I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube and other sources such as NicoNico while Oricon rankings and other information are translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Seatbelts -- Tank!

As I may have intimated in some of the other articles on anime theme songs, my interest in anime was revived only within the last few years...basically after I actually returned from Japan. All those 17 years I was living and working in the Kanto area, I really didn't touch the genre at all...except for viewings of "Chibi Maruko-chan" and "Sazae-san" on Sunday nights. The overarching reason is that I simply didn't have time. Being an English conversation teacher meant that I needed a full night's sleep and that didn't chime in with the scheduling of a lot of the good stuff which was in the really wee hours of the morning. Plus, my anime buddy told me that it was easier to be an anime fan outside of Japan rather than within the originating nation itself. Apparently, it still isn't too cool to be too public about being an anime fan despite all the festivals and the stores in Akihabara and Ikebukuro.

However, what I hadn't been aware of when I was a resident in Japan was that theme songs and excerpts of anime soundtracks were and are being used all the time to be provided as background music for variety shows or news program segments. In fact, just today on NHK's "Asaichi" morning show, the producers used an excerpt from the stage musical-worthy soundtrack of "Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii"(それでも世界は美しい...The World Is Still Beautiful), an anime that I had seen last year, as the BGM for the introduction of a venerable actress.

There was also another excerpt that I heard fairly frequently when I was watching the news and variety shows. It was a snazzy Big Band piece with some really tight horns that livened up any feature about heading out into some especially tony Tokyo neighbourhood or just any segment that needed something spicy and exciting. I didn't know anything about it except for the fact that it was cool-sounding, and it was only when I was back here in Toronto that I found out the piece was the theme song for the much-acclaimed anime "Cowboy Be-Bop", "Tank!". Another anime enthusiast and friend who used to come up to the apartment in Ichikawa from the wilds of Mie Prefecture for a visit used to tell me about this particular show, but aside from the title, I never cottoned on to it.

The above video contains the opening credits for "Cowboy Be-Bop" which first came out in 1998, and after having taking a look at it for the first time last night, I gotta say that those are some of the slickest opening credits I've ever seen for an anime. Now I know where "Space Dandy" got its inspiration. "Tank!" and the credits just seemed to have come out from an imagination fed on reruns of "Peter Gunn", the original "The Thomas Crown Affair" and any other ring-a-ding-ding spy caper from the 1960s. Henry Mancini would see this and smile sagely.

"Tank!" was created by composer and musician Yoko Kanno(菅野よう子), a name that I've seen a lot on various credits for other anime. and I had known she was involved with "Cowboy Be-Bop". She was also helping out with the spiritual descendant of the show, "Space Dandy", (including the arrangement of the ending theme, "X-Jigen e Yokoso") and was also behind the composition of the ballad in dedication of the recovery from the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake for NHK, "Hana wa Saku"(花は咲く...Flowers Will Bloom).

Kanno was also behind the formation of The Seatbelts, the ensemble responsible for the blast radius of jazz that makes up "Tank!". According to the Wikipedia write-up on the band through a fictional description in "Cowboy Be-Bop", the name supposedly "...derives from how the performers wear seatbelts to be safe while they play hardcore jam sessions." I think that could also be applied to the audience members.

All those years ago, I had thought that the song came from some sort of 60s caper flick...the sort which contained lines like "Headin' out on a heist, Johnny?" and scenes with plenty of dollars and dames surrounding Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. Instead, it's from an anime near the end of the century. Who'da thunk?

When credits as iconic as those for "Cowboy Be-Bop" come along, I guess it's pretty much inevitable that parodies will arise. I was taking a look at the Internet meme database "Know Your Meme" and discovered those opening credits but with characters from another popular anime. It's really well done and I had a nice laugh, too.

I have already mentioned the legendary composer's name once, so I will finish things off here with Henry Mancini's version of "Sing, Sing, Sing". The famous swing piece created by Louis Prima and popularized by Benny Goodman used to be the go-to song in trailers for movies taking place in The Jazz Age, but Mancini's take was the very first version I got to know through my Dad's collection of standards. And when I listened to "Tank!", I was instantly reminded of "Sing, Sing, Sing". The latter may not be as constantly over-the-top as the former, at least not until the last several seconds, but I wouldn't mind calling Mancini's "Sing, Sing, Sing" a proud ancestor of one of the coolest anison I've heard.


  1. Shinichiro Watanabe is the director of both Cowboy Bebop and Space Dandy, so that's a big reason why you get so many similar vibes from each. Watanabe himself has even said that the Dandy universe takes place in the same one as Bebop - and you will notice some references to Bebop in it, such as the use of the Woolong as currency, and a planet that has the "Fridge Monster" from the episode Toys in the Attic.

    Yoko Kanno is all over the place but Watanabe has her do the music for almost everything he has directed, and I can't say I blame her because her style is iconic. One other anime she recently scored of his was Terror In Resonance, which was released right before the first season of Space Dandy. Unfortunately, that anime was not as well made as Dandy, but the soundtrack was excellent.

    One thing I've heard is that Watanabe's anime is much more successful in the west, where he's tapped into some aesthetics of western culture. I don't know how true this is , but I can attest as an American that even some of my friends who don't like anime have actually sat through Cowboy Bebop and thoroughly enjoyed it. As a rule, if someone is getting into anime for the first time Bebop is one of the first that I recommend because of its track record with American audiences. Toonami has rerun it so many times i've lost count.

    1. Hi, Ryan.

      I'm waiting for a future season of "Space Dandy". If it did happen, I wouldn't mind seeing some of the Bebop gang showing up even if they were cameos.

      Took a look for "Terror In Resonance" on YouTube and came across the soundtrack. Yep, there is some nice jazz in there. I also took a look at TV Tropes to get an idea about the story. It seems that Watanabe had something interesting on his hands about these anarchic kids raising mayhem in Japan, but I guess things didn't quite work out. No problems since "Dandy" came along.

      I've also heard about how some anime seem to rate much higher on the pedestal in the States when compared to the source country of Japan. I think with "Space Dandy", it actually premiered Stateside a tad earlier than in Japan.

    2. You're right about that! I think Space Dandy was actually the first anime in history to be dubbed and released on television in the United States before it aired in Japan - for both seasons, even! While simulcast dubs are becoming more popular there was never an event quite like Dandy and there may never be again.

      So if Toonami and Funimation wanted to make that happen, i think that definitely confirms that Watanabe has a real appeal to western audiences. And indeed, Dandy was a good ratings pull for Toonami and the BD's sold pretty well.

      It must've been a lot of work for Watanabe, directing two animes back to back like that. Although Dandy had a lot of guest episode directors, that was still 2 cours of anime to do right after Terror. In retrospect, I think Dandy turned out a lot better. It was a lot of fun.

      In any case, as far as Yoko Kanno, one of my favorite non-Watanabe soundtracks she did was for Escaflowne. One of her most moving and iconic tracks came from this OST, "Sora"

      It also features her famous "word salad" lyrics in which she mixes words and syllables from multiple languages to create her own special type of gibberish. She apparently does this quite often, working solo and with other lyricists.


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