Nothing quite says fluff piece like the tried and true "Top 10" list. The "Top 10" list combines the pointless regurgitation of common knowledge with a ranking system. This helps to not only extol the author's perceived intellect, but to attempt to create a small sense of controversy to promote talk of the publisher of the aforementioned list. That said, I have compiled a list of what I view to be the best anime OPs to grace the 80s.
The first few titles that will be covered are the bastards among this list. Yes, these first few contenders are the honorable mentions, though the term is not used in the strictest sense. These titles all would have easily made the list, had it not been for one small problem: none of these are actually openings. These all take the form of insert songs or ending themes, and were thus ineligible (under my arbitrary stipulation) for the coveted and few ranked positions.
Honorable Mention #1: "Get Wild" - City Hunter ED
In the world of anime, nothing quite expresses the 1980s like TM Network. Their synthesizer driven anthem syncs up perfectly with City Hunter's stylish visuals. That is, not to say that this ED is the only thing City Hunter has going for it. Chances are, if you are not familiar with this gem, you are probably familiar with something that was heavily influenced by it.
Honorable Mention #2: "Beyond the Time" - Char's Counterattack ED
TM Network falls short of making the list proper, yet again, with this slick ending to one of Gundam's more controversial entries. Char's Counterattack was a theatrical film released in 1989 that served as a capstone the rivalry between Amuro and Char, which had been ongoing since the original Gundam ten years prior.
Some eschew this film because of its subtle characterization. There is almost no internal monologue in the film, and much of the characters inner thoughts and motivations have to be inferred. This has caused many fans to be confused or upset by what they perceive to be inconsistencies in the personalities of their favorite characters.
What is not controversial, however, is how this song's infectious rhythm has kept many patrons sitting throughout the ending credits crawl of this classic film.
Honorable Mention #3: "Ai Oboete Imasuka" - Macross: Do You Remember Love? Insert Song
This may very well be the best use of an insert song in an anime. This truncated version of Macross finally let the show attain the budget it deserves; as a result, everything about the film is bigger than the televised anime.
DYRL? is, however, not without faults. It suffers from many of the common problems that befall shortened re-imaginings of full series. Many of the secondary characters are excised, the character development is accelerated, and people unfamiliar with the premise of the show will most likely be lost when watching this movie.
The one area in which DYRL? does not compromise is the visuals. The battles are better animated, the scope is bigger, and we finally get a full ballad for our galactic pop star, who had previously been relegated to ninety second mini-songs.
This film is the ideal against which all Macross series, and most mecha series, have their visuals and choreography weighed. My only reservation when recommending this anime is to watch the TV series first.
Honorable Mention #4: "Meguriai" - Mobile Suit Gundam III: Encounters in Space Insert Song
Remember how I said that "Ai Oboete Imasuka" may be the best use of an insert song in an anime? Well, this song is one of its chief rivals. Originally released in 1979, Mobile Suit Gundam was canceled midway through its run, but, due to its popularity, the anime was reedited with new footage as a theatrical release. This release is regarded by many, myself included, to be the definitive version of the series.
One thing that is often overlooked, is the fact that for their theatrical release the three Gundam films were each given new insert songs. These songs are all amazing, and any one of them could have made my list. "Cross of Sand", "Alone in the Wind", "Beginning", "Amuro Forever", and "Ai Senshi" were all contenders, but, as this was my list, I chose my favorite.
Seriously, if you have not seen the three Mobile Suit Gundam movies and you are reading this article, you have made some serious mistakes in your life.
The Actual Top 10
Now that I have taken care of the black sheep, I can move on to the actual list. These series that I will be briefly discussing range from very well known to fairly well known, so there really should not be any surprises for those of you well acquainted with the classics.
#10 "Hayate Xabungle" - Sentou Mecha Xabungle
Xabungle was the second of acclaimed director Yoshiyuki Tomino's ventures after Mobile Suit Gundam. His two previous anime, Mobile Suit Gundam and Space Runaway Ideon, had been canceled, but Xabungle managed to complete its 50 episode run without incident. Afterwards, it was followed by a movie. That movie, incidentally, is where the embedded OP is from. This variation boasts a slight extension and features some alternate animation from the televised anime.
While it may not have achieved the notoriety of some of its 80s mecha brethren, Xabungle is still fondly remembered in many circles. This OP is only one of the many merits of this oft-overlooked mecha series.
#9 "Honto no Kiss wo Okaeshi Ni" - Choujuu Kishin Dancouga
A staple of the Super Robot Wars games, Dancouga is clearly an anime of its time. While any of this show's openings could have been a contender for this list, I have, yet again, chosen my preferred one.
Dancouga is a series that has always impressed me with the intricacy of its mechanical designs and brightly colored art style. Something about Dancouga also seemed to resonate with fans, as even though the show was cancelled, several OVA's were later released to give the series a proper conclusion. A re-imagining of the series titled Dancouga Nova aired in 2007, but was met with lukewarm reception.
In closing - GOD BLESS DANCOUGA.
#8 "Macross" - The Super Dimension Fortress Macross
Macross was one of the most influential anime of the 1980s, and was responsible for setting off a craze of transforming real robot anime. Bolstered by its engaging characters, innovative choreography, and sweeping story, it is easy to see why this anime was able to establish such a lasting connection with fans.
Macross has already been mentioned once before on the list, and for good reason. Every iteration of this popular franchise has featured music of a quality far above the bar set by most other anime. While some Macross series may be gifted with better music than others, they all have something to offer the listener.
Macross not only birthed a franchise, but propelled acclaimed director Kawamori Shoji into the spotlight. You may be familiar with some of his other works such as: The Vision of Escaflowne, Genesis of Aquarion, and AKB0048. He has also contributed mechanical designs to numerous other successful series including: Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory, Ghost in the Shell, and Outlaw Star.
The only real pitfall Macross falls into, across its thirty-six episode run, is that the budget never quite matches up to the lofty heights set by the storytelling. The songs are never quite fleshed out to their maximum potential, and the dogfights, while sometimes featuring spectacular choreography, are often quite brief. As previously mentioned, the series finally attained the budget it deserved with its theatrical release: Macross: Do You Remember Love?
#7 "Active Heart" - Top wo Nerae!
Top wo Nerae!, or by its colloquial name: Gunbuster, was the second major production by animation studio Gainax. Gunbuster quickly put the studio on the map with its dramatic story and busty female characters. Before the release of Gunbuster, Gainax was known for their 1987 venture with Bandai Visual: Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise. Before even the formation of the studio proper, the future founders worked together to create the opening animation for DAICON.
Acclaimed director Anno Hideaki also made his directorial debut on this seminal series. Fans of his later works will be sure to note the stylistic vision he brings to this project.
Gunbuster is one of those rare shows that does everything it sets out to do, and does it well. It really is a complete package, and offers more action, thrills, and heartfelt characterization than most shows could do in four times as many episodes.
Truly, this one is a must see.
#6 "Ru-Ru-Ru-Russian Roulette" - Dirty Pair
If you have spent any time looking into older anime, the name Dirty Pair has more than likely been tossed around a few times. It's got sci-fi, action, comedy, and two women in metallic space bikinis - what's not to like?
This titillating series also spawned a remake in the mid 1990s known as Dirty Pair Flash.
#5 "Jajauma ni Sasenaide" - Ranma 1/2
This is the anime that introduced a generation to gender bending. "Is it wrong to be attracted to a boy that looks like a girl?" "I wish my dad were a panda." These thoughts naturally arise when watching this series from acclaimed mangaka, Takahashi Rumiko (Urusei Yatsura, Inuyasha).
Ranma 1/2 is a series that felt almost omnipresent from the late 1990s to early 2000s in America. Even as a casual fan, I was fully aware of its existence and place of reverence among a sizable portion of the community.
This series successfully combines elements of various genres, so it makes sense that this anime has garnered such broad appeal and entrenched itself into the minds of fans.
#4 "Merciless Soldier" - M.D. Geist
Nothing quite embodies the spirit of the violent 80s OVA like M.D. Geist. It is light on story, crammed full of violence, and makes little sense.
This is one series that is good by virtue of how hilariously bad it is. The catchy opening by anisong veteran Kageyama Hironobu just pushes it over the top.
This one is a lot of fun.
#3 "Cha-La Head Cha-La" - Dragon Ball Z
Dragon Ball Z is an anime that needs no introduction. I'm sure most readers of this article are quite familiar with this title.
There is really nothing to say, aside from the fact that Kageyama Hironobu turns in another amazing song.
#2 "Anime ja Nai" - Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ
This is an opening that is arguably more popular than the anime which it preceded. ZZ Gundam marked a pronounced shift in tone from Mobile Suit Gundam and Zeta Gundam, and was not as warmly received as the series it followed.
ZZ Gundam continues from where Zeta Gundam leaves off, and any fan of the classic Gundam series would be remiss to pass this entry up. While it may have an uneven narrative at the beginning, if the viewer perseveres, they will be rewarded with the classic action and storytelling that originally attracted people to Gundam.
This opening, on the other hand, has been almost universally acclaimed, and routinely makes it into lists of the most memorable openings. Even with only one listen, it is obvious why.
#1 "Ai wo Torimodose!!" - Hokuto no Ken
Perhaps better known for its catchphrase "You wa Shock," this opening has taken on a life of its own. People who have never seen an episode of the anime will still be able to recognize this opening from its being referenced and parodied many times over.
As for the anime itself, Hokuto no Ken is one of the best examples of a battle shounen handled correctly. The series relishes not only in combat but also in the emotional scenes that surround it There may not be another series that could have so many large men cry and still remain manly.
If you are still reading at this point, I hope that you have enjoyed this (arguably) brief foray into the neon anime of yesteryear. The ranking wasn't definitive and the information was cursory, but I hope that it was still entertaining.