Lately I’ve been watching a lot of Japanese television series, from anime to Live action series and I’ve come to realise that the tropes we often refer to as “Anime Tropes” are predominant across all Japanese media, with some of it even crossing over into the world of gaming.
Now, there are many Japanese Media tropes to love and hate. I particularly find “fan service” and “ecchi” pointless, even more so among the more adult-oriented series, then again, I think those target specific audiences and I might not be one of them. But it’s not all bad. I love a good dorky character, I love the falling back on a bad pun thing. I love characters pulling out secrets and double crosses (and special abilities) out of thin air, even if it’s dumb from a narrative .
But lately, one trope has reigned supreme among them all and I mean this in the way it’s gotten me excited about what I’m watching on-screen. Even stranger is that this trope keeps me excited even on a repeat watch, which has happened a lot lately since I’ve moved away from keeping up to date with the latest seasons of series and gone back to re-watch some old favourites and/or series I never got a chance to see when they aired.
The trope in question is inserting the series’ main theme during a climactic encounter, often a fight.
For us, children of the 80s, this is one of the most memorable themes out there
Main themes are some of the most memorable pieces of any media. Be it a TV series, a video game or even a cartoon. I only need to whistle the first few notes of the 1-1 level from Super Mario Bros. to make the entire tune play in someone’s mind. If I do the same with the Legend of Zelda theme, you’ll all know it. For those of us born in the 80s, anything from Transformers and GI Joe to Thundercats will get instant recognition.
Now imagine that in those series, in the middle of the final battle, that iconic tune plays in the back. It raises the tension and excitement of that sequence to new heights and if there are people who know how to make final battles feel epic it’s the people behind Japanese media and that’s before they do the main theme insert. It just makes things feel legendary.
One of the best examples of this for me is in a series I’ve mentioned here in the past few weeks: Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure.
During the 2nd Arc, Battle Tendency, the protagonist of the arc, Joseph Joestar, is fighting against the last of the Pillar Men, Kars—these Vampire progenitors named after Santana, AC/DC, Wham! and The Cars—and trying to drive him into a volcano. At this point, if Battle Tendency’s theme song, Bloody Stream by CODA, had played, it would’ve been amazing. But no, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure goes the extra mile and instead plays the opening theme for the first arc in the series, the one you could call the one Main Theme of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure.
The song mixes beautifully with the story on screen, with Joseph and Kars mirroring the conflict between Johnathan Joestar and Dio, and with the title’s translation roughly meaning “the Destiny of that Blood,” it speaks of the fate of the Joestar family of clashing against evil in deadly battles.
For anyone watching up to that point, that simple insert theme not only made the scenes—and their usual Jojo ludicrousness—feel much more epic, but it also becomes a call back to every moment you’ve experienced throughout the story arcs.
But the series that made me realise the effect of this trope was Gundam Build Fighters Try. In an already fun series with tons of epic moments, the final battle of the Gunpla Tournament sees one of the protagonists, Sekai, fight against his rival Wilfrid in an extra-time, no holds barred fight to decide the winner of the tournament. And as the announcers count down to the start of the round, the main theme kicks in, Wilfrid’s Gunpla shatters the holographic title counting down and kicks off what is an electrifying sequence with enough special effects to give someone seizures.
The second theme song in the series would’ve been enough, considering it’s a fast-paced track, but instead and much like in the above Jojo example, the creators of Gundam Build Fighters Try decided to go for the first theme in the series. It’s pretty fast-paced as well, but it also ramps up and becomes much more exciting near the end, almost mimicking the action you’re watching. It also has that nostalgic feel to it, to end the series with how it began.
There are many tropes in Japanese media, and I may come back to muse about another one, but for now I just leave you with this question: what is your favourite main theme insert in Japanese media?