Hello readers, anime fans, and music fans alike! This time on musical bonus posts (I really need a better name for these…), I will be discussing Sankarea’s closing theme. While I will be focusing primarily on the song itself, there will be a few somewhat minor SPOILERS for Sankarea. Definitely check out Sankarea if you haven’t already, and read our review if you need more convincing.
Sankarea is a very unique and charming anime that is filled with heart. The characters are awesome, the horror references are well done, and the love story aspect is handled very well. Despite the cliffhanger ending, it is definitely a show I loved watching. I wanted to save this one for October due to the zombie aspect of the show, but I felt that now would be a good time. What I want to focus on isn’t really about the horror influences in the show (and besides, I have ‘Another’ anime in mind for a musical Halloween special). Instead, it is about the beauty of the closer itself, and something that happens a lot as I check out more and more anime music. What I’m talking about is when a song that is used in an opening or closing has unexpected additions or differences when you hear the full version. When I discuss openings and closings in these posts, I always try to talk about the parts of the song that are not in the show. Hearing this song for the first time is a pretty big reason why I do this, but more about that later.
Sankarea’s closing theme is “Above Your Hand” by Annabel. Annabel has been a part of multiple anime we have covered on this blog as the ED performer. Let me start by saying that Annabel has a beautiful voice. It’s a voice I can easily recognize when I hear it, and can be very soft and emotional (at least in the songs in the anime we have reviewed). She is behind some of my favorite closing themes, including this one. The song’s music was done by Myu (who was also the producer), a discovery that pleasantly surprised me. Myu was part of Kukui, who did the first two Rozen Maiden closing themes. To make even more connections, the third Rozen Maiden closing theme was done by Annabel, with the music again by Myu. Annabel even initially collaborated with Nagi Yanagi, who performed the closing theme for Ano Natsu de Matteru. Nagi Yanagi has also collaborated with the one and only Jun Maeda for an album called Owari no Hoshi no Love Song. Wow that’s a lot of connections…
But enough of that, let’s get into the song itself.
Right from the start, I love the two soft acoustic guitar tracks to set the mood. I also love the visuals at the start. From the beginning image of Rea’s pale face, to her standing in front of a multicolored wall. The colors and the shading in the scene works with the calm guitars very well, making the scene somehow feel peaceful and haunting at the same time. Annabel’s vocal entrance has just the right amount of softness, making it a welcome addition. The verse is primarily the guitars and vocals, which are very delicate and pleasing to listen to. The sound then gets a little bigger in the prechorus with the addition of bass, light programmed percussion, and some very light midi flute sounds.
The chorus is when the song lights up, but this is thankfully done in a very subtle and textured way. First off, the programmed drums give it more of a rhythmic drive, but it’s lower in the mix and has little aggression to it. You can hear some distorted guitar, but it’s also noticeably lower in the mix, and isn’t very heavily distorted to begin with. The drums and guitar add a very important sound layer to the chorus without overpowering it or making it completely oppose the very sweet and delicate verse. I love a good song that alternates between loud and soft (Sunny Day Real Estate’s album Diary is full of amazing examples of this alternating dynamic being put to good use), but I’m glad that this song decides to remain delicate at heart. It makes the song feel very intimate. It feels genuine, and climbs right into your heart as you listen to it.
Perhaps my favorite part of the chorus is the backing vocals. I’m quite the sucker for harmonies, and this chorus has one of my favorites. They’re more in the foreground here, so they grab your attention right away. They also have just the right amount of reverb, making them extremely haunting, but again very intimate. They add so much to the atmosphere, and frankly gives me chills every time I hear them.
I must say that I love the visuals in this closing. The way lighting is used here is absolutely incredible. The light reflecting from the disco ball, or the illuminated bowling balls in motion as Rea lays down. It contrasts with the dark scene, making it that much more beautiful, but is never really in your face, making it that much more inviting. This is definitely something you have to watch in the dark in order to really see the contrast. The morning light coming in through the multicolored window is again beautiful, as well as symbolic to the main relationship in the show. Rea went from laying down in contemplation, surrounded by moving lights but in a dark scene, to seeing Furuya (and Babu) smiling at them as the sunlight fills the room. I absolutely love this look exchange between the characters, and Rea’s smile to end the closer. The simple usage of metaphorical lighting, the two characters looking at each other, and a simple smile end up saying so much about the relationship and how the characters feel. It’s extremely heartwarming to see.
As the characters look at each other, the music strips down to just acoustic guitar, bass and vocals. That ending line she sings is done with the utmost sincerity and grace. It makes that look exchange between the characters and Rea’s subsequent smile that much more beautiful and memorable. I can’t think of a better combination of music and visuals for that moment, nor can I think of a better way to end such a gorgeous closing theme.
Comparing the ED to the Full Song
When I talk about opening and closing themes, I always want to at least mention the parts of the song that are not in the show itself. Most themes only show an intro, verse, and chorus. Parts are often shortened for time constraints, and you never really know what the second verse and bridge are like until you hear the full song. Sometimes these unheard parts end up being amazing additions to the song, and other times the parts end up sounding strange and downgrade one’s opinion of the song as a whole. When a full version ends up sounding different from what you expected, it almost feels like false advertising (even though it’s clearly not such). You hear this really cool ending theme, but it ends up not properly representing the full product.
Right from the first time I watched the closer, I immediately wanted to listen to and buy the full version. I was under the impression that the rest of the song would have this really layered production, completely saturated with musical textures like the vocal harmonies and light distortion in the chorus. However, what the song actually ended up being differed from this impression.
(First off, this is a tad unrelated, but wow do I prefer the Sankarea visuals over this music video. After ranting so much about how brilliantly the lighting was used in Sankarea, it’s strange to see this song being presented in a full on daytime setting. This video isn’t bad, it’s just that Sankarea relatively knocks it out of the park in the visual department.)
Here are the parts of the song that either are not in the ED, or were not what I had expected based on my perceptions from listening to the ED.
-When I heard the ED version of the song, I assumed the first verse and chorus were unchanged from the full version. When I heard the full song, I was a little surprised when the guitar and drums didn’t come in for the first chorus, but rather the second. I was hoping that the first chorus would have that light distortion and rhythm, and then the rest of the song would continue to have that texture working in the background and maybe expand it slightly while keeping its delicacy. The actual second verse does add a little more to the mix than the first, but I was expecting more.
-There is a standard bridge after the second chorus, which I really disliked. I was hoping that the song would retain the really cool atmosphere it made with the second chorus in the bridge, but it instead feels kind of like a step back to me. The flute sounds are louder, the backing vocals are more involved, and there’s a brief slide guitar addition, but it feels a bit empty at spots, especially when Annabel isn’t singing. It feels like there should be more instruments, but there sadly aren’t.
-Finally, the outro. In the ED, I loved how that beautiful last vocal line was accompanied by just the bass and acoustic guitars, and how the instruments immediately went to their final notes, ending the song perfectly. The full song has an extended outro, with more of that echoing slide guitar and the backing vocals. It just felt unnecessary to me, and dragged the song out a little too much.
Needless to say, I was pretty bummed when I first heard the full song. I considered it extremely disappointing, or at least I did at first…
What do I Think Now?
Well, once that initial shock ran its course, I decided to really sit down and gave the song a few listens without my preconceived notions. Once I did that, I started appreciating the song for what it was more. The bridge still feels a little off and a little too empty at times, and I still prefer the short outro in the ED, but I now certainly respect Annabel and Myu’s original creative decisions. For example, I now like that the distortion does not come in for the first chorus. It makes its appearance in the second one that much more special. The parts of the song I described as “empty” feel like they were done that way to give the song more space and breathing room. I was expecting more of a tight and textured production, with more programmed rhythms and a bit more distortion or other instruments, but having parts with a lot of empty space gives the song a more open feel. I said before that I appreciated how the song kept its underlying delicacy in the chorus, even with the added instruments. Well, perhaps the open space in the song was Annabel and Myu’s way of ensuring that the song remained delicate throughout. I definitely prefer that over them adding too much to the song, and can now say that I really enjoy the full song for all of its creative choices.
Looking back on it now, I was definitely getting overly worked up over the differences in the song versions. It was just such a bummer to have such expectations as to how the song was composed, only to have the real song differ from it. It definitely took some time, but I eventually realized the song’s beauty in its own right. It’s like looking at the song from two different perspectives, and while I prefer parts of one over the other, they are still both quite beautiful. Expanding my musical horizons by listening to anime soundtracks has definitely taught me to listen to music with more of an open mind. I don’t have to like creative choices made by artists, but I can at least respect them, and from that respect I can even learn to like it. “Above Your Hand” is a lovely song, and Sankarea’s closer with the edited version is a lovely closer (and one of my personal favorites).
Thanks for reading! What did you think of Sankarea’s closer? What did you think about the full version of “Above Your Hand”? Have you ever enjoyed an OP or ED, only to have the full song not be what you expected? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!