It’s like Zefiris and a Big Piece of Rock, this topic.
Back in the day…like, 1997 or 1998, I was just getting acquainted with the internet and all that it beheld. This was when 8 gigs was a lot of space, folks. I traded clips from anime (of course, the opening and ending clips, amongst others) with people who encoded them and distributed them. Some of the more memorable moments included how I got hooked on Outlaw Star right off the bat because the OP video was so cool. Two-Mix’s music video about their journey (with no sign of anything Gundam) was how I met one of my real-life friend today, only because…I gave a copy of that to him? Or he to me? Something along that line. Finding Himiko-den’s opening from a Japanese FTP was like finding a $20 off the sidewalk. It’s so weird because I think my timing was impeccable; I found that site only a week after Himiko-den aired.
Come to think of it, my early days as an anime media pirate were filled with memories like that. I remember getting the OP and ED to Excel Saga, and then episode 1, and then mailed like $50 to Japan so this Japanese guy I know from IRC can record and mail the VHS tapes back. He did, and with great quality to boot. I think I still have them somewhere–complete with the 30-second weather spots that proceeded after each episode (which was lampooned in episode … 4? IIRC).
It doesn’t stop there, but needless to say when it comes to opening and ending, I have this sentimental attachment to them. Coupled with the fact that anime music consists of 80-90% of my daily aural intake, I can’t help but to go crazy when the topic rolls around.
The long and short of it is this: opening and ending, like every part of a show, serves a purpose at the very least. For the cynic, it is the reuse of stock footage, taking out 3-4 minutes out of 25 minutes each episode. For many it’s just a convention, a tradition; removing it serves little except to alienate. For even more people it is exposition and conclusion. To set mood, explain, to make expectations; to trigger memories, emotion, and to guide the viewers’ imagination.
But for us fans, it’s more than that. It’s a marketing tool to sell Jpop. It’s a marketing tool to sell the show we’re about to watch. It’s a litmus test, or even a part of the hook (if the pilot episode is the hook, the OP and ED are bait?). It can even generate a meme.
It can even be a thing unto itself. Some memorable ones include Excel Saga’s Mechi’s bolero; Honey And Clover’s spinning plates; and the ongoing Parapara routine from Suzumiya Haruhi’s SOS-dan. Some are so powerful, that the music alone set to matching images can crush a viewer. Many more can do the same by triggering emotional release with the ED. Heck, some do it just with music alone, OP or ED.
The music, well, now that we’re on the subject, is something truely of itself to behold. There are great soundtracks that are great to listen to, but I found it distasteful to say those are better than the great soundtracks that aren’t so great to listen to once you lift them outside their BGM context. It’s a personal taste sort of thing, so I’m not going to elaborate it any more than this.
What I will say is that as a marketing tool, the effect will vary. Take Yoko Takahashi’s powerful vocals for example, I think she definitely has a place in all that is pop music of Japan. But for anime themes? I don’t know. It’s not to say the typical seiyuu efforts (remember DoCo?) don’t match, but those are rather weak. The likes of Maaya Sakamoto, Nana Mizuki, and Hekiru Shiina are rare. Takahashi-san is a good example of one aspect of anime OP/ED that makes it so special. Or for that matter, Ryo Kunihiko. Or for me, Makkun (and, for our blog entry’s sake, KOTOKO).
When you’re pouring that much talent (or at least, resources) into these 100-second slots, I hope they make something out of it.
And I didn’t even get into the direction of it. I remember reading from Kyoani’s English blog site about one of the chief animators talking with his friend. His friend recognized the animator’s style during an OP clip. Why did I mention that is beyond me, but it has to do with sanctity of the work? I guess it’s not to dissuade people from skipping the OP/ED, but to me it is something special and sometimes I take special attention to watch them. The ongoing Higurashi no Naku Koro ni is a good example. Of course, there are some OP/ED that contain plot information; either as a synopsis or as actually a part of the show. On top of that there’s even all that funky directoral-fu that reminds you of Daicon V or something.
It’s an understatement that OP/ED are important. Of course, that’s a sweeping generality that ignores the reality that most OP/ED are not that important and perfectly skippable. But when it is, skip na no wa ikenai to omoimasu!
But you can definitely skip the karaoke and the karaoke-ing.