Popular music and anime go hand-in-hand these days, at least in Japan — theme songs aren’t just the purview of anison singers. But even if you’re not up-to-date on idol groups or pop stars in Japan, you’ll still occasionally hear familiar favorites in anime… well, sometimes.
Most recently, direct-to-Netflix anime Great Pretender brings this into play. The series uses Freddie Mercury’s cover of the title song for its ending theme… though whether that’s going to remain the case when it enters the English market is uncertain. Some shows have retained their chosen tunes, but others have had to drop them. Some have even had to alter tunes inspired by famous bands.
Fans of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure are all too familiar with both the crossover between anime and Western popular music culture, and the times that’s not allowed to happen. Yes’s “Roundabout” is a meme thanks to its use in the series, and Jodeci’s “Freek’n You” has been hailed as a perfect match for Golden Wind. But then you’ll see performer names altered in official localizations — “Steely Dan” to “Dan of Steel,” “Bad Company” to “Worse Company,” and “Spice Girl” to “Spice Lady,” just to name a few. We can thank complicated international copyrights for that… and for a few other changes and omissions over the years.
Take 2005’s Speed Grapher, about a former war photographer gifted with the ability to destroy anything he photographs. The series initially used the very fitting “Girls on Film” by Duran Duran, but the song wasn’t licensed for use outside Japan. Copies sold overseas will feature Shione Yukawa’s “Hill of Poppies” or Shinkichi Mitsumune’s “Shutter Speed.”
How about Eden of the East? Did you catch Oasis singing the theme? The political thriller featuring character designs by March Comes in Like a Lion creator Chika Umino (reason enough to give the show a try) initially kicked off with the band’s “Falling Down.” And fortunately for overseas viewers, we got to hear it once — in the first episode. It was replaced after that, but we briefly got to vibe with the band as Production I.G intended.
Paradise Kiss fans had it a bit easier — Franz Ferdinand’s “Do You Want To?” survived the cut. Which is fortunate, because that means we get the show’s jazzy ending (featuring key animation by Studio Trigger co-founder Hiroyuki Imaishi) as it was intended.
It really is all down to copyright, for better or for worse. Piling a show like JoJo high with references lessens the likelihood that it will emerge worldwide without changes. However, in a more global anime scene, the odds are better that studios will think ahead regarding music rights… and hopefully we’ll get to hear even more shows with familiar tunes intact.