As one of the few active bloggers out there (that I know of) whose main focus is AMVs and the AMV subculture, I think it would be wrong of me to not at least mention the recent death of a fellow editor, Umika. She died yesterday on 2/14/2016 in her sleep, from heart failure, at the all-too-young age of 22. I’m not going to pretend like I knew her, because I didn’t — I never spoke with or interacted with her in any way, mostly because she was a Russian editor who rarely ever visited the .org, and has a scant 12 posts to her name.
I also feel it would be disingeunous to her memory to pretend that I was overly familiar with her work. In fact, until today, I had only ever seen her most popular video, Our Tapes, and even then it was once, years ago. Her videos were always those that I would get to “some day”, pushing them off until I’d watched more immediately interesting videos, often in the name of keeping up with current releases. I felt like today was probably a good time to catch up, though.
This post is not going to be a deconstruction of her work, or a video-by-video review. Besides not having the energy, I feel like such a thing would be pretty worthless to the Internet at large; I’m extremely late to the party, and most modern editors are already very familiar with her output, so adding my two cents to the fountain will do nothing constructive. Also, if I’m being perfectly frank, I’m not too fond of most of her videos, as they represent a lot of things I personally dislike about many modern trends. In lieu of trying to dress up my opinions of her work (which would be dishonest and completely unnecessary) or being brutally honest about it (which would probably come across as pretty tactless), I want to instead focus in briefly on an undeniably amazing aspect of her creations: Their lasting and incredible influence.
Having come into the AMV scene in mid-2006, I was lucky enough to experience the .org before its decline into the nearly-dead state in which it finds itself today. This encompassed a lot of excellent benefits which are irrelevant to the conversation at hand, however one of them certainly is not: I got to experience the tail end of when individual editors were household names (so to speak). There was a time when editors were bigger than their works, and certain names were touted around with near-celebrity status. It was more than just “Oh, Editor X makes awesome videos”, there were editors who essentially could nudge the entire hobby in different directions. Names like Decoy, Sierra Lorna, and AbsoluteDestiny might be almost meaningless today, but in the early-mid 2000s, these were editors with clout. Editors like this could command huge audiences with their releases (for example, the eleven pages of responses on Nostromo_vx’s video Auriga), and these same editors could subsequently make huge waves in AMV trends. Those who were around in the mid-late 2000s may remember the way “flow” became a key component in determining just how skilled an editor was — you can thank Magic Pad for that one. Or the slew of “candy videos” that popped up everywhere, thanks to Attack of the Otaku and Skittles.
That all but ended once YouTube took off. When the .org died down, the community splintered and fragmented, and editors stopped being able to have the massive influence they once had. The whole approach to consuming AMVs also began to shift, as a younger, even more ADD generation became the main audience. No longer having grown up around FTPs and Kazaa, but around omnipresent user-friendliness and streaming, the new generation embraced the instant-access, always-available AMV content that YouTube as a platform offered. The result was, and indeed is now, that AMVs are no longer seen as works of individuals, but as things which are just there to enjoy, shrouded in anonymity.
This is both good and bad. Good, it could be argued, because the creation is now the thing at the focus, rather than the creator, giving a more egalitarian treatment to editors as a whole. This means that even if you’re nameless, your work can become recognized. Depending on why you edit, this can be extremely welcome news, especially if all you care about is people enjoying your work.
However, that same fact could be easily construed as a huge negative, if you are concerned with directing credit where it’s due. It’s nearly impossible for an AMV editor to make a name for him or herself, and “household names” are pretty much a thing of the past when it comes to the younger generations in modern AMV editing. I could point out popular videos from years ago to a new editor and there’s a good chance he may have seen them, but the likelihood that he would be able to tell you the name of the editor who made it from memory is practically nil. Modern editors no longer think the creator is important, and most AMVs are disposable. This is the culture these days.
This all rounds back to Umika because she was one of the last editors to be a “household name” in the AMV world. There are very, very few modern editors who don’t know who she is, and I don’t even mean that in the sense that they may have seen one of her videos before and recognize it if they saw it again — no, I mean they actually knew her by name and knew her videos by name as well. That such a thing could happen to the extent that it did for her in the last five or so years astounds me; I cannot even begin to count the number of random editors I’ve seen mention her or her work as a source of influence in their own. Umika was universally known in the AMV world, and as much as a video like, say, Into The Labyrinth may be known and may have shook the AMV world itself, few people could probably tell you lolligerjoj’s screen name if asked (although that might be his fault for choosing the name he did).
Beyond that, though, Umika’s videos are often (at least in my own experience) pointed to as the rough start to the trend of crossover AMVs that was (and still sorta-kinda continues to be) popular. These are, after all, the only kinds of videos she made, and you can see her style plastered all over YouTube and amvnews.ru. The color manipulation to change the video to an overriding tone, the particles, the furious camera motion and selective blurs used to hide inconsistencies between different anime, the hands, the faces, the compositing…all the complex effect work that basically defined Umika’s style wormed its way into the mainstream, and now YouTube is overrun with it. There may have been videos out there that did all this before 2010, but if there were I can’t name them.
It’s gotten played out and I’m definitely sick of it; from horrible color management to audacious ripoffs, Umika’s distinctive style has been co-opted in part or in full by every editor who’s trying to make a name for him or herself. But I don’t begrudge her that, because she did something I would have thought impossible this day and age — she became this generation’s household name. She became the editor that newcomers committed to their long-term memory; her videos spoke to these people, and her style manifested itself amongst their work, but it was her name that people are going to remember.
Honestly, I find that really cool. Unless we see some sort of monstrous change in the way that AMVs are disseminated, it’s not likely to happen again. There are and will always be editors that have followers, whose names are remembered by a few here and there, or maybe even more than that, but it may be that we’re past the point where one can really, truly immortalize oneself into the AMV fandom in the form of one’s name alone. If so, Umika was very possibly the last editor to ever do so.
I didn’t really like her videos, except for Our Tapes and Sincerity, and so I hope my using Umika’s name and work to exemplify this topic doesn’t come across as crass or opportunistic. I know there are editors out there who are really, truly grieving at the loss of Umika, her creativity, and innovation. Even if I’m ambivalent about most of her videos, I cannot deny that her videos were unique in their time, and set trends for years to come. I have enormous respect for anyone who manages to do that, even moreso in the climate she did it in.
Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of editors pass away. Some I had spent time talking to and getting to know while they were alive (Magnus/ZetZu, godix), others I only knew by name or by studio name (NME, Zabet, Quu). Every time it happens, I feel a pang, and each time it’s for a different reason. I can’t watch More Than Enough without feeling a sense of emptiness; I can’t vote for Most Helpful in the VCAs without wondering if godix would still be campaigning for the nomination; I can’t watch anything by More Than Toast Productions without wondering what the people who made these videos were like. In the case of Umika, it’s no different — it feels like another thread connecting me to another time in the history of AMVs has snapped. Even though I never spoke with her, and never watched most of her videos until tonight, her name was very well known to me, and it was always, to me, a modern representation of the time when editors were valued above their videos. This loss then is different still from the others, but I feel confident that her name will live on for years to come.
In case you haven’t seen Umika’s work, here are links to all her videos, in chronological order of release (going by what’s on the .org, although it appears she has more on her YouTube channel):