I used to be really into making lists, especially at year’s end when I couldn’t help but join in as all my favorite magazines, websites and (especially) fellow Internet-posters would tally up their favorite music and films of the past twelve months. This was an annual ritual for me that I’d always put a ridiculous amount of preparation into, and the satisfaction of completing a lengthy list that I felt strongly about was, justified or not, a really satisfying sensation. In hindsight, I think this was a big waste of time but realistically I can’t think of anything else I’d have been doing instead that I wouldn’t say the same about. I’ve been busier than ever over the last two years, which has lead to a decline in the efforts that I put into this sort of thing and left me feeling like I’m doomed to become one of those people who gives up trivial stuff he enjoys because of… life? Even more detrimental to my regular list-making impulse was the breakdown of most of the Internet communities that played a huge part in motivating it in the first place. It’s hard to keep a message board going strong for over a decade, but the departure of key members, technical breakdowns and awful moderation (completely cutting off new members is a death sentence for any forum) slowly but surely whittled down my favorite board into a pathetic shell of its former self that signaled the death knell of its usual end-of-year music polls, which had all but become the engine for keeping the board going in the first place. For lack of a better term, general list-fatigue probably wore me out on doing this more than anything else, though.
I’d put the same effort into making lists for movies, but here’s where time and money really became a limiting factor into what I could do. Looking back on 2015, almost every movie I saw in theaters was a big studio release, and our regular trips to the city to see hard-to-find films were all but put on hold. What was my favorite movie of 2015? Inside Out? Star Wars? Those were legitimately good films, but not enough to justify making a list. And putting albums aside — my top 50 is a shaky top 10 this year — putting together my usual singles/songs list didn’t even cross my mind this year. I’ve heard all of two songs on this list and I’m afraid to dig any deeper to see how out of touch I’ve actually become at this point.
My AMV-viewing habits are kind of unusual and help to ensure that I probably miss out on a lot of good stuff every year (which I’m okay with if that means finding it next year or eventually even later). Half the time I spend watching AMVs is re-watching old favorites or digging through old videos of years past for forgotten gems or horrid-yet-fascinating disasters. Still, there were a lot of great videos released this year that I feel compelled to recognize in some way. This isn’t and could never be anything close to the list and commentary compiled by CrackTheSky over on his blog. And due to the effort he put into his list and the overall redundancy of my own selections, I wasn’t sure if there was any point to me posting a list of my own at all. And yet, here it is, not an extensive BEST AMVS OF
ALL TIME 2015 manifesto, but a quick review of what I enjoyed most and hopefully a few words about the how and the why of it all. This is only a top ten, and since a short list dominated by a handful of names wouldn’t have been very fun, I’m limiting this to one video per editor. No countdown tension here: these are in alphabetical order because I’d rather get this done quickly than fuss over the order of it.
anime: The Flowers of Evil
song: Jaymes Young – “Two More Minutes”
So yeah, usually I won’t watch a video if it features a title I haven’t already seen. I’m super-paranoid about spoilers when it comes to anything that I have even the mildest interest in eventually watching, and I’m sure this video is full of them. But rules are made to be broken, right? This is probably the coolest video I watched in 2015, which is probably a weird impression to have of something so unabashedly disturbing. I could do without the text — pleasing to the eye as it is — but there’s else nothing I’d want to change about this video. Howard Hawks’ quote about what makes a good movie (“Three good scenes. No bad ones.”) surely applies to this AMV; there’s too many memorable moments to list, which is usually what you get whenever there’s such a perfect synthesis of mood and seemingly effortless sync in every sense of the word.
Death Grips x Serial Experiments Lain AMV
anime: Serial Experiments Lain
song: Death Grips – “Hacker”
The continued exponential growth of Youtube has safely ensured that we all have enough videos to watch for a lifetime. This is true even speaking strictly of AMVs, a fact I came to grips with long ago but never understood the importance of until now. Even with a handful of giant channels dominating the site (and sometimes attempting to profit off it), there are still a number of self-contained microscenes with almost no connection to them, not to mention the Org, the convention circuit, or any of the expected hubs of activity in the hobby. The “candy” AMV scene is probably the most notable of these (try as they may to ape and eclipse some of the best-known AMVs out there), while on the fringe, fans of vaporwave (a genre I feel extremely ambivalent about for reasons I don’t have room to ramble on about here) continue to mine the past for incidental brilliance like it’s still 2011. Occasionally, this takes the form of AMVs, ones which usually revel in repetition, slow-pacing and an aesthetic that’s too complicated to try to explain in a brief blurb like this, but has little to do with mirroring the styles and trends of popular editing.
This AMV (frustratingly untitled, as so many videos seem to be these days) comes from an editor working squarely within that scene, but amps up the effort past the typical aimless drifting or 90s fetishization you’d expect by several orders of magnitude. There’s nothing “vaporwave” about music from a band like Death Grips and Bry__ cuts this video with the pace that you’d probably expect with it. It’s a jarring four-and-a-half minutes that wrings every bit of ominous weirdness out of of Serial Experiments Lain, works it into a rhythmic fit of gltchy footage and anything-goes effects and splatters you right in the face with it. There have been plenty of AMVs that run Lain through the meat grinders of nu-metal or Matrix-club trance, but this is the first rap AMV I’ve seen for the series and it’s also one of the best, period.
Follow My Lead
anime: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Baka and Test
song: Girl’s Day – “Female President”
I don’t care how many AMVs you’ve made or what software you’ve mastered in the process, none of that can fully prepare anyone to make something like this. Even with all the care in the world devoted to crafting a set, lighting it, and actually using photography in a video (to say nothing of the tedious work of accurately matching the choreography of the original video to a frightening degree), there was never any guarantee that any of this was even going to work. But the synthesis of live action with animated clips feels completely natural, integrated so smoothly that you’ve got to wonder if viewers might’ve overlooked it altogether (anyone who still needs convincing or craves a different experience should check out the all-dance version of the video). At this point, it was hard to imagine how an editor like Koopiskeva — wait, are there any others? — might return after such a long hiatus. He may not have topped himself here, but pulling off something as completely unexpected as this may have been an even bigger challenge with an even bigger reward: a rare AMV with no true precedent and a completely unique viewing experience.
anime: The Tatami Galaxy
song: Bleachers – “Get Better”
Honestly, Victims of the Night was my favorite CrackTheSky AMV of last year and I was looking forward to writing about it here. Tragically, it seems to have been removed from Youtube, or at least blocked in our part of the world, so I’m posting the also-amazing Get Better here in its place. But I’ll mention Victims of the Night anyway because I have a real anecdote that I wanted to share and I don’t want it to go to waste! We saw the video as part of the AMV contest at Anime Central, and although it didn’t win, it elicited the most enthusiastic response from the audience, surely none of whom showed up expecting to watch a Kimagure Orange Road video. On the ride home that night, my girlfriend commented out of the blue about how much she’d enjoyed it, despite having zero familiarity with the anime or even the song. One of the first videos to use “Shut Up and Dance” (preceding dozens or perhaps hundreds of others, all of which have been removed from Youtube save for those featuring cover versions of the song or the most grotesquely pitch-shifted versions of the original you could possibly imagine), Victims of the Night was definitely “old school” but felt every bit as vibrant as any brand new 1080p dance video. I know that reads like blurb hyperbole but I assure you it is not.
Having actually seen The Tatami Galaxy and knowing its story and themes, Get Better presented itself to me with meanings and a familiarity that I can’t bring to Victims of the Night, so fairly comparing the two is kind of impossible for me right now. Get Better isn’t necessarily better or worse but it feels staggeringly bigger, not simply in the sense of using a newer and more vibrant-looking source, but in how it pairs the anime and the song together to tell a story, deliver a lighthearted but sincerely hopeful message and invoke a genuinely cathartic response. So yeah, the lyric sync in this AMV is some of the best I’ve seen in a while, and the internal sync brings the whole thing to life in a way that elevates it beyond there mere act of pairing an anime with a suitable song and hitting all the beats.
It’s hard enough edit a single AMV that’s really great; only a couple of editors were able to do that more than once last year (PieandBeer, UnluckyArtist, Copycat Revolver, to name a few). As prolific and consistently great as those editors were (and still are!), I feel like the half-dozen (or so) AMVs released by CrackTheSky over the last twelve months represented a prodigious creative tear that was on a whole other level. I haven’t seen all of the videos he made before 2015 (there are quite a few!) but those I have seen are very good. Still, what he did last year amounted to the kind of big leap that you can count yourself lucky to witness up-close if you ever get the chance.
editor: Hirou Keimou
anime: Your Lie in April
song: Magic Man – “Texas”
I started writing a blog entry on Your Lie in April a few months ago, and I doubt I’ll ever finish it because it’s really gotten out of control and I don’t think I can rein it back in at this point. I’d love it if I could just talk about the series itself but instead I keep trying to talk about how it made me feel and why I related to it and why it is that I might feel that way and whether that’s a good or a bad thing and whether or not that matters… I don’t remember where I left off at this point but unless I have a burst of inspiration coupled with a temporary block in whatever self-consciousness is (probably wisely) holding me back, it’s probably never going to get posted.
One issue I keep digging into is the angst and tribulation experienced by the main characters, and how a viewer could “enjoy” watching such a depiction. Even if there’s an appetite for empathy at work here, I hesitate to bring that up as a valid emotional response to the series because I feel like it risks cheapening the emotional impact of the story. Sometimes feeling bad for someone else (in fiction, ideally) actually feels good! I’ve done a horrible job of explaining this in a few sentences, but what it boils down to is that I’d usually prefer watching a story about people in distress than one that’s all about comfort and happiness, so obviously this sort of thing is my bag, baby.
So it’s funny how this AMV emphasizes the happiness and fulfillment experienced by the characters, and has really made me call into question whether or not that was the whole point of the series in the first place. I’m Alive! does not turn the whole series on its head or put any kind of “positive” spin on its events. It’s simply optimistic and hopeful and, while not omitting the conflicts in the story, captures the series at its most joyful. This shouldn’t seem like such a radically unexpected move, and maybe it isn’t at all, but it’s so different from my personal perspective that it feels like a revelation.
anime: Neon Genesis Evangelion
song: Two Door Cinema Club – “Undercover Martyn”
This video still feels very new to me, but I have a feeling that I’ll still be watching it years from now. Lord only knows how many Evangelion AMVs I’ve seen at this point. Even some of my favorites have been derivative. It’s all been done! Or so I thought before I watched this. No one is ever going to ask me what anime music videos are or ask me to show them one as an example, but if they did, this would probably be the one I’d reach for (pray this never actually happens, it would inevitably turn out really weird for both us). Heck, will someone who knows what they’re doing just embed this at the top of this entry? We need to reclaim achievements like this as a universal reminder of what this medium can accomplish.
Magical Morphin Power Rangers
anime: Puella Magi Madoka Magica
song: Ron Wasserman – “Go, Go Power Rangers”
“Parody” has never been my favorite AMV genre, but who doesn’t love a well-done movie trailer or television opening? This video not only succeeds by nailing a source combo that’s instantly recognizable, but is expertly-crafted to make a seamless product that’s convincing enough to stand on its own.
song: Spoon – “Don’t You Evah”
You’re on your own with this one. What does it all mean? That’s up to you to decide.
song: Beck – “Dreams”
No AMV on this list grew on me over time quite like this one, which I certainly enjoyed the first time I watched it but didn’t give much credit to. Paprika is a movie with so many cool scenes and I’ve seen it featured in a few AMVs that played out like simple compilations of its most psychedelic and twisted visuals. That’s cool and everything, but never leaves much an impression on me. In the hands of a lesser editor, maybe that’s the kind of video Oneiro would have been, but PieandBeer syncs nearly every shot in a way that’s purposeful in hooking the viewer and bringing the film and the song into a synthesis that feels like it was meant to be. This was the first time I heard “Dreams” and now I can’t ever listen to the song without thinking about this AMV (as a bonus, PieandBeer’s audio edit shaves the song down to its most essential parts; even the radio edit of this song goes on for a minute too long). Paprika isn’t an old movie, but it’s refreshing to see someone pluck it out of the “old” sources pile and really do something exciting with it.
anime: Video Girl Ai
song: A-Ha – “Take on Me”
It only took a few seconds of cutting through those
comic book manga pages in the opening of this AMV for me to get goosebumps, but I’ve always adored this song’s original music video. This isn’t a remake of that video but a reimagining of sorts using clips from Video Girl Ai. I haven’t seen that anime and although I know it was something of a big deal when it was made, I can only presume that its true purpose was to eventually end up in this AMV because shumira_chan fits it into “Take on Me”‘s narrative so naturally. With an iconic early-90s anime and probably the essential 80s song, brought together into an AMV that resembles a lost early-2000s classic (all aged in the best possible way), this AMV is a nostalgia bomb that crosses generations and will leave you wondering when it was actually made. This isn’t a novelty, though, but one of several videos released last year by a very talented editor that I hope gives us even more to watch in 2016. edit: I now see that this video is not from 2015 and is actually at least 5 years old. Oops!