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I’ve seen a few AMVs that nail a kind of shoegaze-like visual vibe in their use of overlays, blurry slow motion and dreamy atmospherics, but this is the first I’ve come across that actually plays with that music and makes an overt nod to the whole aesthetic. Or maybe I have seen it tried before, but this is the first time it’s really felt so complete and convincing.
Emotive (AKA Cast to Stone, as the AMV credits read) made another shoegaze-flavoured AMV that I want to see but unlike this particular Le Portrait de Petit Cossette video, it’s promising spoilers so it’ll have to wait.
This is probably the shortest entry I’ve written in a few years but it’s all I’ve got for now.
I’ve known about this AMV for a really long time. We’re talking years, here. And I’ve known, more or less, what it was all about and also that it was supposed to be really good and maybe even important. I put off watching it for so long because I hadn’t gotten around to watching Trigun until a few months ago, and I didn’t want my experience of this video to be ruined (or tainted) by spoilers. And to get the most out of it, I’d want to know what I was looking at and understand the context of it all. I think this was a smart move, yet at the same time maybe it’s like someone putting off listening to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band because they hadn’t yet watched Help!. Maybe that’s an arbitrary comparison but maybe it’s not. For a long time, when critics or music fans of a certain age would discuss the greatest album of all time, Sgt. Pepper’s was always part of the conversation. That’s not really the case any more, nor would most Beatles fans even call it the best Beatles album. Likewise, this AMV was a bfd for a long, long time, and hung around the top of the best AMVs list for most of the 2000s. Fewer fans recognize its pioneering status today, but no video can stay trendy and popular forever (find any other fifteen year-old AMV that actually has and prove me wrong).
Of course, utilizing two of the most popular and iconic anime series of all time probably helped ensure its popularity, and it probably would have been well-received if the editor (E-Ko, who disappeared from the hobby over a decade ago) had put in even as little as one-tenth of the effort that they spent on it. But having put in that extra 90% (or 900%, I guess?), the end result is the video we have now and it’s really startling how well it all paid off. Where did I first hear about this video? At a convention panel years ago? “It’s a cool video, it makes Spike and Vash look like they’re really fighting each other!” At that point, those kind of AMVs had already established themselves as a genre in themselves (and, conceptually, have changed very little in the years since) and I couldn’t imagine how yet another one was going to impress me. Rather than watch it and decide for myself, over a very long period of time I went ahead and let my own vision of what this video probably looked like slowly form in my head. I highly recommend doing this with something in your life, as it’s a very humbling experience when you finally give in and see how much the real thing puts your ideal vision to shame.
My first impression of this was one of complete surprise. This wasn’t simply two sources slapped together to to kinda sorta work together, but a video that presented an actual story that was easy to follow, required almost no suspension of disbelief to accept on its own terms, and was assembled more convincingly than anything else like it that I’ve ever seen. Even when they don’t completely win me over, most AMVs usually like this leave me feeling very impressed by the sheer effort that was spent on their creation. That’s certainly the case here, given the amount of masking that was required to bring the characters from these two series together into one world. And yet, the end product feels so seamless that it somehow feels completely effortless at the same time. I realize that doesn’t make any sense but these are just my impressions and when a video or any piece of art can make you feel comfortable with such contradictions, then you know it’s doing something special.
This AMV has stood the test of time not because it was “innovative” or “ahead of its time,” but because its pioneering use of effects was all the service of bringing a simple story to life. Maybe that could be said of a lot of AMVs, but how many have felt like such a natural extension or cohesion of two different worlds? I won’t attempt to search the archives of fanfiction.net for the depths of Cowboy Bebop/Trigun crossover episode stories, but I’m sure they’re out there. I honestly wonder if any of them at all could possibly bring together both series’ elements of comedy and action into such a perfect balance as “Tainted Donuts” does. This is hardly a bold proclamation; declaring that this video is a classic and twisting a couple of superficial observations into the shape of critical insights tells the average viewer nothing they didn’t already know or would quickly figure out on their own. But even if spilling ink over this AMV only serves to acknowledge its existence, that’s still a post that’s been overdue far too long.
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!
Because I already posted my favorite David Bowie AMV some time ago, here’s another that’s not as good but sits right on the edge of good-ness and actually dips its toes in from time to time. It’s six-and-half minutes long so that’s a lot more toe-dipping than you’d expect. Go figure, it’s also another Evangelion video, too.
Of all the David Bowie nostalgia everyone’s indulging in today, I’m pretty sure that almost no one but myself is taking the time to revisit this song. Bowie’s late-90s foray into drum and bass is rarely mentioned as one of his many phases and is mostly remembered as a footnote to his career. But damn, I really love this song. The drum breaks, built from scratch by his band and re-arranged during the recording, carry an urgency and complexity that ought to be reserved for only the most classic tracks of yore. And the shredding on this song is ridiculous. Why can’t this stand up next to any of his hits?
I really love Evangelion, maybe that’s all there is to this AMV but I don’t care.
It’s probably best to just sit back and take this video for what it is and not to analyze it too closely, but of course that’s what these entries are all be about, so once again I’ll go ahead and suck the joy out of another AMV that I really like. I say “really like” because I don’t actually love this video. And unlike a lot of “flawed” AMVs on my hypothetical personal favorites list, I don’t think that its imperfections add to its character or give it a human touch or whatever. Tighter editing in general could have done this video a lot of good. But I could also say that about anything I’ve ever edited.
This was the only AMV that zenjamon ever made, and like a lot of first-time efforts, it’s a single-source video made up of a series of clips pulled from a narrow selection of scenes that play out in lengthy cuts. This approach usually doesn’t lead to surprising results, and whether or not it does here, I won’t venture to say. But like I said, I really like this video and despite its simple take on the marriage of pastoral fantasy with “chillout” music, I think it pulls off the pairing better than almost any other AMV that I’ve seen like it, not by digging deep into a source and juxtaposing clips from it in a complicated or unexpected way, but simply laying them out in a linear arrangement without too much fuss. I try not to use the word “lazy” for this approach (as I used to in the past) because it’s impossible to really know the mindset of an editor or how much effort they may have spent on a video, even after a careful analysis of the finished product. It’s also a misleading value judgement that shouldn’t exist; I can think of more than a few work-intensive, meticulously-composed AMVs that I strongly dislike and just as many simple and quickly-edited AMVs that I’ve found great pleasure in. I’m being totally honest about that, and yet… that video you just spent a whole 3 hours editing is something I’m probably going to view with hesitation, if I even watch it at all. I’m still hopelessly prejudiced against these kind of AMVs, which always need to “prove” themselves to me in a way that slicker efforts from more experienced editors really don’t.
I guess what I’m getting at is the feeling that a good “simple” AMV is the exception to the rule, which is surely some of the most commonly-accepted nonsense out there. I’ve had this AMV on a loop for a half-hour and am still enjoying it, and while I do honestly wonder how this video was made and how much time went into it, I doubt that knowing would change how I feel when I’m watching it. Don’t get me wrong, I did think about how it could have been improved with better-quality video. Little did I know I wasn’t alone: one editor decided to remake the entire AMV using HD footage. It’s largely a shot-for-shot remake, although a careful viewing will reveal small deviations, including new scenes and a somewhat loose interpretation of zenjamon’s original sync in terms of the exact position of the cuts. I’m not sure whether the slight changes improve the AMV or not, but the visual upgrade is undeniably marred by the skewed AR, which supplants the relaxing, healing vibe of the original AMV with a subtle sense of unease and discord. Few people in my life seem bothered by this sort of thing, so there’s a chance that most viewers won’t even notice, but I’m afraid I’ll have to stick to the original 144p Youtube version for now.
When the first episode of Devil is a Part-Timer! had reached its end credits, I felt like I’d just finished watching something really special. Here was a great-looking, genuinely funny series with a truly original premise and likable characters that, based on the promise of the debut episode, surely had to turn out to be as complex and deep as we could possibly have hoped. I don’t want to get carried away and suggest that this episode was some kind of masterpiece, but it was legitimately great. Was it wrong to get my hopes up?
I won’t rehash the plot here (if you need a rundown, click here). All I’ll say is that it could have been a springboard for all kinds of really interesting possibilities. Has there ever been an anime series (or any television series at all) that’s really focused on the drudgery of the workplace? The sense of tedium and frustration that comes with working in the lowest-paying sectors of the service-industry? Even after the global recession, has television (or films, books, fucking anything at all) bothered to tell the stories of people who’ve lost their jobs and been forced to start all over again from the very bottom? Because that’s essentially what this anime is about. Or could have been if it was willing to be about anything at all.
In my review of Blue Exorcist, I complained about the series’ lack of interest in exploring deeper spiritual themes. Heck, I’d have been satisfied with cheap exploitation of its religious subject matter if it would have contributed to the plot, or at least to the viewers’ sense of intrigue. Much like that series, The Devil is a Part-Timer! sidesteps any commitment to religious references beyond its superficial depiction of a corrupted, Inquisition-practicing church (which is shown to take place in an alternate dimension, but it’s pretty clear what denomination is being portrayed). Would the writers be up for discussing prickly theological questions? Yes, I know that the main character is not the Satan we all know from the Christian Bible. And I know that Japan views religion in a very different way from what we’re used to in the West. So what?
Anyway, there’s a lot of potential here but it’s squandered very early on as the creators rush to embrace cliches and conform to the safest possible turn of events, resulting in a series that frustratingly abandons its most interesting qualities in favor of distinctly middle-of-the-road tropes. By episode three, the series’ emphasis on the workplace is all but completely abandoned, bringing to mind inspid garbage like Working!! (which I originally praised but have since regretted ever spending a single minute ever watching). A rash of supporting characters are introduced over the course of the 13-episode series. None are memorable or interesting. The series’ chief protagonist even takes a backseat to a busty moeblob who’s neither original, intelligent, or particularly charming in any way… unless that kind of character archetype is your thing, in which case, maybe this series is right up your wheelhouse. Hopefully you’re not bothered by the casual, often-gleeful misogyny that the female characters are so hilariously and repeatedly subjected to.
I’d recommend The Devil is a Part-Timer! to any fan of this kind of humor but otherwise this was a letdown. It’s enjoyable in its own way but could have been so much better if had any aspirations beyond fitting in to the most predictable expectations of typcial “slice of life” and high school anime series. I don’t like to give scores or grades to series, but if I did, this one would earn a C+.