Today I’d like to talk about an aspect of the anime episode that is almost always present, the ending sequences. These animation sequences (lasting about a minute and a half each) are often skipped by viewers and are easily forgotten. However, while it is easy to forget about these sequences, they do contribute (sometimes significantly) to the overall presentation of an anime episode. For good or for bad, there are times when the ending sequences stand out and I will be highlighting some of those instances in this post.
I’ll begin by discussing the mood whiplash caused when the tone of an included opening or ending sequence clashes with that of the actual episode. When talking about endings in particular, this is one of my biggest peeves. An ending sequence that doesn’t fit with the mood of the episode stands out quite a bit, and if the contrast is big enough it can even ruin what the episode worked to build up. An example I always use to describe this kind of mood whiplash is related to the ending used for Clannad: After Story. Towards the middle of the show there is a dramatic episode (episode sixteen for those that wish to look it up) that ends on a very sad note but is unfortunately followed by this ending song. While there is nothing wrong with this ending song by itself, it really did not go well with actual anime episode. I would even go as far as to say that it had an overall negative effect on the experience of watching that particular episode. Mind you, I did not let the entire ending play through, but five seconds was enough for this particular ending to ruin the mood.
Another, more recent, example can be found in one of the two shows I blog about, Tari Tari. The main ending piece for Tari Tari is a bright, bubbly song that is alright by itself (whether you like it will depend on your own tastes). But, much like the ending from Clannad: After Story, Tari Tari’s ending doesn’t fit when the tone of the episode is melancholy. And while not as bad as the example from Clannad, the ending sequence to Tari Tari episode five still felt out of place and awkward.
The question that can be asked after considering these two examples of badly placed ending songs is whether any of this really matters. It is true that the ending pieces in both of these instances don’t fit, but I can simply skip them. After all, the ending isn’t actually important to the story, right? Well, this is true, but even if the ending is not an important part of the story, the ending is important to the overall presentation of the episode in the same way a soundtrack enhances the story without directly interacting with it. In fact, considering the ending song as a part of the soundtrack is not a bad idea. Think about any show or movie with a great soundtrack for a second. Now, consider how it would be if the soundtrack was carelessly scrambled or swapped out for an entirely different soundtrack. Unless the movie/show and its soundtrack are both homogenous, odds are the tone of the music will clash with the tone of any particular scene for horribly (or hilariously) inappropriate results. There are times when such a contrast is done for a dramatic effect such as this scene from Evangelion 2.0 (the contrast I’m talking about begins at 2:45). But even then, such scenes are done deliberately and with care.
In the same way care should be taken when choosing to include an ending song. For situations where the ending does not work with the tone of the episode, the ending song should simply not be included or an alternative ending song should be used in its place. After all, the ending is the last place for the episode or movie to make an impression on the viewers. And the best impressions are the ones that sit comfortably with what the episode or movie worked to build up. A great example of a show that included ending songs properly was the idolm@ster anime. The idolm@ster used a different ending each week, always choosing a song that fitted well with the episode. Furthermore, each ending featured still shots which told their own story little story. Together, these two aspects made it feel as though the ending were actually a part of the episode instead of just a place to put the credits (here is the ending to episode 10 if you want an example). Granted, not every show has the budget or resources Namco had for the idolm@ster in order to have a different ending song each week, but it also isn’t necessary to go to that extreme. Like I said previously, the ending only needs to be changed when it doesn’t fit.
Another example of a show that did this right would be Ufotable’s Fate/Zero. Not counting the ending sequence change from the first season to the second there were three instances in which the ending song Sora wa Takaku Kaze wa Utau (Up on the Sky, the Wind Sings) was not included during the second season. The first two times occurred during the back story of Kiritsugu where the song Manten was played to better match the despairing nature of the flashback. In contrast, Sora Wa Takaku Kaze wa Utau, is a song with a more hopeful tone; one that is appropriate for Kiritsugu’s pursuit of peace beyond the bloodshed of the Holy Grail War. Fittingly, the final instance of a substituted ending in Fate/Zero is for the final episode where the show’s opening song, To the Beginning, is used in place of an ending song to remind viewers that though Fate/Zero is over, the story is just beginning in Fate/Stay Night.
Shows can also get creative with how they include the ending songs for some impressive results. One thing I like in particular is how shows will occasionally choose to begin playing the ending song during the final scene of the episode instead of waiting till it finishes. Used sparingly this will create a lasting impression of what has hopefully a strong conclusion. Every time I hear the song Redline Day I get brought back to memories of Redline’s spectacular finish. Say what you will about Redline, but that movie had style. Another clever thing that shows can do is subtly change aspects of the ending song (without changing the song outright) to match the story’s development. A great example of this would be from Tari Tari’s sixth episode which used a song previously used for the ending of the second episode. In that instance, the song was a performance by two of the characters. This time around it was sung by all five members of the choir club. It is a subtle difference, but it was there to represent the story development that had just taken place in the episode.
As long as the minute-thirty time-slot dedicated to the ending sequence remains a part of the anime episode, there is no reason why more care shouldn’t be given when including them. Not every show needs to do (or can do, for that matter) what Namco did with the idolm@ster ending sequences, but at least directors should aim to avoid clashes in the mood by including an ending that is appropriate for the episode. A bad ending sequence won’t ruin a show for me (I will always be looking at the story and characters when deciding whether a show is for me or not), but the good ones make the good shows all the more memorable. And for the record, I didn’t skip a single ending from the idolm@ster.
Share your thoughts in the comment section down below!