"Rise Above the Storm" by Daniel LeBlanc & Creighton Doane (from Beyblade G-Revolution)
You got to give credit where is due... Those Canadians over at Nelvana knew how to make a battle between two modified tops sound awesome. Yeah, Beyblade is a Japanese creation, but outside of the last two DVDs FUNimation released for G-Revolution, we've only officially received the Nelvana-edited dub of the original three series; the "Metal" era stuff is co-produced by Nelvana, so they don't change quite as much stuff. Admittedly, Nelvana did keep the actual story of all three shows intact, with only some of the names being changed (Takao changing to Tyson) or slightly altered ("Rei" changing to "Ray"), some new video clips being added in to replace other shots, and the music being completely re-hauled. To be honest, though, Nelvana could have made the new music score more kid-oriented, but instead they got a bunch of people & bands to create some really cool insert songs, all of which were outright rock songs! Sure, some were more upbeat songs ("Never Gonna Take Me Down" by Anthony Vanderburgh), but as they went from one show to the next the songs became much more "hard" ("Switchblade" by Lenz & "Underdog" by Mudd being good examples), & when they got the final show in the original series we got "Rise Above the Storm", which is probably the absolute best of them all. Sure, these songs were used during battles between tops, but you can't deny it really helped made the shows pretty cool to watch. Hell, this song itself isn't even ten years old yet! Considering how we've now gotten Saban's Digimon on DVD, & Monster Rancher is coming out next year, could we maybe see these three shows get complete releases? I'll admit it: I'd buy them.
"Open Up Your Mind" by Mirai (from Saiyuki)
I've admittedly only seen about the first quarter of the original Saiyuki anime series (I'm more of a fan of the manga), and what I did see was enjoyable, but one thing about it that really stuck in my memories was some of the music. A catchy OP & fast (and fun) ED were awesome and all, but this IN was definitely the best of them all. Usually playing in the last moments of certain episodes, usually right after the climax, the song really helped make the (seemingly never-ending) journey of the Sanzo Party seem like a mission to help make the land of Shangri-La a better place, and even on its own the song is a very strong one. Apparently performed by a Singaporean group, they sing excellently in both Japanese & English, and the musicianship of the band definitely helps sell the song to listeners. That said, if you want something a little more "poppy" & upbeat there is a remixed version out there that's also fun to listen to on occasion. Still, that original version is hard to beat in terms of power & strength... Really, the best word to describe it is "strong".
"Clear Mind" by Masaaki Endoh (from Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's)
To most people, the title Yu-Gi-Oh! brings to mind thoughts of "children's card games" & "card games on motorcycles", all brought to you by LittleKuriboh, but if one is able to accept the card game motif, there is some relatively strong storytelling to be had there, & for those who accepted the motorcycles, 5D's is considered by some to be the best of them all. It had older protagonists (for the most part), dealt with serious themes that even went into the idea of mass sacrifice, & (essentially) embraced the silly idea of "saving the world through card games" after GX deconstructed it to all hell. To go with that, JAM Project actually seems to like making songs that go with the series. Masami Okui did the 2nd OP to Duel Monsters, "Shuffle", the supergroup itself did the 1st ED to GX, "Genkai Battle", & Masaaki Endoh not only did the last two OPs for 5D's, but also this very IN! Debuting in the much latter part of the series, it first appears when main character Yusei Fudou is at the very limit during a duel & needs a miracle in order to win... Cue Yusei pulling out a brand new card (yeah, he essentially pulled a "Screw the rules, I have Dues ex Machina!") & this very song starting to play. Much like the Beyblade dub songs mentioned above "Clear Mind", which Yusei also says before pulling off his DEM, really helps make something as "silly" as a card game between two people while they're racing laps around on futuristic motorcycles (just go with it) come off as something awesome. Admittedly, this is something that could have been replicated by the likes of 4Kids, but it's obvious that they didn't really try to make immersion a focus when it came to stuff like YGO!... Shame, because it is stuff like this that makes older people legitimately like anime that's obviously marketed towards little kids, & is obviously meant to sell stuff like modifiable tops or a collectible card game. The more cynical people can sneer all they want at stuff like this, and feel that it's below them or whatever, but there is a simple & honest fun to these kinds of shows that other shows don't always replicate.
"Mazinkaiser no Theme" by Ichiro Mizuki (from Mazinkaiser)
First off, don't get this confused with a song of the (nearly) same name & singer ("uta/song" vs. "teema/theme") that's based on the instrumental that was made for this robot's original debut in the Super Robot Wars series... This is a completely different style of song. Released across 2001 & 2002, before seeing North American release by ADV in 2003, the Mazinkaiser OVA series was the first entry in the Mazinger anime series since 1984's God Mazinger, which was mostly in-name-only, and it was the second Go Nagai anime to feature music by JAM Project, the first being Shin Getter Robo vs. Neo Getter Robo. While the OP, "Fire Wars", is an awesome bit of Kageyama-style rock, & the ED, "Tornado", is a great slow rock song, it is this IN from the very last episode that really takes home the gold. Performed by the original Mazinger singer himself, it does an absolutely stellar job at making the titular "upgrade" of the original Mazinger Z seem like the "God" that it indeed is among Nagai mechs, right next to the Shin Getter Robo itself. Like I said before, don't mistake this song for that upbeat, child-friendly song made for SRW... This is a MAN'S Mazinkaiser theme! It's epic, praising, & even operatic in its execution, and the scene it makes its appearance in just proves the point all the more. While the OVA series itself may have its ups & downs, and the successive movie (that we never got) is better, the scene where this song plays is definitely one of the highlights, and it's still worth checking out. Too bad, in terms of SRW-usage, this IN is absolutely downplayed, having only been used in SRW GC & XO. Successive uses of this OVA series also included the movie, so "Mazinkaiser no Theme" is replaced by "Majin Kenzan!!" by JAM Project featuring Masaaki Endoh. Sure, that's also an amazing song, but it's sad that this song is only used in an obscure entry in the franchise. I guess having both songs in one game would be too much awesome?
"Be Survivor" by ZZ (from Eyeshield 21)
Another anime gets a second mention on these lists, but that just shows how good the OPs, EDs, & INs are for this show. This IN in particular is much like "Blaze Away" in that it really fits the mood & feel of an intense football game. Oddly enough, this IN is used multiple times in the show, even early on and even in moments where there's no football played... And yet it still fits the scenes perfectly. It's a shame that, before Sentai's partial DVD release & even CrunchyRoll's online streaming, this show was in fact dubbed & shown online on the short-lived Toonami Jetstream. Unfortunately, the dub was not only badly performed, but it also was intensely-edited, even going so far as combining multiple episodes together into one ~20 minute episode! People might be nostalgic enough to want to buy the old edited Ocean dub of Dragon Ball Z on DVD via FUNimation's "Rock the Dragon" release, but by the time this edited version of Eyeshield 21 appeared it was already the mid-00s, & a dub like that was inexcusable. Needless to say, the dub didn't last long & nowadays the NFL would rather advertise by means of a little animated series called Rush Zone... Ugh. Well, their loss, I guess, especially because they missed out on awesome moments like whenever this ZZ song plays.
"Dead or Alive" by JAM Project (from Koutetsushin Jeeg)
Leave it JAM Project if you want some reliably-awesome hard rock that you always love singing to, and for the reboot/sequel to Go Nagai's Koutetsu Jeeg you can find two of them. The OP, "Stormbringer", is a slow burner that keeps building up & is awesome to listen to (not to mentions features a one-time return of supergroup-founder Ichiro Mizuki), but the IN, heard later on in the show, fills in the faster pace rock that the group is known for. This is, quite simply, an ideal IN for an action series, with the pace being perfect for whatever footage is shown with it: The verses are great for building action & character interaction, the lead into the chorus makes for a great start to the action, & the chorus itself is when the action hits full-bore. In usual JAM Project fashion, it's also fun to listen to the song, identifying every singer when they "appear", which makes repeat listens always entertaining. Not really much else to say here; it's an excellent JAM Project song, but used in a Nagai anime that's not nearly as well known.
"Try! Try! Try!" by Erika (from Ginga Shippuu Sasuraiger)
This is a rare case of me really loving a song, but knowing nothing about it from the anime itself. Instead, I became a fan of this song by way of SRW GC & XO, where it was played whenever you attacked using the J9-III, the train form of the Sasuraiger itself. Instantly, I was hooked on the song, and the original vocal version is even more awesome. One of the biggest appeals of the J9 Series was the "cool" factor that they oozed, and that extended to the music too; that was obvious right from the OPs each show had. I would honestly love to see the scenes where this IN is used, but I couldn't find this song in any of the episodes I scanned through. Is this song not used that often? If that's the case then I am shocked, because while Sasuraiger's OP may not have that immediate gravitas that Braiger's has, nor the fast beat of Baxinger's, this IN definitely more than makes up for it. Unfortunately, this song in its original form is nowhere to be found on YouTube, so here it is on this blog; listen to it & be drawn into it's awesome "coolness".
"Try Again" by Fire Bomber (from Macross 7)
Really, what better way to end up the last list featuring vocal songs than with the band I showed at the beginning of this month of music celebration? Really, I've heard music from just about every entry of the Macross franchise (except Macross II... But no one seems to care about that title), and if asked to name to best of them all I will always go with Fire Bomber. Lynn Minmay's songs do have a great sound to them ("Do You Remember Love?" is a timeless classic of anime songs), Zero's tribal sound was soothing (Never listen to "Yanyan" while driving... You'll lose focus), Plus is really best identified with "Information High" (another classic), & Frontier fits the time it was made in, but 7 hit it out of the park by having music that is timeless in every way. Name a Fire Bomber song and it's awesome: "Holy Lonely Light", "Submarine Street", "New Frontier", "Starlight Dream", freakin' "Totsugeki Love Heart"... All of them are amazing songs; some might argue that Mylene's songs aren't as good, but I find them enjoyable, too. As some would say, though, you got to save the best for last, and for the end of the show Basara belted out his absolute best with "Try Again". In reality, the song would be altered into "real-life Fire Bomber band" HUMMING BIRD's 1996 song "Fly Away", but "Try Again" is rocking, awesome, melodic, sing-along-worthy, hopeful, & touching, all at the same time. At the absolute final moment, Basara & his friends belt out a song that's all about second chances, hoping that the universe can forget things like war & hatred and instead find unison & peace. It not only is an awesome anime insert song that's only heard in a series that's very "love it or hate it", hence why it's on this list (not to mention stuck in licensing hell), but it's also just an amazing song in general... And that's what the best music does: It makes you want to follow its message.
Well, that's it for this list of insert songs that deserve more love. Right now, I'm listening to the acoustic version of "Totsugeki Love Heart", check it out, and it really does a great job reminding one why you should watch out for those insert songs. They make the scenes they're used in more awesome & the songs themselves are sometimes just amazing. Next up will be the final list of underrated music, which focuses on the stuff you hear all the time but might not always pay attention to: The Background Music.