10. UnluckyArtist – Blithe and Bonny
Music: Photay – “No Sass”
AMV editors have, over the years, come up with numerous ways to catch viewers’ eyes and make them stay. These days it would seem expecting someone to sit through more than two minutes of video is asking too much, and it would also seem (if my numbers are to be believed) that videos are getting shorter and shorter each year on average, perhaps as a reaction to this more ADD mindset. As editors, we’ve responded in a number of ways, including slicker editing tricks, lots of technical sleight of hand, and all manner of quick-fix emotional shortcuts to engage the viewer within the first few seconds so that they feel compelled to stay. Others of us have just ignored the urge to appeal to this trend, making videos how we want to make them. But there’s one path to a person’s attention that always seems to work on me, at least — that of appealing to my sense of beauty.
Blithe and Bonny decides to take a leisurely stroll down this road, and it works from the first scene — a rain-flecked window overlays multiple scenes as they blur in and out of focus, before the video latches on to and off of other motifs found throughout Kyoto Animation’s works. Besides the fact that UnluckyArtist is using some of the best-looking series and movies from the past several years, there’s a certain sense of serene and often abstract allure that imbues this video. Much of this can be attributed to UnluckyArtist’s effects work — color manipulation both subtle and blatant, linear and Gaussian blurs used in careful restraint, psychedelic overlays that give the entire video a sense of otherworldliness. Past releases of his have always left me wanting when it comes to effects — UnluckyArtist’s older videos are almost all good at the very least, but most of them are held back by poor or inconsistent integration of stock effects that end up marring what are otherwise sound videos conceptually and from a sync/pacing perspective.
With Blithe and Bonny, though, he seems to have finally cracked it. It is UnluckyArtist’s brilliant application of the effects that make this video what it is — a strangely happy, hallucinatory kind of A/V LSD trip that depends not at all on any kind of emotional reaction from the viewer. Instead, all UnluckyArtist asks is that you take in the colors and the sounds and enjoy the video for what it is: one of the prettiest, most eye-catching AMVs made all year, presented on the canvas of KyoAni’s most beautiful releases.
9. PieandBeer – Polaris
Anime: Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann
Music: Jose Gonzales – “Stay Alive”
I’ve yet to see Gurren-Lagann, and it seems like the consensus amongst a lot of my anime-loving friends is that this is a kind of cardinal sin, something I need to rectify before I do anything else, because it’s apparently a really good anime and I’d really like it and blah blah blah. One of the reasons then that I was so excited after watching this video was that PieandBeer seems to have done all the work for me — watching this video imparts so much emotional energy and narrative force that actually sitting down to watch the series now would probably be redundant. Thanks PieandBeer!
But really, there’s some truth to that — until Polaris was released I’d never seen a TTGL video that communicated anything meaningful to me about the series; in fact, I remember nothing about the others, so little impression did they make. But Polaris is an exception, and I fell in love with this one instantly. I think about my end-of-the-year list year-round — I’m always considering whether or not a video has the potential to be on there, and where it would hypothetically land if it did. Upon finishing this video for the first time I was absolutely certain it would crack my Top 10, and for most of the year I was pretty sure it’d be in my Top 5. This is just a stunning drama piece, so simple and yet so communicative, honest, and heartfelt.
PieandBeer made something really special here that I’ve enjoyed watching again and again — a perfectly told, perfectly synced, perfectly paced story that I feel like I’m able to completely lose myself in each time I watch it, as if I had never lost myself in it the last time I fired it up. I get a lot of flak from various people for the endless praise I heap onto PieandBeer’s work, and for those of you who’ve been around this blog for a while, you may be sick of it too. But it’s not without reason that I love her stuff — she’s able to make these videos that appeal to literally every facet of what I look for when I watch AMVs, consistently, and often without missing a beat. So long as she’s putting out videos like this, you can bet I’ll be writing about them.
8. lolligerjoj – Ghost Audition
Anime: Various (Ghibli)
Music: Floex – “Casanova”, “Ursa Major”, “The Castle”
In a lot of ways, this is the safest video lolligerjoj has released thus far. He set a precedent with Into The Labyrinth, he got artsy and experimental with tan(x), he got ugly and aggressive with GEHIRNSTURMEN, and in each of those videos he was pushing his technical abilities in one direction or another. Him being one of the most influential editors on the scene, then, I’m not lying when I say that as much as I liked Ghost Audition when I first watched it, I was more than a little disappointed to find that it was somewhat familiar territory; there was pretty much nothing in here that couldn’t be found in one or more of lolli’s past videos. The atmosphere, the effects work, even some of the 60 fps sync techniques were all old hat, and while it’s hard to stay on the bleeding edge of trendsetting for long, lolli had bucked my expectations in the past so I wasn’t sure what to expect with his release following last year’s. All I know is that I think I was hoping for something a little more, well, surprising than what we got with Ghost Audition.
And then I realized that thinking that way made me a huge hypocrite given the very thing I had written last year in my review of GEHIRNSTURMEN: “After Into The Labyrinth, I think people felt like they were owed something as good with each successive release.” I realized that I’m not owed anything at all by lolli; he can make what he wants and I can enjoy it or not. I can analyze it up and down and pick apart the reasons this isn’t as groundbreaking as I was hoping but that doesn’t change anything — nor does it make me like the video any more or less.
Because I do like this video; in spite of the fact that I think lolli didn’t push himself from a technical perspective at all with Ghost Audition, I can’t help but feel like this is probably my favorite video of his. It creates a desperately uncertain atmosphere, exploring the joys and anxieties that characterize peoples’ lives, from birth to death. It gets weird from time to time, like most of his work, using lots of trippy color and distortion effects to keep you continuously off-balance as a viewer, syncing to some sounds and not to others, inducing a ragged paranoia that leaves you winded by the end.
As a Ghibli video, this is probably about as far from a traditional Ghibli tribute as you’re likely to get — if it relies on sentiment, that sentiment is completely divorced from the viewer’s feelings about the various sources to be found here. While I think that lolli’s choice to use Ghibli footage as the main sources was a personal one, this is not an homage in the usual sense. Instead he seems to be using sources that may be close to his heart to explore a different concept that is probably also very personal. In that sense this could be a kind of love letter to Ghibli, but written in a language none of us can read. As a critic, trying to unpack lolli’s work is often an exercise in futility, but it’s also what makes watching and talking about his work so much fun, and why I anticipate his releases so much — few editors put as much intentionality into their videos as lolli does, and then lock it so tightly behind abstraction and misdirection…but man, those locks are fun to pick.
7. neko kitkat – The Creationist
Anime: Hinata no Aoshigure
Music: Kerli – “The Creationist”
If you’ve been keeping up with this list, and watching videos in the order that they’re being presented, I’d urge you to cherish this one, because the next few videos get really dark and heavy and while they’re all obviously excellent videos, for the most part you might walk away from them feeling more than a bit drained. So watch this and store the positive energy until you get to the #2 video, which should (hopefully) cheer you up again!
I admit that when I first saw this video as I was judging for 2016’s AWA Pro contest, I was not completely sold on it until about the last third of the video. I can see now that I was totally, 100% wrong as the entire video is ridiculously solid, but in retrospect it’s not hard to see why I thought this way — this video’s climax is the best I saw all year, without a doubt, and the rest of the video just feels kind of plain in comparison. But don’t let that change your expectations going in! This is another story-driven video, like so many others on this list, and neko kitkat does such a phenomenal job of pacing everything in here, from the scene selection to the character development to the beat sync. Although mostly externally synced, which I don’t tend to prefer, this didn’t bother me because it’s so easy to get sucked into this video — all its parts move in such blissful harmony.
But most importantly, this is simply one of the most smile-inducing things I saw all year, helped in no small part by the cuteness of the story and the way it’s told. A song more fitting probably doesn’t exist, nor will it ever, so this video’s existence feels like a kind of serendipitous act of grace that I won’t soon forget, personally. That such optimism exists in video form, especially coming from a year that seems to have been defined by a lot of global turmoil and instability, reminds me of the power that AMVs can have both as a medium for expression and change, even if it’s just to make one person happier for a few minutes.
6. EnQuatre – Paradise Lost
Anime: Shinsekai Yori
Music: Victoria Justice and Max Schneider – “Say Something”
Shinsekai Yori videos tend to all be along similar lines — brooding horror videos that focus on the brutality that’s present in a choice few episodes, while expressly ignoring so much of the larger picture that defines the series. EnQuatre’s Paradise Lost is the first — and thus far, only — video using this source that I’ve seen which actually seems to capture the heart and soul of Shinsekai Yori: that of desolate loneliness.
One of the things that I loved about Shinsekai Yori was the world it built. The series is flawed in many aspects, but the thing that always held true through the series’ ups and downs was that it had a fully realized, fascinating, mysterious world that oozed loneliness and despondency. EnQuatre accurately captures these feelings with his scene selection, focusing in on the main character Saki, and all the friends and things she loses over the course of the series. If you’ve never seen Shinsekai Yori, this will be a confusing video to you — it’s not a narrative as much as it is a collection of moments that help define a feeling, and unfortunately for outsiders many of these moments are highly contextual and won’t mean anything specific. It jumps around to different points in the characters’ lives, seemingly at random, and what narrative thread there might be gets quickly tangled with itself.
These aren’t criticisms; they may have been when I first saw the video, but now I find EnQuatre’s choice to present his video this way an effective vehicle for presenting a concept like this, which is so focused on capturing an emotion. Loneliness breeds despair, and the indiscriminate progression of the scenes in the video makes it come across as a kind of tragic, unordered memory reel; some scenes make sense together, some don’t, but they all center around that single emotion, and at the end of the video you feel the sense of horrible isolation that permeates Saki’s world, even if you don’t fully understand it.
5. Trenzilla – Death In Eden
Anime: Death Billiards // Death Parade
Music: Breaking Benjamin – “Ashes of Eden”
Much like Paradise Lost above, this video will probably not hit you very hard if you’ve not seen Death Parade. But for those who have, this video is a welcome relief from the usual type of Death Parade videos — they tend to more along the lines of this, which while kinda cool in its own way I guess, doesn’t really tap into what makes the series so absolutely worth watching: the characters.
Death In Eden explores the various stories and vignettes that follow the people who flit in and out of the series, giving them the just time and attention they deserve. It’s not a chronological story; it jumps around from character to character and really just delves into their pasts, their tragedies, their accomplishments — basically everything that makes them interesting people. It does this in a really heavy way though, tending to focus more on the most humanizing properties of each person — his or her flaws. In many ways this could be said to be a tragic video — it certainly feels that way — but I don’t know if that’s really the point, much like the anime itself. It’s a video that shows people at their basest, their most vulnerable, and lets you judge for yourself. It’s not an easy video, and it’s not exactly a happy one, but maybe that says more about human nature than anything.
On the editing side of things, this is a super simple video that focuses way more on the feeling and mood of the music than on the cuts and sync choices. Some people may find this off-putting, but I found it relatively easy to get behind, especially considering that this allows Trenzilla time to devote to really diving into these characters and who they are in a way that makes sense with the vibe and words of the song.
This is about as faithful a Death Parade video as I’ve found, and one of the most thought-provoking videos I saw all year. It doesn’t break any new ground or utilize any new techniques, and in fact ignores some of the basic ones that many people might think essential. But it’s all in the name of making something that cuts right to the heart, and in the end, those videos are the ones that stick with you.
4. PieandBeer – Fiat Lux
Anime: Tokyo Godfathers
Music: Sleeping At Last – “Sun”
I knew it was going to happen. I knew it. She did it last year and she did it again this year — releasing a video right before I started publishing my list and throwing everything out of whack. Before this video was released, the order of this list looked a bit different, and I found myself with one extra video to account for (thus the 11 Honorable Mentions — I really wanted to write about all of those videos!). But man, as much trouble as it caused me, I can’t really begrudge PieandBeer for this because what we got as a result was one of the absolute best videos of the year, and probably a video that will go down as one of my all-time favorites, something I will cherish and hold close for years and years to come.
In approach and execution, this video is strikingly similar to Polaris, so I’ll just relax a minute while you go and re-read that review above…okay, done? Fiat Lux demonstrates again the thing that I look for so often and so desperately in AMVs — an easy-to-follow and engaging story. You’re probably sick of reading the 1,000th iteration of that idea by now, because this year has been shockingly good for story-driven AMVs, but it just goes to show how important an element this is, at least for my own enjoyment. Fiat Lux does this incredibly well — so well, in fact, that it could be held up as a kind of gold standard for any other editor attempting to do his or her own drama video. The lessons this video teaches are indispensible.
But it’s also such an un-flashy video, using a source that is not exactly “attractive”…although Satoshi Kon’s works are all really well animated, they tend to take on more realistic qualities, including character design and color palettes, meaning that they’re not necessarily the best material for drawing one’s eye (see: Blithe and Bonny, above). I have to admit that the first time I watched this video, having never seen a Tokyo Godfathers video before and knowing nothing about it, I groaned a little inside upon the instant recognition that comes with Satoshi Kon’s work. But PieandBeer, as she always does, proved that she can take anything I’m skeptical about and turn it into something I can’t get enough of.
3. Tigrin – Stay With Us
Anime: She and Her Cat – Everything Flows
Music: Gotye – “Bronte”
Fair warning: if you are a pet owner, this video will destroy you. I don’t know if before I saw Stay With Us, I’d ever cried from an AMV — but I will shamelessly admit that this one broke me. I’m actually not much of a crier in general, but all the times that I’ve bawled my eyes out the worst have been directly related to my cats dying, so…just know what you’re getting into before you start this video. Make sure you’re not in a public place, that kind of thing.
Stay With Us is a beautiful video not just because it reminds me of my cats who have passed on, but because it’s a wonderful reminder to savor the time I have with my current cat, Kira. It’s a video that fondly remembers all the good things that a pet can bring you — comfort, companionship, unconditional love — that can be so difficult to find elsewhere. It’s a hard video to watch, but oh so worth it for those reasons alone.
The editing on it is completely understated, moving slowly and purposefully, letting you drink in the scenery and place yourself in it. There’s nothing fancy about the video, it’s nothing but cuts and fades, some really tear-jerking lyric sync, and a whole lot of heart. I wish I had more to say about this one because this review feels rather paltry compared to the other videos in my Top 10, but I also feel like this is the video that needs the least explanation or analysis from my end. It’s simply a moving, heart-wrenching video, and little else needs to be said.
2. neko kitkat – Black Water
Anime: Legend of Zelda: The Windwaker
Music: Of Monsters & Men – “Black Water”
It’s hard to properly put into words how much I love this video. It’s a video I never would have expected, given the age of Wind Waker at this point and the fact that it’s not exactly the type of game that lends itself to a music video, the way other games might. And yet I can’t imagine a video using this source being done one iota better — it’s a perfect storm of every element being done at a level that complements every other element in a kind of synergy that’s almost unheard-of.
Even if you’ve never played Wind Waker, you should hopefully be able to get a sense of the story, and if you can’t get a sense of the story, you’ll certainly get wind of the adventurous spirit that distinguishes this game and this series. For this video, neko kitkat took all the best things about the best types of videos — tight editing, emotional presentation, a climax that could destroy the Sun — and washed them in sentimentality and nostalgia, creating a video that, honestly, is worthy of the hyperbole that I’ve already been throwing at it. I don’t know the future, but I know a classic video when I see one, and I don’t know if there’s ever been a video that rocketed to that position faster than Black Water. I want more videos like this, and yet at the same time I recognize that this video’s uniqueness is part of what makes it so special. This is one to savor, boys and girls, and one to keep on your hard drive, and on the cloud, and maybe on a flash drive too just in case the unthinkable happens and the Internet crashes and the video is unable to be obtained online ever again. Stuff like this doesn’t come around very often, so it’s worth cherishing and holding close.
1. Nopy – Sky Journey
Music: Brookes Brothers – “Daybreak”
Given how much discord and anxiety helped to typify 2016, I wish I could say that my #1 video of the year fed into that in some way — either by giving a voice to all the drama, tragedies, and achievements that marked the year, or by providing some sort of meta-commentary on where we are and where we’re going. Or, barring that, I wish this video said something meaningful about the AMV community at large, or provided some sort of statement about something that would clearly mark this as a defining video of the last 12 months.
It does none of these things. Sky Journey was actually released on the third day of the year in 2016, so it didn’t have much time to formulate language about the ensuing insanity, not that it attempted to make any such statement at all anyway. No, this is not a really singular video, it doesn’t really say much, and it certainly didn’t provoke as much internal dialogue in myself as last year’s #1 video (or even several videos on this list). But, this is actually perfectly okay — a video doesn’t have to do any of these things to be considered my favorite…I have enough videos like that elsewhere.
Sky Journey is a simple video with a simple concept, showing scenes that progress from morning to night and back again, with a focus on scenes that show the sky. You might think it’s stupid, and pointless, but I personally love videos like this, and I wish there were more of them — videos that take a super simple, general concept that doesn’t have any sophisticated narrative structure, and make something really beautiful and poignant with it. Mastamind’s rainfall (on last year’s list) is another video that does this well, as is chibidani’s Miyazaki At Night. I find these videos fascinating in their own way, an intriguing break from more traditional types of AMVs.
Nopy’s video here executes this concept exceedingly well; not only are his scene choices consistent and progressive, they are breathtakingly beautiful. So much of why I love this video lives in the scene selection, which transports the viewer from one beautiful sky scene to another, giving this overwhelming sense of vastness, especially in the latter half when we get to nighttime. It’s a hugely expansive video that revels in grandeur and atmopshere, both in literal and figurative terms.
Not every scene has characters in it; it’s probably about a 50/50 split, but his choices for the scenes that do feature characters are also exceptional. Take, for instance, the shot of Kaori playing her violin against a sea of blue when the strings kick in around 1:30, or the shot of the girl from behind at 2:58 with a huge red moon in the background, or the couple standing on water staring out into the Milky Way at 3:41, or the girl playing the piano at 3:57, among countless others. All these scenes are so fantastical and whimsical and they give the video an ethereal vibe that I have simply never, ever felt before. This goes beyond nostalgia to something deeper in me, something much more responsive but much harder to access. I don’t know if I can put a name to it, but the closest thing I can describe it as would be pure, unfiltered wonder.
This is all aided by the beautiful color schemes, all unedited, but simply chosen well from the pool of anime Nopy uses. Color is such a powerful tool for communicating meaning and feeling, and I think many editors forget this; though some, like Nostromo, use color in brilliant ways to convey purpose and manipulate your feelings, others understand the concept but overdo it. Nopy, whether intentionally or not, creates this world of gorgeous colors that are so in line with the music, it’s hard to properly describe. The feelings this video generates from those colors, those scenes, are nothing like those found in other videos on this list like Fiat Lux or Black Water, but they’re just as valid, and just as powerful.
People who have read all the way through my list may wonder at my choice to put Sky Journey in the #1 slot. It’s just a semi-random, multi-anime nothing video, something thrown together with no real heart or emotion or purpose that serves any kind of deeper meaning. And on most of those points, you may be right, but for myself, this video stuck with me through the year. Every time I watch it, I like it a little more. If I’m feeling anxious or stressed, Sky Journey can settle me down. In an AMV scene that seems to put more and more stock in technical proficiency, Sky Journey is a perfect example of some of the most basic editing techniques that should be mastered before trying anything else. It’s also a reminder that if you get the basics down, you don’t really need to try anything else.
Most importantly though, at least as far as my own personal experience is concerned, Sky Journey was the video I came back to more than any other this year, the video that I looked forward to watching more than any other, the video that stuck in my brain more than any other. Every other video on this list is great, and memorable, and has a worthy place in any 2016 retrospective, but Sky Journey was the video of 2016 for me, bar none, and it’s something that I’m so happy to share with you. I hope you enjoy it even a fraction as much as I do.
Editor of the Year: neko kitkat
In a perfect world, choosing and Editor of the Year would be a real struggle; internal (perhaps external) arguments, comparing various editors’ videos until my eyes were sore, and agonizing over my final choice until the moment it was posted — that’s a best-case scenario, because it means that we have been treated to a lot of really good stuff by a lot of really good editors. This year, though, there was very little of any of that — in fact, of all the choices I had to make in compiling this list, choosing my Editor of the Year was one of my easiest tasks. This isn’t because other editors were lacking in output, and hopefully the above 41 videos are proof enough of that. No, it’s because neko kitkat outpaced any other editor that had a spitting chance this year. It was no contest.
Regardless, my calling her Editor of the Year is not something I ever thought I’d say. neko kitkat’s been around for a while, and I’m familiar with some of her past work — and it’s never impressed me much. She’s not an editor I ever deliberately kept up with, but it always seemed like whenever I decided to watch something from her, I’d walk away unimpressed. Although one of her videos was on my list last year, that was about the best it had ever gotten for me and she was rarely on my radar as an editor to keep tabs on.
This year, all that changed, and I didn’t even realize it at first — while participating in the blind judging for this year’s AWA Pro contest, I was incredibly underwhelmed with the content, but there were a few videos that I had felt stood out not only compared to the stuff that surrounded them, but as good videos in their own right. It wasn’t until a month or two after judging that the videos could be released, and both of them — The Creationist and Black Water — were revealed to have been edited by neko kitkat. I was shocked, and delighted.
Her output this year has been prolific; although not all of it has been great, if you take a look at her YouTube channel you’ll find a lot of other videos released this year, one of which (Dreamer) was not mentioned on here only because I didn’t see it until I had already solidified this list past the point of wanting to move anything else around…again. But even if the three videos of hers that made it onto my Top 30 were the only ones she had released all year, I doubt my choice would have been any different.
She’s an editor who has been able to demonstrate the importance of storytelling, and the virtues of simple editing with some of the most moving and passionate AMVs released in 2016, by any editor. Her videos displayed her love of the sources, and her ability to communicate them to outsiders in profoundly engaging, meaningful ways. Other editors did this, but none did it better or more consistently, and for these reasons she is my choice for Editor of the Year.
Well, here we are, at the end of my yearly retrospective, and standing on the cusp of a new year. I hope you enjoyed reading about and watching these videos as much as I’ve enjoyed breaking them down and gushing over them. It bears repeating that this is one of my favorite things I do each year; you probably got a sense of that given how much I rambled over these last many posts, but ideally you got at least a little something out of it, or discovered something new and cool. If you did bother to read through all this mess, I sincerely thank you, and hope you’ll stick around as I post about other geeky stuff in the coming months.
As promised, I’ll provide a list of all the videos that I thought were good enough for consideration on this list. Just because they weren’t represented here doesn’t mean they aren’t worth watching, so if you haven’t had your fill of quality videos, please skim through this list; you might just find something you missed throughout the last year that touches you in a way that it didn’t touch me. (Click here to see the list)
Thank you for joining me on this journey, and I look forward to a year from now when we’ll do it all again. Have a great 2017!