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Red Alert, edited by Kwasek in 2001, was one of the earliest AMVs I ever stumbled upon, maybe even the first, leaving just the kind of big impression on me than you’d expect. It’s been nearly fifteen years since I first saw it, and more than any other video, it’s probably formed my baseline of what I think an AMV should do. Granted, if I’d come into this game just a few years later via the flood of rushed-out Naruto AMVs in the mid-2000s, my first impressions could have been molded in a very different direction, and there’s no telling if I would have latched onto this whole thing for more than a couple of weeks, if that. I’m sure that both this blog and any videos I’ve cobbled together over the years would never have come to be if not for the existence of this AMV and the auspicious forces that brought it into my life. That might not be the most profound of any of my real-life sliding doors scenarios, but it often leaves me wondering just what on earth I’d be doing right this minute if turned my attention to anything else on that day (for instance, unplugging and packing up my computer to move like I was probably supposed to be doing that afternoon).

I ought to add that Red Alert has not solidified my expectations for how an AMV should look. The visual quality of this work is by far its weakest link. Time has not been kind to it, perhaps rendering it totally unwatchable for a vast segment of younger viewers for which even DVD-quality anime in a 4:3 aspect ratio can be a hard sell. I’m accustomed to the flaws of this video, the blocking and ghosting/aliasing that’s evident in most clips, and am not the least bit bothered by any of them. I’d be intrigued to see a remaster cut with Blu-ray footage, but I expect that would be a very different video altogether and I wonder if I’d even recognize it at all. While I’m suspicious of people who would try to exalt the virtues of certain pieces of media due to their inherently undesirable flaws (“it takes a special kind of person to appreciate pops and clicks and imperfections in their music,” etc.), I have to admit that the 240p resolution (or 232p, to be more precise), complete with awkwardly-handled speed changes in certain scenes, gives it a dated look and a magical quality that I can never get enough of (forget artificial VHS grain, I’m still waiting for a handy filter that will give all new AMVs this turn of the century-flavor). As a product of its time, I doubt that many viewers were troubled by its less-than-pristine video quality when it debuted, so aside from pointing out the obvious, it seems rather pointless to grouse about it any further today.

It could be the rare dichotomy between Kwasek’s confident editing and the lackluster video quality that gives this video a character that I can’t quite put my finger on. There’s no breakthrough idea here that’s really groundbreaking, but this video shines with clever moments of sync, some competent, tight action editing that knows when to give way to slower scenes or even (during brief moments where sound drops out of the song altogether) the occasional blank space on the timeline. The dazzling scene selection nails both the distressing and celebratory nature of the song, capturing both the elegant beauty and effervescent, bubblegum-packed fun of the series. While Kwasek only occasionally pairs the lyrics to scenes in any literal fashion, every element of the video works together to channel a vibrant sense of excitement. It’s a great example of a simple but solid concept that communicates a passion and enthusiasm for the anime being used. It’s what I’d consider a “pure” AMV, an elitist distinction for sure, but one that persists in the taste-centers of my brain. Despite being a fan of this video for a long, long time, it’s never quite managed to nudge Sailor Moon anywhere close to the top of my watchlist, so I sometimes wonder if I’m grasping what this editor has set out to channel or if it’s all just my personal interpretation of the series. I hope I still get some fan points for playing through the arcade game (and not on a ROM, but on one of only two existing machines in the USA).

Even if “Red Alert” is one of my favorite songs of the 1990s, I have never been the biggest fan of Basement Jaxx, or at least not compared to some of the other “big” electronic artists from that same era. That said, I just picked up a copy of Remedy at Goodwill for a dollar, and was surprised to find myself familiar with and really digging most every track on it. The album holds up in surprising ways, not just in itself over time, but against the contemporary inheritors of its legacy in 2017. Basement Jaxx run circles around all the bad boys of EDM in songwriting, production, musical chops and the conviction in their fondness for the different sounds they explore and styles they borrow from. For example, it wasn’t until very recently that I realized I’d probably heard this song no less than a hundred times over the past year; I can sort of understand how a flaccid, soulless skeleton of a song like that can fit into the muzak playlist I’ve been subjected to at my side-job since some time last year, but much less so how it could be a global sensation without ever leaving the smallest impression on me whatsoever. I mean, sure, on an abstract level I understand the social climate of our world, the economics of the music industry and how the most passive consumers of pop music would be as receptive as they were to an offering like this one. Maybe it’s still hard to accept that this would be the song that people would latch onto, but the winners and losers of music the music world have never had to make perfect sense.

Why bring up “Closer” or this AMV (edited by AceMVFX in 2016 and closing in on a million views) at all? I had a point I wanted to make about “modern” AMVs like this and how workshopped and formulaic they feel, especially contrasted with an AMV like Kwasek’s…and how, wouldn’t you know it, it kind of reminds me of how a bland, by-the-numbers, superficially raunchy but calculatedly inoffensive product like “Closer” feels next to a fleshed-out composition like “Red Alert,” which channels a dynamic and eclectic mix of house, funk and soul music, conceived by human beings for a purpose other than racking up Youtube plays by the billion. But that’s a battle I ought to know better not to fight.

Like most pop songs that achieve some level of success, “Closer” owes its appeal to its chorus, in which Halsey and Andrew Chainsmoker recall some of the seemingly inconsequential and mundane, yet privately significant details from the scene of a failed relationship. My feelings about the song aside, it could still be fertile ground for an editor up to the challenge of pulling off some of the most difficult lyric sync I can possible imagine:

So baby pull me closer in the backseat of your Rover
That I know you can’t afford
Bite that tattoo on your shoulder
Pull the sheets right off the corner
Of the mattress that you stole
From your roommate back in Boulder
We ain’t ever getting older

AceMVFX doesn’t completely ignore the lyrics of the song, as there’s just enough lyric sync to suggest that he’s indeed not only fluent in English but actually set out to edit with the lyrics in mind (or at least in the beginning).  But while scene after scene soon drift past with little to no connection to those lyrics, the editor treating them as universally-applicable signifiers of vague romantic sentiments instead of the hyper-specific details they are, the failure to pair every insipid detail of the song with an appropriate visual is not where this video slips off the tracks. It’s not even a matter of the editing itself or any technical issues in the video (although the aspect ratio errors beginning at 3:12 should have been caught and could easily have been corrected). Because the “story” in the song is personalized, focusing on the details in the lives of a single couple, any attempt to illustrate it in a fan video using two dozen different characters from completely different anime series just shrugs off the narrative of the song altogether. What’s left is a series of random clips starring a constantly-changing cast of characters, wiping out the element of the intimate and personal altogether. Bouncing from series to series, invoking one ostensibly romantic scene after another with no context or apparent confidence in their ability to carry the weight of the video for more than a couple of bars, the emotional weight of each clip is sucked dry and feels dead on arrival before it’s able to communicate any feeling whatsoever. No amount of lyric sync or editing savvy can rescue this defiantly ridiculous concept. But because the simple thrill of recognition (Koe no Katachi! Sword Art Online! Z-Kai Cross Road!!!) is the payoff that viewers are trading in their time and attention for, and because more sources in an AMV is almost always perceived as a mark quality and sophistication, the simple fact that the video makes no sense at all is not a complaint that viewers of these kind of AMVs will be lodging any time soon.

Of course, I realize this AMV is not made up of “random clips” at all. That may be the best way to describe their effect, but even the most casual viewer will observe that the titles pillaged for the video are all obvious choices; they’re relatively new, boast a high production value and have been road tested in countless other multi-source AMVs, usually multi-editor projects, which this AMV bears a peculiar resemblance to in its segmented blueprint and could easily pass as. Granted, there’s no indication that it is an MEP, neither in the video description nor mentioned in the end credits (or lack thereof). The increasing homogenization of MEPs, in which editors are selected based on their ability to work in an impersonal style, crafting an assembly line product devoid of any personality or individual touches, may very well have come full circle and be driving the creative direction of single-editor AMVs like this one (or so I can only speculate). After all, if the Youtube AMV scene is driven by these piecemeal projects, in which networks of contacts are formed for the purpose of trading likes and subscriptions, breaking from the now-popular format of these videos stands to be a risky move for any editor looking to continue building their brand and amassing followers.

In conclusion of this arbitrary comparison, likely performed as an excuse to marinate in the comforting familiarity of my own preferences and biases, my preference for one of these two AMVs over the other is strong. I could double down and say what I think this means about the state of the hobby, or I could disown my convictions with an apologetic shrug (your opinion is as valid as mine, etc). You’ll get neither of these today.

Did you know “kwasek” is Polish for acid? Other sources translate it to “citric acid,” and is sold to the masses as a food additive. A very quick Google search tracks down the real-life Kwasek himself, still alive and well on social media, but if I ever reach out to him for anything, I’ll try to think of a better way to break the ice than that.

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