10 Great Engrish Anime Themes
At some point in our lives we have all come across the wonderful world of Engrish; foreign use of the English language that is either poorly spelled, poorly structured or otherwise just plain wrong, with hilarious results. Japan in particular likes to use English words in order to make their products look cooler and more modern, and their media is no exception. Many contemporary musicians sprinkle English into their songs and many of these gems find their way into anime as openings and endings. Whether it’s the odd word or an entire song sung in weird English, everyone enjoys a good chuckle at these tunes now and then, so today I present ten anime theme songs that employ Engrish to a certain degree. I will stress that this isn’t a Top 10 Worst list, these are examples that I find fun for some reason or another.
10) Aozora Jumping Heart – Love Live! Sunshine!!
Speaking of appearing modern, let’s kick off with an anime from last season. Japanese pop idols being a super-popular music genre with, to my ears, a very retro Western sound to a lot of their music, it’s no surprise that both µ’s and their successors Aqours appeal to contemporary youth by sprinkling the odd bit of English into their lyrics. While a lot of µ’s’ catalogue used our language relatively sensibly and coherently, the first verse of Aozora Jumping Heart begins with a complete non-sequitur English phrase and uses a few more later for good measure. The whole package comes together to create a sense of youthful exuberance that I can’t help but find appealing.
9) Perfect-Area Complete! – Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu
Perfect-Area Complete. What does it mean? What, in the context of this absurdist school comedy, does the phrase represent? I have absolutely no idea, but this is a fun, energetic song that fits the manic action of Baka to Test perfectly. Also sprinkling in English words mostly pertaining to school-related topics like tests and the failing thereof, I find the nonsensical and redundant use of English in this song to be strangely appropriate as the introduction to the dunces of Class F, around whom this carnival of stupidity revolves.
8) SPLASH FREE – Free! Iwatobi Swim Club
Straddling some bizzare middle ground between the last two entries, SLPASH FREE combines random English words pertaining to the show’s subject matter and also some general phrases that add to the dance track feel of the song in general. Combine the bizarre swimming terminology with a pounding club beat and you get a catchy song that sticks in your head and brings a smile to your face, both for it’s killer tune and it’s totally-serious-no-really smatterings of way-cool English. Make us free na splash indeed.
7) Truth – Revolutionary Girl Utena
Truth only really has one big Engrish line in the whole TV-size version, but it’s so horrendously mangled that it deserves a place on this list. It also helps that this ridiculous-sounding line is belted out before the backing track has hit it’s stride, making it really stick in your mind, especially if, like me, you binged watched the show over a short period. The Engrish lyrics are an attention-grabbing quirk headlining a real classic of 90s anime music.
6) Jap – Sengoku Basara
Sometimes the randomness of Engrish in a song can be a distraction to a Western audience, but when Abingdon Boys School’s single was chosen as the opening to the Sengoku Basara anime it turned out to be a perfect fit and perfect for getting the blood pumping for some absurdly over-the-top samurai action! Kicking into gear after a pre-credits scene in the first episode in which the wild warlord Masamune Date gives a rousing speech to his troops in broken English before riding off on a horse with handlebars, Jap’s intense guitar rhythms and pointless use of English words lets you know exactly what to expect from this over-the-top (and extremely historically innacurate) Warring States showdown.
5) The World Without Logos – Hellsing
When I first watched Hellsing I had no idea this song was in English because of how slurred the lyrics are. In fact having read the lyrics after buying the soundtrack I’m not sure Yasushi Ishii realises he’s writing in English either, it reminds me of the made up nonsense Latin chanting one often sees in fantasy genre parodies. This is one of those Engrish tracks that I remember fondly purely because the words are so nonsensical that they just make me laugh plain and simple. Which is a shame, because The World Without Logos has a killer hook that I couldn’t get enough of back in the day.
4) Keys Plus Words – Persona 4 The Animation
When one thinks of Persona one thinks of hard-hitting social themes, emotionally deep character development… and Shiroko Hirata singing in awful English. Being written and composed by the same team as the original video game, Persona 4 The Animation’s original theme songs do a great job of capturing the feel of the source material. Key Plus Words is very reminiscent of the game’s battle theme, quite fitting seeing as this opening comes in when the plot is already in full swing. Yes, the English in these songs is consistently not-quite-accurate, but that has become part of the series’ quirky charm.
3) Tonight Tonight Tonight – Bleach
A song with such choppy lyrics that the fansubbers I used to use to watch Bleach had to rewrite the subtitles halfway through the season. Tonight Tonight Tonight shows such a simplistic understanding of English that the full-length version is literally second verse same as the first, but that’s just part of the appeal of this short, catchy rock number. It is also quite fitting that this silly-sounding song is the opening theme for Bleach’s first ever filler arc, one that takes a completely different tone from the main storyline (although I still quite liked the Bounts as a concept…)
2) Red Fraction – Black Lagoon
You can say this for Red Fraction: it encapsulates one of the most important aspects of Black Lagoon in it’s very first line. In fact all of the lyrics, while poorly-written, do all seem to fit the theme and content of the show perfectly, and share a slight unpleasantness with the surprisingly likeable crew of the Lagoon. Pair that with a pounding, driving bass-line and you have a great introduction to a high-stakes, high-octane show neatly wrapped up in a minute-and-a-half package.
1) Tell Me Why – Berserk
Tell Me Why does not fit well with Berserk. At all. It’s a light, upbeat song in a series that is well known for it’s dark, depressing, ultra-violent themes. And beyond that, objectively speaking it’s a really bad track. The lyrics make no sense, the singing is awful, even the guitar howls like a cat in heat. But it has this undeniable feeling of silly 90s camp, not entirely unlike the ridiculous level of blood and gore in the series it accompanies. Even a terrible song can make you feel good if it stirs fond memories, and Berserk’s original anime certainly does that, making it impossible for me to hate this silly, silly gem.
What does Engrish in Japanese music mean to you? Do you love it, hate it or just plain tolerate it? Do any Engrish-using tracks mean anything special to you? Drop a comment and share your thoughts on this bizarre quirk of Asian media.