flying low #13: dive

I’ve had this blog for about two and a half years now. I’ve written about countless AMVs, those known, those unknown, and once about my own videos. For as much as I love AMVs, and writing about AMVs, I have yet to write about a single one that, at the time of my writing about it, I would have considered it amongst my all-time favorites. To be honest, the main thing holding me back is that the very idea of doing so intimidates me; with the exception of two or three videos, none of my “all-time favorite” AMVs would have been released within the last seven years or so. As such, these are videos that have had so much time to sit and grow and (some might say) fester, that they’ve kind of warped themselves into larger-than-life embellishments of themselves. This happens with anything that anyone holds close to themselves — it’s something that becomes immune to criticism, impossible to attack from any angle, always good, never bad.

I’d be lying if I said that nostalgia doesn’t play a huge role in how I feel about these videos as well. As far as AMVs go, perhaps nothing else does more to manipulate my feelings towards a piece — even videos that I may not have liked when I first saw them years ago when I was first getting into the hobby would probably result in feelings of tenderness rather than the merciless critique I can usually throw at such videos when the mood strikes me, were I to watch them now. The emotions that I associate with that time in my life — the excitement, the unlimited potential for creativity, the fondness for all the new geeky friends I was making — flood over me when I watch a lot of these videos, and (I admit) it becomes less about enjoying these videos on their own terms than reliving, at least in part, a time in my life that has become extraordinarily special.

This is part of the reason that I don’t watch these videos very much. And when I say that, I mean it in a very literal sense — I will watch these videos maybe once or twice a year, if that. I don’t want any of these videos to become too tainted with the here and now, because that’s not what I cherish them for. I want their existence in my mind to forever be tied to my freshman dorm room, or my sophomore apartment (much as I hated it), or the cafeteria where, as I served food to other students, I would pass the time by playing these videos over and over again in my head.

So it’s with a certain amount of trepidation that I make this post. For one, the effectiveness of any video that ranks among my favorites is, in most cases, going to be lost on literally anyone but me. When so much of my affection for a video rests on personal experience that simply cannot be shared with someone else, much of that affection will be lost in translation. The sights, the sounds, the smells that I associate with this video — I can’t implant these things in your brain. No matter how well I may describe them, it would be a facsimile of the real thing, and a poor one at that. More importantly, though, because so much of what I love about this video relies on inaccessible sense data, it seems somewhat trite to post anything at all. If I were able to look at this video objectively, would I even like what I saw? Would I want to look at this video objectively, if I could?

Yet I feel drawn to say something. This is a video that, back when the .org was a thing and people cared about their profiles and actually kept them updated, we had these “Top 10” lists embedded in there (I mean, they’re still there, but no one uses them anymore). I proudly put Dive there shortly after I first watched it, and it hasn’t moved since. If you pull up my profile now, Dive is still sitting there, and although I will probably never update that list for the sake of posterity, I don’t know if I could ever move it anyway.

Calling this my “#1 All-Time Favorite AMV Forever” may be a stretch. Actually — yes, it’s a huge stretch, and it’s probably not true. Over the years, various people have asked me what my favorite video of all time is and I’m pretty sure I’ve given each person a different answer. I can be fickle about certain things, AMVs not least of all, and to call any video my “favorite” seems absurd — although if you asked me to list my favorites, I’m sure I could do that pretty easily (you’d have to give me a hard limit though, otherwise I could go on for a while). Asking for one’s favorite AMV would probably get you an answer from most people, but in the same way that asking for one’s favorite color would — and then if you starting asking for their favorite color for different objects — types of clothing for example, or cars — you might get a different response. So with AMVs — what’s my favorite drama AMV? Action? My favorite to watch on a sunny day? On a rainy day? When I want to feel nostalgic? When I want to be uplifted? Every one of those would net a different response from me, and any one of them could probably be counted among my “favorites”.

But anyway — Dive. Okay. Trying to talk about this one is difficult because, despite my earlier objections, I know this is a heavily flawed video, and one that will probably not appeal to a lot of you. It’s long, it doesn’t use anime in a strict sense, and the story is somewhat juvenile (a video game…within a video game). But man, is it epic. The song choice works incredibly well with the footage — car chases, space fights and all, it feels huge and there’s something to be said for that. The climax and post-climax are still, to this day, some of my favorite AMV moments ever — massive adrenaline charges that set off huge chain reactions of emotion in me that have little to nothing to do with the nostalgia I’ve spent so much of this post talking about. It’s not even that anything emotional really happens, it’s just the surge of serotonin that naturally follows an adrenaline rush (don’t take these biological claims as fact, I may or may not have the slightest clue as to what I’m talking about).

I love the way the video flows and moves, the way it reacts to the music and seems to be driving it at the same time. I love the kitchiness of it, the niche approach that these days may seem quaint or even cheesy. I love the detail in the effects work — the text, the animated HUDs, the blue light rays that precede the climax. This is not a video that would be made today, even if you ignore the fact that no one seems to remember that the Xenosaga games ever existed in the first place. It’s either too clever of an idea or too stupid, depending (I suppose) on how you decide to look at it.

But even so, it’s one of my favorites. It’s something that nobody remembers these days (and it was never very popular even when it was released), but that I still — and will always — hold very close to my heart. And while I won’t make a habit of posting these videos which are among my favorites, especially because so many of them rely very heavily on my own sentiment, I am happy to share this one with you, even if you don’t share my enthusiasm for it. It was a time and place thing and yeah, you kinda just had to be there, in my dorm, watching this video for the first time on a bulky, beige, 16″ CRT monitor with the noise of other college kids leaking in through the door and the window the computer was set by. You had to understand the feeling that videos like this were imparting to me at the time, and the overwhelming sense of “rightness” I felt when I did anything AMV-related. Dive is one of those videos that cuts right to the heart of my life as an AMV editor, and it’s not something that fits into a specific mold of what I “like” about AMVs. The two paragraphs above this one tell only a small part of Dive’s impact on me at the time, and even smaller why it continues to be so important. I think, on some level, every AMV fan can relate — even if it’s not with Dive.

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2016 in retrospect: amvs (10 – 1) // editor of the year

10. UnluckyArtist – Blithe and Bonny

Anime: Various
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

Anime: Various
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.

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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.

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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!

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2016 in retrospect: amvs (20 – 11)

20. JHaney1214 – 7 Years

Anime: Various
Music: Lukas Graham – “7 Years”

This is one of those videos where I feel like I don’t have to try and defend it, or even really explain why I think it’s good, as it seems to me like it should be impossible for people not to like it, even if they don’t like the song. But I know that people’s opinions don’t work that way so I’ll do my best here, explaining the obvious emotional pull this video has, the down-to-earth and straightforward editing, the meticulous scene selection that drives a superb story. I love obviously narrative videos like this, at least when they’re done this well, and JHaney1214 does an exquisite job, on top of everything else, of choosing the right anime to match with the various periods of life that the song covers. It’s a lovely montage that explores the different stages of life, and while it wasn’t even the best video that did that this year (!!), it never fails to leave me wistful and a little teary-eyed.

19. qwaqa – Красная Селёдка (Red Herring)

Anime: Evangelion 1.11: You Are [Not] Alone // Evangelion 2.0: You Can [Not] Advance // Evangelion 3.0: You Can [Not] Redo
Music: G.V. Sviridoc – “Time, Forward!”

The thought of talking about most of qwaqa’s work generally fills me with a sense of anxiety; his most popular works, PencilHead and PaperHeart, are masterpieces of creative and technical achievement, so much so that both of them are kind of beyond my comfort zone to properly analyze. While I love both videos, the kind of stuff he does in both of them pushes the boundaries of AMVs into territories that make me uneasy, because of my own personal preferences and what I like to get out of AMVs. Thankfully videos like these are few and far between, but I fear the day when technical prowess is deemed more important than any other quality in the realm of AMV editing, and it seems like we get closer to that singularity every day.

Still, qwaqa’s stuff is always impressive, no matter my feelings on its place in the hobby, and I couldn’t help walking away from this video feeling like qwaqa had outdone himself in every way. Maybe I’m just a sucker for Soviet propaganda (actually there’s no “maybe” about it), or for unique and clever concepts like this, but qwaqa’s entry here stands as one of the best uses of this anime I’ve seen in a long time. There are so many cool things going on in this video in every frame that it begs to be re-watched over and over again to catch them all. There’s even a White Stripes reference! But what glues it all together is the outstanding aesthetic — the color manipulation, the film overlay, the text — that is so excellently realized. This feels like a propaganda video through and through; what’s more, it feels like this is the kind of video NERV would put together if Gendo Ikari were actually a communist dictator. Creating worlds from scratch is something that qwaqa does with his videos, but this is like an alternate history fanfiction in AMV form, and it’s truly jaw-dropping.

18. Glitzer – Singular Strike Gentleman

Anime: One Punch Man
Music: Queen – “Don’t Stop Me Now”

One Punch Man understandably received many AMVs to its name this year, but I didn’t watch most of them — they all seemed like they’d be in the same camp of mindless, stupid action and thus not really my cup of tea. The fact that I was asked to beta test this and that this ended up being a finalist at NDK meant that I was bound to see it, even if I never bothered to seek it out — and I’m glad I did, because I doubt I’ll see many other OPM videos that make me smile the same way this one does. It’s a fun video, largely because of the song choice — Queen videos usually fall into this upbeat/light humor camp, so while not unexpected it’s done as well as any of them, and better than most. There’s lots of shrewd lyric sync that, while it doesn’t impart any kind of story or concept, gives the video a delightful cohesion that should keep any viewer interested, if not downright glued to the screen. Equally important is the occasional — but always perfectly-placed — internal sync, which keeps the video moving at a smooth and comfortable pace. And the video’s title is really just the icing on the cake…a simple joke that makes it obvious from the get-go what I’m getting myself into.

I’m usually fairly critical of videos like this — the kind that aim for mass appeal with song and video sources this immediately likable, but every so often it works without feeling generic or trite, and Glitzer gets a pass on this one for editing something so fricking enjoyable.

17. AndysVideos – Satellite Towns.

Anime: Various
Music: Doves – “Black and White Town”

For many of you, this is going to be an odd choice — it’s got poor audio quality, poor video quality a lot of the time (by the way, don’t download this from the .org, the visual quality is atrocious and YouTube is actually better), and when it comes down to it, it’s just a lot of opening/ending scenes, as well as some of the most popular AMV-friendly scenes from the anime it uses. Some people may call this a low-effort video, but for me there is something incredibly charming about it. The super-desaturated color scheme combined with the often-chaotic scene choices (which is in fact helped by the low quality) lends this video a really gritty, claustrophobic look and feel that I haven’t really encountered in other videos, that I can recall. It has this excellent urban finish to it, this feeling of wanting to escape the grimy and mundane into something more extraordinary and meaningful, which is an outlook I identify with in a very personal way. This may be something that simply doesn’t translate to other viewers, so I can understand if you’d walk away from this one feeling nothing for it, but for me this was, kind of like Abogado’s Diamonds, another one of those completely surprising, unexpected videos from 2016 that I feel is way better than most people will likely give it credit for.

16. antaresheart07 – Petaloso

Anime: Noragami // Noragami Aragoto
Music: New Politics – “Harlem”

We didn’t get the super upbeat, boisterous PieandBeer AMVs like Something Fishy!, Oneiro, or Minimum Wage from last year, but in their place we did get Petaloso, so all is forgiven. The editing in this video is top-speed, frenetic but never confusing, making use of equal parts internal and external sync. The video doesn’t really let up — there’s visual motion from beginning to end, and antaresheart07 manages it with all the talent of someone who knows exactly what she wants out of each and every frame. It’s a stupidly fun video, and while she tends to shirk the lyric sync in favor of completely random scene selection, it ends up not mattering much — this is one of those videos that exists to get you engaged in other, more primal means than trying to tell a story. Get on the floor, move your body, get kicked in the face and fly into a wall, that kind of engagement. AMVs like this are plentiful, but many of them fail in one way or another — often they take the process too seriously and end up feeling forced or not energetic enough, but Petaloso does things juuuuust right, managing to hit the moving target and scoring big.

15. SachaValentine – “Pursuit of Happiness”

Anime: Various
Music: David Guetta – “Just One Last Time”

(No YouTube link, sadly, due to a copyright claim on the music track.)

You may not buy into this concept in writing — a drawing of Pikachu coming to life and escaping into the digital world to play with other Pokemon while the girl who drew him gets depressed that he’s gone — but holy cow does it work as an AMV. It’s a silly idea, yes, but the amount of work that went into making this concept come to life in a convincing way is astounding — if you’re not an editor, you may not realize how much of a pain certain scenes would have been to composite. From a technical perspective, this is the kind of stuff I like to see in crossover videos like this, rather than the more “Umika-type” videos that use all sorts of crummy-looking color tone adjustment overlays and particles and light leaks.

This is a very engaging video — SachaValentine uses her (his?) technical abilities to tell a solid story, cheesy as it is. There are some really cool moments throughout the video — newly created settings, clever compositing choices, fun crossover moments — that bring this video to life in a way that videos of this type rarely do for me. I’m usually conscious of when anime are being mixed together, and often I find that it’s completely unnecessary, other than to show off the technical abilities of the editor. Pursuit of Happiness, on the other hand, is a story that couldn’t have existed convincingly in any other way, and that such care went into creating it and making it so easy to buy into makes it one of my favorite crossover videos, and certainly one of the most memorable videos of this last year.

14. falconmtg – Delusionist

Anime: Various
Music: Halsey – “Gasoline”

Speaking of crossover videos, enter Delusionist. This is probably more accurately considered a Madoka Magica video, as that’s the source where most of this video resides, but whatever. As I mentioned in my thoughts on Stinger yesterday, Madoka videos are still good fuel for creativity in new projects, although they have really lost their luster as it’s become such an overused source; it’s to falconmtg’s credit, then, that he not only made something fresh with this source, but did so in a way that plays into the latent psychological undertones that permeate the setting and atmosphere of Madoka.

This is a dark video, with a clear story (at least, it was to me, although the two people I showed it to didn’t seem to get it, so your mileage may vary) profiling Homura, and while there are countless Homura profile videos floating around out there, most of them confine themselves to a story summary or try to ship her with Madoka. Delusionist does something different here, painting her as a mental patient being tested on with drugs. It’s surreal and unsettling in all the best ways, with lurid imagery and a definite sense of descending into a state of madness. It succeeds on all levels, both as a technical exercise (although nothing on the scale of Pursuit of Happiness, above) as well as a conceptual one, and although we were (thankfully) treated to far fewer Madoka videos this year than in the past, it was a welcome addition to this year’s bounty.

13. Moony Moonpie – Lessons I’ve Learned

Anime: The Boy and the Beast
Music: One Republic – “Counting Stars”

I need to explain something real quick here — this video and the next two are all videos I really wanted to be in my Top 10…trying to figure out how to order my list from this point on was an utter nightmare, and for all intents and purposes you can consider videos #13 – #10 essentially tied, if you like, because trying to say I like any one of these better than the other is really difficult for me to do, as the order would probably change depending on the day you asked me. Unfortunately, ranked lists don’t really work in a way that would let me tie a bunch of videos, and it’d feel like a cop-out if I made an exception, so I had to order these somehow.

Hopefully it’ll speak volumes about the videos in my Top 10, but as for this video, it’s just so wonderfully realized that I’m having some difficulty here trying to think of things to add. I’ve seen a couple videos that use this song (which I actually really don’t like), but none of them even come close to this one in terms of making a meaningful song/anime connection. I haven’t seen The Boy and the Beast, but this video pretty much summarizes the entire movie really clearly, so much so that I feel like I wouldn’t miss much by not seeing it (although I still want to). The scene selection manages to follow the lyrics at exactly the right distance — locating the underlying meaning in some of the more literal passages (“No more counting dollars, we’ll be counting stars”) and finding a way to represent it that doesn’t come across as corny or lazy.

This is a high-energy video, although it often forgoes tight sync for story progression, but this never works against it — it locks on to the mood of the song and uses that as its propellant. I can’t fault the video for anything, and I really don’t want to. It’s such a likable video in every regard, and deserves way more recognition than it got. Sometimes I wish I had more visibility in the AMV community, not to promote my own work but so I could get videos like this a wider audience. For lack of that, I’ll do what I can here, and hopefully somehow this video reaches to the ends of the Internet and gets the exposure and love it rightly deserves.

12. Radical_Yue – Nan Desu Kan 2016 AMV Contest Intro

Anime: Various
Music: Trista & Braken – “Far Away”

I was going to explain what this video is, but then I realized I was literally just re-wording the AMV’s title so I won’t patronize you. This video was played before all the contest videos at NDK, and I had thought that a part of the reason I enjoyed this one so much was remembering the experience of seeing it for the first time — sitting in a room with something like 3,000 people (I believe?) and hearing their ecstatic reactions to their favorite anime as they appeared onscreen…there’s just something special about that, you know?

But after I got home from the contest and remembered to re-watch this later, I was surprised to find that I liked it just as much, if not more, than I did when I had seen it in its proper setting. The theme at NDK 2016 was “20 years of anime”, and so this video is basically just an assortment of some of the great anime from the past 20 years. And yes, that’s all it is — but holy crap man, the song, the editing, the sentiment! It all just overflows into a feels trip unlike almost any I saw this year, celebrating anime in a way that makes me not just happy but proud to be a fan. It makes me want to shout and scream and lose myself in the excitement that anime and AMVs can generate. Even though there are many other videos like this, the context of this one, I think, makes a huge difference in how I process it.

But put all that aside and it’s still a step above, with editing tricks that tie scenes together in super neat ways, often through matching the motion of one scene to the next, or the really clever way Yue translates from fullscreen to widescreen (you may not even notice it the first time around!). The pacing and the flow is all so on-point — I love this video so much. I don’t care what you say Yue, because I know you’re reading this — you made one of the best videos of the year, please do it again in 2017.

11. hamstar138 – Fast Forward

Anime: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time // Wolf Children
Music: One Direction – “Story of My Life”

Let me be brutally frank here: This video had literally nothing — and maybe less — going for it when I first skimmed the video information before downloading it. Of all the overused sources that I have lost all enthusiasm for over the years, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is probably in my top 5. And that’s to say nothing of the song, which I couldn’t be more ambivalent about if I tried. This was a recipe for about as generic and throwaway a video as I could imagine, and I went into it with a healthy dose of skepticism and a much unhealthier dose of cynicism.

I came out the other end transformed. This is a video that takes two sources that are incredibly stale in the AMV world and crafts a link between them, making a new story from nothing that is believable and touching in the most pleasantly surprising ways. What’s more, hamstar’s narrative here manages to take key elements from both movies — elements that essentially make these movies what they are — and incorporate them in intelligent ways into her finished product. This isn’t a video that destroys the original works’ intent or takes anything out of context in the name of making something completely new; instead it pays tender homage to both GWLTT and Wolf Children while at the same time telling a powerful, new story originating in hamstar’s imagination.

This video is especially cool to me because hamstar138 is an editor I’ve been keeping tabs on for a while now; until this year she hadn’t really released anything that stuck with me, but over the last couple years I’ve noticed marginal improvement with each release, seeing her potential increase each time, until this last year when she released two phenomenal videos (the other being Pokeversary which is not represented on this list). Getting to experience an editor’s journey firsthand, especially when it culminates in a video like Fast Forward, makes all the slower parts worth it, and I can’t wait to see where she goes from here.

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2016 in retrospect: amvs (30 – 21)

Okay, now that all that preliminary stuff is out of the way, we can get to the actual, finalized list of my 30 favorite videos from 2016. I’ve been super excited about writing this for several months now, so I really hope you enjoy and watch as many of these videos as you can, if you haven’t seen them already. It is my honest opinion that the videos I’m about to list are the best videos this past year had to offer, certainly of what I’ve seen, if not beyond that. I welcome discussion on this. I welcome competing viewpoints, so long as it’s kept in mind that this is all highly subjective territory.

A few things worth noting before we embark: First, I’m generally not impressed by super-technical videos, unless the effects work has a conceptual purpose. As such, there are very few really effects-y videos on this list. I also tend to dislike really obviously fan-pandering-type videos (though there are exceptions), so between these two categories I’ll just head off a few videos that were pretty big this year that you won’t find within miles of this list: Sans Titre by Cmoididi, Edera by Elerye, Weeaboo Peekaboo by Shin-AMV, or Deadpunch by Rider4Z. I didn’t like any of these videos really, and while I could go into great detail on that, I figure I might get carried away in a super negative sense so I’ll just leave it at that.

Second, I’ve found in the past that I tend to deride multi-anime AMVs quite a bit, and yet on this list there are quite a few of them, so maybe I don’t dislike them the way I thought I did. Although, in this case, most of them are conceptually sound so that may make all the difference, or I could just be someone who contradicts myself for no good reason. I don’t know.

Finally, this list is going to get suuuuper drama-heavy in its last third. So, you know, just be prepared for that.

In an amazing coincidence (and I’m actually serious here, I didn’t plan it this way) there are no videos in this Top 30 that use the same anime twice, with the exception of some of the multi-anime videos. So that’s pretty cool, and just goes to show the diversity we get to enjoy with our AMVs. Despite watching many videos that used the same sources over and over again (Your Lie In April, Tamako Love Story, ERASED, and Ore Monogatari were all huge this year), I somehow managed to end up with a varied spread of videos that didn’t overlap. Hopefully that’ll increase your enjoyment of these videos, if nothing else!

Oh, and at the end of the final post, in addition to posting the full list of videos that made it into consideration to be ranked, I will also post a short recognition of my Editor of the Year, a new thing I’m going to try out this year. I had wanted to do it last year but decided against it for reasons I can’t remember. Let’s see how it goes.

Okay, that was way longer than I wanted it to be. Are you used to that yet? Let’s get to the videos!

30. exkcal – I Don’t Have To See You Right Now

Anime: Your Lie in April
Music: Local Natives – “Mt. Washington”

I’ve come to have a really love/hate relationship with YLIA videos, because I really enjoyed the anime, but so many of the videos made using it are just really dull, predictable, uninspired schlop that add little or nothing to the fray, so when exkcal made this one, I was skeptical. Like many others, its fuel is the story’s tragedy, and it uses a lot of the same scenes we’ve probably all gotten sick of throughout the last two years. But it’s just, well, better than most others, and I think a large part of that can be attributed to the audio choice — a lo-fi indie rock song which acts as a direct contrast to not only the beautiful, refined animation, but the types of videos in whose company it inevitably finds itself. So many sad YLIA videos tend to use these upbeat-but-downtrodden pop songs, and also try to be flashy and cutting edge with their editing approach. I Don’t Have To See You Right Now is instead an understated, soft, and quiet video, and when it comes down to it I think its humble approach is what shuttles it so far above the crowd.

29. neko kitkat – We Live

Anime: Pokemon (various)
Music: One Republic – “I Lived”

This year was a huge year for Pokemon — on top of the phenomenon that was Pokemon Go, and the release of Pokemon Sun/Moon, 2016 marked the franchise’s 20-year anniversary, and as such it’s fitting that there were multiple AMVs made to mark the occasion (the other good one I saw would be hamstar138’s Pokeversary). But for my money, I prefer neko kitkat’s video — it taps into my weakness for nostalgia in a unique way, by using all manner of sources to celebrate one of the most prominent examples of Japanese culture invading American homes that has ever existed. It sources the games (from multiple generations and platforms), the various series, and the commercials that have been on the air during Pokemon’s existence. I never got too deep into Pokemon myself, but I distinctly remember seeing several of the commercials used in this video as a kid, and it’s an effective trick for making a really cool homage to this particular craze.

More than that though, I think this video just works as an expression of gratitude towards the franchise, and I think that even if you’ve never been “in” on Pokemon like many other die-hards have, most people should be able to still appreciate this. It may not mean anything to you personally, but like any video or tribute that does its job well, it will make you wish you had been in on the ground floor.

28. Cecco – Liberation

Anime: Beyond The Boundary: I’ll Be Here
Music: Evvy – “Tidal Wave (Sound Remedy Remix)”

Before this year I’d seen exactly one good Beyond The Boundary video (msteapot’s I See Fire), and even that one had one or two notable flaws that keep me from really falling in love with it. Sadly, so does this one (that stupid text smack in the middle), but it succeeds in the same way msteapot’s does: It tells a really strong, pathos-riddled story without succumbing to the mindless action that seems to define most videos that use this source, and I just can’t help but wonder why I don’t see more videos that do this, because Beyond the Boundary seems to lend itself to this dramatic style more than any other. Cecco’s editing in this video is superb, using simple effects that carry meaning, and just killing it with the beat sync right as the song builds to its climax. It feels like it ends too soon, but it’s still wholly satisfying, not leaving us with anything unsaid. In the most complimentary way, I just really wish there was more to say.

27. Copycat_Revolver – F-Bomb

Anime: Is This A Zombie? // Is This A Zombie? Of The Dead
Music: Jon Lajoie – “Fuck Everything”

I’ll probably make a point of saying this every year, but comedy videos just aren’t usually my thing — they tend to be on the weeb-pandering side, or they depend on highly contextual knowledge to fully “get”, meaning that unless I’m already in on the joke, it’ll go right past me. For that reason, usually only a few (at most) comedy videos end up being any of my favorites from a given year, but those that do are usually good for more than just one or two viewings before they start to get old.

F-Bomb is a hilarious video; I’ve watched it a number of times now and still find it funny. What’s more, every time I watch it I pick up on some other little detail that adds a smidgen more humor to the lyric sync. Lots of clever, subtle jokes, some of which would indeed go over non-editors’ heads, pepper the video and give it a surprising amount of re-watch value. Perhaps the most astonishing thing about F-Bomb is that almost every single lyrical joke, no matter how challenging, has a matching visual gag — all from a single anime series. This is by far the video’s biggest asset, as so many comedy videos which rely on a lot of lyric sync end up having to use multiple animes to keep the jokes going, and this almost always dilutes the comedy element for me. But F-Bomb doesn’t have to stoop to this, and it ends up being one of the funniest videos of the year as a result.

26. Xophilarus – Mounting Dread

Anime: Wolf’s Rain
Music: Disturbed – “Sound of Silence”

This apparently became a popular song for AMVs this year, as there were quite a few AMVs made with it (searching “disturbed sound of silence amv” on YouTube yields pages of videos), and since I’m not a masochist I didn’t see more than one other, but I still feel pretty comfortable calling this one the best of them all, mainly because I can’t see another source working quite this well. It’s an incredibly melodramatic video, in all the best, most theatrical ways; it’s dark and brooding and violent, and uses really simple editing techniques to tell its story. I haven’t seen Wolf’s Rain but I walked away from this video feeling like I had; it reminded me of the first time I watched aerialesque’s video Lost Paradise, another favorite Wolf’s Rain video of mine. There were better heavy drama videos this year but even so, Mounting Dread is one that’ll be on my playlist for a long time.

25. DNubsPro – The One To Understand Me

Anime: Kids on the Slope
Music: fun. – “Be Calm”

I’ve said it before about some of my own work, am I’m sure I’ll say it again the next time I encounter a video like this and feel the need to write about it, but the best videos tend to be those that don’t take much conceptual thought on the part of the editor; when you come across a song and anime that make so much intrinsic sense that you feel it your duty as an editor to smash them together if it hasn’t been done already. Such is the case with DNubsPro’s The One To Understand Me — this song works so unbelievably well with this anime, and his editing keeps pace with the song’s tempo and mood changes impeccably. Even the little things, like the horns in the song and the dominant percussion feed into the scene selection and back out in fluent ways, creating this beautiful ensemble of A/V harmony. It really is probably the best Kids on the Slope video from a holistic standpoint; while there are a couple I’d say I like better personally, this one does characterization and plot summary probably better than the others, and really, is just more fun. For a total, out-of-the-blue video that I just stumbled across, this one comes highly recommended.

24. Copycat_Revolver – Stinger

Anime: Various
Music: Awolnation – “Burn It Down”

You may be entirely over [whatever]-monogatari videos at this point in time, and I wouldn’t blame you one bit. Even though they tend to go in different directions stylistically, and as pretty as the animation is, the source in the AMV world is a lot like Madoka — still creatively valid, but lacking in any kind of wow-factor given just how much we’ve all seen these scenes used before in countless other videos. If that does, in fact, describe you, I’d urge you to still give Stinger a shot, as this probably ranks as one of the flat-out coolest videos I saw this year. It utilizes tons of internal sync and plenty of sly humor, which is Copycat’s trademark with this kind of work. It’s upbeat and fun and has a bad side; it tears up the place and you still say “Thank you sir, may I have another?” It’s downright enjoyable from beginning to end, and demonstrates once more just how utterly in control of his tools Copycat_Revolver is. I’m always looking forward to his next release, because I know that I’m guaranteed a good time, and Stinger was this year’s proof that he still has plenty of gas left in the tank.

23. Farm AMV – Koku’s Rage

Anime: Dragon Ball (various)
Music: Various

Dragon Ball has always had kind of an unfortunate place in AMV culture; as much as people may like the various series or recognize their importance in their own development as anime fans, it’s often derided as a source for AMVs. Linkin Park has a similar history, and when the two are put together it has, over years, become a meme in itself — if you’ve ever heard the term “Linkin Ball Z”, these types of videos are what that’s referring to. While it’s easy to see why the two were once coupled all the time, the mockery has continued even though such videos are rarely being made seriously anymore.

What makes Koku’s Rage so great is that it mocks both the videos that use these sources as well as the deriding attitude surrounding them, while at the same time making fun of the recent Dragon Ball Super, a series whose animation was panned for good reason. I’ve never personally been a fan of any of the animation in any Dragon Ball series, but past series undeniably looked better, and so the overriding joke in this video — pairing the flat, lifeless Dragon Ball Super scenes with the flaccid cover of “Crawling” — is simply hysterical. The fact that this video is also commenting on the “Linkin Ball Z” mentality is just a bonus, but editors should get an additional kick out of the meta-ness of that commentary as well. (There’s also the overly-effectsy break in the middle, bad lyric text and all, as yet another jab at a certain kind of editing style that has become popular in recent years).

Best of all, this video does not linger any longer than it has to — it gets the jokes out there, and then stops before running them into the ground, a feat that, sadly, many other comedy editors could stand to learn from. It’s a gem of a comedy video, the kind we see all to little of. More editors could stand to be this self-aware, and I applaud Farm for making one of the most untentionally deep and insightful videos of the past 12 months…and also one of the funniest.

22. Joo – They Hit Without Warning

Anime: Shadow of the Colossus
Music: Epic Score – “They Attacked Without Warning”

Since this is a Japanese game I’m considering it an AMV, so cool your jets if you’re having a reation of “But this isn’t anime!” I actually agonized over this more than you might think, but I decided to include it because it’s my blog and I just really like this video, okay? Hopefully it’s not hard to see why — I don’t know if Joo captured all this footage himself or if he found recordings of it online from someone else; no matter, it’s an amazingly epic video that shows off why this is one of the most loved titles from the PS2 era, and for many people, before or since. I have yet to play Shadow of the Colossus, but if this video is any indication, I should drop what I’m doing right now and

Okay, I got the remake for PS3 but I haven’t played it yet, that’s a first step though, right? In any case, this video just kills it in all the important ways — storytelling, internal sync, adrenaline-pumping cuts on all the right beats. In many ways this video reminds me of Pic4’s video from last year, Nomura; in the same way, this video just keeps getting better as it progresses, every cut pushing you further and further into its world until you’re completely overcome by the thunderous energy it’s riding on. This is goosebump-inducing, heart-stopping action at its finest, and while I’m not usually one to enjoy action videos this much, I’m happy to dive head first into They Hit Without Warning again and again.

21. Abogado – Diamonds

Anime: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (+ others)
Music: Gangstagrass – “Pressure”

Often — I’d actually say, more often than not — I go into watching AMVs not knowing what to expect at all. Especially from completely unknown editors like this, it’s always a craps shoot as to whether I’m going to uncover something totally awesome or something utterly forgettable. So when I find something like this video, it often will justify the crummy stuff I have to sift through to find it. Discovering these completely unknown gems brings me at least as much joy as watching through videos that I may like better, but are also much better-known. In the end, I certainly treasure these finds way more.

Diamonds is a very stylish video, in the sense that it uses some really cool effects to create a sophisticated atmosphere. The opening of the video draws you in with the flashy background and black-and-white color palette, but even when things settle down into more familiar, hard-cuts-and-black-flashes territory for the verses, it still feels like it’s in total control of its aesthetic, resisting the urge to become pretentious or exclusive in its presentation. Oh, and that instrumental bit in the middle? Yeah, that was one of my absolute favorite bits of editing I saw all year.

Perhaps best of all, this is a Studio Ghibli-sourced video that expressly doesn’t use sentiment as its motive force, feeling much more practical in its approach by having the viewer just enjoy the ride. While I love Ghibli AMVs, this video’s take on how to engage the viewer is refreshing, and one of its biggest selling points. I love it when things surprise me this much in such a positive way, and this aptly-named example should hopefully make it clear why I seek out and collect these kinds of AMVs the way I do.

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2016 in retrospect: amvs (honorable mentions)

We’ve arrived, once again, at the end of another year, and it’s time to take a look back and review what it had to offer in terms of AMVs. I will say this right off the bat — because of the changes that took place in my life over the last 12 months, watching AMVs became de-prioritized somewhat, and I did not watch them consistently throughout the year. I would go days, weeks even, without firing up a single one, old or new. As such, my view of the quality this year may be somewhat skewed. The way I see it, 2016 wasn’t necessarily great for AMVs — or, at least, it felt like 2015 might’ve been better. Unlike last year, where I had thought basically the same thing until around September/October when the floodgates opened and we were blessed with numerous quality releases, that didn’t really happen this year. I don’t know why, and I won’t begin to speculate, but at times it was disappointing.

That’s kind of a rough way to start out this list, and I don’t want to be too negative, because — and let me be perfectly clear here — there were many excellent videos released this year that I am beyond psyched to talk about, and everything on this list is, in my very humble opinion, definitely worth watching. The Top 10 in this list are absolutely top-notch, bar none (they wouldn’t be there otherwise), and one thing I don’t want to do is do any of these editors a disservice by implying that their work is somehow lesser because 2016’s output was overall less impressive than I was hoping. Far from it. These videos all stand on their own merits, regardless of where they land in the rankings, and should be viewed as such.

Because I wanted to give everything a fair shake, around the beginning of December I decided to go back and download as many videos as I could that I may have missed throughout the year — this involved filtering a video search on the .org to only display videos released in 2016, and then going through page by page and downloading anything that looked the least bit interesting to me (and several that didn’t). I also browsed through amvnews.ru, Japan Expo’s and NDK’s contest listings, and the #amv-sharing channel in the AMVCentral Discord server to find anything I may have missed. I guarantee I didn’t catch everything, but I like to think I was able to find a whole bunch of stuff that I would have missed otherwise, much of it worth talking about.

To give some transparency to the process, I’ll just briefly explain how I came up with this list. It was basically identical to the way I did it last year — throughout the year, whenever I would watch an AMV I hadn’t seen before, I would enter it into my Genome Project spreadsheet. When I was ready to compile this list, I filtered the list of 203 videos watched from 2016 down to only videos that I had rated 7.5 or above. This gave me a final list of some 71 videos to choose from, and from there I re-watched all the videos on that list and ranked them as best I could from 1 – 30.

We’ll start out the countdown with an unranked list of Honorable Mentions. These are videos that didn’t quite make the cut for being on my Top 30, but I still want to talk about for whatever reason. As I did last year, I will remind everyone that these following 10 11 videos are not necessarily the videos I would rank from 31 – 40 41 — these are simply videos that are still good or noteworthy in some way that I want to shed light on, regardless of where they’d end up if I decided to attach a rank to them. I can already guarantee you that there are other videos that I’m not mentioning here that I may like better than some or all of these videos, but I just don’t have much to say about those. At the end of the last post in this series, I will provide a list of all videos that made it into consideration so you can look up any other videos yourself that may not have been included here, if you find yourself so inclined. (If you’re wondering why this part is 11 videos and not 10…thank PieandBeer.) (This will make more sense later.)

Finally, I just want to stress something — the great thing about having my own blog is that I’m not answerable to anyone else. This list is mine and mine alone, it is be no means definitive, or official, or anything. You will almost certainly disagree with me on many, if not most, if not all points in the following posts. That’s fine! I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please feel free to leave comments as we go. The fact of the matter is that these were my favorite videos from 2016, and I’m excited to share them with you, whatever you may think about them yourself.

So sit back, relax, and enjoy as we go through and look at some of the best videos from the past 12 months!

PYSH AMVs – On Our Way

Anime: Barakamon
Music: Radical Face – “We’re On Our Way”

Let’s just get the bad out of the way first — this is a messy video in many respects, and the first 20ish seconds may deplete your hopes that anything good could come of this. Horrible, unnecessary text and ugly font choices will likely put a bad taste in your mouth immediately. Please trust me when I say to fight through it — fight through the bad stock transitions, the occasional garish effect work, the comparatively poor quality, because once PYSH gets that out of his system, mostly in the first half of the video, this thing just opens up to be one of the most heartfelt Barakamon videos on the Internet. There are some absolutely spot-on scene choices, and through everything the video maintains a perfect mood, reflecting the simple happiness that’s at the heart of the anime itself — joy springs from the people you love, and it drives you to be a better person. Few videos in 2016 had me cheering for them like this one did — it’s a scrappy, underdog video rife with technical flaws. But through it you can see an editor who is trying his best to leave behind a fitting homage to a great anime, and in that sense, he absolutely succeeds.

Tigrin – Never Quite Enough

Anime: Your Lie in April
Music: Alanis Morissette – “Perfect (Acoustic)”

As I said to start off my discussion of last year’s #1 video, 2015 seemed to be the year of Your Lie In April videos, but I definitely feel like I watched more this year than last. And it was a drag, mostly, because given that Hirou Keimou had basically perfected the source in what has become one of my all-time favorite AMVs, anyone else using the source was going to be at an immediate disadvantage. I walked away from 2016’s YLIA videos disappointed, in almost every case, save a few.

This was one of those that managed to do the source justice, even if it wasn’t quite in the way that I’m Alive! did. I mean, let’s be honest — the majority of YLIA videos are going to focus on the love story that permeates the series, and who can really fault people for doing that? It’s easy and it guarantees views, and I don’t think it’s an inherently bad thing. Still, when Tigrin released Never Quite Enough, I was struck by how obvious this concept seemed, and how few people seem to have really tried to tackle it. This is a video that focuses on the relationship between Kousei and his mother, specifically in the way he feels pressured to be perfect and how it affects him. Given that this is such a huge part of Kousei’s character, you’d think there would be more AMVs out there that dial in on this, but Tigrin’s so far is the only one I’ve seen do it, or at least do it this well.

It’s not my favorite video by a long shot — mainly, I just can’t stand the song. But the concept is solid and it’s really conveyed well. The editing doesn’t stand out, but it doesn’t really try to, so it’s difficult to fault it there. I enjoyed watching this one, even if it wasn’t a video I came back to again and again over the year. Moreover, it goes to show that even super played-out sources can have life breathed back in to them, often because a good conceptual framework is hiding in plain sight, and people just never bother to look.

purplepolecat – Disco Limbo

Anime: Death Billiards // Death Parade
Music: Lady Gaga – “Disco Heaven”

…And the award for the video that takes its source material most out of context goes to Disco Heaven, and while I usually get peeved when I see this sort of thing, purplepolecat’s execution here is just so absurdly on-point that I can’t really criticize; frankly, I’m having a hard time wondering what led him to choose this source for this song to begin with, not to mention managing to find enough scenes to make it actually work. This is a fun video that has nothing to do with the anime it uses, and yet it manages to feel like a proper dance video, or at least a really close facsimile of one. Yes, the energy is lacking some of the time, and yes, the scenes and facial expressions are often too grim to be really convinced that Death Parade is anything but a serious, heavy anime most of the time, but props where they’re due — I never in my wildest dreams would have paired this song with this anime, and yet it works way better than I ever could have hoped.

daily chill – i doubt my love

Anime: Beyond the Boundary
Music: Seekae – “Test & Recognize”

Analyzing this video is difficult to do without taking the context of the YouTube channel itself into account; it appears to be that of a teenage kid from Lithuania, and the majority of his videos are just music playing over still frames, with an occasional AMV uploaded here and there. I haven’t watched most of them, although relatively recently he uploaded an AMV that could be considered a suicide note; happily it appears that he never followed through as he’s uploaded tons of stuff since then. This video, then, seems to be something deeply personal, that I probably will never be able to completely understand or appreciate.

Still, I think this video is worth watching; over the last year or so, this VCR effect has become super trendy, thanks in part I think to an AVIsynth script that creates it automatically. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been used in any really interesting ways yet; editors tend to just slap this on a video and call it a day (for instance, in this MEP), and even though it’s a cool effect, it doesn’t do a whole lot for any of these videos. It’s also been somewhat frustrating to see this effect become so popular, as it’s an effect I’ve been wanting to replicate myself towards a conceptual end. Now that it’s being plastered over everything for no reason, my desire to actually pursue that idea has become a bit diluted.

Despite the fact that i doubt my love doesn’t use this effect in a way that I keep hoping to see, it’s used better here than in any other video I’ve seen so far. The visual distortion and color manipulation used to age the footage works surprisingly well, especially given how recent the source material is, and the resulting video is a depressing affair of loss and grief. daily chill also decided to make use of text effects here and there throughout the video, and the result is mixed — they don’t look bad, exactly, and the 8-bit typeface was probably the best choice he could have made, but they sometimes feel superfluous (although the kanji/hiragana subtitles used near the end were a nice touch). No matter, though — this video was not made for me, even if I happen to have the benefit of being able to watch it. Whatever prompted this video’s creation, I will never know, but few videos I watched this year felt more cathartic than i doubt my love.

AMV Strat – Oasis

Anime: Various
Music: Alle Farben – “She Moves (feat. Graham Candy)”

We don’t often get videos like this — videos that are technically impressive without being obvious about it, videos that recognize the fine line between “too much” and “not enough” when it comes to effects work like what we see in here, and manage to toe it perfectly. In fact, a lot of this effect work is done so well that you may not be able to tell — most of the backgrounds were created by Strat himself, there’s quite a bit of masking throughout the video’s three-minute run, and the storybook filter that becomes prominent at the end doesn’t overstay its welcome, and serves its conceptual purpose without fanfare. It’s all integrated so well and in such rare moderation that I had to watch it a few times before I felt like I caught all the little touches that bring this video to such vivid life.

On top of that it’s such a fun, creative piece, telling the story of a girl who is wandering, looking for her perfect place in the world. It could be literal or it could be allegorical, depending on how deep you want to go with it, but either way it’s a beautiful concept, beautifully realized.

UnluckyArtist – Screaming Artist

Anime: Nichijou
Music: Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Art Star”

Every Nichijou video I see convinces me that I should be watching it like, right now, but for some reason I keep putting it off and deciding to watch crud like this. Oh well, at least I know it produces quality AMVs, not least of which is UnluckyArtist’s absurdist comedy video Screaming Artist. To be perfectly honest, there’s not a lot I can say about this that can’t be immediately gleaned from just watching the video, other than bravo to UnluckyArtist for actually managing to tell some sort of mini-story with this thing, and a funny one at that. This is the kind of solid stuff we’ve all come to know and love from one of the most consistently quality editors in the last many years, and while it’s not even his best work this year, it does well as one of the few really good comedy videos from 2016.

DerSchatten – Love and Loss

Anime: Ah! My Goddess (OVA) // Ah! My Goddess (Movie)
Music: Kate Winslet – “What If”

As I was watching this video to actually decide if I should write about it at all, I waffled about 6 or 7 times between wanting to put it on and wanting to write about something perhaps more deserving. But in the end there was something about this video that just works really well on a super basic, emotional level, despite the fact that scenes drag on for too long, cuts don’t happen anywhere near when they should, and the climax of the song is completely robbed of its impact with the chosen scene. No, this video will not win any awards. No, this video will not get much love from modern editors. Yes, there are plenty of actual old-school videos that do this exact kind of thing exponentially better. But for me, personally, watching AMVs is more than just finding the videos that do everything “the best” and then not bothering with the rest — flaws can be attractive, and in that sense Love and Loss has a super specific niche appeal that I can’t really explain or justify. All I know is that I’m fond of this video (although I wouldn’t push it past that), and I think that there’s something to be learned here, if not in specific techniques than in the general approach. Slow down, take a breather, and tell a story — the rest is superfluous.

msteapot – Faded

Anime: Harmony
Music: Alan Walker – “Faded”

msteapot has become a favorite editor of mine, someone whose work I always download no matter what sources she uses. Her videos are rarely anything too special, but she has put out a few that I constantly find myself returning to, and her style tends to find itself hovering right in the sweet spot between too little sync and too much. Faded is a short video — under two minutes — but it packs a whole lot of emotion and story into that short time and doesn’t really get too caught up in the details. It’s a smooth video as well, and when the song bursts open at the chorus we’re treated to some really slick scene selection and visual motion and it all just glides together really, really well. Most good sub-two minute videos leave me wanting more, but I feel perfectly satiated with this one, like having a really good snack before an even better meal.

Elcalavero – Neerouatjar

Anime: Flowers of Evil
Music: Jocelyn Pook – “Masked Ball”

Elcalavero’s videos are perpetually weird; last year he took the fun, upbeat Space Dandy and made what stands as probably the most un-Space Dandy-like video on the Internet, and Neerouatjar shows what he’ll do with something that already has a gloomy tone to it. This is a dark video; I mean that both in terms of its heavy, choke-inducing atmosphere as well as its physical brightness. Part of me thinks that he did this in order to force the viewer to turn off the lights before watching, and if that was his goal it’s effective. This is a video that begs to be watched without distractions of any sort; it’s a self-contained universe of unsettling images and sounds, with all the threatening stuff seemingly just out of frame. It seems to tell a story, but at the risk of embarrassing myself I’ll leave the interpretation of the video to you, should you decide to watch it.

Like Elcalavero’s other work, this video does tend to feel aimless at points. His audio choice allows him to ignore having to do a whole lot of syncing, relying instead on building an aesthetic and letting the video flow through it. But, it works. This may wander a little too far into “artsy” territory for some people, but for me this video acts as one of the year’s better horror releases.

PieandBeer – The Chariot

Anime: Tekkonkinkreet
Music: Jose Gonzalez – “Step Out”

PieandBeer is probably my favorite current active editor, but this seemed to be a less stellar year for her in terms of output than 2015. The Chariot was her second video released this year, coming on the heels of the phenomenal Polaris, and I have to admit that when I watched this after it was released, I was really let down. I couldn’t quite explain why at the time, but on my first viewing this video just fell flat, failing to really grab me the way her work usually does. In fact, I shelved this video for the rest of this year, until just now when I decided to give it another shot and see if maybe it’s worth mentioning here.

While I still don’t think it demonstrates anything near what she’s capable of, The Chariot is certainly not the disappointment I thought it was at first — a big thing that I think threw me when I first watched it was my own expectations with this source. Tekkonkinkreet videos tend to wallow in hopelessness, and/or get psychological and convoluted. This is possibly the only Tekkonkinkreet video I’ve seen that doesn’t go that route, opting instead for a more optimistic approach. It’s close to being “happy” but not so much that it disrespects the source it’s working with; there’s a fine balance and PieandBeer strikes really close to the mark. If, like me, you were underwhelmed with this video when you first watched it, give it another shot — it ages nicely.

Copycat_Revolver – Vex

Anime: Escaflowne – The Movie
Music: Major Lazer – “Lean On”

Editing this smooth is sometimes all that’s needed to get me to overlook the lack of a cohesive story/concept, because I’m fairly certain this video doesn’t have one. But what it does have, it has in spades: great lyric sync, a really urgent atmosphere, and some pretty smooth internal sync — the last 40 seconds or so of this video are up there with some of Copycat’s best work. Although it lacks his usual tongue-in-cheek humor and knowing wink, it demonstrates again his ability to just do pure, straight editing and make something that stands above what most other editors could achieve using the same sources.

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