Hello and welcome! This time around I thought I would try something different: a weekly feature generally based around gaming or anime that features some topic prominently. Welcome to the Sinical Weekly Cyclical!
All too often I hear people mention that after a listen or two they skip an anime's opening altogether. While in some cases this is justified, it pains me that more people don't appreciate openings for what they are- and what they are is more than just music. For the better ones, anyway, there is a long and involved process that goes into making an opening that leaves an impression on the viewer. Jojo's Bizarre Adventure, for instance, apart from focusing on beautiful visuals, uses imagery, small details, motifs, and iconic scenes to create an experience that leaves a greater impact the further the viewer progresses through an arc. While this is done at its best in the Diamond is Unbreakable openings, it is most noticeable in the second opening to the series, Bloody Stream.
Sometimes, though, an anime opening doesn't need to be about symbolism or hidden meaning to be great and can instead rely on just being well directed or portraying the world and its characters in a way more charming and accurate way than words ever could, something the Konosuba openings do a particularly good job of.
But the important thing to note in both of these cases is that even if you took out the music, which is simply a piece of the larger work, the piece should still be able to evoke the same or similar feelings in you, regardless. This isn't to say that the music isn't important at all because that would be ridiculous, but its importance should not overtake the entire work to the point that an opening with a good song should be considered a good opening. Ideally, at least in this writer's eyes, a song combined with the visuals that make up the opening should be strong enough that when listening to the song on its own, the music should recall thoughts or feelings of the show that followed it.
But enough of all the pretense, let's get right on to the showdown! This week we'll be covering Steins;Gate, a beloved classic about time travel, and Re:Zero - Starting Again in a Another World, an isekai show that gripped the masses with its emphasis of redoing ones mistakes and exploring oneself in the process. And blood, lots of blood. As different as these shows might be, both of them center around the idea of time travel, as do their openings.
I mentioned in the introduction two types of openings, one that puts great emphasis on using meaning (hidden or otherwise) to incite feelings in the viewer as they watch the show and one that simply tries to emulate the show as it is. These two types of openings are not mutually exclusive and right off the bat Redo aims to prove this. Immediately the viewer is hit with this image of a black substance strewn across the ground before the scene seems to rewind, sending the substance, revealed to be blood, back to its owner, Subaru, who returns to his feet and captures a glimpse of...something. Something terrifying. These few seconds set up the tone for the darker parts of the show, yes, but more than that it is the start (or end, rather) of a very cohesive, well thought out opening.
Redo is an adventure that condenses the Re:Zero experience to about one and a half minutes, opening with the death of the protagonist and closing with the same. In the middle, however, is everything you need to know about why the events that occur in the anime are happening at all, even if you haven't watched a single episode of the series.
From the eerie drawings that follow the intro to the dark hand that is first seen taking away Emilia, followed by Subaru himself at the end (and the beginning), to the characters being introduced throughout the opening before being placed as an unattainable goal that Subaru seeks to covet and keep safe, Redo effectively tells the story of Re:Zero without giving anything of value away. This is complimented by the lyrics working in tandem with what is happening on screen which references his time travel dilemma, his drive to save Emilia, and what fuels him to be the person he is. In a sense, the visuals are telling two separate stories, but both of them still manage to work together to create an overarching narrative
Steins;Gate's "Hacking to the Gate"
Hacking to the Gate is a very, very popular opening. Most of this popularity came with the popularity of the series it was for, similar to No Game No Life's "This Game", while most of what's left comes from the popularity of the song, rather than the opening. This is a shame, because the opening is very different in terms of its overall structure. At first glance, Hacking to the Gate might seem lazy, with its very visual novel-styled approach to using the same mostly static images of characters and objects multiple times throughout the opening with little animation overall. What's more, other than the obvious imagery hinting at passing through multiple timelines that are shown throughout the opening, there is visually very little that would suggest anything of the actual show or its characters.
However, unlike most openings, the heart of Hacking to the Gate lies in its lyrics. These lyrics are very clearly related to the show's plot and tie together what is happening on screen with the feelings and thoughts of Okabe, the protagonist. We know the lyrics can be attributed to Okabe, the lonely observer, based on how he is contrasted with the other cast members in the opening. Apart from Mayuri (the girl in the white hat), all of the girls' introductions are dominated by large gears, and later, regress from having multiple versions of themselves to just one. Okabe, on the other hand, seems to walk on the world lines (introduced by name later in the opening), watching from afar and, in particular, keeping an eye on Mayuri.
One might assume that Mayuri is his accomplice of sorts, but this is made clear to not be true when she reaches for the sun, only to reset, reach out again, and only manage to block out the light before being pulled back through time to the words, "We may be trapped in the past or lament the future, but predetermination does not allow the slightest mistake." She could, then, be considered the lonely observer that means to "protect [Okabe's] smile", as later we see her walking down a street in the oncoming traffic lane, while Okabe walks on the opposite side but in the same direction. The two look at each other from across a white traffic line that suggests they are making an attempt to meet but are unable to, and finally, Mayuri is split into several versions of herself, smiling back at him, hinting that, much like the other girls, even she can't escape the machinations of fate.
Both of these openings have a lot of similar ideas at play. Both use multiple likenesses of the same characters to depict their different timelines, often with a shaken, almost unstable effect about them. Both also use dark and light to portray themes, albeit they are used differently in both cases. In Redo, darkness is a major visual element and light, as rarely as it's used, is swallowed up time and again to portray loss, hopelessness, or confusion. Hacking to the Gate, rather than using their contrast as a consistent theme that runs throughout the opening, uses that comtrast in very select cases. For instance, as Okabe and Mayuri stop in the street, it is revealed that Mayuri's path leads to darkness while Okabe's leads to light. Judging by what happens after, it can be assumed that darkness implies foreboding disaster while light is blinding hope. "Blinding," in this case, because despite the cast always looking to the light in their anguish, they are just as likely to fall prey to circumstance, regardless.
While which song is better is wholly subjective, Redo and Hacking to the Gate are equally matched here in terms of how they affect the opening at large. Perhaps the most obvious technique Redo uses, and probably the most genius, is to refrain the first two bars of the song right at the end of the opening. The idea here is that, in a similar way that Subaru is doomed to repeat his actions, die, and be reborn, so too does the song, and thus it ends the same way as it begins, both visually and musically. Hacking to the Gate, meanwhile, focuses more on creating a sound that matches the visuals and lyrics that emotionally pull the viewer in. Both songs are sung from the protagonist's perspective and, despite ending on a somber or dreary note and both of them being isolated in a time loop, mention that at all costs they will save those that they swore to protect. Picking just one here when they both do their jobs so well would be a waste, so the songs are most definitely tied for this category.
And finally, there are the visuals. Redo wins here, right out of the gate. Hacking to the Gate's use of repeated visuals, both first presented in isolation and later overlapping and fading into other scenes to give them further meaning, as well as those same repeated visuals being used to represent looping time, is a solid visual idea that comes together fantastically. The problem, however, is that it strives to do little else. By the time Hacking to the Gate is over, other than Okabe, the viewer knows nothing about the characters, the show, or even the world that the series takes place in. Compared to Redo, which parallels Re:Zero's story by presenting the protagonist's journey, his goal, and his trials, Hacking to the Gate is more of a supplement to Steins;Gate. Rather than trying to say or show anything about the series itself, it instead gives perspective to it. This isn't bad on its own, but when other than a few beautiful visuals and ideas an opening doesn't have much else going for it, it's hard to stand up against an opening that does.
This Showdown's Victor is...