Some Thoughts on Studio Shaft’s Direction of OP’s

This was written as a preface to my article on my personal list of what I find to be the best Monogatari Openings.

Shaft is indisputably one of my favorite anime studios. Of course, the sort of identification that exists between Shaft and the shows its given us is not representative of the relationship between most studios and their animated output. Nick Creamer prefaced his article on Kyoto Animation in a similar way.

The Monogatari Series is Shaft’s strongest non-original production, and its source material has been as much a blessing to the studio as the studio’s faithful and creative adaptations have been to Nisio Isin’s novel series. Monogatari feels like it has everything; I’ve watched the series 13 times. That’s for another article or two, or two dozen. Now I’d like to focus on one of Shaft’s favorite playgrounds: the openings.

Nisio Isin’s Bakemonogatari, and all subsequent novels in the Monogatari series are very distinctly divided into a continuity of story arcs each named for the heroine they introduced or focused on. Shaft took that and used it as an excuse to craft an opening for each heroine, a trend that has continued for the rest of the series. Although I say “excuse,” I don’t think any other approach would have suited the adaptation. As a consequence, Monogatari will never have a sort of iconic, sing along, universally recognized opening that shows like Haruhi (2006), Evangelion, GTO or Shaft’s other masterpieces like ef: a tale of melodies and Puella Magi Madoka Magica. What we have instead, a collection of songs from a vast assortment of genres animated in a wide variety of styles, is much more valuable. Besides, Bakemonogatari easily has one of the most iconic credits sequences of all anime with Kimi no Shiranai Monogatari. That’s one of my personal favorite Japanese songs, and served as the launching point for the career of Nagi Yanagi.

If you’ve watched Shaft’s magnificent adaptations of the “Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei” manga or the “ef: a fairy tale of the two” visual novels, I’m sure you’ll agree that, by 2009, they had perfected the art of the anime opening, with regards both to music and to animation. Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei’s openings are, for lack of better words, magnificently fucked up, containing bondage, Buddhist imagery, beams being fired from high school girls’ rear ends, backup vocals courtesy of those same high school girls’ voice actresses, rap, a picture of Hiroshi Kamiya’s face, and an animated depiction of the Challenger explosion. There’s also animation in the style of the witches’ labyrinths from Madoka,  snippets of choreography, and general chaos. They are perfectly suited to Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei’s gritty, irreverent and endlessly thought provoking satire. The openings for ef, on the other hand are the most overblown and self-consciously artistic openings I know. The way they each slightly change for the last episode is priceless, and ebullient future might very well be my all-time favorite op.

The follow up to this post will be my list of my personal favorite Monogatari Openings, with an analysis of what makes each one great in its own way.

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