FEATURE: 86 EIGHTY-SIX's Ending Credits Perfects The Art Of The Sawano Drop
Don't you get there? It calls it calls
The best anime opening credits speak for themselves. Introduce the main characters, bust out some flashy animation, set it to a catchy song, and you’re golden. Ending credits are a different matter. If an opening sequence is meant to hype you up for the coming action, ending sequences are punctuation on the events of that episode. So what kind of punctuation? Take Showa Genraku Rakugo Shinjuu’s first ED, which allows the viewer to quietly decompress and reflect on the episode’s events. Or Mob Psycho 100’s first ED, which clues us into Reigen’s genuine respect for Mob while ending each episode on an energetic note. Or the EDs for JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, which can serve as either hilarious metajokes (A Savage Garden closer for Diamond is Unbreakable? Really?!?) or exciting next-episode stingers, like the first season’s infamous use of Yes’s “Roundabout.”
86 EIGHTY-SIX's ending sequence is simple. One of the show’s two ending songs plays during the episode climax. When the chorus drops, the show stops on a juddering freeze-frame photograph and rolls the credits. That’s it. Yet 86 EIGHTY-SIX’s ending credits are my favorite of the year so far, as deserving of homage as JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure’s use of “Roundabout.” That it achieves so much by combining two well-worn anime tricks is absurd. But execution speaks for itself, and those two tricks work like gangbusters together.
The first of these tricks is the postcard memory. Pioneered over decades by anime auteur Osamu Dezaki, the postcard memory is an illustrated freeze-frame meant to punctuate important moments in the story. It’s a shortcut first and foremost, a way of adding impact to a scene without requiring movement or the multiple drawings that facilitate it. There’s an austere magic to the postcard memory that’s led countless other artists to borrow the device for their own projects, whether to punctuate a cliffhanger, capture a key moment, or simply pay homage to the classics. If you’re an anime fan, you’ve almost certainly seen one of these before in shows like Gurren Lagann, Symphogear, or Hunter x Hunter. Even anime-inspired western cartoons like OK KO! Let’s Be Heroes! have borrowed the postcard memory.
Every episode of 86 EIGHTY-SIX plays its ending credits over a unique postcard memory. Some are dramatic, like an abandoned blackboard or heroine Lena’s command desk. Others are inspiring or even funny, like the unwrapped chocolate bar that punctuates Episode 6. One adaptation 86 EIGHTY-SIX makes to the postcard memory formula is that it uses photographs rather than pastel or simple line art. Of course, a photograph overlaid with a filter doesn’t quite capture the charm of a classic pastel, Dezaki-style postcard memory. But they do represent the staff’s ambitions to depict the cast’s day-to-day life on the front without embellishments. Either way, each episode somehow finds exactly the right image and note to end on, whether that be tragedy, irony, or comedy.
The second trick is Hiroyuki Sawano’s music. Sawano shares credit with Kohta Yamamoto for 86 EIGHTY-SIX’s soundtrack, but the ending themes (the focus of this article) are indisputably reminiscent of Sawano’s works. If you have been watching popular anime for the last few years, you have likely either heard a Sawano track or a track from a composer who rose up in his stable. Some initial chords, anticipatory vocals, the music cuts out and then — the drop. It’s a formula that’s powered larger-than-life anime like Attack on Titan, Kill la Kill, and Promare. It’s also consistent enough to be ripe for parody; one of the funniest aspects of the now-vanished first episode of Mr. Osomatsu was Yukari Hashimoto’s pitch-perfect riff of the wailing vocals that often appear in Sawano soundtracks.
86 EIGHTY-SIX’s ending sequence weaponizes Sawano’s music as a stinger for the ending of each episode and it works every single time. When a character dies in battle and Lena cries in horror, our heart falls into our stomach along with the Sawano drop. When Lena realizes she’s developed a crush on a soldier under her command, the sudden freeze-frame and accompanying music sting works as a hilarious joke. Because the postcard memory is different every single week, the credits occasionally hit before or after you’d expect them, and the ending music alternates between songs depending on the focus and mood of the episode, the drop can be unexpected and always feels fresh.
Most importantly, 86 EIGHTY-SIX uses Sawano’s music with purpose. What allows Sawano’s theme songs to work in a series like 86 EIGHTY-SIX is that, despite its smooth direction and thematic ambitions, 86 EIGHTY-SIX is absurd — a melodrama where teens are forced by their villainous government to fight to the death against drones on the battlefield. In perhaps my favorite ending sequence in the series, we are given three images in succession, perfectly choreographed to the drop: an open hand, a hand holding a gun, and a closed hand. It’s on the nose, but in such a way that perfectly evokes dramatic teenage angst. The staff knows exactly what register they are working in, and that is the Sawano register.
I've written previously about how 86 goes the extra mile as an adaptation, fleshing a single volume of material into a ten-episode story, splicing the timeline to convey the division between Lena and the 86, tying in effective (if obvious) visual metaphors in such a way that they feel as if they were a part of the story all along. If you were to draw a line between this quality and the show’s ending sequences, the commonality would be that same attention to detail: cutting at exactly the right time, choosing the right music for a given episode, picking the right image for a smash-cut. Making an anime is complicated, even when it appears simple. If there’s something to be said for 86 EIGHTY-SIX’s adaptation, it’s that it makes careful and obsessive craft look easy.
Do you have a favorite ED? What's your most memorable Hiroyuki Sawano moment? What's a good Postcard Memory you've experienced in your daily life? Let us know in the comments!
Adam W is a Features Writer at Crunchyroll. When he isn't obsessively rewatching Shin Sekai Yori (From the New World)'s first ED, he sporadically contributes with a loose group of friends to a blog called Isn't it Electrifying? You can find him on Twitter at: @wendeego
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