In the course of anime history, guitar scenes have always been the underdog of cool anime scenes, much less popular than the robot fighting scene, or the sword scene, or the blood and gore scene, or even the kissing and sex scenes. So here in this post, we honor not only iconic guitar scenes that were indicative of the thematic importance of the show, but those little guitar moments that were painstakingly animated frame per frame, but never saw the light of forum threads and fan discussions boards. And so without any further ado I present to you, the top 10 guitar moments in anime.
Note: The list is only subjective to only MY actual anime viewing experience, and does not represent any actual ranking of any kind for anything related to guitar or anime. The metrics used in the list were also subjective; music taste and/or other preferences may depend on the reader’s. Also my opinions do not reflect the general consensus, so do not hate me if I bash your favorite show/praise the show you hate.
Mahou Tsukai ni Taisetsuna Koto Natsu no Sora: Kurage Song
To start off the list is a scene from the slice of life show from 2008, Mahou Tsukai ni Taisetsuna Koto Natsu no Sora. I find it weird to start the list with something that doesn’t have anything to do with guitars or singing (this will happen a LOT later), but nevertheless if you were to ask me which was the most memorable scene from this show, I would definitely tell you this one. This scene fits perfectly with the theme of the show. A girl wanders on the big city, exploring new things and enjoying the beautiful cityscape. Of course something like learning magic is concerned, but you could just replace magic with something else and this scene would still fit in. This scene best summarizes what the show wants to portrays to the audience, using a song to describe the ambience of the Tokyo landscape. The lyrics also work well with the scene. And surprisingly, as a guitar scene, although short, it is pretty darn accurate and capable, which is the reason I have to put this on the list.
Also, on a side note, I want to mention briefly about the director of this show which happens to be one of my favorite directors/animation directors, Osamu Kobayashi. Most people would remember him from the infamous issue from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann episode 4, in which fans were outraged from the sudden drop in character animation. But rather than get on the same opinion with those people, I would say that THAT is just his style. The somewhat inconsistent but natural flow of characters takes away from the usual character animation that most modern shows have (I’m talking about the digital era of animation), and it’s a refreshing thing to look at. And he is pretty capable of directing the show as to what he sees it to be, and keen observers would definitely recognize his touch on the titles he’s worked on. This scene perfectly describes his style of direction and animation. You can also recognize his style on another show, which I will mention later, also the reason why I mentioned his name on this entry.
Take note again that this show has nothing to do with music, but the scenes with the insert acoustic background music appear sporadically in the show. I also recommend getting the insert album which these songs were featured.
Ghost Hound: A Vey Elaborate Fusion Guitar Solo… Or Just Weird
The 9th spot on the list is a guitar scene from a show from late 2007, Ghost Hound. For a brief introduction of this show, its supposed to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of Production I.G, the studio most famous for Ghost in The Shell (which explains the top-rate animation), and is written by the maker of Ghost in The Shell, Shirow Masamune. With that said, here is the scene from episode 3 of the anime.
First of all, this show, unfortunately, has also nothing to do with guitars and music, but somewhat relative. It is a show about supernatural events and ghosts appearing in the parallel world (okay, I take back what I wrote). But this scene can well explains the weirdness and the horror that the show’s plot has. In this scene we have a guy who plays random guitar notes without resemblance to any scale whatsoever (and with impeccable speed, just listen to that drum track), while recording it on video, and another scene of an old lady perfoming some sort of ritual. It also appears that the guy isn’t doing a guitar cover of Blink 182, but instead playing the guitar like a teenager on meth making a solo for his song about unicorns cockslapping each other. In short, it doens’t make any sense. But does it that scene cool? Yes, of course. Nothing in anime has ever attempted something like this before, using a unintelligible guitar solo to describe a scene which is weird and sort of horrifying (that old lady looks scary as shit). This particular scene was the setting point for me to realize this show is unique in its own (and also all that brain-related technobabble as well), which is nothing short from the creator of freakin’ Ghost in the Shell. It’s uniqueness drives my interests to watch this show, and in the long run that mindset didn’t dissappoint me from enjoying this show.
And guitar-wise, it’s pretty fun to watch. Maybe want to try it myself sometime, but instead with headphones I would annoy neighbors with the amps set to full overdrive.
K-ON!!: This Is A Little Girl Were Talking About Here…
…doing a sweet improv of one of their songs. I have to put this one somewhere on this list for two reasons. One is to please the trolls. And another because this particular scene in the show isn’t that bad. In fact, it’s good. The chord-heavy approach to this version of the song is pretty listenable, unlike the original. It reminds me of a lot of Japanese-pop style playing of guitar. And the vignette of the empty classroom gives the scene a bit of melancholic touch. But when her bandmates came to check her inside the clubroom, the girl suddenly went for the punchline “I look cool”, which ruined the mood that the scene was trying to build upon, because its supposed to be funny, or something like that.
K-ON! isn’t exactly my cup of tea in slice-of-life (hint: it is a show about nothing), but it touches upon a very topic I’m interested in: high school music clubs. The premise of K-ON! would be something that would interest other people because of the plot device, and not the actual plot. Some people are interested in the the show because their dream is to become a little girl. Anyway, the plot of K-ON! revolves around these 5 girls who decided to make a band and so they try to be better in playing instruments. But using the word “plot” is an overstatement.
Watching the show was a real chore. Pretty much 90 percent of the show doesn’t involve music at all, and more about these 5 high school girls doing things high school girls do. And they occasionally crack jokes, but the problem is the show doesn’t deliver it in a comedic way, but rather in a way just to evoke that “moe” thing from the audience.
But in all of its fairness, K-ON! has also those cute little scenes where you can get a chuckle or two. Most of time, the girls would make fun of something… like cake, or something else… like some other thing (sigh). Or sometimes it would something interesting, like forgetting their instruments or impersonating other bandmates. And little scenes like this that make you want to ride the nostalgia train back to high school days and play that guitar in class. Other than that, K-ON! is definitely light-hearted, and not something that needs to be taken seriously.
By the way, the song title is “My Love is A Stapler”. While I do get that sentiment that a stapler would be a real lifesaver to have, especially in situations where a lot of organizing is required, its not enough to make me want to have sex with it.
Darkside Blues: Badass Blues
In the 7th spot (above K-ON!, HA!) is a scene from an obsure movie from 1994 called Darkside Blues, an adaptation of a manga by Hideyuki Kikuchi, which brought to us classics such as Vampire Hunter D and Demon City Shinjuku. Now don’t feel sorry if you don’t recognize any of these titles, you might be just like me, an anime fan for less than 5 years and/or not keen on older titles. The story is about a strange man who gets the attention of a corporation who’s taken over almost everything in the city, and hell breaks loose.
While it seems that the premise of the show is just generic 90’s action show, this particular scene has caught my attention, and I just had to search the movie after. Here we see an old man chilling, playing the blues with his acoustic guitar, harmonica and his bottle of alcohol, while a confrontation is happening between some anti-Coporation sentiments and the Corporation’s dogs. Scenes of the run-down town of Kabuki is shown while the old dude plays the former revolutionary theme, which is of course badass because it’s the effin’ BLUES man. The old man goes:
At the end of the winter sea
Where everyone feels so lonely
There was no other way back
It’s only the way to the darkness
You don’t have to suffer
Just leave with the world of Darkside
The lyrics doesn’t make much sense, but that 12-bar was the sickest I’ve heard yet (I don’t listen much to blues). And the animation has also a level of detail to it (the song is defintely in the A chord) Anyway, suddenly a man appears out of nowhere, whose name apparently is Darkside. And the song almost felt like some sort of superhero theme song. A BLUES theme song, it couldn’t be more awesome than that.
This scene definitely has the spaghetti western feel to it, with the exception of it taking place in Tokyo, and no tumbleweeds. As for the whole movie, while the story isn’t that much engaging, I would say it’s definitely an interesting movie to watch. It is an action flick with a supernatural element to it, and has that weird art style, which goes because its from the man who made Vampire Hunter D. It is a good try, especially if you’re looking for that 90’s anime action-horror flick with almost the same vein as Vampire Hunter D.
Macross 7: Nekki Basara is A Man Of Epic Proportions
This list couldn’t be complete without the show that started the whole “power of music saves the world” thing: Macross. And when people say Macross, they could be referring to either the first one (which was part of Robotech), the timeless classic “Do You Remember Love”, or for new anime fans it would be the latest one, Macross Frontier. But among the short list of titles from the legendary franchise (as compared to something like Gundam and Yamato), they seem to ignore one part of it. Maybe it is of reason. I’m talking about the “often overlooked but cult favorite”, Macross 7.
If there’s one memorable thing to take out of Macross 7, it would be, if not, the craziness that is Nekki Basara. Most of the followers of the franchise (and non-fans but has spent enough time on 4chan like I used to) would definitely recognize Basara from his famous catchphrase “Listen to my song!”, and his ridiculous singing, but after getting some weekends off to watch the entirety of Macross 7 (including the 9 OVAs and not just the series), my perception of him became much more different than before. In other words, this man is outrageous. His ability to sing and play guitar, while piloting a jet like an top-ace had me baffled. And not only that, the show upped the ante by presenting Basara as “a man who knows only to rock, and will use rock and roll in almost every situation possible”, which is the main reason I think Macross 7 has got to that cult classic status.
This scene will explain everything I have been talking about.
I still couldn’t make out on how this scene happened, but I know for sure that I’d kill for some guitar and singing skills that would make women want to have sex. Aside from that one, there are other scenes from the show, somewhere along the veins of “Basara Saves the City with Rock and Roll” and “Basara Solves Eveything with Rock and Roll”. I don’t have to go on to detail with each and every one, but I assume a simple Youtube search would get results like “Basara Sings to Whales” and “Basara Moves Mountains With Rock and Roll”. And that is just scratching the surface.
If you’re wondering why I am talking about Macross 7 as a whole and not this scene alone, simply because one guitar scene could not bring justice to summarizing this show. Many more “guitar” scenes in Macross 7 deserve to be in this list. Not for reasons like being accurate or detailed or anything like that. Just for being crazy.
So if you have now the itch to watch this show from reading this, but doesn’t have any knowledge of the Macross franchise, don’t let it stop you from doing so. The show pretty much starts with a quick-but-understandable recap of the events of the past, and you wouldn’t be left out by not watching anything beforehand. But a fair warning, there is a reason why Macross 7 is often overlooked in the franchise. It is quite mediocre compared to its companions in the Macross saga (DYRL, Plus, Frontier). But I can tell you something, Macross 7 as a whole is worth watching just for Nekki Basara alone. And his one song of Rock and Roll.
FLCL: All That Guitar Smashing
Probably my first time posting an AMV. Apologies.
FLCL was considered an important part of anime history, as it was recognized as the gateway for most people in America to anime as it was airing on TV, and also it was the time when the “Anime Bubble in the West” of the early 2000s was still in its infancy. The show was outrageous and funny, yet deep and engaging, and the show was brimming with all sorts of symbolism and undertones. A perfect coming-of-age story brought to us by the animation studio Gainax, whose at this point was at the top of the animation world courtesy of that show about robots and the apocalypse.
Back to FLCL, among those symbolisms used in the show was the guitar. I’m not only talking about the big blue Rickebacker bass which the main girl is holding (I won’t say the character names so people who haven’t watch the show yet can relate to), but also several scenes in the show where a guitar is concerned. And most of those scenes involve NO PLAYING whatsoever of the instrument, but instead using it as a weapon or something to hit with. If that’s the case, why bother to get it on the list?
My answer couldn’t be more simpler. Because it’s AWESOME. It’s cool to not only use the guitar as a musical sounding device, but also as a glorified baseball bat. And that’s what makes this show perfect, it is the “big middle finger” approach to storytelling and trying to get some sort of realism to this show. The simple yet elaborate story of a boy who goes from a spineless wimp to a total badass, and the moment he mans up, takes out a Gibson Flying V out of his forehead (yes, this show doesn’t make a lot of sense) to whack the comeuppance out of the enemy. It is what makes FLCL so damn awesome. And for guitarists like me, there isn’t a more exciting thought than using a guitar to smash shit around. It is the instrument which personifies two distant things, it is elegant yet dangerous. Its these contradictions which work with the show. You could say well with a sword, but no, a sword couldn’t replace what the guitar symbolizes in the show. Also the soundtrack in this show (which is Japanese alternative rock music filled with Telecaster-sounding seventh guitar chords and poppy riffs) works well with the theme of the guitars in the show.
And if you still have doubts about the relevance of this show as far as this list goes, I would probably need to mention my personal favorite scene in the show. The short scene where the girl plays her bass unplugged (like an actual instrument) in the main character’s bedroom in the middle of the show. It reminds me of times where I would simply sit on my bed and play guitar randomly for no reason.
Take note that this entry is not a full review of FLCL, but my personal take on the guitar moments of this show. I just couldn’t give enough justice to summarize this classic OVA. So just read other reviews if you need to get more information and analysis on the show (I’d recommend Otaku USA’s review of FLCL by Dave Riley, February 2011 Issue)
Angel Beats!: Crow Song
Angel Beats! is one of those shows that has no directly relation to music whatsover (except for the title depending on the context), but its production quality (especially music-wise) is so damn high that you would associate it with other shows related to music. Angel Beats! had the right people assembled when it came to the music: Jun Maeda, a well-respected musical composer of Clannad and Kanon fame helmed the story as well as the music direction that Aniplex (Sony’s animation company; a lot of high quality, good soundtracks has this logo attached with) produced, and top-rate artists like Lia and LiSA sang most of the songs. The studio behind this show, although a fairly new player in the production business, was a very prominent one.
Take note this is not the actual scene per se from the episode, this is only a fan-made “semi-AMV”. Only the best I could find.
The way the scene was portrayed is perfect: the fluid animation of the band playing complementing the intense fight between Angel and the SSS brigade (you wouldn’t understand what I’m talking about unless you watch the actual episode). The upbeat feel of the song emanates with the fast hitting of the drums and the strumming of guitars. Everyone in the audience goes wild at the very presence and strong singing of the vocalist. This scene couldn’t be any more perfect. While this scene alone could not explain the entirety of Angel Beats!, you could tell from watching that the show itself has a lot of potential and wants to be ambitious when scenes happen. Completely different from watching some eye-candy scene that makes you feel a show is pretentious. Angel Beats! as a whole show is not the greatest, but it isn’t disappointing either. I can assure you one thing, you can definitely get some enjoyment from watching the show. For good reasons. Because, damn, if you don’t even find this concert scene entertaining, there must be something wrong with you.
On another note, Angel Beats! wasn’t the first show to do this concert performance thing. Hell, even Bubblegum Crisis (an OVA from the late 80’s) pulled this kind of trick back then. But the most popular of shows that everyone remembers because of a band performance isn’t Bubblegum Crisis, and no, not even Angel Beats! who executed it so perfectly. It was…
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya: God Knows
Back in 2006, when anime was business as usual, but the genre wasn’t going that hot with everyone else outside the community, aside from the screaming fangirls and pervy lolicons, one show decided to pull everyone’s pants off with it’s big-budget production, some very promising staff, and of course, the most spectacular, bizarre and confusing as hell but enjoyable storyline: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. It was the most talked about show not only on that year, but years to come, both as a compelling piece of soft sci-fi and as a run-of-the-mill generic anime story set in high school, only filled with a bunch of insane characters.
But for most people, the most memorable scene to have come out of Haruhi is this band performance scene from episode 11 (or episode 26 depending on what version you are watching). It wasn’t something new for music to be regarded as something important in anime: Macross has been doing for years, and not too long ago the classic music video/anime Interstella 5555 put anime on the map with everything else media. But this particular scene from Haruhi and the impact of the show itself (at least in Japan and on the internet) ushered in a new generation of fans, mostly young and in their late teens to mid-20s, that considered this show to be their gateway drug. Because it was so well animated, and the song has the catchy Japanese feel to it that felt so refreshing and bright, and the scene alone almost summed everything there is to be about Japanese culture. Maybe not so much for the bunny girls (hint: Playboy), but hell, you could just show this scene to some kid whose life revolves around Modern Warfare 3 and porn, and he might consider watching an episode of this anime. It is that viral.
As for the guitar scene itself, there is nothing much to add anymore. Yuki (the name of the witch playing lead) nailed almost every note of the song perfectly, of course with te help of insane mix digital-real life motion capture animation done by the animators. The drums and the bass player also has that level of detail, and of course who could forget Haruhi herself on the vocals, which by the way helped one anime voice actress rise to fame. Haruhi as a character became a strong presence for everyone, even to this day. All because of this scene.
The show, as expected, also has nothing to do with music, but I would recommend this title for anyone whose, at least, are into science fiction, because this show (including the movie which is a must watch) would definitely not disappoint. Or if you are a musician just like me, this show could be your gateway not only to anime but also to Japanese music in general.
The Legend of Black Heaven: Let Me Go, Let You Go
If there’s one thing that could beat insane levels of detail and animation when it comes to a guitar scene, it can only be the music involved. Especially when the music involved lies somewhere between the words rock and roll. And that’s what The Legend of Black Heaven, a 13-episode show from 1999 produced by AIC, has. A decent show with passable animation, but has a soundtrack that wields the dangerous power to blow heads off (right from the opening to the insert songs), a couple of guitar scenes that has the execution and timing perfectly done, and the best ending you could probably get from an anime about music.
The show tells the tale of a heavy metal rocker turned middle aged salaryman who has to leave his dreams to pursue a life of family and career. The rest of the show follows Oji Tanaka and his problems living as part of society as he deals with problems of everyday life… until he was summoned by an alien organization taking part in an intergalactic war, and eventually he has to use his music again to save his world. His rock music.
While this show sounds like the most trite, convoluted plot ever conceived, the way it was executed is near perfect. It has something most anime will never have: a sense of realism and a level of empathy toward the characters (especially Oji himself), which is brought upon by scenes of him trying to live in a modern society but also trying to live from his past as a legendary guitarist. Also, the comedy and satire of this show is something that anyone can legitimately enjoy, it is funny, sometimes crass, sometimes perverted, but it doesn’t put anyone off like most whatever show set in high school has. The show has the perfect balance of romance, comedy, slice of life, and good ol’ rock and roll.
Warning: This scene has some spoilers, but to be fair, the show’s only 13 episodes, so watching this scene hopefully doesn’t stop you from watching the rest.
Here’s the scene that I best remember from the show, the ending. Anyone could get the context that they are in a last ditch effort to stop the enemy, and all of the events that were leading up to the scene (it wouldn’t hurt to just watch the whole show) prompts Tanaka to play something the band has never played before, uttering the words “Everyone, please listen to the way I feel right now”. Right now he won’t be playing their usual line-up (which is by the way another amazing guitar scene in and of itself), but with something straight from the heart. He then starts off with something different from his usual loud heavy riff; instead a clean, mellow C chord from his new song “Let Me Go, Let You Go”. The band follows after him.
It was just a moment of epic shivers, joy and sadness from me watching this scene, all felt at this time. The heart and the soul that emanates throughout this ballad resonates well with the predicament that the characters are in at the moment. No anime could have done something similar to this, unless it was something like Macross. And no, not even a show with the same premise like Macross 7 was able to pull off something like this. It can ony be pulled off by a show with a simple yet earnest plot like The Black Heaven.
Take note that I tend to gravitate towards shows that has more heart and earnesty in it, than technicality and complexity in plot. Because its simple shows like these that you can just watch with anyone. And I won’t deny, its shows like these that got me started into watching anime. So as an anime fan, I would say don’t miss this show for the world, because you need to listen to me and what I say is this show has one of the best ending scenes in anime history. Or I’ll blow your head off with my sick guitar riffing.
And finally, the one you’ve all been waiting for, the title taking the top spot for having the greatest guitar moments in anime, is none other than…
BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad: Spicy Raw Performance
This show is probably the one you hear most people recommend if you’re looking for an anime show with a solid music background. For someone like me, this show was my returning point to watching anime after stopping for more than half a decade. It is a show I hold near and dear to my heart, and the show I would REQUIRE anyone who’s into guitars and stuff like that to watch. Why? Because it is the simply the quintessential music anime. The show has all the elements to be one: a beautiful story, detailed and gorgeous animation (it was animated by Madhouse, which I mention on my other blog posts is the best anime studio alive), a good staff working on it, and of course the biggest, if not, level of production when it came to the soundtrack.
The guitar moments, or maybe at this point I should probably consider rephrasing this to “everytime a guitar appears”, are simply magnificent. It is filled with rich detail and accuracy in playing the instrument. The feeling of the song can be felt from the fluid motion of the player, it is almost unnerving to see the realism in the animation. And not only during guitar scenes or band performances, but also with various other scenes too much for this post to handle. At first, I was skeptical of how the show would play the band scenes. But as soon as I got to the first performance of “Spice of Life”, I simply could not believe how this much energy of a real live band performance can be translated to paper. I was appalled by the detail, execution and rawness of the performance.
Sorry again for the “cop-out” music video example. It summarizes most of those scenes though.
The production work in this show is amazing. I probably have to bring up again the name I have mentioned earlier. Yes, Osamu Kobayashi (the director I mentioned at the beginning of the list) was also the director AND the composer of the series. From the style, you could tell his affection to guitars and to music is quite evident by the detailed guitar scenes and fluid band performances. Also, his directing style has a sense of realism to it, which does the job for translating the scenes and the feel from source manga to moving pictures. While I still have little problems with how he handles the animation of the characters, I could not ignore the fact that they also bring that sense of realism to the characters.
The music for this show is another beast, as there are too many names who contributed to the excellent soundtrack. Most of the songs are done by the band BEAT CRUSADERS, a band which if you haven’t heard of, then stop reading this right now and go to Youtube to listen to their songs. Not only them, but several artists that come from different genres of music, aside from rock, also contributed to the album. The feel of the show is indie, so most of the songs that can be heard from the show are from real indie Japanese rock acts that actually sound good. One of them is The Pillows (which I failed to mention, but did most of the music for FLCL), and some are bands I discovered from this show like Typhoon24, Husking Bee, Nice Marbles, and many others.
The manga also is another force of its own. But personally, I think the animated version is better, because no manga or comic can reproduce the experience of listening to delicious riffs and heavy rock music while watching BECK (the band) ripping the stage with their performance. But before I continue to go more off-topic here with my fangasming, let me end this post with something I think would sum up most of what counts as a great guitar moment in anime.