Sunday, September 13, 2015

Changing up TV theme songs

Theme songs are important for TV—they signal the start of the show and brand it. The theme song can also channel the emotion of the show, both conveying the show designers’ emotion and releasing the viewers’ stored emotion (if the viewers have formed an emotional attachment to the show). If an American TV show has an opening theme, it is usually the same for all seasons, though in later seasons it may get a rewrite or two. The closing credits are also similar or the same to the opening theme, though not always.

Many recent Japanese Anime, however, operate differently, with a new theme song for every season. Being used to American TV, it was somewhat jarring to get to a second season of a show and hear completely new songs for both the opening and the closing credits. I can see the advantages—one theme song over multiple seasons can get boring, especially if you are watching the shows in a short period of time. Also, new theme songs can shape a different feeling for different seasons, which could be great for a storytelling arc. New materials also lets the show show progression, which is important for TV, where presenting a story over a long time can be a strength.

There are some problems, though. What if the new theme songs just weren’t as good as the first ones? This was certainly the case with Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, a great anime series that I just finished (and would recommend). The first theme songs (with the opening and closing credits) were very good, catchy, and really fit the character of the show. I quickly became attached to these songs, not just because they were well-written, but because I associated them with the new, exciting show. Because they are the first things people associate with a show, the first theme songs are really the most important ones, and when a show chooses to pick a new one, it runs the risk of letting some people down. And I was let down by the second season’s theme songs—not because they were necessarily bad, but because that for me, they didn’t work as well as the first season’s songs.

I can understand why the creators of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood decided to change the themes every season—it allowed them to create new opening and closing animation sequences that matched more closely what was happening in the show that season. It also allowed them to promote other artists’ music, and this practice may be one reason for the still-profitable music industry in Japan.

Once I got used to the idea of new theme songs for each season, I wondered if this idea could be used even better. One could imagine taking this practice to the extreme and having different opening music for every show, but it would be costly and difficult to animate new opening and closes sequences every episode, and you would lose the branding abilities of the music (though the creators of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood did animate new sequences to the same music to great effect on several occasions). So it seems that a song every season can be a good compromise. One strategy the show’s creators employed only once, but could have been used a lot more, is bringing back older themes when the story might call for it. It would be a great way to bring back emotions from earlier in the series, or create needed tension, or foreshadow events. Do you know of any TV shows that have done this?

Since your are probably curious, and even if you aren’t, here is my ranking of the Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood theme songs, with some notes:

  1. 1st season, end credits ("Uso," by Sid) - An expansive melody that starts with an innocent-sounding pentatonic melody, not unlike the simple attitudes of the brothers. As the theme progresses, thought, it adds a driving rhythm. Also, the best credit images, with a completely different animation style. Seriously, I've had this song stuck in my head for a month.
  2. 4th season, end credits ("Shunkan Sentimental" by Scandal) - The initial electric guitar melody tied best into the ends of episodes, add adding an excitement to the end that leaves the viewer believe that the next episode will continue the story in a great way.
  3. 1st season, opening credits  ("Again," by Yui) - Also has a simple beginning with a child-like voice that breaks into richer and more powerful guitar chords. The quick delivery of the lyrics adds interest and urgency.
  4. 2nd season, opening credits ("Hologram" by Nico Touches the Walls) - This is the one piece that was effectively reused in the penultimate episode of the show.
  5. 3th season, opening credits - ("Golden Time Lover," by Sukima Switch) - Second-best constructed animated sequence credits, that had the normal snapshots of the season's animation and characters, but also told a story in itself.
  6. 4th season, opening credits ("Period," by Chemistry)
  7. The other four songs
Would you have picked a different ranking order? Why?

Vocab: pentatonic, rhythm


  1. "White Collar" changed their theme song and opening credits at the beginning of season 3, I think it was, but changed it back after just a few episodes. The new theme was a big change from the rockish swagger of the original, and it didn't seem to fit with the overall tone, so it didn't last long at all.

    1. That's funny that they changed the song back. Veronica Mars went to a slower version of their theme song for the second season, and it was horrible. They should have changed it back.