There’s an old adage that goes “do not judge a book by its cover.” While anime fans are quick to judge a series by its OP song, I take the next logical step and immediately judge an OP by its guitar solo. TV-size versions of anime opening songs tend to be shortened to approximately a minute and a half, leaving room only for a riff, verse, and chorus. One has to listen to the full version in order to experience the greatness that is left out, particularly that of the instrumental interludes. Looking back at some of the shows in 2011, there were some fantastic openings whose guitar solos were missed due to the TV-sized editing of the song’s length. Let’s take a look at the guitar solos of various songs from last year, and maybe we can learn a thing or two about lead guitar methods while we’re at it!
Yumekui Merry, Daydream Syndrome
Due to wordpress formatting issues, I can’t seem to embed videos and have them start at a specific time, so I eschewed embedding for simple links to each of the videos. In Yumekui Merry’s Daydream Syndrome, the instrumentation is surprisingly heavy on the rock emphasis, but incorporates some really neat piano instrumentation in some spots making the song quite dreamlike. In the solo, however, we’re treated to some good ol’ dirty guitar distortion, with wah pedal effects to boot. Wah is an effect that makes the guitar sound like, well, it’s going WAHHHHHHHH. The first part makes good use of the effect, and ends with a neat arpeggiated section. Arpeggio is a way of going up and down a musical scale by only skipping notes in a particular pattern.
Hanasaku Iroha, Hana no Iro
Hana no Iro was a hit and miss opening for viewers because of the varying degrees of opinion on the lead singer’s voice. To some it was nice and fitting, but to others her voice was simply grating. Thankfully, guitar solos are meant to leave out vocals entirely, and we are left with a very nice, clean guitar effect. It doesn’t go too crazy with the method, but has some nice movement up and down the instrument’s scale. The really neat part about this solo, though, is the syncopation in the second half, meaning if you count along with the beat of the song, 1-2-3-4, you can hear some notes played in-between those beats, not on the beat itself. It’s fairly common in music, especially Japanese music, but the guitar solo makes great use of it.
Working!, Someone Else
I know that Working!, at least season 1 of it, aired in 2010, but I’m using this as an example of pointing out chord progression. If you’ve ever listened to axis of awesome, then you probably are aware of the I-V-VI-IV chord progression that exists in almost every song ever made. In Somone Else, there’s another type of chord progression that goes I-VI-IV-V. It’s a popular chord progression that also exists in rock, and the guitar solo here is played to that particular progression, which goes to show that chord progression may be commonplace, you can still do a lot of really neat things with it.
And thus brings me to the reason why I mentioned Working’s first season OP. Chihayafuru’s Youthful also features a very short guitar solo that uses the very same chord progression. Perhaps we should gather all of the I-VI-IV-V songs in OPs and put them into one song, and call it Axis of Anime. That would be pretty cool. The guitar solo here is actually pretty basic and boring when you listen to it by itself, but it fits the basic nature of the song itself, which isn’t a bad thing at all. Many people absolutely love this song, myself included. The guitar solo is an added bonus. A small cherry on top, but a cherry nonetheless.
Softennis, Rulebook wo Wasurechae
There was a point raised on twitter the other night when I was writing this post, regarding how there is a correlation between how moe-moe and otaku-pandering a series is and how utterly awesome its guitar solo is. There is a specific reason for this, and his name is Koike Masaya. Koike is a lead guitarist, and has worked in MOSAIC.WAV, ULTRA-PRISM, and many other musical groups, but the common denominator here is that he is involved with almost anything and everything otaku. In 2010, he contributed an awesome solo to Ika Musume, and this year, his entry for softennis was nothing short of remarkable. He also did the solo for My Pace Daiou, the opening for Genshiken. This guy is a beast on the axe, and it clearly shows.
A-Channel, Morning Arch
With Yuru Yuri being the 4-girl slice of life series to watch last year, A-Channel was all but an afterthought after its reasonable showing last year. However, it has one thing that Yuru Yuri doesn’t: a pretty nice guitar solo. Throughout the entire song, you can hear the lead guitar do a two-note repeated pattern in the background, and it has a nice sound to it, but it never really amounts to anything in the TV-size version. However, it really comes out in the full version, right after the bridge section. When the vocalist ends the section with a dramatic “Morning Aaaaaarch,” it transitions tidily into the guitar solo, which continues off that sustained note. Even afterwards, it transitions again back into the last iteration of the song’s chorus. Really fun solo to listen to.
Wandering Son, Itsudatte
Itsudatte is one of my favourite opening songs this year. It could very well be my favourite, and its guitar solo would one of the main reasons why. The section starts with a really awesome drum fill that leads to the solo. It’s played in octaves, meaning that the note that is played is accompanied by the same note one whole scale above it. It’s a common technique used in many simple solos, but it doesn’t settle for simple. A quick two chord strikes in succession, (heard like “BUMPBUMP”) and the soloist finally goes off into some quick passages through notes. The section ends with a really nice build up to the chorus using a second guitar player playing the same solo but in harmony to the first. It sounds really nice, and leads to one measure of a capella from the vocalist. All you hear is “Itsudatte” from the chorus before, but this composition choice really makes for an awesome musical effect, especially right after a very nice solo.
Kore wa Zombie Desu Ka?, Ma Ka Se Te Tonight
The solo in this song is that it starts off on high end of the instrument’s range, and hovers there for a good part. Harmonized sections occur here, just like in Itsudatte, which is a welcome addition. The best part about this solo, however, is that the rhythm really changes throughout. There are some parts where there are a lot of fast passages with a lot of notes going up and down, but it slows down and plays longer notes for emphasis, and is immediately brought back to quick movements before the listener can get used to one particular style of play. Ma Ka Se Te truly is a fitting song for Kore wa Zombie Desu Ka. I can’t wait to hear the solo for the season 2 OP sequence; let’s just hope that the song is not called Ma Ka Se Te of the Dead, or something like that.
Lead Guitarist of NICO Touches the Walls, Daisuke Furumura, uses a neat little technique with the guitar called bending. Due to the stringed nature of guitars, when you hold down a string on the guitar’s fret, you can bend the string as you play it, causing the note to slide up in pitch in a controlled fashion. In Matoryoshika’s solo, the guitarist bends one string so that it becomes the same note as the second string that is played alongside it. The result is a unison interval, two voices (or in this case, two strings) playing the same pitch; however, due to the bending of one of the strings, the guitarist can ease off on the bend, causing the two notes to go out of pitch with each other, causing a really neat sound when distorted by guitar effects. It’s a really easy technique to do, and is one of the first ones taught to musicians who are beginning to learn how to play the lead guitar style.
Suite Precure, La-La-La Suite Precure
As I’ve mentioned before in a post about Suite PreCure’s soundtrack, I really enjoy listening to this show’s OP, probably more so than any of the other PreCure opening songs. Primarily, it’s because of the driving rock feel of the overall song. The rhythm established by the guitar throughout is straight on the beat, reminiscent of 60’s and 70’s rock. But when the solo comes right after the chorus, the rhythmic pattern of the chords changes up dramatically alongside the introduction of the lead. Using “K-ON terms,” normally one would hear janjanjanjanjanjanjanjanjan… as the rhythmic pattern, but in the solo, the pattern changes to jan-jan! jaaaaaan, jaaaaaan. It’s a very brief section, but brings a really nice variety into the song.
On an unrelated note, if I ever become a music teacher, I probably should avoid using the Yui-approach to describing music. It would probably be best for both the teacher and the student.
Toriko, Guts Guts!!
Toriko is a hot-blooded Shonen anime, and it only deserves an OP that fits that style. It makes sense, then, that the title of such a song would be titled, Guts Guts!!. Sentai specialist Akira Kushida leaves his mark in this show, earning his due as a shonen singer that is worthy of mention alongside other notable artists such as Masaaki Endoh and Crystal King of YOU WA SHOCK fame. What makes Guts Guts so great, though, is its solo. Or at least, that’s what it wants you to think. When the second chorus is finished, you’re teased by what appears to be the beginning of an epic solo, but the song wraps its hands around your neck, screaming “FUCK NO, YOU’RE NOT YET MANLY ENOUGH FOR A SOLO.” It tells you to sit the fuck down, and goes about with a ridiculous vocal breakdown that leads into the greatest guitar solo from this year. Just fucking listen to it, and affirm that your balls have dropped once again (even if you’re a girl, this song is so manly, that you end up growing a pair of balls anyways). Screw music theory and guitar method, this song fucking rocks.
Looking Ahead: 2012 and Solos to Come
Frankly, 2011 was an amazing year for anime rock songs, and it will be hard to follow it up. I can’t wait to get my hands on the full versions of the openings of all the anime airing this year, and skip directly to the utter bliss that is a musician and his guitar.