Super Are Shinji” is an AMV that’s almost eighteen years old. I was not aware of its existence until about a week ago. Or perhaps I had come across it before while searching for Boredoms AMVs on–I’m sure this sounds like an incredibly specific and unlikely thing for anyone to ever actually do but I’d be surprised if I never had at one point or another over the years–but paid it no mind after discovering the download link for it was broken. Either way, the Org database is filled with tantalizing entries that may or may not have ever existed or once did but have simply been lost to time. There’s almost never a trail of clues to follow and the hidden cache of secret, lost AMVs that one expects to find in the vastness of the Internet simply doesn’t exist. Or perhaps it does, but doors have locks for a reason. No amount of curiosity or good intentions can summon the keys to it.

Alas, aside from recently being discovered in a private stash and uploaded to a streaming site for public viewing, it turns out that “Super Are Shinji” has actually been on YouTube for twelve years now. I don’t have proof that the channel it’s on (MrYorba) belongs to the person who actually edited this AMV, though it’s definitely possible. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

“Super Are Shinji” is a video that works squarely within the toolbox of effects and techniques that were available to most editors back in the early 2000s but were rarely utilized to transform anime scenes into such abstract and psychedelic forms as this. This is an AMV that looks like the music sounds: Boredoms music being what it is, would-be viewers can probably guess that this isn’t going to be a typical Evangelion AMV. Not that there was a single “typical” Eva AMV that everyone was putting out, as editors from that time were making all kinds of videos with the series. But “Super Are Shinji” takes a freeform approach to Evangelion that has much more in common with much more recent AMVs than most that were released around the dawn of 2003. More than that, it’s one of the craziest Evangelion AMVs I’ve ever seen in my life! It’s possibly also one of the funniest, which is a claim I’m not sure I ought to be making considering how I’ve, ya know, never literally laughed out loud while watching it. But the use of lip sync in this video is absolutely transcendent in its absurdity and unexpected effectiveness and is so beyond anything I’ve seen in an AMV that I think, in the moment of watching it for the first time, my brain was just unable to process any kind of normal response to it.

2002 seems like a crazy year to finish an AMV. How would you even share it with people? Madmank’s announcement thread on the Org forums captures the everyday futility of trying to host a simple 54 megabyte file in the days before YouTube, Sendspace/Megaupload/Yousendit, Google Drive or even the Org’s own server for hosting AMVs (AKA the “Golden Donut,” for reasons I’ve never understood). A back and forth discussion about how and where to host the video comprises most of the thread, and once Madmank actually solves the problem, the thread comes to an unexpected end with no further feedback. A couple of opinions were written in response to the AMV, but for all practical purposes, this appears to be both the beginning and the end of Madmank’s editing career. This is a real shame because there’s so much brilliance and potential in this single video that deserved to be recognized but was barely acknowledged at the time. I’m not saying that my praise would have “saved” this video, but if I’d come across this AMV back then, I’m sure I would have loved it and probably obsessed over it for years to come. I was prepared to blame my personal circumstances, which made regular Internet access during those years a luxury that was always just out of reach, for keeping me from ever encountering Madmank’s thread. But looking back at my earliest posts on the Org, I see that I was pretty active on the forums during the exact time that this AMV was first released, eventually taking an extended hiatus from the site a month or two later, but I was certainly active on the boards when the announcement thread was posted. So yeah, I did have a chance to watch this and it just kind of passed me by. But I was likely on dial-up or at a library computer, so it probably wasn’t ever meant to be.

Of course, I wouldn’t actually watch Neon Genesis Evangelion in full until 2004 or 2005, so the brilliance of this video would likely have been lost on me, not to mention serving to spoil plenty of notable moments in the series. So it’s just as well that I didn’t encounter this AMV before watching the series, as trying to parse what I was seeing or understand the brilliance of the recontextualization of these scenes with this music would have been impossible. Watching Evangelion without any expectations or preconceived notions about what it was supposed to be was an experience that left a powerful impression on me me, and while I can’t say how that might have changed if I’d been exposed to lots of Eva AMVs beforehand, I have a feeling that it could have taken something away from that.

Did Madmank ever edit another AMV? “Super Are Shinji” is the only video they ever entered into the Org database. It’s also the only video ever uploaded to the YouTube account it’s currently hosted on, so it makes sense to reason that said account actually does belong to the person who made it. This is conjecture and not necessarily something I can prove, but it makes sense and would seem to be most logical explanation. Will there ever be anything new uploaded to the account? Probably not, but I have seen a handful of AMV editors who tested the waters back in the early 2000s unexpectedly emerge from a long stasis (possibly due to quarantine boredom), so no matter how unlikely it may be, it’s still entirely possible. It’s always a shame when something this creative and thoughtful falls through the cracks. While I really don’t think that this entry will do much to correct that, I hope it at gets at least a handful of people to watch what I truly believe should have been one of the iconic AMVs of its time.

One of the strangest AMVs ever made, the experience of watching “Conet” might feel even weirder today than it was to the eyes and ears of viewers who saw it upon its initial release in 2007. At least back then, memories of the recent analog past were still fresh in the minds of most people, who even if they’d embraced a completely digital lifestyle, could still remember a time when watching television meant picking up a fuzzy signal via a now-obsolete rooftop antenna or listening to music meant fine-tuning your car radio across static-ridden frequencies to your station of choice. These rituals are still with us in one form or another today, but for most people online in 2020, they’re regarded as dated and totally unrelateable relics of the past. Whether you first watched this AMV in 2007, 2020 or any time in between, its soundtrack retains a ghostly quality that’s genuinely unnerving to actually listen to in a vacuum; the potentially sinister ramifications of their transmission is difficult not to think about once you discover their actual origins and purpose. Not even the routine anxieties and dread of the 21st century, an existence marked by daily online interactions with spurious sockpuppets and complete non-entities, does much to dull their overall creepiness.

The Conet Project was an extensive compilation of recorded messages from these mysterious Numbers Stations from around the world. Released at the tail end of the analog era in 1997 as a CD box set, it was the first time most curious listeners had been exposed to these cryptic broadcasts from the Cold War and beyond. This proper release necessitated licensing of these recordings on behalf of Irdial Discs and copyright that bands like Stereolab might have skated under just a few years’ prior but less fortunate artists would not escape. Unsurprisingly, this AMV was flagged for copyright as soon as I uploaded it, which doesn’t seem to put its future in jeopardy, but as always, keep your fingers crossed. It never crossed my mind that anyone could actually record or obtain recordings of these broadcasts and then claim a legitimate “ownership” of them, while the identities of their original creators remain completely unknown. But even stranger things have happened! Had these recordings somehow escaped the popular consciousness for another decade or so, it’s easy to imagine them being appreciated, first and foremost in the modern day, as irreverent meme fodder rather than the historical curiosities or provocative material for sampling purposes that they were viewed as at the turn of the century. Depending on your perspective, “Conet” could be viewed as fulfilling all of those roles and more, although it’s doubtful that anyone involved in the multi-editor project had such lofty ambitions at the time.

Most of the collaborators on this MEP lean into the dark and cryptic overtones of the audio, setting most of the MEP into a groove that could best be described as experimental horror. Altered clips from Azumanga Daioh and less overtly-serious anime break the spell, adding some much-needed levity to the predominantly dark vibes at work. If there was a guiding hand at work signing off on these visual treatments, all evidence of it was fully scrubbed from the final product. The overall effect is unpredictable but never feels calculated or telegraphed. “Conet” bucks viewer expectations and refuses to oblige its audience’s desires to a degree that’s nearly unmatched.

As always, it’s tempting for me to examine this multi-editor project as an example of “pure” creativity and collaboration, especially in contrast to the faceless, assembly line-style approach that most MEPs in this hobby have followed over the entire last decade. Sure, “Conet” is unlike any MEP made in recent memory, but even going back to the mid-00’s, a time in this hobby that I idealize to a highly unrealistic degree, there was almost nothing else like it, and it stood out as a particularly experimental and weird concept back then just as much as it does today. It’s difficult to imagine the circumstances that could have lead to its creation, how anyone could have pitched such a freeform idea and made it sound appealing to ten other editors, who in turn would be so up to the task that almost a decade and a half later, it stands the test of time in an unlikely way that even the best AMVs from that period usually don’t. That it doesn’t conform to any of the fundamental rules of what makes a Good AMV, then or now, probably has a lot to do with that. “Conet” defies the preconceived idea of what an AMV is supposed to look or feel like. Conversely, the circumstances that have helped it age as well as it has will probably render it completely unapproachable to modern viewers, who are simply never going to sit through a sixteen minute-long video that’s not only slow-paced but rarely delivers anything resembling a traditionally emotional or sensory reward for sticking with it. If you take offense at this suggestion and consider yourself an exception to my generational stereotyping, then by all means, jump in and experience it for yourself.

Set in Shibuya, one of the hippest wards in all of Tokyo, Tonkatsu DJ Agetarou serves as a lighthearted and irreverent introduction to the fertile dance music scene that the area is globally recognized for. We’re given little time to get to know or understand its protagonist, Agetarou Katsumata, an unmotivated young man whose interests or passions are never explored before the story flings him into this world via a late-night delivery from his family’s tonkatsu restaurant to a hungry employee of a late night dance club. The encounter finds Agetarou instantly smitten with the scene, and over this series’ twelve episodes he gradually grows from being an astoundingly clueless outsider to a highly skilled DJ who’s organizing events with a moxy far beyond any of his more experienced peers. Agetarou’s journey from the bottom to the top is the kind of underdog story that’s reminiscent of countless other anime series but with a laser-like focus on cutting out anything that’s not essential to keeping the plot moving forward at all times. This is not an anime that pauses for moments of nuanced character development or introspective reflection. A sense of goofy optimism courses through every episode, but it’s hard to call it genuinely inspirational. It’s unrelentingly silly but never feels quite like a comedy anime, either. Failure to truly succeed in these regards could be leveled as a criticism against it, although it would be just as easy to praise the series for resisting simple categorization or whatever. I’m committing myself to neither judgement, and there’s plenty more fence-sitting to come!

Tonkatsu DJ Agetarou is based on an ongoing manga that bears the sort of “quirky” art style that rarely inspires anime adaptations or survives the process without radical revisions (consider the original One Punch Man webcomic compared to its manga remake and eventual anime, which surely isn’t the only example of this but certainly the best one I can think of off the top of my head). This 2016 animated adaptation sticks to its original visual approach pretty faithfully, playing out in a loose and unapologetically cartoon-y style that’s probably not going to appeal to many western viewers whose preconceptions of anime are predominantly formed by exposure to high-profile tentpole series with single episode budgets that probably dwarf Tonkatsu‘s entire cost. It feels like an anime that would naturally attract manga readers, although I can’t imagine what it would be like to experience this story without the musical soundtrack of its anime adaptation. The music of the series is surprisingly varied and often extremely catchy (although the appeal of certain musical motifs starts to wear thin after a great deal of repetition over the twelve episodes). It’s an enjoyable anime that, at least on the surface, doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously. And with a runtime of only nine minutes per episode, it never wears out its welcome. Would the story have been better served by full-length episodes? Maybe, maybe not. A lot of this anime felt incredibly rushed to me, and my biggest issues with it are inevitably a product of the episodes simply not having a single second to spare for any of the matters of character development that I’m so hung up on here. But I suppose complaining about that is missing the point completely, and asking Tonkatsu DJ Agetarou to be a completely different kind of show altogether.

About that character development: Agetarou’s rise from a wide-eyed novice to an expert DJ over the course of a few months (judging solely by the change of seasons over the course of the series) requires a suspension of disbelief that most anime fans should be able to muster, but the series never answers the basic question of why he wants to be a DJ at all. From his first exposure to dance music as he’s let through the back door of the Club Box, to purchasing a mixer and turntables, landing his first gig and slowly integrating himself into the scene, we almost never catch a glimpse of Agetaro actually working to perfect his craft or sacrificing anything meaningful in the process. We’re never given much evidence that he even enjoys music at all, outside of the thrill he experiences in the confines of a club fitted with a professional sound system, lighting and an enthusiastic crowd. He loves the sensory overload of the entire experience, but who doesn’t? His first foray into “digging” yields a fantastic “rare groove” record that experienced DJs marvel at; he chooses said record at random from a bin without even listening to it. The life-changing epiphany that leads him down this path begins immediately after first setting foot in the club, where he witnesses a surprise performance from DJ Big Master Fry, an American hip-hop pioneer who is totally not Kool Herc or Grandmaster Flash. In a daze, he is visited by a vision of Big Master Fry, who quickly notices Agetarou’s potential, spells out the many parallels between tonkatsu preparation and a the essential elements of a crowd-pleasing DJ set (a recurring theme that will help the protagonist out of any difficulties he encounters in his quest, while also providing a deeper subtext that may or may not be obvious to its intended audience), and personally anoints Agetarou’s place as a superstar DJ in the works long before he’s even touched a turntable. This cosmic coronation might be a bit tongue-in-cheek; nevertheless, it is the catalyst for the entire story.

It’s easy to criticize this series for not being the well-rounded shonen anime that, on the surface, it initially appears to resemble. Is it fair? Probably not. Like countless shonen-esque heroes before him who’ve set out to master a craft, Agetarou approaches his newfound calling with a preexisting and apparently unrelated set of skills and influences that give him an inherent understanding of how to DJ… despite showing zero musical aptitude, little determination to press through setbacks or any shred of willingness to really work hard and succeed where countless casual would-be DJs failed. When it comes to learning a new skill, this is every beginner’s dream and the delusion of countless fools. It’s also a shortcut I’ve forgiven many, many stories for taking. Establishing a sympathetic or likeable protagonist is usually all I need to excuse an anime from abusing this cliche. Admittedly, it’s easy enough for the viewer to identify with Agetarou as an unmotivated slacker, a much more relatable archetype than the straight-A student or relentlessly hard working underdog who refuses to quit no matter how difficult the circumstances he faces. But aside from some very brief stage fright before his gigs, we’re never privy to any fears or anxieties he experiences. I cannot imagine a viewer feeling emotionally invested in his journey, but if you view him as an inoffensive but necessary vehicle to explore Shibuya’s diverse nightlife from episode to episode, then perhaps there’s no need to “care” about him at all. There’s not a shred of arrogance in Agetarou’s character, but he still comes across as a vessel for the entitled dreams of the post-EDM generation. Even with zero preexisting curiosity or musical talent, the world is his oyster and his success is never in doubt. He is a gross and stupid idiot (not that there’s anything wrong with that). The coolest neighborhood in the world his is playground and he’s welcomed into it with the most open and eager arms I’ve ever seen in a supporting cast of characters. If I’m adamant that none of this bothers me, why would I focus on it so much?

Full disclosure: After graduating high school, I blew a very large chunk of my graduation money on a DJ starter kit: two turntables and a mixer. I did this in spite of the fact that I had no idea how to DJ, knew no one who could teach me, and just had a hunch that my interest in DJ’ing (or my vague understanding of what it actually entailed) would see me through to become a competent novice who would slowly but inevitably develop his skills over time. This plan was flawed from the very start, first and foremost because I was completely broke, having ignored the basic fact that the hobby required a steady disposable income and was just as much an act of constant consumerism as it was of musical self expression. Sure, the Internet is full of resources that everyone leans on to learn any skill whatsoever, but it would still be several years before it would eventually become such a helpful tool in this regard. Ultimately, DJing was and still is a very social pursuit that’s best learned and experienced in the company of other people. Living in the middle of nowhere, not knowing a single person who had any interest in mixing (and certainly no one who would take a total newbie under their wing, a necessity this series takes for granted), it wasn’t long before frustration set in and I lost all motivation to pursue it any further. The only lasting lesson I learned from the experience was that… DJing is hard. Tools, tutorials and software have definitely made it a lot easier since I last tried my hand at it, but like almost anything requiring a decent amount of hands-on practice, nothing beats having someone who knows their stuff just sit you down and show you how to do it. Am I being overly critical of this series because it overlooks this entire learning curve? Because its intensely dense goober of a protagonist and the success he experiences is a cringeworthy mirror of how I once sort of expected to sleepwalk my way to a certain level of admirable competency? Because watching a fictional character who never has trouble finding mentors eager to hold his hand through literally every step of the process just rubs me the wrong way? I mean, it doesn’t. Not really…

Considering the list of hang ups this review has constituted up to this point, it would probably come as a surprise to finally report that, overall, I mostly enjoyed this anime for what it was. No, is not a documentary about DJ culture, but at every point where the story and worldbuilding feels like it’s careening into a hyper dumbed-down depiction of the subject matter, it unveils just a little more nuance and complexity than you’d expect. While every new anime season brings a rash of cookie-cutter series that double down on previously-explored subjects and rarely take any creative risks that break from already established formulas, Tonkatsu DJ Agetarou refuses to pander to such temptations. It doesn’t merely dive into a specific setting and subject that break from the safe havens that most series are squarely planted in (including plenty of great ones, sure), but does so with a style that sets it apart from anything else released in 2016, let alone the rest of the decade. For its daring originality, it’s been all but consigned to the margins of anime fans’ collective consciousness. Perhaps it seems timely that I’m publishing this post now, particularly with the manga’s live action adaptation due to arrive in Japanese theaters this week. I actually had no idea that was a thing until now.

If you’re in the mood for a brisk and unpretentious series that isn’t striving to evoke the same old same old, you could do a lot worse than this anime. That’s the height of halfhearted recommendations, I know. Why bother to review something if you can’t form a solid opinion on it? Even if I sometimes come away with mixed feelings, maybe I just like to explore series that fly under the radar and don’t seem to get a lot of love on this side of the pond. Even as a huge fan of anime music videos, I struggle to recall if I’ve ever seen an AMV incorporate a single scene from this anime. That’s an unofficial test of any anime’s popularity if there ever was one, but I think it says something, especially when said anime is packed front to back with scenes of people dancing and spinning records. Tonkatsu DJ Agetarou is a niche anime if there ever was one. It’s a low-risk, quick watch of a series that doesn’t ask much of viewers. Go ahead and turn off your brain for this one, it doesn’t make much of a difference… and that’s fine. I doubt that its creators would be too offended by that suggestion. You could watch yet another high school anime or isekai light novel series (no, seriously, you should if that’s what you want to do!) or you could try something very different. It’s not a lost masterpiece, but it might be just what you’re looking for.