Back in December of 2006, a Russian editor named ukms[z] released a landmark video in the history of the AMV hobby called Reflections. It won five VCAs at a time when such accolades actually meant something, and put Russian editors on the map — although nowadays the spread of “effects” editors is a lot more egalitarian and not as limited to geographical area, there was once a time that the videos coming out of Russia were seen as typically more cutting-edge than most other stuff, and Reflections was among the biggest videos to advertise that. Perhaps even more importantly, though, is the fact that Reflections was maybe the first really intensive crossover video, as most people would know them today. It has all the trappings of the stuff you see littered across YouTube these days — two completely disparate anime merged together to look like they occur in the same universe, lots of masking, and a metric ton of color manipulation to hide the more obvious stylistic differences between the sources.
Although I would argue that Umika perfected the craft years later (inasmuch as such a generally derivative genre can be “perfected”), it’s impossible to watch Reflections and not see a very obvious proto-2010s crossover approach seeping through every pore of the thing, and to come to the obvious conclusion that ukms[z] was, apparently, way ahead of the curve. Sadly it was the last video he would release, but he sure went out with a bang, all while sealing his legacy in the process.
In re-watching this video for the first time in…a long time, in preparation for this post, then, I was surprised (ok, only a little surprised) to find that Reflections is one of the campiest, most horrifically dated videos I’ve seen in a long while. Crossover videos of this nature often feel this way, but Reflections fares worse than most; a monument it may be, but it’s no wonder this video has been more or less forgotten in the intervening years.
All this is to build up to the video I actually want to talk about — a video that ukms[z] released 11 months before Reflections, and one that couldn’t be more different if it tried. In fact, if there’s any similarity between them, it’s the fact that both make use of two anime that are very different, although in the case of To Fly the difference is quite a bit more extreme. Utilizing the “A Detective Story” short from The Animatrix and a little-known Korean animated film called Wonderful Days, ukms[z] juxtaposes the two in a striking, heavy-hitting way that works a whole lot better than his later technical giant of a video.
It’s also a video that thrives on understatement and subtlety; there are few cuts compared to how most people would probably be tempted to edit this song. The scenes stick around for seconds at a time — a lifetime in AMV terms, in most cases. It holds back and resists the temptation to show its hand too quickly. The monochromatic, claustrophobic Animatrix scenes contrast sharply with the colorful, expansive Wonderful Days scenes, but when those colors come on, man, they explode. It explores an intimate message of a longing for freedom that can be translated across situations into personal, social, and even political terms (am I reaching with that last one? I might be reaching with that last one).
Maybe above all though, is that it’s dead simple. Ultimately, this is why I spent so much time referring to Reflections to begin with. Pretty much anyone who looks at that video today would probably be almost embarrassed by it, at least if they were watching it for the first time. It’s so kitschy and tacky, so overwhelmingly corny and melodramatic. The effects haven’t aged well, and instead of softening the melodrama into something relatable, they accentuate all its worst properties. In short, there’s very little about that video that works — and almost nothing that hasn’t been done better in the years since. Any feelings of fondness I retain for it are purely nostalgic.
There have been a lot of discussions lately in the AMVCentral Discord channel centering around effects use in AMVs, and predictably, a lot of the younger crowd are rolling their eyes at people like me who tend to demonize (or at least question the unrestrained use of) effects in AMVs. But I think there’s a lesson to be learned here, in these two videos — one was once the absolute height of technical achievement in its day, recognized almost universally as a masterpiece of effects work and storytelling, the other was nothing but hard cuts, and was completely overlooked. Twelve years later, I know which one I’d rather be watching.