Welcome to the special edition of World Animation where this time I will dig into the doomed child of animation market: the animated music videos. If you have never really give much thoughts about those animated music videos, you’re not alone. It’s the section that hardly get discussed both in the anime fanbase and in the cartoon market, and my guess is that apart from a niche audience who follow music video and the professionals: animators and the bands alike, no one hardly know anything about it.
Animated music videos of course have a totally different approach to animation compare to short films or series, in which not only you have to make the video compelling on its own, but the animation has to support and elevate the song. That mean, you can’t pull off something like this (in which the song is clearly about being there for someone you love, even if she is “beauty queen of only 18”, but the video was about the love affair between the guy and his girlfriend’s mom. Yuck. AND IT WAS A FREAKING HIT). But here’s where it gets interesting: Animated music videos usually carry a strong artistic expressions than other media. The whole process of animating a music video (at least for indie scene) is that the band sends the director/ animator their song and some ideas on the concept of what they want in the video, then they basically leave the rest to the director. That process results in the creators have their full artistic control most of the time, thus the outcome usually one of the more striking piece of animation than the rest of animation medium.
In fact, while compiling this list, I came to a rather surprising realization: I had no setlist as a point of reference at all. There were some sites that recommend some animated videos, but the videos were all over the place; and there was no “best of list” or whatever; as a result I had to come up with the most traditional way: watching all the videos I could get my hands on to do this list. Yup, it means watching 40+ of those videos until all of them just blended and melted in my brains. But I have to say, except from the time consuming and the fatigue it caused me, it was actually a very rewarding process. Then the list I was compiling just kept getting bigger the more I watched, to the point I had made a line somewhere (otherwise I would recommend everything).
So ladies and gents, here are my 15 favorite videos out of last year from multiple music genres, with multiple animated techniques where I will address about their core concept, the style of animation they use, and how they are stand out from the rest. Really, if you have 20 minutes of break, why don’t you listen to some cool music and watch some stunning animation and gain some insights about them in the process? It’s just an episode worth of time anyways, and many of the videos just clock in at 1 minute. So watch them guys and comment which videos you like the best, or even if you like to see this kind of content every now and then; I’m fully aware this is an anime blog so it’s your call. Enjoy!
Porter Robinson & Madeon “Shelter” by A-1 Pictures
“I knew I wanted to do an anime, animated produced video in Japan. I wrote the story that happened to connect pretty brilliantly to the lyrics of Shelter. To me the Shelter video is also a story of familial love mixed with some of my own fantasies and sensibilities… There’s a significance that can be derived—passing yourself onto a new generation.” – Porter Robinson
Many of you sure have heard about this one. An original anime music isn’t something new, but for a American DJ artist who specifically requested his song to be anime-style, you know you’re in something special. As a matter of fact, the staffs of A1-Pictures had noted that the most special aspect of the production was to witness the enthusiasm of Porter Robinson about the project. For the records, I have watched Porter Robinson other videos and yup, this guy knows how to tell a good visual storytelling. Moreover, for a medium that focus prominently on mood-building and work mainly as a visual companion for the song, it’s a treat to see some video that actually attempt to tell a complete story (as you will see below, most of the time they don’t bother to try); but Shelter also pulled off an emotional ride, with awe inspiring world building and impressive animation to boost (A1 Pictures did an excellent job). This is clearly a passion project and passion project is always a winner in my heart.
Radiohead “Burn the Witch” by Chris Hopewell
“The band wanted the video to raise awareness about Europe’s refugee crisis and the “blaming of different people… the blaming of Muslims and the negativity” currently engulfing European politics”- Virpi Kettu (the video animator)
Paying homage to The Wicked Man in terms of plot and the 1960s British children’s TV programme Camberwick Green in term of its visual, the video’s stop motions character designs and settings are seemingly the most simple and brightest video out there, but the music and the subject matter make it a very unsettling atmosphere (the band purposely want the video to be lighter to what they play to “wake people up”). The topic at hand is about burning the witch after all. Radiohead is no stranger when it comes to building a paranoia mood, and this video helps raising that comfortableness to a new level. Like in Lynch movies, there’s always a sense of something hideous, decay, something really wrong right underneath the normal happy rural life. The video serves as a response against authoritarianism, some even go so far to say it as an attack against Trump’s right-wing policies. And with that paranoia mood they evoked, I believe the song pretty much nailed it.
Charles X “Can You Do It” by Quentin Baillieux
“This collaboration is intended to act as a social commentary which aims to cast light on perceived societal expectations and social norms by integrating elements and people from different walks of life to produce a striking animation. The concept of this film is born from a peaceful revolution that doesn’t spring from violence but gains momentum through mutual love.” – Charles X & Quentin Baillieux
Here comes one of the most refreshing and cinematic music videos out of this list in my humble opinions. The music video uses cel-shading technique- it’s a process of creating the animation in CGI and then flatten it by using less shading color so it appears like an 2D animation. In the video, we follow the horse-racing with a bit of political undercurrent. The video serves a social commentary: here in that world they follow different sets of rules and have different sets of expectation. Quentin beautifully merges the typically highbrow sport of horse racing with the commonly misrepresented ‘mean streets’ of Pacoima, the proud birthplace of Charles X, to challenge any stereotypes or preconceptions of race and social class which may exist in modern day society. The whole video has a compressed feeling that building up to explode: the underlying political message is compressed beneath that horse racing, that racing itself is compressed as a product of that era, and the animation fittingly work as an 3D compression. Every elements suit the theme so well that it makes the video so inviting and compelling on its own.
Whitney “Polly” by Sarina Nihei
“We talked a bunch about vulnerability. In the beginning, we were writing from a third person perspective because I don’t think either of us were ready to bare our souls completely, laying it on the line emotionally… There’s a lot of true feeling behind these songs. We wanted them to have a part of our personalities in them. We wanted the songs to have soul.” – Whitney on their debut album “Light upon the Lake”
Tokyo-based award-winning animator and illustrator Sarina Nihei directed, animated and hand-painted the entire video over the course of two months. Although this is one of the most limited-animation out of this list, it’s certainly the saddest. The main guy is having a bad breakup and what he can see around is sadness, and utterly loneliness. Both the band members had to go through their own break ups prior of writing this song, thus the song has that emotional-honest feeling going with it about breaking up. The video focuses on vices that serve as causes for broken relationships between people and also represents the idea that no one is able to understand other people’s actual feelings.
Vitamin X “About to Crack” by Marco Imov
“We like our music to be fast but also interesting, so we try to make every song different from the other. We love all kinds of punk, going from early 80’s fast hardcore, to 77 punk, and mid 80’s thrash. The title track “About To Crack” is about being trapped (in life, in society) and not being able to take it anymore.” – Vitamin X
Time for some adrenaline rush with a real PUNK sensibility here. Vitamin X, for those of you don’t know, is a Dutch Straight Edge subculture punk band. You heard of Rock & Roll & Sex & Drugs right? Well, for Straight Edge they just rock only, you could call them a vegan if you like. The song About To Crack was released back in 2012, but Brussels-based director/animator Marco Imov only completed the video in 2016. It was well worth waiting for, an eye-popping cartoon about a mischievous skeleton, leaving a trail of mayhem and violence and hard-rocking in his wake. The cartoon style owes a debt to Beavis & Butthead while paying homage to The Simpsons but that raw, unhinged energy is all its own though. In fact, the production as a whole is surprisingly well-animated, and it’s always fun to see some references from other metal bands pop up here and there on the video. It’s one of the most fun 2 minutes that you can have and for anyone at some points who feel about to crack, well, this is for you.
update: BONUS: MY FAVORITE 2016 ANIME MUSIC VIDEO (AMV)
The Witchtrip edited by KazKon (Rising Production)
Well, this admittedly come from my own bias as I’m a big fan of Monogatari and I don’t watch a lot of AMVs. If you ask me why I don’t include any of Anime Music Video on this list above, it’s because I consider them an entirely different beast. While original animated music video is more about creation, about making something new to accompany with the song, AMV is more about editing existing footage to an existing music. That said this video The Witchtrip takes a questionable aspect of the series (I’m never a fan of the fan-service in that series) and makes it to the whole new level: this video is much trippier and even more head-spinning which run like a trip into the dark and sensual desire of our characters. The video succeeds on depicting the dark nature of lust, desire and pain. It’s nothing more than an acid trip, but it’s well worth it.