Since music in anime seems to be a hot topic at the moment here at AniTAY and I’ve actually been wanting to write this for a while now here is a write up of a topic that oftentimes doesn’t get a lot of attention but is deserving for how important it can be to the experience and feel of anime. That is of course Insert Songs (IS), which can often be forgotten especially when compared to the much more prominent anime Opening and Ending themes.
For those of you who don’t know what Insert Songs are exactly as their name suggests they are songs inserted into the middle of an anime usually to give the scene an added effect and emotional resonance. What separates IS from regular soundtrack music are always vocals and their prominence in a scene while Background Music (BGM) often features dialogue overtop an IS is almost always uninterrupted. Sometimes in rarer examples the characters of the show themselves will sing an Insert Song as often time the voice actors (seiyuu) also double as singers/idols.
Now for some house cleaning. I’m including a list of some of my favorite Insert Songs from the anime I’ve seen over many many years. There are various reasons behind these songs inclusions on the list but generally speaking they are here because they perfectly exhibit at least one aspect of what a good use of an insert song can be.
Song: The Reluctant Heroes
Anime: Shingeki no Kyojin/Attack on Titan
Description: I’ll start at the beginning as I was recently re-watching Shingeki and the first episode featuring this song in full came on (episode 9 for those wondering, end of episode 3 it was introduced). I’ve included it as it’s first a really fun song and secondly it serves as the unofficial theme (depending on who you ask) of Levi and the Survey Corps in general. The song perfectly set up the Big Damn Heroes introduction of the leading Survey Corps members as well.
Song: Unmei no Hi: Tamashi tai Tamashi
Anime: Dragon Ball Z
Description: There are a lot of transformations in Dragon Ball A LOT. However for many fans of the granddaddy of the shonen genre Goku’s initial transformation to Super Saiyan and Gohan’s ascension to Super Saiyan 2 often tops them. I went with Gohan to SS2 simply because it fit the list also in many ways it encapsulates anime of the 90’s. As anyone who only has watched the dubbed episodes of Dragon Ball Z probably missed this due to the theme being completely absent from the dub. Indeed without it included the importance of the scene for Gohan’s narrative arc just doesn’t seem as complete as it should. As such I’m attaching the Japanese dubbed scene.
Song: Tsubasa wo Kudasai “Give me Wings”
Anime: Rebuild of Evangelion: 2.0/2.22 You Can (Not) Advance
Description: While I don’t personally enjoy the song that much I’m including it because to me in many ways the entire scene is a perfect example of the Evangelion franchise in a nutshell. A childrens song overplaying a scene of great violence which quite literally leads to the end of the world. The dissonance between the images being displayed and music played is so great in such a strange way it just works so well.
Anime: Full Metal Alchemist
Description: This is an often played insert song in the original FMA and for good reason. It is touching and hits on one of the strongest themes of the show Brotherhood. Indeed the theme is so pronounced the reboot made it explicit...
Song: Continued Story
Anime: Code Geass R2 (MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR CODE GEASS R2; Video is of the Final Scene)
Description: This is on the list for multiple reasons. The first is because in many way it was the first time I became aware of how powerful and important an Insert Song can be not just to an scene but an entire anime. Second it’s an amazingly beautiful song, I’ve actually made the argument it’s probably the best song in both series which says something as this is a soundtrack packed with some amazing music. Hell if I wanted I could make a top 5 list of Code Geass tracks alone... Finally and most importantly it (pardon the pun) hits all the right notes, it enhances the scene, it exemplifies the key theme of the anime, its a great song; in short it’s the perfect Insert Song/Scene combination.
AGAIN MASSIVE SPOILERS
The actual song starts at 4:50
Song: A Cruel Angels Thesis
Anime: Hayate no Gotoku!!
Description: Hayate no Gotoku is a gag manga that is about an Otaku NEET and her overattentive Butler Hayate. It is full of anime and manga references ranging from Utena to Gundam. This has to be my favorite of the bunch where a main character Hinagiku Katsura President of the Student Council is forcibly dressed in Meer Campbell’s dress from Gundam SEED Destiny and forced to sing A Cruel Angels Thesis despite only hearing it once... at her own Birthday Party. Enjoy.