ACCESS – “Hitomi no Tsubasa”
The opening credits theme for the final two episodes of Code Geass (first season), this song somehow seems to be forgotten by many fans of the series but completely floored me the first time I heard it. Pretty much everything that I love about J-pop in one song. Heroic guitars like these don’t get paired with beats like this one often enough. The song doesn’t really take off until the chorus, though, where male-female (?) vocals take off and push it to ecstatic heights. There’s a HI-NRG trance keyboard solo in the bridge, which I normally find corny and stupid, but every time I hear it here, it seems like nothing else in the world could take its place. All this plays over a bubbling acid baseline that gives the song a depth that’s so often missing from tunes like this. Absolutely massive. None of the Youtube versions really do it justice, so grab a good-quality, full-length mp3 of it if you can.

Kouji Wada – “Butter-Fly”
“Heroic guitars,” huh. Well, this is what I’m talking about. So much positive energy in this song, which never really lets up and sets the stage for this series so much better than the embarrassingly lame English dub theme. Killer riffs, unforgettable melody, this song has got to be a classic by now, right? It’s been almost a decade since I first heard this and I still can’t fade it.

ROUND TABLE feat. Nino – “Let Me Be With You”
I bought a used Chobits DVD many years ago, enjoyed the series, but perhaps not enough to track down any more of it. I was really struck by the opening theme, though. Maybe I’d never heard vocal effects like these before, at least not in a pop song like this one, but it was one of those instances where I was really struck by the sheer “foreign-ness” of the music. No, this was not something that anyone would even think of recording in America. Could we imagine songs like this if we even wanted to? Today, I’m not sure if this really stands out as particularly “weird” or even unique anymore; either our cultural exchange is on the rise or I’ve just heard a lot more music since then. But I still hold a special place in my heart for this song.

Akino Arai – “Kirei na Kanjo”
Ending theme to the 2001 series Noir, a very mellow and chilled out coda to each episode, which helped cast a sweet but dark aura of cool over the show. I love all the space in this song, but the borderline trip-hop feel it takes on at the halfway point of the abridged Noir version is really cool. There’s a feeling in this song that I rarely experience from western pop music, or rather, one that I have to reach back to another era to even find a comparison to. (Um… Sarah McLachlan? Before “Adia” became an overplayed hit for grocery stores, I mean.)

Asian Kung-Fu Generation – Rewrite
Pretty much every song I’ve heard from Asian Kung-Fu Generation has been good or even great. They first caught my attention with their song “Haruka Kanata,” which was used in one of the earliest opening sequences for Naruto, but their appearance in the opening credits of Fullmetal Alchemist could be their finest moment, IMHO.

Supercell – “Utakata Hanabi”
I know this sounds just like Celine Dion singing “The Power of Love” but I still like it. I guess I just enjoy listening to vocals in Japanese (in the same way that I don’t enjoy, say, the sound of Italian), so unlike a lot of sentimental ballads that sound like this one, I’m more willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. Probably doesn’t hurt that its accompanying ending credits animation is so nicely done, either. I don’t have time to revisit every Naruto theme right now, but I can say that this is one of the most enjoyable ones for me.

Yoko Takahashi – “Zankoku na Tenshi no Te-ze (Thesis of a Cruel Angel)”
Would I love this song so much if it didn’t soundtrack my favorite series of all time? Or if it was forever paired in my mind with Evangelion‘s fantastic opening credit collage? So inseparable at this point, it’s probably impossible to tell just what it is that I’m responding to when I hear it. Do I like the song, or does it just conjure up my favorite images from the show? I guess this question could be posed to any fan re: their favorite anime themes. Are they good songs, or simply effective in channeling the “spirit” of the series? I’m sure this has extensively been covered elsewhere, though.

Megumi Hayashibara – “Give a Reason”
Wow, this takes me back. The funny thing is, I didn’t hear this song until sometime around 2003 or 2004, and I didn’t see any season of Slayers until about three or four years ago, so there’s no first-hand nostalgia at work here. But there’s something about “Give a Reason” (and a lot of Megumi Hayashibara’s other songs from the same era) that simply “work” on me, reminding me of a simpler and more innocent time — okay, does anyone reading this not want to go back to the 90’s? — that predate both our real-life global problems (terrorism, unemployment, the death of futurism in our post-millennial world) as well as the cynical sense of entitlement that’s set in on anime fandom. In short, when I hear this song, it reminds me of when the future (as represented by music so “new” and exotic-sounding) seemed boundless and full of potential. And hey, I guess that’s a good theme to shoot for when you’re writing a song to help set the mood for a “quest” story like Slayers. In my (still-limited) experience, nothing tops this when I’m looking for HI-NRG j-pop bliss.

Sarasa Ifu – Curriculum
I’ve yet to see Moyashimon — Funimation seems to have licensed the live action version, but not the animated version with this particular opening — but I adore this opening. One of the happiest things I’ve ever watched, and a pretty great song in its own right, too.