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Mumbling Kitsune: Comedy AMVs Need Serious Work
Unfunny comedy AMVs are no laughing matter
By Nadia Oxford
August 24, 2008
If the reeking anime swamp on YouTube is any indication, good anime music videos (AMVs) are in pretty short supply. Even so, AMV editing is an older hobby than most would imagine and it still has its true craftsmen (and women).
Anime conventions usually hold AMV contests to show off the best of the best in several categories, including drama, action and humour. Sitting through these competitions brings an uncomfortable truth to light: even the elite editors have little idea about the vital ingredients that make a joke universal and keeps it from aging too quickly.
With stunning drama AMVs like Nightmare (footage from Neon Genesis Evangeleon) and Hold Me Now (footage from Princess Tutu), it's easy to see that the strength of AMVs lies in drama and primal rhythm, both being a very good basis for the craft. But with full-length comedy AMVs, everything seems to fall apart before the minute mark even passes. Someone who's not steeped in the anime culture will still likely be impressed with either of the above linked videos, but they're probably not going to laugh at 99% of the comedy AMVs on YouTube. Why?
To begin with, overused pop culture references don't provide a stable backbone for any comedy routine. The Genie from Disney's Aladdin is not quite the cut-up he was in 1992, though even after sixteen years he's aged better than the average 4chan meme, or the video game reference of the week. Let's face it: everyone's tired of “Still Alive,” supercomputer GlaDOS' swan song from Portal's bizarre ending sequence. It's a shame because “Still Alive” is full of wit and dark humour. Its only crime is that it's overplayed and over-referenced. Basing an AMV around it for the sake of funny isn't doing the song or the craft any favours, but it's still done.
Still, pop culture references can be a great means of comic relief if done properly—in other words, if the reference hasn't been played out to death. Consider Kaneda's Big Adventure, a combination of Akira and Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. The shared “superbike” theme works well.
Anime humour isn't really universal, except for sight gags, which is a kind of widely-understood comedy Esperanto. Even so, not everyone comes out of the womb with an appreciation for gags about air-mallets and boob-grabbing. Likewise, such gags don't always succeed in AMVs.
But anime parodies itself often, and parody is something most viewers can grasp. The anime fandom's humour legacy doesn't lie in full-length comedy attempts, but rather the small, digestible clips found in the AMV Hell collections. A perfect example can be found at the start of AMV Hell 4: Haruhi from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya sings very briefly, “What if God was one of us?” Anyone who's seen the anime series connects to this automatically and (likely) finds it funny. Would it still work as effectively as a full-length AMV, or would the joke be stretched thin by the two minute mark?
Not every instance of AMV humour needs to be an inside joke, either. There's no denying that, especially to an outsider, anime can get completely ridiculous at times. That's part of its charm; there's really nothing else like it in the world. AMV tailors would do well to cut loose and celebrate anime's quirkiness instead of jumping to defend it every time someone makes a remark. Some AMV creators have already done as much and deserve many blessings.
It's difficult to give definitive advice about how to make an AMV truly funny. Seems as if the trick is to be subtle...except when subtlety just doesn't suit the motive (see above link). Don't rely too much on sight gags...except when sight gags are the basis for the movie.
Don't over-extend a joke, except when—well, actually, don't over-extend a joke. That's a good bit of advice for life in general.