- Highschool Of The Dead Opening
- Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni Opening Full
- Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon OP
- Madoka Magica opening full
- Man with a Mission ft. Takuma – Database (Log Horizon OP)
- Megami-hen – The World God only knows III Opening
- Mob Psycho 100 Full opening MOB CHOIR – 99
- Natsu Theme Song-Fairy Tail
- Neon Genesis Evangelion Theme
- No Game No Life Opening Full
- Opening Black Lagoon — Red Fraction (full version)
- Opening-K ON!
- Ouran High School Host Club Opening
- Soul eater opening
- Steins;Gate OP
- Tank! Cowboy Bebop (Full version)
- Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann 1 Opening (full version)
- The World God Only Knows Opening
- Toradora opening 2 Full
- Trigun opening 1 full
- World god only knows opening 2
- BACCANO! OP
For the purposes of this post, I have highlighted the ones I listened to during my walk today, and will only be commenting on what feelings they evoked in me (not necessarily in the order presented).
Starting with Toradora!’s second Opening “Silky Love”, a beloved go-to of mine for when I set out on my way somewhere. Here I am feeling caught up in the web of “Silky Love” and almost try to extend a further connection to the song and it’s infectious beat through my own out-of-sync rhythm / movement. What I am feeling isn’t necessarily “love” in the same sense as Toradora!, but a remembrance of the love I felt in my time with the characters. And the song encapsulates that feeling perfectly.
Following Toradora!, the second opening of The World God Only Knows acts a transition of emotion from a fond reminiscence of a fun time to a more relatable and inspiring message expressed in Engrish lyrics. Something about The World God Only Knows clears my mind and makes my goals seem more within reach than previously thought, and gives me a feeling of confidence and clarity in doing what I want to do (i.e. writing this post).
Boku no Hero Academia – Opening Full The Day. Awe-inspiring. There’s a reason it’s become my number one pick for workout sessions. Whenever this plays while I’m on a walk I feel a burst of energy that turns it into a sprint. The lyrics actually do have a big play in how this song affects my mood and behaviour when it comes to confidence and fitness, but other than the tumultuous raw sound of music and lyrics and the image of All-Might, I’d say the biggest influence is the fiery dynamism of the chorus.
Baccano!’s OP is such a great jazzy fun time, that I get swept up in the allure of the mafia life, and can’t help but imagine myself in the role of someone like Claire Stanfield or Firo Prochainezo. I find myself dancing like Ladd Russo when it plays, and often vividly remember scenes from the show through wholeheartedly engaging with it. What it evokes is hard to ascertain, but at the very least it is a fun piece to listen to, dancing or no.
“Pre-Parade” Toradora!’s first opening immediately conjures up the image of Taiga donning her stocking, along with the accompanying feelings of optimistic uncertainty and ‘going with the flow’ (like Midorin).
Durarara!! Opening 1 is a song I engage with on the cringey lip-sync level. Something about the lyrics and beats makes it inviting to (sort of) sing along to and embrace the wacky chaotic associations the song evokes as a part of the show. Fun and lively, but again, hard to determine what exactly it is that I’m feeling when I listen to it. Possibly something akin to teenage angst or some other emotion associated with the pariah view of things.
Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon’s OP unfortunately doesn’t stand strong without its visuals, and misses a significant part of its charm as a result. Still a sweet and lovable song, but just doesn’t do it for me on walks. I need to actually watch the opening for the full effect.
Mob Psycho 100 Full opening MOB CHOIR – 99 evokes a connection between Mob and I, one of feeling inadequate and unsure of one’s own ability. But the song also acts as a tool against such thinking through it’s Engrish lyrics of counting numbers (always a good time) and asking what Mob wants (which when caught up in it comes across as them asking what I want). Another motivational piece that, to me, feels like an escalation of hype around building yourself up, even though a lot of it is numbers (they make it sound cool).
Opening Black Lagoon — Red Fraction (full version) coughs up the nihilism in me and fits very well on darker, gloomier days (cloudy, wet days). Not much else to it besides a little tug-of-war between nihilistic and anti-nihilistic thoughts.
And to end out today’s session of tunes, “Tank!” Cowboy Bebop (Full version). Cool in every sense of the word, and has me wanting to smoke along to it (I don’t, but I can’t deny the allure of the idea of having that extra connection to Spike and the melody of the song). It’s more or less without lyrics, but the feeling is what matters. As Yoko Kanno explained in an interview about her work process: “No matter what project I am involved in, I believe it is always my job to show through music what the images cannot express.”
A lot of music is without lyrics and still fully capable of expressing meaning and imagery beyond what words and images would convey. Regardless of whether it is in a language you are fluent in, familiar with, or absolutely foreign to, there is still an essence in those songs that captures a universal appeal unconstrained by language.