FEATURE: Aniwords – I Couldn't Decide What to Name My Anime, So I Wrote an Overly Long Title Because It Seemed Like It'd Be Fun
It's time to talk about all those ridiculously long light novel titles, and about very good titles (not mutually exclusive)
Let me start with a story this week. A few months ago, I had a fateful meeting with an upcoming anime. It was called... Heavy Object. I don’t remember why or how this all came about, but the first thing that popped into my head when I read that title was the word “rocks.” Because, as you well know, rocks qualify as heavy objects. This lead to an amusing little daydream about Heavy Object being about a bunch of cute anime girls and boys with super strength lifting big ole honking rocks and, uh, doing something with them. And the rocks were special or something. But, yeah, Heavy Object is about rocks, right? Well, supposedly it’s not, but I’m still not quite over the brilliance of that delightful delusion, so if you talk to me about Heavy Object, “ROCKS!” will still probably be the first thing I say.
What’s the point of telling you guys this story? Just this: what an anime’s called (and this goes for books, movies, games, etc.) is really important! Often before the key visuals are out or the first trailers are out or before you’ve stumbled on the light novel’s cover art, the first thing you hear about a show is its title. It’s the show’s first chance to make an impression on you, and as I’ve just demonstrated, that first impression might not be exactly what the title intends.
And in the world of anime, there are a whole bunch of different types of titles out there. Some make a lot of sense (Ushio and Tora), some really don’t (Senki Zesshou Symphogear GX: Believe in Justice and Hold a Determination to Fist.) Some are really easy to find on Google (Durarara!!), others are a huge pain (K, Working!!). Some are short and sweet (Free!), others are really, really long (Is it Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?, My Mental Choices Are Completely Interfering with My School Romantic Love Comedy, Problem Children Are Coming from Another Planet Aren’t They?).
But whatever the case may be, each title ultimately ends up making a case for why you should watch a particular show. I recall quite well the buzz the title Is it Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? generated in the fandom prior to last season. Whatever people thought about the show being adapted from a light novel, the silliness and length of the title generated a lot of general attention for the show. Heavy Object’s title doesn’t seem to be doing the same (for people other than me), but it does have the benefit of being snappy and distinctive. It’s the kind of title that’ll stick in your head like the One Direction song you weren’t fast enough changing radio channels away from.
As a writer myself, I remember fondly my days of writing an inexorable flow of first chapters for fantasy novels and coming up with cool titles for them. Starting off with a title at the beginning of your writing project is kind of a thrilling prospect, because more often than not it corresponds to a super original and awesome concept that the title describes perfectly. And then, there are the stories you start without a title—and these are almost always the harder ones to name. “How can I possibly sum up the entirety of this story I’ve poured my energy into with a single phrase?” is a difficult question, but the results of figuring it out usually produce some of the most profound and meaningful titles you’ll ever create.
So, while it’s all well and good to have an eye-catching, pithy anime title that will reel in audiences with its energy, weirdness, or sheer verbosity, there’s also a distinct place for titles that are endlessly evocative of their corresponding stories, titles that really speak for the show as a whole. A Name, in the truest sense. Sometimes, these aren’t the titles with the most selling language, but rather are names that can only truly make sense once you’ve actually seen the show. I’d like to share a few of my favorite titles (and why they’re my favorites) with you guys.
- Chihayafuru: Once you’ve seen Chihayafuru, you really come to grasp the importance of the word for both the characters for the nature of the story. Roughly translating to “impassionate,” a decorative word typically used to describe gods, it speaks not only for the goals held by the characters, but also for the love Chihayafuru has for the sport of karuta.
- Revolutionary Girl Utena: One of the completely descriptive titles I know, Revolutionary Girl Utena describes its show on every level: story, character, visuals. The show about a revolutionary girl was revolutionary itself—and Utena stands at the center of it all.
- A Certain Scientific Railgun: As a spinoff of an already popular franchise (A Certain Magical Index), Railgun didn’t need to have a great title—but it does. In fact, I’m of the opinion that the spinoff’s title is far better than the original series’. It’s just got a nice sound to it (thanks alliteration), and the word “railgun” adds just the pop it needs to be great.
- Kill Me Baby: A nonsensical title for a nonsensical show, and repeated every single episode in various absurd voicings. Kill Me Baby doesn’t have any deep meaning to it, and it shouldn’t.
- Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere: A title as idiosyncratic and impregnable as the show itself, Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere is another one of those titles that just sounds really good. I do think there’s some good material to be mined out of the female lead’s name being Horizon and lacking her human emotions, but I’ll let you guys puzzle that one out yourselves.
- Aquarion EVOL: I’ll give you a hint. It’s not subtle at all.
Above all, the most important thing about a title is that it’s attached to a show. No matter how good the title may be, it doesn’t matter a bit if the show itself is forgettable, bad, or otherwise unworthy of the greatness of the title. I think the title Comet Lucifer, the name of an upcoming fall season anime, is a great title (and it’s been a part of making me excited for the show), but if Comet Lucifer the show flops, Comet Lucifer the title will fade from my memory.
Titles are great, and very important to shows for multiple reasons, but without a great show, a great title is ultimately just a pretty flash in the pan.
So, what do you guys think? What makes a title good, or bad, or somewhere in the middle? Share some of your favorite anime titles in the comments!
Isaac eases his compulsive need to write about anime on his blog, Mage in a Barrel. He also contributes to Otaku Review and hangs out on Tumblr. You can follow him on Twitter at @iblessall or on Facebook.