Friday, July 15, 2011

Video Killed the Video Star: Anime Music Videos Leave Gamification Vaccume


How AMVs became the bad cholesterol of anime fandom.

The Anime Music Video (AMV), was once a potent and significant component of American otaku community development and enabler of social mobility within the various strata of fandom. It has since devolved into the Toxoplasma Gondii of Anime fandom everywhere, spreading to everything, and accomplishing nothing.

Kill all the hyoomans!

Technological realities once kept the supply of AMVs down to a low stream of relatively few per year for two reasons. First, the editing skill, available anime video library, and hardware needed to actually complete an AMV used to be quite significant and unattainable for many otaku. Such limitations included age, financial reach, and most importantly, talent. This resulted in the AMV being a time consuming effort, undertaken by the few individuals who were confident enough in their abilities and resources to produce a proper AMV. Second, once made, AMV distribution was extraordinarily limited to basically the convention circuit, and a few clubs that managed to get a copy of AMV competition reels or talk Duane Johnson into making a copy of his collection on VHS. They were rare and they were unique, making the level of "otaku bragging points" they carried pretty high on the totem pole.

The AMV is still a part of otaku culture, but this art form has gone from something of high-value, to the lowest possible level of filler activity on par with fanfic writing. Sure you might find one out there that only slightly sucks ...maybe (talkin about fanfics here), but there are millions of poorly written fanfic linguistic vomitbags being churned out by high school freshmen who've got a boner for Gurren Lagann. Neotakus who are just starting to attend conventions since the day after youtube was invented will never experience the dynamic that the AMV formerly played in the social hierarchy of otaku culture.

Lets list the factors which caused this transition. While it's tempting to just write "The Internet" for every single reason behind the downfall of the AMV as a tool of gamification, we're going to try to be a bit more specific.

The 5 Reasons AMVs are Dead*:

#5) Linkin Park: There is no single demarcation line where AMVs definitively became the bad cholesterol of anime fandom, but that year where literally every other submission in the Otakon AMV contest was Linkin Park set to "anyfuckinganimeever" comes painfully close. The viewing was painful, the premises were crap, and it got so bad so fast, that within 2 years the Linkin Park AMV had degenerated into a fucking parody of itself.

What no one realized at the time, was that the rage virus was out of the monkey, and AMVs now became the battleground of emo Weaboo who brought the product of their own "deep" introversion to the anime fandom scene despite the fact that no one asked them to. Look, every generation goes through its "they just don't get me" phase, but what's unforgivable about the post-internet emOtaku crowd is that they shoved that into the AMV contest to the point where we actually hurt our asses waiting for all that shit to be over so we could watch the 5 funny ones at the end of the contest screening.

There's a part of one of the AMV Hell collections (I think) that is 10 Linkin Park songs set to Evangelion over about 30 seconds, but I can't find it. Just use your imagination.

Proper criticism at the time (2003-04): I know you feel a certain way you little emo bastard, but why can't you just read manga while blasting the music they play at Hot Topic? Don't shit into the pool of AMVs out there. You're seriously ruining this for everyone, junior.

#4) Self Esteem: The Mr. Rogers effect of injecting "you're super special and awesome" levels of self esteem by helicopter parents into their precious snowflakes, has had some devistating effects. In terms of AMVs it has allowed some of the crappiest shit to exist by rendering their makers immune to self-criticism and the ability to feel shame and disgust when they step up to the public stage with a work that is painfully sub-par. Perfectionism has taken a back seat to a self centered mentality of throwing out absolute garbage just to prove to others how big a fan of Ouran High School Host Club you are. This is in and of itself a gamification behavior, but has a muted effect due to other factors coming up on this list.

The day youtube dropped 5 star rating for thumbs up or down style was the day we lost our last chance, and past the event-horizon of fail.

AMVs stopped being special when some shithead decided that leaving the subtitles in the final edit was OK. If the subtitles are anywhere in the AMV, you suck - redo it! If there's a DIVX or TV station bug in the corner that comes and goes, you suck - redo it! If you start the video by matching up things litteraly with the song and then stop doing that half way through, you suck - redo it! Failure needs to be accessible early and often, for it leads to self-correction, discipline, and a productive sense of determination. Sadly this isn't happening in America because since 1975, the youth of America have always been told the lie that 100% of what they do/say/think has some sort of value in objective reality. Spoiler alert: That's bullshit.

There's a reason that amateurs aren't allowed to drive F1 cars, there's a reason that NASA rejects 99% of their applicants, and there's a reason why your AMV sucks and shouldn't see the light of day (but apparently you haven't heard it yet).

This should not exist. It should have been taken down in shame, and the person who made it should have bettered themselves with practice until they could produce something that could stand on par with what an AMV should be. Yet the comments are full of "omg! you put a character I like in there so therefore this is totally awesome! squeeee!!!!!" This is why we can't have nice things.

Proper criticism at the time (2008-Yesterday): You suck, and here a list of things you did wrong as certified by experts in video editing, rolled up inside a huge bag of shame! Yes, I know you got a whole bunch of thumbs up on youtube, but those are from 12 year olds who just happen to like Deathnote & Nickelback.

#3) "Fuck you, Japan!": No matter what happens, Japanese studios and publishers always seem to retain a fundamental lack of market understanding no matter how many times it's explained to them that things like AMVs are not piracy and that shutting them down will do nothing to protect their sales, and only generate a wedge effect, further de-humanizing themselves in the faces of American fans making them look like "faceless corporations" making lots of money and doing what they will in the face of customer input (like Apple).

In no way can AMVs really have any tangible negative effect on anime titles and brands. They are helpful indicators of brand strength, and help grow the market for a title as well as energize current customers. They don't displace sales, they don't replace the original program, no one is going to not buy K-ON because there's a 3 minute music video with a little sexual innuendo on youtube out there instead.

So what's the problem? Well, if you watched that AMV, you might notice that there were 35 different anime titles in there. How much you wanna bet that they are all from legit DVD purchases or downloads and not a single one was pirated at all? Yeah...

Studios seeing an AMV don't see a marketing tool for high-intensity and high-context customer engagement with gamification dynamics... they see a fucking bootleg of their title that someone illegally downloaded and just happened to use an an AMV! Horrible over-reaching analogy: If your child died in an accident and I downloaded their genetic code and cloned my own version using a rented uterus, it wouldn't really matter to you if you never found out. But if I kept making videos of my clone of your dead kid and shoving them in your face, you're not gonna approach things very rationally. Same thing is happening here to a lesser extreme; You're just shoving the fact that you stole their license right into the face of the writers, animators, artists, sound engeneers, directors, and office workers who make anime for a living. They're not going to see past that, and therefore continue to be hostile to AMVs.

Proper criticism at the time (1999): Gentlemen, thank you for joining me at the first international Japanese animation global marketing conference. I'm glad to see every anime studio and distribution label represented here. Now, let me tell you about multi-platform viral marketing strategies...

#2) Digital Everything: AMVs were once like hot-rod cars. People worked hard on them, stuck in very unique aspects that no one else would have access to, and then the would take them someplace where they could show them off to other people who would be impressed with their work. Otaku points would abound if you could find footage of an anime that almost no one had ever seen before, or a JPop song that was currently burning up the charts. Using multiple titles in a rapid fire mode was a pretty awesome thing to do, because it meant that this person has lots of anime and knows where to find these scenes. Almost nothing screamed "I'm more Otaku than you" louder and to more people than a top-tier AMV. The best example of this, forever and all time, has got to be Duane Johnson's "Dare to be Stupid" AMV, which at this point is pushing 15 years. Think about that.

This had incredible value, because lots of this footage wasn't easy to find at the time. It didn't even matter if you had/have no idea what those titles are, the song ties everything together in a literal sense so you don't miss out on the enjoyment factor. The elusiveness of all of the different anime titles in there, combined with the quality of the editing meant that this was worth some crazy otaku points back when there was no way your stupid ass was ever going to get a copy of this AMV for yourself.

No longer is that the case. While the digital revolution did basically create the separate but related creative forms of the"Overdub" and the "Mashup," which have as much if not more entertainment value, the damage done to AMVs was severe and irreparable. AMVs lost their ability to add value to social fandom the day a few mouse clicks could conjure up any footage of any anime almost instantly. To top it all off, it would already be encoded in a digital video form, ready to go for whatever low-end editing software you had. The result?

Somehow underwhelming.

Or just total shit.

Proper criticism at the time (2001): "Can" "Should" ...Any questions?

#1) The Fucking Internet: In this context I simply mean that it's now far too easy to just sit down wherever you are whip out a smartphone and have access to enough AMVs to litteraly occupy every second of every day for-fraking-ever... instantly. Watching AMVs was once something only available to convention attendees, and even then only for 90 minutes or so. They were so valuable that in the 1990's I would enter the Otakon AMV contest just to get copies of the other entries (they were always good though, my last was in 2002). We'd show them on the Anime Crash CCTVs every now and then to a packed house, and that was because these things were rare pieces of Otaku fandom. You'd never fill an anime store (let alone convention) these days by announcing you were going to show a few AMVs, because you could watch the same thing at home in your undies while doing 3 other things online at the same time.

Over-abundance via saturated distribution has caused just about every problem there is with the decline of the AMV. Some things should not be available to 11 year olds, and the internet enables them into producing total crap. Even enabling an entire generation of retards who can't tell which songs aren't actually by Weird Al Yancovic. Nice AMV but it's not Weird Al. Not that one either. No, not that other one, I don't care if it "sounds" like him. Really? Weird Al's own website says that's not his! And so on and so forth. The unreliability of the internet mixed with the notion that your opinions somehow have value (from #4) have combined to create a fan that literally thinks that their retarded tumor-baby of an AMV they've created from an anime they like and Windows Movie Maker is something other than a sickening creation deserving of only contempt. Contempt that you've wasted everyone's time on this crap.

The result of commoditized AMVs made possible only via the internet (nothing else could do it) has had two major effects:
A) AMVs are now not only abundant but tremendously accessible. Searching AMV libraries by theme, character, song, series, artist, etc, has become so easy, that the need to seek them out at conventions is no longer prevelant.
B) Development A has caused the value of the AMV as it pertains to the social structure of the American Otaku market market to deflate, leaving a vaccume in sources for "Otaku-points."

Proper criticism at the time (1998-99): WE'RE DOOOOOMED!

AMVs and Gamification.

I truly believe that the explosion in cosplay that has come to dominate Otaku convention culture over the past 5-10 years, was (in part) a result of the "points" vacuum created by the hyper-commoditization of the AMV. Otaku Wee'Bos could no longer tangibly rise further in the fandom hierarchy via the creation or possession of AMVs, because they were everywhere and anyone could make one at that point. This left the option of creating a costume better than those of the other schlubs as one of the few viable means to earn slight elevations in the pecking order.

Anime fans often socially interact in ways in which establish a hierarchy where rank is based on possession of items, fandom knowledge, important contacts, or other things with limited access. That means everyone is trying to out-fan each other a lot of the time (not always). I assign the term "Gamification" to this dynamic, but that's not really accurate, as "Gamification" is a more structured group activity where the channels of upward mobility are top-down designed and implemented by a central authority which engages in pull-marketing (think FourSquare). In the otaku social space, these channels of upward mobility and rules of engagement have developed organically, and therefore are also subject to intense fluctuations, so when you win you really win, but you also run the risk of a ton of worthless currency, such as AMVs.

As noted, AMVs formerly held a position of high value currency but are now pretty much worthless in that grand scheme of things:

For clarification: Rare means that the overall supply is a low ratio of AMVs to Otaku, where as and Limited Access means that there are only a few channels which can deliver AMVs to Otaku, regardless of how many AMVs there are. The rest other categories should be obvious. Such qualities made the possession and creation of AMVs a source of otaku fan authority, and the more you had, the more points you earned. Bring an AMV reel to an anime club meeting and you were god (or close).

But, the need to engage in the social activity and the gamification that such activity still entails, means that something must step up to fill that need. There have always been extreme sources of otaku legitimization; Industry Job, Published Artist, Voice Actor, Big Retailer, etc, but these opportunities are simply too few to contribute to the larger mass of regular otaku consumers (many of which are just too young for any of that) and fill the gap that AMVs have left with their devaluation. Enter cosplay:

AMV scores a little differently against Cosplay here. Rather than having all X marks, because this table of comparison is for a convention setting, where an obscure title is still worth something and where there's always an air of competition in almost everything.
In this case, Limited access means that (unless you're Danny Choo) you don't cosplay to work on the train every day, and in order for your cosplay to satisfy your own motivational needs (and thereby create intangible value), the cosplayer requires an audience. There are two kinds of audiences, passive and the engaged. An example of a Passive audience would be passers by at the Yoyogi Park entrance off of Harajuku, who were not planning on seeing any cosplayers but, there they are. Reactions can range from mild interest to recalcitrant hostility if their path to the train is blocked... or some d-bag is dressed up like a Nazi. Then there are the engaged audiences such as those at anime conventions, who have planned to see cosplay activities and competitions. Both of these audience types create value for the cosplayer, but the engaged types are more likely to provide a kind of legitimization of hierarchy when it comes to where the cosplayer fits into the rest of the otaku universe by being better or worse than average.

To that effect, I would very much like to see something like a major and indisputable source of cosplay criticism. Not constructive criticism, mean criticism. A fountain of shameful, hateful, negative sentiment, washing away the unwarranted self-confidence that enables cos-tards with terrible costumes the ability to leave the house. The collateral damage they cause with poorly made hallway-clogging inspirations for eye-bleach must be called out as harmful by the otaku public, forcing these morons to better their attempts at cosplay before stepping out in public to inflict their lack of talent on the rest of us. This will help cosplay retain a position of being something that gives those otaku who excel at it, a higher standing in the fandom, and remain a viable gamification activity. You ever see a "bad" Japanese cosplay? No. Know why? Because the Japanese still have shame, and if they suck, they don't want other people to see that. While Cosplay Hell does exist, it really needs to create a standardized rubric of cosplay fail, then feed it into the internet hate machine engines and take a more active role in discouraging every lumpy pumpkin who likes Read or Die from going to a con in some god-awful rendition of whatever character and ruin cosplay for everyone... making it worthless and spreading it everywhere... ya know, like what happened to AMVs.

Self esteem. It's a bad thing.

Final note: Discourse continues in the comments, opposing and supporting views are welcome. Comments are moderated because I get lots of spam (check out this entry to see what happens when comment mod is off). That's the only reason for moderation, real comments will be approved as quickly as possible.

* (added July 18); Well now that the internet and everyone has seen this and taken it the wrong way, I obviously have some explaining to do. I go into this down in the comments, but just in case you weren't in the mood to slog though another wall of words, "Dead" in this case was the wrong term (high-context, which only makes sense to me, because I don't get other people to read these things before they go up). I only mean "Dead" in terms of AMVs as a high-return source of competitive gamification "points" in the otaku socual fanscape. So it's only in terms of the ability to produce a fandom silo-breaking gamification value that AMVs have fallen tremendously. The enjoyment value isn't the same as gamification value, since while gamification value exists and has a specific dynamic, it (usually) does not produce as much motivation to so something as the enjoyment value which is also very real, but just not the same thing. AMVs still produce a significant quantity of enjoyment value for participants and viewers, but inadequately articulated the way that is separate from the organic competitive gamification behavior that exists in anime fandom (or almost any fandom for that matter). Therefore "dead" is more like "dry well" or "vestigial feature" or "Zimbabwe dollar" but only specifically as the gamification mechanisms are concerned, AMVs are still fun to watch and do provide a sense of satisfaction when finished.

To go even further, "Gamification" isn't even the 100% correct term here, but that's addressed in Section 2 "AMVs and Gamification" paragraph 2.



IFD-FAN said...

Well, hello there. I admit, you've got some major First-World problems on your hands, animanga fandom. Uh, I'm just a fan of cult cinema (like, live-action-like) and I've recently taken up a hobby of making MVs,. I also made one AMV, and to see how well it fares in comparison I looked around, only to be exposed me to the world of AMVs so fine-quality my faith in mankind has died.

In short, thanks for explaining the reasons behind it. ;) :(

IFD-FAN said...

Hello again. 2 AMVs, 20 live-action MVs. Would you possibly enjoy that, sir? *..^

The Angry Otaku said...

I like the Gran Turismo one. Haven't seen them all yet though. Doesn't look like you broke any rules.

IFD-FAN said...

Oh, thank you. :)