(If you would like to watch the video for STEP by STEP UP↑↑↑↑, you can find it here, courtesy of /r/animethemes)
This will be my second “spur of the moment” write-up straight, but it’s been a couple weeks since my last post on here and I felt the writing bug strike me. More importantly, I felt the need to make this and talk about what may end up becoming my surprise choice for my favorite anime opening of 2017. Coming into the Summer season, I had originally fallen in love with Princess Principal‘s “The Other Side of the Wall” and I was very much a fan of Symphogear AXZ‘s “TESTAMENT”, but both of those, while being fantastic OPs in their own right, have been completely blown away for me by Doga Kobo’s highly anticipated New Game!!‘s opening sequence, “STEP by STEP UP↑↑↑↑”. While I enjoyed the opening sequence to New Game!‘s first season, “Sakura Skip”, “STEP by STEP UP↑↑↑↑” has blown me away from both a visual and audio perspective.
The OP’s visuals are immediately striking from the get-go, opening on a colorful and vibrant starscape before zooming into a young bright-eyed Aoba Suzukaze. The visuals are striking and poignant as we see the young Aoba who so greatly admired Kou Yagami and Eagle Jump. As the show’s title rolls, we get adorable shots of the pairings of Aoba and Hifumi as well as Yun and Hajime. Moving into the verse, we get nice candid shots of Aoba as she prepares for that day’s work, being met with the enthusiastic “Ohayo” call from the other three girls. As the verse carries on, we get short comical bits with different members of the cast, such as Nenecchi tripping over the cord to Umiko’s computer and Rin prettying up Kou while snapping multiple pictures. As the OP leads into the pre-chorus, we get to…
Stepping away from just visuals to talk about the audio as well, this ten-second segment is likely easily my favorite segment from any OP I’ve seen this year, if not overall. As we get bouncy shots of each member of fourfolium’s characters singing their own parts, the girls trade lines with one another and give the scene a really special feeling. This is obviously my favorite segment of the sequence and for good reason. The animation on the girls, with the way they move and the movements of everything with them (particular note to the beautiful, crisp movements of each girl’s hair), is immediately eye-catching and serves as an example of Doga Kobo’s signature style at its absolute best. However, the fantastic nature of this scene extends past just the visuals as the vocals work with them to create the OP’s most memorable segment. Each of the girls’ unique voices is thrust fully into the spotlight during this segment. The soft almost breathy nature of Hifumi’s voice flows into the cute and fun nature of Yun’s voice. This is almost completely contrasted by Hajime’s deeper tomboyish voice and finally concluded by the bright and bouncy energy of Aoba’s voice before the four merge together to bring the song to chorus.
As the song blasts triumphantly into the chorus, the four girls fall holding hands among a golden background, with each of their faces portrayed expressively and capturing each girl’s personality. As the chorus progresses, side characters are given more of a spotlight, featuring Nenecchi and Tsubame play-testing as well as Momiji. As the chorus moves into its second half, we see Kou and Aoba hard at work on their designs, highlighting the heightened role Aoba has in the production during the second season as Art Director alongside Kou. The final scene of the OP features the main cast in a setting similar to the sakura viewing festival from Episode 1 as the small blue butterfly featured in the start of the OP flies from Aoba’s hands to the sky. The sequence is an absolute visual spectacle but, as we discussed there, there is much more than just the visuals that make this opening sequence special.
As a song, “STEP by STEP UP↑↑↑↑” seems to have a specific goal in its execution: Take what made “Sakura Skip” a memorable and catchy opening and build on literally every aspect of it. The voices of the members of fourfolium mesh and harmonize together exquisitely and the song gets off on the right foot with an extremely memorable opening line. As the hook leads into the instrumental intro, the fanfare is put on full blast with triumphant brass sounds and a driving percussion line. The vocals stay together as a group as the verse begins, delivering silky smooth and a consistent flow throughout. As previously mentioned, each individual voice gets their own chance to shine during the pre-chorus. The vocals throughout are light, fast, upbeat, and most of all catchy as “STEP by STEP UP↑↑↑↑” is almost guaranteed to get stuck in your head many times.
This piece may have come out a bit unorganized and rambling at times, but I felt I couldn’t let the opportunity to talk about such a fantastic piece of work pass me by. “STEP by STEP UP↑↑↑↑” has raised the bar for what any other opening sequence this year will have to do for me to consider it among my favorites. While I may prefer something like “The Other Side of the Wall” as a song or “Saki Wafuhana” due to my intense bias towards the Yuusha franchise, the combined entity that “STEP by STEP UP↑↑↑↑” is strong enough as a whole to rocket itself to the top through a mix of beautiful visuals, brilliant direction, and fantastic accompaniment.
(New Game!! can be streamed on Crunchyroll, with a one-week delay on new episodes for free members)