Make Voice Actors Sing Again

There was one point in my extended complaining about the sub vs. dub debate that didn’t fit neatly into any one category but there’s one place where the sub has always meant a great deal to me and that’s when voice actors really get to have fun either by singing insert, opening or closing themes or the more rare and beautiful art of the drama CD. 

Now, where do I get off “demanding” voice actors become singers? Well, I don’t. I do absolutely think that they’re two different skill sets. I can’t expect a voice actor to sing and I can’t expect a singer to voice act: look at American movies hiring singers and comedians as VO artists assuming that they can do it with oftentimes mixed results. Sometimes we get a Seki Tomokazu who can do both or a Masaya Onasaka who likes taking any chance he can to sing but you can’t always expect for a trained voice over artist to want to be a singer as well. But there is a beautiful power in the moments when that expectation is met. I want to talk about the moments when voice actors using their talents can only add to a piece because I am old and back in my day, such things weren’t as rare. 

If you look at the Bleach drama CDs and character CDs, it was all the voice actors singing their character’s songs (at least, that can be said for the Japanese voice cast) and doing the little skits that made the CDs such a worthwhile buy! Did I need Szayel and Captain Kurotsuchi doing The Science Show? No, but my life is richer for it. Did I need Hanataro Desu? Nope, but I’m so glad to know about my least favorite favorite soul reaper. 

I also really love when voice actors sing opening/closing themes. Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE features a closing theme sung by the Conquest Club and it adds so much more to the narrative when it’s the main villain singing about a long lost relationship because that long lost relationship is (spoiler alert) the crux of the entire plot of the damn show. The same goes for the little insert song in Sarazanmai for getting rid of desire through weird butt stuff: it makes so much more sense that the voice actors sing that song because when the perspective changes (like when it’s Reo trying to save Mabu) it’s so much more valid; it’s his song, his moment. Last example I’ll use is one that’s very fluffy which is Free! because yes, I can tell the difference between all the voice actors and I love the outfits in Splash Free!. It’s just fun. 

Insert and character songs can provide a lot of important information, though, as well as some of the sketches in drama CDs. Its in the drama CDs for Axis Powers: Hetalia that we learn all the countries’ human names and that Prussia lives in Poland’s basement, that England has a tattoo, that Austria is afraid of sea life and so many other facts because I have given up too much of my life to Hetalia knowledge and if I must suffer, you all must suffer, too. Also, stop ignoring France’s birthday, he’s still really sad about it. 

Those CDs are so fun because all the voice actors came back for it and get to tell us this information and seeing it as a DVD extra where it’s just voice actors having fun is inspiring. Hetalia also features something that a lot of newer series have lacked in places where if the country does not match the actor’s country of origin (I’m trying to be polite) that the actor knows enough of that language to make words make sense be it Chinese, French, English or German. Funimation tried their best when they dubbed the series and it was bad. 

But that doesn’t mean I don’t think American voice actors have fun. Here’s where we’re gonna pause because we have to talk about some news.

Initially, when I was writing this post an entire kerfuffle happened over at Funimation where it was found out that some voice actors dubbed over some questionable stuff in character and…well, I’m going to be honest: I’m of two minds about this. The whole reason I wanted to write this post was actually because of a panel I went to with Spike Spencer years ago where he showed a clip of an outtake video he did for Neon Genesis Evangelion where he riffs for a while as Shinji and it’s one of the funniest things to me on the internet. I’ve always admired voice actors having fun. 

So when I first started listening to the Funimation VA nonsense, it didn’t read as that bad. Voice actors do weird stuff like that all the time whether it’s read fanfic or just riff and oftentimes, those clips go into outtakes and are celebrated and praised. 

Here’s where I can agree with the people who were angry post the Funimation VA brouhaha: the content of much of what was dubbed was explicit, crass, politically incorrect and allowed voice actors to use language that is just not acceptable and to discuss themes that are, to be polite, not for everyone. If the content of what was acted offends, I can’t help but understand. Personally, I’ve been on the internet so long that very little shocks me anymore and I mostly just thought it was voice actors having fun: rude and crass fun, but fun. The way it was handled left a lot to be desired and I won’t shame anyone who had a problem with this whole darn affair. Hell, the entire affair put this post on hold.

But I don’t think having fun means being offensive. We could have a whole other post on the fact that people think comedy is dead because of PC culture and this Funimation VA scandal did make me wonder if it was generational. Most of the older fans I knew didn’t have an issue with it; many of us found it funny. It did seem to be younger fans who had a problem with it and maybe its because the newer fans just don’t understood VAs spend too much time in the booth and sometimes that means weird stuff is going to happen. Again, I’m not here to say you aren’t entitled to being offended, but out of all the scandals going on at Funimation, this seemed like one that we didn’t need to focus on.

Some of my favorite convention memories are of me being in costume and reading fanfic in character. Some of my favorite panel moments are watching those outtakes. Some of the information I’ve retained for years has been because voice actors (both Japanese and American) got to have fun for a little while.

I don’t know why American voice actors never really picked up singing. I don’t know why it never really took off: to be honest, I don’t think many of the American voice actors are on the level to handle some of the song chops that the Japanese voice actors do…but there is one example that pains me to discuss because it means talking about Dirty Uncle Vic.

I don’t want to talk about Vic. I really don’t want to talk about him. I don’t want to keep giving him attention and we’ll leave it at I believe all the women who have claimed he’s a monster because it’s what my brothers and sisters in craft have been saying for years. But goddammit, we have to talk about Brothers. Brothers is an insert song in the original Fullmetal Alchemist and when its first sung, it’s in some weird fairy language and you know it’s haunting but unless you find a translation, you don’t know why. So when Vic as Ed translates and sings the song and gives you the powerful lyrics as if they were a ballad or lullaby Ed sings to his brother just…it’s almost too damn good. And you get this song as their childhood home burns and I can absolutely feel all of Ed’s pain. I hate praising Vic but this is good and I have to remove him as a garbage person from the fact that he was pretty much made for this role and literally has done nothing good since then as a voice actor or human person. 

When voice actors sing, it can take a mediocre scene and increase the impact nearly to the max and even if its a little clumsy; it just adds so much more bang for the buck. It’s a worthwhile effort, and one I would love to see return. 

My Top 20 Songs from Anime

We’ve done a few lists now, haven’t we? I think they’re a fun exploration of a genre or form. And in the spirit of Lists: let’s try one that’s a little bit different: we’re going to be discussing in no particular order, the music of various different anime! This includes opening themes, background songs, ending themes and more. I’ll give you the series and a brief reason why that song means the world to me.

Let’s jam.

Oh, and you’ll likely see plenty of overlap between the music I like and the anime I like: reading over that list may give you a vision of the future. You’ll likely also see some repeats from a few core series: that’s likely for a reason.

Funny Bunny, The Pillows

FLCL

FLCL is one of my favorite series of all time and it has one of the best soundtracks I can think of. Don’t be surprised to see this series on the list more than once. Funny Bunny is sweet, sentimental and emotional: The Pillows as a band are good about using puns, wordplay and most importantly: heart. This song has made me cry too many times and one of my favorite moments of all is driving down the highway with Carlos singing this little song during A-Kon. It’s a love song for the ages.

Hybrid Rainbow, The Pillows

FLCL

I told you FLCL would appear on this list more than once. Even though this was just a background song, this was my anthem in college. A song about disillusionment, overcoming the sameness over the world and how what appears is not always as it is was the perfect song for the angsty college kid that I was.

Anti-Nostalgic, Kotani Kinya

Gravitation

Who knew an anime about music would have great music? This song still makes me super emotional and as a ballad to a lover, it doesn’t get much better. I always really related to how Yuki Eiri felt about love, time and relationships and how trauma colors your perception of all of those things: because of that, this was one of the first songs I remember committing to memory as a young fan.

Shining Collection, Iceman

Gravitation

Now, this is the real song from Gravitation that sold me. In the OVA, this song is the last thing Shuichi has to sing and he has the privilege to sing it with his idol, Ryuichi. Now, traditionally, the OVA says that this is a song that Yuki wrote for Shuichi. But that’s when my fangirl senses began to tingle. Yuki wrote a song with Ryuichi Sakuma and it made Shining Collection: one of the least romantic love songs possible. Here’s my theory, and this for all of us who still know this old anime: this song is about Yuki’s former lover and tormentor: Kitazawa. The tone, the feverish pace and all seems to add up more to this being a song about Kitazawa rather than the somewhat useless Shuichi: but that’s just an Amanda Theory. I love this song and it’s frantic pace keeps me typing away: you’ll often hear it while I work on my blog posts, my fiction projects or my panels.

Sleepless Beauty, The Seeker

Gravitation

Last one from this series, I promise. The confidence that Ryuichi Sakuma has when performing this song is a strong motivator for me. I’ve used this song to get me through some of the toughest patches in my life and the fact that it has an almost lullabye-like acoustic version that ramps up into an electrifying dance track only ensured that this song stayed in my heart for over a decade.

Fukai Mori, Do As Infinity

InuYasha

I’ve gone on record saying that this anime is the one that made me sell my soul to fandom and this beautiful ending theme is part of the reason I was ready to make that leap. I listened to this song on repeat before going to bed as a teen and I was so happy when I learned even a part of it in Japanese. I picked up a CD copy of InuYasha’s OST and Amber and I sang along the entire time. This song is a part of my childhood and a part of who I am as a fan.

My Will, Dream

InuYasha

Not to be outdone by Fukai Mori, My Will is beautiful, amazing, haunting and more. It had a stunning key visual, too that cemented to many Americans into anime. What more can be said about one of the most iconic songs in all of fandom?

Wind, Akeboshi

Naruto

This song makes me cry. This song comforts me when I am sad. This song helps lift me up. Naruto’s themes of not always fitting in, finding your family and your worth and being more than a painful past always hit home with me and a song as reassuring as Wind was vital to helping me cope as an angsty teen and even now as a sometimes melancholic adult.

Blue, Mai Yamane

Cowboy Bebop

Now is where things get serious. Bebop is probably a close attempt at number one for me as far as anime go. And this song, wow. It is in my actual will that this will be played during my funeral service. It is that serious to me. This song is haunting, emotional, raw and just…so powerful. I had a moment while driving to visit my mother’s grave and this song came on thanks to my phone’s cursed shuffle. I sobbed. I cried just over and over again repeating: “I’m so free.”

I cried, I put the flowers I got for my mom on her headstone, I spoke to her and visited my grandparents. And all the while I just kept repeating: “I’m so free.”

Space Lion, The Seatbelts

Cowboy Bebop

Didn’t think a song with almost no lyrics could bring me to tears but it did. Space Lion is a beautiful song that so perfectly bookends season 1 of one of the most perfect anime to ever exist. The song pulls elements from another part of the OST, Goodnight Julia, a song attached to Gren (who we meet during the last two episodes of season 1). Space Lion is the song we see Gren  die to. It’s the song that closes this part of a chapter and it’s just stunning.

Shiki no Uta, Minmi

Samurai Champloo

Champloo has an energetic opening that deserves an honorable mention but as soon as I heard the first bars of the jazzy closing, Shiki no Uta I was in love. The vocals are top notch and the whole vibe is calmer, more collected and more mellow than the high energy of the anime.

Who’s Theme, Minmi

Samurai Champloo

Watanabe-sensei can do no wrong when it comes to picking music and this mid-season finale song for Samurai Champloo is a stunning piece of music that I simply cannot skip if it starts playing.

Viva Namida, Okamura Yasuyuki

Space Dandy

Okay, Dandy is another Watanabe-sensei special and honestly, this song sold me on this weird anime about a dandy guy in space. The lyrics are deeper than you’d think, so be sure to pull up the English lyrics and simply enjoy.

Life Goes On ~Side K~, Chemistry

Antique Bakery

Have I told you lately how much I love this anime. Within moments of this opening song I was sold. It’s an anime about cake, pretty boys, emotional drama and had an amazing art style and the music, god this song did it for me immediately. It’s upbeat and fun and matches the energy of the series just right in places.

Life Goes On ~Side D~, Chemistry

Antique Bakery

If I ever get married, I want this to be my first dance with my new life partner. This is true and has been true about me for years now. ~Side D~ is the slower ending to Antique Bakery and while the lyrics are the same, the beat is way slowed down and turns an upbeat J-Pop song into a loving ballad. It stole my heart immediately.

Ranbu no Melody, SID

Bleach

I don’t think I can impress upon you all how much I love Bleach as a concept and show but am disappointed by its narrative choices. I fell in love with the characters almost immediately (Famously, I watched a fair amount when the show was first released and then fell out of it when the show started to bloat in the middle. I fell back in love during the Espada Arc because it’s some of the best writing the series has ever done and some of the best character design and arcs given in shonen anime.) and the music has always been top-notch. Even when the music isn’t firing all on cylinders, it’s some of the best in the shonen genre. So when I had to pick just a handful to represent this series on this list, it was difficult but only so. Ranbu no Melody is a stunningly beautiful song, it’s easy to see this as maybe a movie theme or something rather than just one of maybe 30 openings for the series. And it happens to be one of my favorites because of its unique feel: I’m also a little biased by the fact that the animation that goes with it may be some of the most stunning in the series’ history.

Life is Like a Boat, Rie Fu

Bleach

Of course I like this song. Of course I like this melancholic song with a little twinge at the end that even the heaviest of burdens can be shared with the right people. The vocals on this one alone are some of the best in anime and even though, yes, this song does feel melodramatic and sappy for those who haven’t felt the cold embrace of a tough life, for someone like me, it was and still is exactly what I need to hear after a difficult day.

The World, Nightmare

Death Note

In the theme of melodramatic, I happen to love Death Note and in this week’s entry in the category of: Someone really should have listened to young Amanda when she said she related to Light Yagami. The whole season one soundtrack is powerful and brooding and made my young vampire heart sing.

Alumnina, Nightmare

Death Note

Okay, it may be cheating to put an opening and a closing from the same season but come the math on! This song is moody, misanthropic and really helps to put you in Light’s headspace: he has a terrible but great responsibility to be the god of a new world and Alumina perfectly illustrates the miserable yet tantalizing burden that being a human shinigami carried with it.


Okay, it may be cheating to put an opening and a closing from the same season but come the math on! This song is moody, misanthropic and really helps to put you in Light’s headspace: he has a terrible but great responsibility to be the god of a new world and Alumina perfectly illustrates the miserable yet tantalizing burden that being a human shinigami carried with it.

Honorable Mentions:

Honestly, I could dedicated an entire blog to writing about anime music and its influence on me as a writer, human person and I found that this list changed depending on what day I wrote it. This list as it is now is far from the one it started as. But here’s where I want to give a shout out to the albums that you have probably heard me talk about but did not end up on this list. Namely the soundtrack for Axis Powers: Hetalia should have and needs to be mentioned.  You learn so much about the characters in these songs and I am still shameless in my ability to sing The Delicious Tomato Song or Paris is Indeed Splendid.

I’d also like to talk about the rest of the soundtracks to a lot of the animes I mention. Just because I picked one or two songs from each series does not mean the rest of the soundtrack is garbage. Bleach has amazing music, Naruto has amazing music: these series have fantastic soundtracks and you’re welcome to ask me more about it in the comments below. Additionally, there are songs particularly that are special to me despite not fitting neatly on this list that I’ll speed round here a little.

  • Haru no KatamiAyakashi Samurai Horror Tales
  • Genesis of NextCyborg 009
  • Most of the soundtrack to Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood and the original Fullmetal Alchemist
  • A good portion of the soundtrack of Naruto: Shippuden
  • Cruel Angel’s Thesis and Fly Me to the Moon, Neon Genesis Evangelion
  • The entire OST to Panty and Stocking With Garterbelt
  • The rest of the FLCL soundtrack
  • Most of the Code Geass soundtrack
  • The OST to Air Gear
  • Is it cheating to mention how much I love the music of nearly every Miyazaki movie?

Now, onto the main event.

Ready, Steady, Go!,  L’Arc-En-Ciel

FullMetal Alchemist

You know this was going to be the official, unofficial number one, right? You knew I had to do this. You knew that there was no way I could get through this list without mentioning the anime theme song to end all anime theme songs. This song gets me so hype and it ignites something in me that I’ve felt for damn near twenty years now. The opening animation only continues to sell the song as uplifting, emotional and powerful. There are so many memories of me and my friends singing this song on road trips, during conventions, on stage and more. It’s brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. The vocals sell the song and lifts me to greater heights. I could dedicate more to this song but I’m sure it doesn’t do this song justice. If you’ve somehow never heard it before, just give it a listen.


Thanks for sticking with me through this post! I like doing these Top 10s! What’s the next thing I should rank?