Pachinko opening credits featuring the cast dancing joyously.

Why I (Almost) Never Skip the Opening Credits

Life is short and there are more good shows out there than we’ll ever have the time to see. So why do I almost never skip the credit sequence? Some shows take care of it themselves, either by not having one or having one so short that it’s over before you can even hit “Skip Intro”. It’s the long ones I’m talking about, though, the ones with a whole musical composition and listing the names involved.

OK, I will skip some credit sequences. It’s never a long road from there to here for me on “Star Trek: Enterprise” because I always take the shortcut. No, that song hasn’t gotten better, ironically or otherwise. I’ll also skip the openings on reality competitions, and this is what gets me thinking that my taste for credits has more to do with storytelling. The credit sequences I like most – the ones that stay with me and that I’ll seek out on YouTube to watch an extra few times – are the ones that establish an atmosphere and feeling that the scenes around them can play with.

Take the opening credits for “Evil”, centered on a small team investigating supernatural and mythological occurrences for the often unreliable Catholic Church. The show is a rarity as an actually scary horror series, boosted by one of the best ensembles on television. More than this, it’s got a palpable vein of humor running through it. It’s quick to incorporate current activism, criticize toxic trends, and has a talent for building tension off meta and meme humor. The opening credits have evolved from season to season so that the visuals reflect internal crises the characters are facing.

The credits capture a balance between the creeping suggestion of terror and the wry, smirking humor that gives it contrast. Is this going to be a funny episode, or a terrifying one? Will one turn into the other? Few shows are as good at putting you off-balance, and I watch the credits every time as the portal into that feeling. You’re looking at this curious, enigmatic, suggestive, escalating impression of something strange, which puts you right alongside the characters who do the same every episode. It’s a perfect introduction.

Of course, it’s not the only good one out there. The less said about “Severance” going into it, the better. Step in with no foreknowledge and you can have an exquisite time. Of course, the title sequence tells you a lot without your knowing it, so your impression can change as you get deeper into the series.

The blending of influences from Salvador Dali, Hieronymus Bosch, and German expressionism presented in the regimented, symmetrical, fractal manner of early computer art turns those opening credits into a moving painting, an evocative poem before the story itself.

Those are both pretty creepy openings. It’s not the only way opening titles can set a tone, but they don’t get to their unnerving places in the same way. They don’t even incorporate humor in the same way. “Evil” accelerates, increases the feeling of threat and pairs it with its macabre sense of humor. It portrays internal character struggles against the contrast of an exterior, unknowable, existential threat.

By contrast, “Severance” portrays its external plot with an internalized progression – the music is almost cautious, the images all center on its lead character and the things happening to him. Whereas the opening sequence for “Evil” is an escalating tone poem of impressions and visual humor built on our discomfort at the unexpected, the opening sequence for “Severance” is a journey of endurance filled with details and a visual humor built on schadenfreude. “Evil” invites us in to see things from the perspective of its characters. “Severance” points the finger back at us in a way that asks us to observe not just the show, but ourselves.

The best opening sequence of the year has a completely different feeling, though. For a series that witnesses characters endure such historical hardship, the joyous opening of “Pachinko” is a way of shaking off the narrow vision of one perspective, of asking us to see more in the characters than what they suffer. It’s also a way of treating survival, of diaspora itself, as a joy, that the only way for a culture to survive attempted genocide is for it to celebrate itself unabashedly.

By putting actors together who play characters in different eras, it also reminds us that actors playing these roles is in itself an acknowledgment, a celebration, an act of survival, of keeping alive those who didn’t make it, of reclaiming stories that someone else tried to erase. Few shows have been as utterly, breathtakingly beautiful as “Pachinko”. Every time, the opening titles open us up to seeing so much in each character.

Sometimes it’s not the opening that sets a tone, but the closing credits. Many shows opt for the title slam that sits there for two or three seconds to separate its cold open from whatever follows, but no opening sequence otherwise. It’s just straight prologue to action. Disney+ has favored this with its various original series in favor of more complex closing credits – which you sit through, of course, because of their post-credit stinger scenes. They often make this worth your while, such as the sumptuous concept art they show after each episode of “The Mandalorian”. It’s not just gorgeous art, it also shows you how something was changed from concept to filming.

And while the closing credits for “Moon Knight” and “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law” are both powerful, my favorite from Disney this year goes to “Ms. Marvel”. It contemplates through a child’s eyes the cultural impact of a billion white heroes on film with a few scattered heroes of color. What is the impact of that on a child of color? How do they see a world that prizes a certain type of person, and how do they see themselves in that world? How do they see their access to that world and how do they want to change it? How do they envision themselves as a hero in that world when it’s tooth and nail just to get the world to envision them that way once?

My favorite closing credits this year go to “Komi Can’t Communicate”. I’m pretty indifferent to slice-of-life anime, it’s just generally not my thing. I prefer sneaky cosmic horror anime, or post-apocalypse rock people, or Witcher-as-superchill-mythologecologist, or avant garde interdimensional survival. But people just existing? Ugh.

Yet “Komi Can’t Communicate” captures a serene sense of being, in the face of social anxiety so bad its title character can barely say a word to those she wishes would be her friends. It’s a deeply empathetic show built around the moments of opening up and learning to be happy with yourself that keep people going, and it also works as a satire on anime tropes that’s equipped with a lightning-quick visual humor.

The best compliment I can give it is that once, after watching a pair of episodes, I found myself just not doing the compulsions that are part of my OCD. I felt no pressing need to check the lock several times or that the faucet and stove were off over and over again. I could be where I was at peace, without a thousand things running through my head. Whatever anxiety drives those behaviors was just…gone for a time. My best guess is that part of it’s because the show manages to find what’s peaceful amidst chaos, and more keenly because it empathizes with the experience of anxiety at a core level that makes me feel understood. I can’t recall anything else I’ve watched ever having this effect on me.

As an anime, it has a few different opening and closing sequences depending on the style of episode, but its new closing credits capture moments frozen in time from the classroom across two different parts of the year. Aside from its sense of calm and well-being, it finds a way to describe each character. Every time you watch it, you can focus on a different character being themselves, evoking what you like or find interesting about them, their relationships with each other, and their own compulsions. You can see something new by following a different character or relationship every time you watch, or you can just let your eye wander across the scene. It captures what’s fulfilling about the series as a whole, and what connects about each character individually.

There’s often so much to a title or credit sequence. If series are connected short stories, these sequences are poems and interludes that join them, that evoke a different part of ourselves. We understand short stories with an analytical, even logical eye. Title and credit sequences are an opportunity to open up another part of ourselves that’s more willing to soak in the world, to appreciate the impressions it leaves in our memory and not just its plot. The title sequence sits outside of chronology or logical explanation. It gets to follow different rules, and it keeps attentive the part in each of us that views with those different rules. That’s why I (almost) never skip the intro on fiction. I want that part of me anticipating, enrapt, searching for feeling and atmosphere as much as I am for plot and character development.

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