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Sunday, September 22, 2013

Twelve(?) Anime Insert Songs That Deserve More Love Part 1

So let's recap quickly: OPs can be iconic, & EDs can be forgotten, so where does that leave the INs? You know, the insert songs. For those who don't know what an "insert song" is, it's a piece of music that plays while the anime itself is still running, usually during specific scenes & the like. Unlike traditional background music, though, insert songs are usually NOT done by the same person/people behind the BGM, but instead are performed by other musicians and are usually vocal songs. Nowadays, it's usually a popular music band or the like, but INs are usually saved for really special moments where traditional BGM just wouldn't do it justice. Or, quite simply, it's a scene which is meant to be treated as "special", and therefore the use of an IN gives it a more identifiable quality. While not quite as easy to name as that of iconic OPs, there are some INs that "everyone" knows of, like "Komm, süsser Tod" from End of Evangelion, the multitude of non-OP DBZ songs Hironobu Kageyama has done, & some might count "Forces" from Berserk TV (it was performed by Susumu Hirasawa himself, but is voiced & used in "special" scenes), among some others. So what insert songs have been in anime before that you may have missed?

[NOTE: Even more so than the ED list, this IN list will try to use simpler videos so as to not potentially spoil the scenes they are used in, so people unfamiliar with the songs or scenes don't have to worry.]

"Number One" by Hazel Fernandes (from Bleach)
The anime adaptation may be over, & the manga is still running and very popular, but I do wonder how many people honestly still remember this cool IN from the early days of the anime? Performed by British singer Hazel Fernandes, "Number One" was the perfect match for Bleach's starting point, where lead character Ichigo Kurosaki was still new to his new-found shinigami/soul reaper powers, so whenever Ichigo found a way to fight his way back after nearing defeat this song would play, and to this day it's still one of the coolest "second wind" themes. Fernandes' voice is just engrossing right from the start, simply due to the awesome screams she belts out, before any words are even spoken, & the lyrics themselves fit the characters nicely, making each of them come off as badasses whenever the song is played for them. Unfortunately, the song's more upbeat mood seemed to contrast the story as it went on, & by the time the group headed off to Hueco Mundo (the third story arc), this IN would be completely gone from the show. An instrumental version was played on very rare occasion from that point on, but it never really matched the grandiose feel the original song has, and it was usually used more as a "showstopper", anyway (i.e. it would suddenly stop when the enemy would get a surprise upper hand). Still, for those early days of the anime, this IN was hard to beat.

"Gods" by Akira Kushida (from New Getter Robo)
I've heard indications that there might be a new Getter Robo anime in the works, but until then the most recent one to look back at is 2004's New Getter Robo OVA series. Aside from the absolutely insane & sometimes hard to follow story, especially at the end, the anime is also notable from a music perspective because of the sheer amount of vocal songs contained within its 13 episodes. There's a single OP & ED by JAM Project, both good songs, but alongside those two are numerous INs done by individual members of the supergroup, like Masaaki Endoh & Hiroshi Kitadani. Probably the coolest & most surprising of them all, though, is a song performed by Akira Kushida, an old-school anison legend whose songs date back to the late-70s & early-80s; now you can hear him sing the OPs for the Toriko anime. Throughout the entire show, you see the Getter team take on evil forces with rocking themes by JAM Project members playing, but in the last couple of episodes a big swerve happens, & for the final battle your ears hear the one-and-only voice of Kushida, someone who neither has even been in JAM Project nor involved with Getter Robo (the original show's theme was sung by fellow anison legend Isao Sasaki)! But, naturally, Kushida knocks his performance out of the park with a song that truly fits the surprising intensity that happens in those last couple of episodes, leading to probably the weirdest ending in all of the Getter Robo anime franchise. If you ever get the chance to check this show out go ahead & do so, and when Kushida starts singing just wallow in his awesomeness.

"Suppuration -core-" by KOTOKO (from Kannazuki no Miko/Destiny of the Shrine Maiden)
Here's a show I haven't seen yet (though I do own it on DVD), but the song is just too epic to ignore. While they may not be an instantly-identifiable name among fandom, manga duo Kaishaku has had many anime adaptations of their works, most of them having been brought over to North America, such as Steel Angel Kurumi, Magical Meow Meow Taruto, & UFO Ultramaiden Valkyrie. Out of their catalog, Kannazuki no Miko's mix of yuri themes with giant robot battles might be their most original, and for the anime adaptation J-Pop singer KOTOKO was brought in, bringing her crazy mix of techno & pop into a world where it fit in perfectly. In what is essentially the only scene of the series I have seen, there is a battle between the main character & one of his mech-piloting rivals. For this one battle is "Suppuration -core-" used, and it easily makes the battle all the more epic & stylish. It also ends up being one of the best KOTOKO songs I have ever heard, mixing her usual techno stylings with guitar-play that wouldn't feel out of place in hardcore metal songs. I'll probably, eventually get to this show one day, where it has mixed feelings, but no matter what there is no way I can feel lukewarm about a song as hard-hitting, yet pop-styled, as this one.

*Yes, suppuration is indeed a word... If you read the lyrics you would see that KOTOKO knew exactly what she was doing*

"Hitomi wa Ikusen no Mado" by Aki Hata (from B't X Neo)
It really says something about a title when, after all of the hot-blooded screaming & dramatic storytelling, a song as beautiful as this just simply plays. It continues playing until you realize that this isn't your usual insert song; you realize that this is the anime equivalent to a curtain call. The song continues to play, even while the anime is obviously wrapping up & coming to a final end. Then the end credits play, & yet the song still plays, all the way until the very last second; the usual ED that you've heard throughout the entire anime is nowhere to be found. This very song is the reason why, whenever I finish up an anime, I always watch the ED of the penultimate episode before watching the final episode in its entirety... You never know when that penultimate episode is actually the last time the ED is used in the entire production. As if to simply show off even more, the anime doesn't even play the entire song! No, the point where the anime credits end is simply a stopping point, as the song continues on for another three minutes!! It never stops being beautiful, Ak Hata's performance makes sure of that, the ending it goes with is just absolutely stunning, all the more reason why I want more people to know of more Kurumada stuff other than Saint Seiya, and it is simply amazing no matter how long it goes on for. Really, I put it perfectly in my review of this OVA sequel to the original TV series: "this song is probably one of the most fitting final songs that played for an anime's climax".

"Before Lies" by SPYKE (from Hareluya II BØY)
Yeah, I already used a song from BØY in my ED list, but once again this just shows how good SPYKE was; plus, you'll be seeing more "repeat offenders" as the lists wrap up. Anyway, when it comes to INs, BØY is hard to choose a single song from, what with it having six songs being used as INs, all of which are from the same band. That said, there really isn't too much of a contest, because "Before Lies" is definitely the one that takes the crown. Though it isn't actually listed in the credits until Episode 21, where it's used during the climax of the battle with Reiji Marukido & his bodyguard, the song actually had two previous uses. In Episode 14, it was used for a short bit as the song Ichijou played with his band Fire Guns during a scene, & in Episode 11 it appeared in vocalless form during the climax of that episode. Then, after all of that, the song was brought back for a fourth time in the last episode, when the final (& absolutely ridiculous) fight of the show starts up. Without a doubt, this song hit a chord with Yasuhiro Imagawa & the staff and had an actual album come out this song would have likely been the "breakout hit" that SPYKE needed. Hell, it was even the only non-OP/ED to appear on the two singles SPYKE got out during their time with King Records before their break-up, appearing on "Closet Freak"'s single. It's rock sound already fit BØY perfectly (the manga was categorized as "Rock'n'Roll Fighting Action"), it fit every single scene it was used in the show, & it could very well be the magnum opus of SPYKE themselves. If only this show had better-quality raws out there (or a DVD release, at that)...

"Black Cats" by Black Cats (from Eat-Man '98)
Japanese singers performing in English is something where the actual quality can vary wildly. Groups like Eurox or Home Made Kazoku are known to be absolutely perfect in their English, while the likes of T.M. Revolution & PENPALS (the band behind Berserk TV's OP) aren't known for being real linguists. The rockabilly group Black Cats kind of fits in the middle, where their lyrics are half-understandable at best. Still, that doesn't make this very song any less fun to listen to. It's sole use is in the episode titled "The World's Best Mercenary", which introduced Hard, the closest thing main character Bolt Crank has as a rival. Considering how the world of Eat-Man is one that can be high-tech in one place and fantasy in another, all with a definitely wild west feel, this song fits into that world perfectly, and the scene it's used in is absolute bliss; considering how stories in this series tend to use twists I will refrain from giving context. Trying to understand the English lyrics are like a game all in itself, but there is a Japanese version as well, which is on NicoNico. Oddly enough, the English version has a seeming obsession with the year 1955, while the Japanese version mentions 1998 & 1975... Make of that what you will. Maybe one day I'll finally review Eat-Man '98, though I would also want to talk about the first Eat-Man anime as well (though I can't really find much else to say that wasn't already covered excellently by Justin Sevakis in his old Buried Treasure article), but, needless to say, I was already really liking '98 when I first watched it years ago, but the moment this song played is when I knew It would stay with me forever.

"Let's Might Gaine" by Toshio Itai (from Brave Express Might Gaine)
To many mecha fans GaoGaiGar IS the Brave Series, but there are plenty of other entries in that series that are worth checking out. What I've seen of Brave Command Dagwon was really cool, Brave Exkaiser may be the simplest but it's still fun to see a few episodes of, Brave Police J-Decker has a cool sense of "family" to it, & Brave Express Might Gaine looks to be another gem with its focus on slightly more serious stories & a lead performed by Nobuyuki Hiyama, years before he would return to the franchise as Guy Shishio. The story of Maito Senpuuji, essentially the Brave equivalent of Bruce Wayne, & his battles to protect his home city from all sorts of evildoers by way of his group of transforming, train-based AI robots always has a really cool & fun vibe to it, and when the battle has to get rough you can always be sure that there's a good chance that this awesome IN will play. Quoting what Maito will scream when it's time for his train mech to combine with AI robot Gaine, the song really describes the kind of action one can expect from the series and it really fires you up for the battle that's about to come. In true mecha fashion, this is the kind of song that would be perfect for Might Gaine if the series was to appear in a SRW game, but that doesn't seem likely, as Banpresto has admitted before that GaoGaiGar is the only "Brave" that Takara Tomy allows to be used in the games. Looks like we'll have to stick to the Brave Wars games on PS1 & their successor, Shin Seiki Yuusha Taisen/New Century Brave Wars on PS2...

"Ningen Nante" by Takuro Yoshida (from Sakigake! Cromartie High School)
Cromartie High School is just weird.

I'm sorry, that's an understatement.

There aren't really any words to fully describe just how random this series can get. The title itself, & the general idea of the series, is a jab at Sakigake! Otokojuku, which itself was already a bit of a parody, and because of that the title was able to make stories about essentially anything. One story of the anime version revolved around classmate Mechazawa (who's a robot...  But no one seems to really notice or care) humming a random song, but the main characters become obsessed with finding out what song it is. At the end of the story they never find out, but the actual song itself starts playing... A song that is played by the same man who plays the opening theme, "Jun". The episode's focus on finding out what song it is make you start to want to find out yourself, and when the song itself finally starts playing it's stuck in your head forever. It's super short at only a little over two minutes, and has only one verse, but it's infectious guitar riff & Yoshida's folk-style singing just resonates with you, and the fact that it slowly fades away makes it sound like it's leaving your very mind. You don't want that! You want to keep listening to the song!
*cue yourself humming the song, like Mechazawa*
That's the end of Part 1 of this look at the songs that play during the animes themselves. They might be one time appearances or they might be used in multiple episodes, but they always make a scene all the more impressive... Too bad a lot of them aren't on YouTube, so I'll have to improvise for Part 2.

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