Anime music videos, fan-made videos where music is paired to anime video clips, have a universal appeal, to the point where you can’t imagine a fandom convention (including comics, and sci-fi and fantasy, as well as anime) without some AMVs (anime music videos) being shown. Most anime conventions feature AMV competitions, where creators duel it out on the screen. Nan Desu Kan, for example, offers the “Asuka” for several categories, including Action/Adventure, Drama/Romance, Comedy/Parody and Category X, an ambiguous category for videos that showcase technical and artistic expression over theme. They also offer an award for using video game footage, as well as the general Best in Show award.
Other conventions have AMV Iron Chef competitions, where creators duel on the fly with the same source video and audio, editing and combining these “ingredients” to create an AMV in their own style. These competitions can either be live, over the course of one to two hours, or over the Internet beforehand.
AMVs were born from the Internet and in particular, DVD technology, which made acquiring raw and/or clean video sources easier. (“Raw” refers to straight-from-Japan anime; “clean” is any video without subtitles or other on-screen text.) That’s not to say that AMVs didn’t thrive during the heyday of VHS; “Apocalypse Pooh,” one of the earliest recorded AMVs, which mixed the classic Winnie the Pooh cartoon with audio from Apocalypse Now, dates from 1987. In fact, credit has to be given to these early pioneers, who had incredible skill with video and audio equipment, where splicing was more than just a click away. With the creation of home studio tools, such as Adobe Premiere and After Effects, iMovie and Windows Movie Maker, anyone with enough RAM and memory for uncompressed video and audio on their computer can make an AMV. That doesn’t mean that it will be a fandom-evolving video (such as Doki Doki Production’s “Right Now Someone Is Reading This Title”), but you have the tools to make something potentially special and cool.
The Internet gave AMV creators an instant medium for distribution, praise and criticism, and somewhere to host their movies, although videos on free webspace sites usually exceed their bandwidth in days. The website central to the AMV hobby is titled appropriately enough, AnimeMusicVideos.Org. It provides how-to guides, a search engine for people to actually find your video, space for comments and rating on the basic criteria that videos are typically judged upon at competitions (e.g. lip-synch, clarity, theme, music, SFX), and hosting for paying members.
Legally speaking, anime music videos float in the limbo of fair use laws. While creating an AMV isn’t a crime, as you presumably own a copy of the original media, distribution and possibly showing them lies on the line between private use (usually the definition of acceptable fair use) and public use, which requires permission from copyright holders. As AMVs usually consist of a hodge-podge of unlicensed and licensed properties, this is a very messy situation. However, as no property owners as of now have contested the right of AMVs to use their works, AMVs are seen as “street legal,” for now.
The vibe among the AMV community is that AMVs are the anime equivalent of doushijin, original and fan-produced manga. They view their videos as fan tributes, as expressions of character pairings (fan-favorites or canon) and as providing new content deriving from the original source, such as a new ending. Several Japanese anime industry professionals have attended and judged AMV competitions at major US conventions, expressing their approval of AMVs, thus the AMV creators themselves feel that their videos have some legality. After all, many of these professionals found their start in making fan content.
However, US distributors often hold the opposite position in regards to AMVs, to the point of sending cease-and-desist letters to creators and websites, such as Youtube and Google Video hosting anime music videos incorporating video content from anime series distributed by their company. This has bloomed over to the recording industry, with labels requesting the removal of videos showcasing their artists. The most notable case has been AnimeMusicVideos.Org being contacted by Wind-Up Records, which requested the removal of all videos containing music from Evanescence, Creed and Sleether. (Judging from the videos I’ve seen in the last few years, that would take out a huge chunk of videos. Angst is in.) Once fans of the bands and of AMVs heard about this demand from out of the blue, Wind-Up Records received a lot of hate mail. Rumor last had that they were threatening to shut the website down. However, AnimeMusicVideos.Org is still vigorously alive, along with the AMV community, blending the line between amateurs and professionals in animation.
To round this up, I’ll include some of my favorite AMVs, past and present: