English songs in anime have something of a bad reputation. For some it’s a reminder of darker days where mediocre licensing companies dubbed over beloved anime soundtracks, while other people may recall any number of cringeworthy Engrish songs that tormented their ear canals. But when done right, an anime that opens or ends with a song in English can be a special, memorable moment. In light of The Irresponsible Captain Tylor and its dubbed version of “Just Think of Tomorrow”, I felt like talking about some of my favorite anime songs that were sung in English.
For the purpose of this list, I am not going to make a distinction between songs that were English in their original Japanese release and those that were made English as part of the localization. If it’s a good, English song in an anime, it counts. Now, without further ado…
Duvet – Serial Experiments Lain
For a show infamous for its confounding mystery storyline, having an OP that starts off with the line “You don’t seem to understand” is just delightful. They knew what they were doing.
Duvet was conceived by the British alt-rock band Bôa, but it wasn’t made specifically for Lain. It’s a tragic love song with themes of betrayal and suppression; incredibly moving, though not what you’d expect for a psychological cyberpunk anime. And yet, the song and the anime manage to connect on a deeper, more emotional level. Duvet feels right for the tone of Serial Experiments Lain, even if its lyrics are largely unrelated. It’s amazing how well it fits together like this.
In an interview with Beneath The Tangles, singer Jasmine Rodgers stated that “Lain was a happy coincidence, I think” and I can see where she is coming from. Matching Duvet and Serial Experiments Lain was a big gamble, but one that turned out great for everybody.
Cutey Honey – New Cutey Honey
Speaking of iconic music, the theme song for Cutey Honey is almost sacred. Since the first series in 1973, “Cutey Honey” has been remastered each time a new take on the classic magical girl series was released. Any adaptation that shirked the classic theme was doomed to fail from the outset.
New Cutey Honey from the mid-90s made the song louder and more aggressive than ever before, but also dared to experiment even further. One variant of the OP is sung almost completely in English by Hiramatsu Mayuki, keeping only Honey’s catchphrase at the very end in Japanese. It certainly caught me off-guard the first time I watched this OVA series, but it’s a great rendition of the song and exactly what I went looking for when I brainstormed this list. Getting to hear one of anime’s most enduring and beloved theme songs performed in English by a professional is amazing.
I’d also highly recommend checking out the fanmade version of this song by Youtuber Sapphire, who made a cover based on Gainax’ Re:Cutey Honey.
We Were Lovers – Gankutsuou
Where a tragic love song was a strange fit for Lain, the same is wholly and undeniably appropriate for Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo. “We Were Lovers” is so perfect for this anime, it sounds and even feels like it’s sung directly by its protagonist.
Like Duvet, We Were Lovers hails from the British rock scene. Jean-Jacques Burnel, bass guitarist for The Stranglers, was specifically recruited by director Mahiro Maeda to handle the anime’s music. We Were Lovers is a song that immediately stands out, both for its English vocals and for its actual sound. It’s so somber and heartfelt, more concerned with telling a story than with hyping up an audience.
Gankutsuou is an anime that requires an open mind to appreciate, so having it start off on a song that’s so different from anything else in anime is a smart move. Just one of the many things that makes this series so special.
Skies of Love – Legend of the Galactic Heroes
“I look above the stars are bright
Yet I’m blinded by your light
Heaven seems so far away
Come back to me someday“
That Legend of the Galactic Heroes is an amazing anime is a well-known fact these days, though I have yet to find out how its remake is holding up. “Skies of Love” was the first OP for the original series; a slow, tragic song whose lyrics appear to address the wild ambitions of the show’s main protagonist. The slow pace of the song and the easy lyrics, combined with a good dose of alcohol, make it almost irresistible to sing along.
Why, or Why Not? – Higurashi: When They Cry
For the first ED on today’s list, I wanted to praise a song that is often overlooked. “Why, or Why Not?” by Rekka Katakiri is certainly a song that took a while to grow on me. Its slow build-up and questionable Engrish are a mixed bag, but the songs kicks in hard with its chorus and maintains that energy in the full versions of the song.
Rekka’s vocals also directly allude to several thematic and literal elements of the story, which makes ‘Why, or Why Not?’ extra powerful upon rewatching the series. The song balances its tone well. On the one hand, it’s about regret and tragedy, which are abundant throughout the Higurashi series. Yet, it also has an undercurrent of hope running through it, with its title and chorus defiantly presenting a challenge.
It’s a strong motivator to push on; to shake off the setbacks of the episode that preceded the song and seek out the next step in the story.
Red Fraction – Black Lagoon
We can’t talk about horrible Engrish without addressing the masterpiece that is “Red Fraction”. This song is objectively horrible, but so loud & catchy that it’s hard not to love.
Black Lagoon is an over-the-top action show about characters teetering on the edge of moral bankruptcy. Having an edgy rock song about justifying violence as the OP matches that concept perfectly.
If an OPs goal is to hype you up for the anime that follows, then Red Fraction passes with a gold star.
I couldn’t find out what this song is called or if it even has a name, but anybody who grew up in the 90s is sure to recognize it immediately. This opening is like a nostalgia kick right to the genitals.
It goes to show that the localization scene of the old days wasn’t always as bad as it’s popularly remembered. Sometimes licensing companies stumble their way into creating something really good & catchy, or delivering dubs that we love so much that we still favor them over the Japanese originals to this day. This energetic song set over high-speed action scenes and snappy editing makes me want to watch some Medabots right the fuck now.
The Japanese original is… fine. It’s an okay song, but it lacked the impact to stand out among all the shounen anime competing for attention at the time. Kudos to youtuber Anime Attic for his 4K version of this fantastic song.
Fly Me To The Moon – Neon Genesis Evangelion
Yeah I don’t think anybody is going to contest me on this one, right? Anybody has any objections?
“Fly Me to the Moon” is a historical song, hailing back to the 50s and being best-known for the Frank Sinatra version that was used during NASA’s Apollo missions. How fitting that a song once closely associated with mankind using technology to make a bold step forward, is also used in a show about mankind using technology to make its final stand in the face of unimaginable enemies.
It feels strange to have such a dark series conclude each episode on such a joyous song, but it soon begins to feel like a part of the Neon Genesis Evangelion experience.
Fallen Angel – Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt
Throughout this article I’ve talked a lot about openings and endings that feel just right for the show they are attached to, even in cases where the song wasn’t specifically made for the anime. In the case of Fallen Angel, the opposite is true: it’s a great ED specifically because it doesn’t feel like Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt.
The series is cartoon-like, obnoxious, and vulgar, and its opening song is perfectly suited for just that. It looks & sounds like it was composed for a raunchy cartoon. Fallen Angel, on the other hand, is an emotional song about wanting to go to heaven. It’s almost like a reverse parody on the story of the anime; a look into an alternate reality where this was a typical series with a normal story.
Aimee B’s singing is also beautiful, making this a genuinely great song that I love listening to even on its own. Just don’t listen to this song assuming it’ll be a vertical slice of what the rest of the anime will be like.
Team Up – Mew Mew Power
And to end on a controversial note… “Team Up” from Mew Mew Power.
Whereas I’ll gladly argue for the quality Medabots and its dub, I don’t have as much praise for the butchered localization of Tokyo Mew Mew. Like so many other anime for girls, this poor series was ripped to pieces and amateurishly reassembled. It’s vastly inferior compared to the Japanese original, but I can’t deny that Team Up is a catchy song. It doesn’t line up with the visuals well at all, but man does it hype me up to watch a fun shoujo series about a group of girls fighting evil.
My Sweet Heart was an excellent OP for the show too, but it lacks a good kick to really get you excited for the episode. Call me a heretic, but I’d gladly watch the subbed version of Tokyo Mew Mew, but with the OP changed to Team Up.
I hope you all enjoyed this list and maybe took this as an opportunity to add a few series to your Plan To Watch list, or songs to your anime playlists. If you have any OPs and EDs of your own to recommend, then I’d love to hear them. English in anime continues to be somewhat of a touchy subject, so I enjoy celebrating the shows that have done it well.