Anime is animation. Anime is storytelling and characters and drama and sometimes explosions and sometime heartache or laughter or rage or joy. But anime is also defined by music. Lots and lots of music. From unforgettable opening themes, to random battle music that gets your blood pumping, to moving insert songs that are more important to a scene than the pixels on screen, music plays such a large role in anime that it can’t be ignored.

Now, I’m not really much of a music person. I don’t know and frankly don’t care about the top song in any genre. I don’t subscribe to any music streaming services. If I hear a new song and find it catchy I’ll probably look it up and buy it… but it’s pretty rare for me to hear anything new.

The exception is with anime. Each new season of shows brings new chances to find new songs to enjoy. That, and there’s a huge backlog of great anime with great songs just waiting to be heard. Over time I’ve slowly built up a decent collection of anime songs that I enjoy. While I’ve purchased some full soundtracks, usually I’ve only bought one or two songs per show. I like opening and ending themes, and I like songs that are defining points of shows.

So… I’ve looked through my little library of anime music and pulled out some of my favorites that I felt were particularly good or interesting or impactful. Some of them tell complete stories, some are just rocking’ intros. Some have complex fast-paced lyrics, some don’t have any words at all. What I want to do over the next several weeks is preview songs you may not have heard or listened to recently and talk about the anime they come from and why I like the song and the show it comes from. I’ll bring up any trivia I know off hand and I’ll link off to good English covers that I’ve found for each song.

I’ll update this series whenever I feel like it. Maybe stick around for new music. Maybe stick around for a new anime recommendations. There will be spoilers here. I can’t describe the instruments much less the musical theories that make up these songs. But I can describe why these songs were great and provide some context to how they fit into their shows.

Ensemble for Polaris – Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song

Vivy -Fluorite Eye’s Song- follows the character Diva, a newly created artificial intelligence in a robot body. Like all AI’s in this anime, Diva was given a singular main task to perform. AIs in this world come in a huge ranges of shapes and sizes built for specific purposes. Some are music teachers. Some are vacuum cleaning drones. Diva was created as a songstress and told to make people happy with her singing and then told that to accomplish her goal she’d have to sing from her heart.

The show soon sets Diva on an exciting one hundred year mission involving time travel and a world ending AI uprising that she is tasked with stopping. Diva gains a talkative know-it-all AI partner, and hand to hand combat skills, and far more knowledge about life and death than she ever wanted, but throughout it all, she continues to struggle with the question of how to make people happy with her singing, and how an AI like her can possibly truly sing from her heart.

“Ensemble for Polaris” is one of the few songs Diva does not sing. Instead it is first sung by Estella, a caretaker AI hostess who tends to the needs of her guests aboard Sunrise, an orbital resort space hotel she runs. This slow, almost haunting tale about space and the mythical beings that inhabit it searching for and finding each other is first sung to calm and wow a room full of Estella’s human guests. The song comes back later during a moment of high tension where it’s themes of two lost souls finding one another becomes even more relevant.

“Ensemble for Polaris” doesn’t quite represent Vivy in the same way that “Moonlight Densetsu” can be said to represent Sailor Moon. If you want that, Vivy’s “Sing My Pleasure” is kinda it’s overarching theme song. But this song was one of the first big examples of music being used in the show to change people’s lives for the better. The way it was used at the end of the 4th episode brought real tears to my eyes and had me rush to tell my friends that I’d found a new great anime.

Anime where music plays an outsized, in-universe roll is… kinda my thing. 🙂

Moonlight Densetsu – Sailor Moon

The first song I can remember as being from an anime has to be the english version of Sailor Moon’s “Moonlight Densetsu”. Sailor Moon, itself, was, back then, this strange cartoon with super powered girls fighting scary monsters while trying to live out their normal lives. There were awesome elemental attacks, and cool transformations, and ultimate finishing moves. And this song kicked all that off each episode.

But, more than that, the Sailor Moon theme song was the battle music that played in the final confrontation of the evil queen vs Sailor Moon representing the last guardian standing between earth and ultimate evil. Watching tiny Usagi hold her ground against the overwhelming attacks of Queen Beryl is kinda my first and maybe best memory of good fighting back against evil. Queen Beryl shouts about how the world is already filled with filth and hate, but Usagi responds that she believes in the world and in her friends. It’s a theme played out so many times in so many different anime, but for me, its starts here with those first guitar riffs of Moonlight Densetsu!

The song itself is interesting because even though it is the key bit of music used in the first season’s final battle of good against evil… it’s not all that upbeat and its lyrics have very little to do with such an epic struggle. Instead, it’s the soft focus, dreamy, angsty musings of a teenage girl happy to be born on the same planet as the boy she is in love with. But for something so unsuited to dark lightning being repelled by a shrinking bubble of light… it actually fits plenty well. The themes in that final battle, of hope and love overcoming evil, are kinda exemplified by these innocent musings of a girl in love.

In the years and decades since, I’ve found that the version I fell in love with is the english remake of the original Japanese song. And while I respect the original a ton, there’s something about that english version set to the cuts of the english Sailor Moon opening that still excites me to this day. Usagi does this little slashing move with the silver crystal beating back Queen Beryl’s dark lightning attack and in that one instant the song and animation comes together for me in a moment of iconic perfection.

That said, I more often listen to the original and to AmaLee’s fantastic english cover. Both instantly send me back to that fight of good vs evil in some of my earliest days of watching anime!