If you’ve spent any amount of time on YouTube, you’ve very likely to have come across an AMV, or “anime music video,” where an enthusiastic, engaged otaku edited clips of their favorite anime to songs by their favorite bands (Naruto with Linkin Park, most often, it seems). Such tributes might seem to have sprung only from the era of cheap editing software and user-generated content, but AMVs actually have a decades-long history, and with as many highs and lows as any other artform.
There wouldn’t be enough space to fit any ranking of fan-created clips here, so let’s instead look at the times when the anime industry’s biggest names mashed rock and paper, as it were.
Gainax has gone on to achieve lofty status as an anime studio, but in the early 80s, the line separating them from humble fans was a few shades thinner…
Prior to their official formation, the group produced amateur animated shorts to premiere and sell at the Daicon anime convention. Labors of love (with intense labor put in), the shorts were basically full-motion equivalents of the unauthorized fan art prints you’ll find in artist alleys today. The final, ambitious short is set to the Electric Light Orchestra’s “Twilight” and features a Playboy bunny surfing on a magic sword past… basically every character from pop culture.
Seriously, Darth Vader, Spider-Man, and the Xenomorph all make appearances alongside Japanese icons like Godzilla, Ultraman and Gundam.
Several of Gainax’s big names were involved, but Evangelion mastermind Hideaki Anno is the most famous. The future Gainax crew never cleaned the song with ELO, or asked for Playboy for permission, or got any of the myriad other intellectual property owners’ approval. So, suffice to say, the video’s never been officially released.
It’s rather easy to find online, though. Just google “Daicon IV.”
“ON YOUR MARK”
Turnabout became fair play throughout the 90s, perhaps, when several Western acts started appropriating anime snippets for their music videos. Recall Matthew Sweet’s “Girlfriend,” KMFDM’s “Juke Joint Jezebel” or, of course, Michael Jackson’s “Scream.” However, none of those clip shows are as memorable as the highly-detailed piece Studio Ghibli produced to accompany “On Your Mark” by Japanese rock duo, Chage and Asaka…
Like a sped-up summary of the most epic action/fantasy/cyberpunk/roadtrip movie ever, the promo shows two commandos laying siege to a fanatical cult’s urban stronghold, liberating an imprisoned angel and then taking her on a peaceful drive into the country. It’s a simple scenario, leaving plenty of room for any viewers to project their own story specifics.
Hayao Miyazaki directed it, reportedly while stuck in a creative rut during the pre-production of his masterpiece, Princess Mononoke. As such, it exists as a fascinating sidebar in his studio’s history. While Mononoke was the first Ghibli feature to supplement hand-drawn animation with computers, this was actually the director’s first experiment with such tools, and you can just see how thoroughly he’s testing their limits. Every frame is rendered with overwhelming detail, making you seriously wonder if this might some of the most expensive seven minutes of film ever produced.
Why not see for yourself?
The magnum opus of this particular sub-genre arrived most triumphantly in the early 2000s. How does any music video for a single song compare to one bringing an entire album to life?
Daft Punk’s aesthetic has been always been retro futuristic, and it couldn’t get any more so than when the duo partnered with an actual retro futurist to turn their album Discovery into Interstella 5555. From Space Pirate Captain Harlock to Galaxy Express 999, Leiji Matsumoto crafted anime’s most baroque sci-fi epics in the 70s. Who better then to execute this French duo’s far-out fable about an evil record exec kidnapping and re-branding alien super group, the Crescendolls?
Equal parts rock opera and space opera, this wordless adventure has all the colorful, neon excess of a lovechild Xanadu and The Phantom of the Paradise might spawn. And the imaginations behind it are so unrestrained, they do actually suggest that Mozart, and all the greatest musicians in all of history, may have actually been blue aliens.
Watch it with enough room cleared in your living room for dancing. And try not to cry too hard over the sacrifices that must happen to get the Crescendolls back to playing the music they were meant to play.
Featured Image Credit: Virgin Records