What Is an AMV? The Ultimate Starter Kit

Listen to my song!

Before official anime streaming, before Adult Swim and the DVD bubble, fans recorded their favorite shows on tape and passed them around. Some of these fans, like AnimEigo founders Robert Woodhead and Roe Adams, subtitled their favorites via the ultimate 1988 tech hack—a Macintosh II and a ColorSpace II video board. But others found another way to promote their favorites: music videos. Production was as simple as recording footage and music over a blank tape. The results were the first animated music videos or, as they are now called, the AMV.

According to Patrick Macias in The Japan Times, the first AMV on record was James Kapotsztas’s “All You Need is Love” in 1982. Its successors were screened at conventions and traded via video tape. Technology has changed since then. So has the process. Today’s videos are made using sophisticated video editing software and distributed online. Many feature effects, filters and even original animation. They range in size and scope from short and snappy clips edited for TikTok to epics exceeding ten minutes in length.

Copyright law and the passage of time threaten to bury the medium’s past and present. But fans of all ages still use the format to channel love, angst, humor, and feelings that are tougher to describe.

The Earnest Pitch: “Hold Me Now,” Marissa Panaccio

This AMV contains spoilers for Princess Tutu.

One of my favorites is “Hold Me Now” by Marissa Panaccio. This video mixes the 2002 anime series Princess Tutu with the song “Hall Om Mig” by Nanne Grönvall. Princess Tutu combines the elegance of ballet and the pageantry of magical girl shows with just a bit of spicy fairy tale cruelty. It’s a great show that I’d recommend to anyone. But the fact that the title includes the words “princess” and “tutu” has scared a handful of folks away over the years. It doesn’t help that the series is now over twenty years old.

“Hold Me Now” makes a case for Princess Tutu as a dramatic powerhouse. It splices footage from the show’s promotional video (which includes unique footage) with clips from the series itself. Panaccio foregrounds the tangled web of relationships between Duck, Fakir, Rue, and Mythos. Of particular interest are Rue’s selfish actions (and sorrow), as well as Mythos’s gradual corruption. The ending lifts imagery directly from Princess Tutu’s finale, including crow-infested towns and an endless desert of dancing skeletons.

That’s not to say that “Hold Me Now” betrays the humor of Tutu. This is a video that begins with ballet dancers stepping en pointe to Grönvall’s beat. Princess Tutu will always be the tale of a talking duck that transforms into a ballerina princess. “Hold Me Now” just asks the viewer to acknowledge that this simple fact is extremely awesome. There’s a reason that fans have been introducing their friends to the show via this AMV for years, even though it’s loaded with spoilers.

The Gimmick: “It Rhymes,” keiichiface

This AMV has spoilers for Puella Magi Madoka Mgica as well as the film Rebellion. It also features blood, suicide by gun, murder by strangling, and exploded magical girl mascots.

Not every AMV is as focused as “Hold Me Now.” In fact, some AMVs happily pick and choose from many different anime series. Sometimes, this means highlighting what these series share, as BecauseI’mBored1’s recent video “Double Take.” At other times, it’s a convenient source for match cuts, as you can see in ALINCO’s output. I’ll admit, however, to preferring AMVs that tell stories over AMVs that specialize in technical tricks. The latter needs a very good gimmick to impress me.

keiichiface has built a reputation on outrageous gimmicks. From the manga/anime fusion of “Real Ais Realize Real Lies” to the indescribable chaos of “2006 was a great year for music,” every video of hers pushes boundaries. “It Rhymes” utilizes a four-panel grid to convey the headspace of Madoka Magica antihero Homura Akemi.  Panels alternate and combine on the beat, leading to information overload that demands multiple viewings. The chosen song, “Erased” by They Might Be Giants, channels cosmic fatalism. When the universe is rigged to grind the bones of little girls to dust, what is there to do but laugh?

Madoka Magica as a series adores surfaces: mirrors, glass windows and doorways hiding other worlds. “It Rhymes” pulls that theme straight to the surface. It’s a literal window into hell, a television blasting dead static. You are aware throughout that you are watching an AMV. But that is the point. Just as the sterile architecture of Madoka Magica disguised twisted homemade witch labyrinths, “It Rhymes” buries a real core of hurt beneath its dazzling technical exercise.

The Gag: “True Facts,” Kireblue

This AMV includes spoilers for Beastars. It also includes homophobia, references to conversion therapy, racism, nudity, gore, death by knives, death by guns, drug references, death by bombing, inappropriate language, antivax sentiment, references to masturbation, body horror, references to Nazism, fascism, and the Klu Klux Klan (by way of British politics), implied bestiality and claiming false evidence of sexual harassment and assault.

“True Facts” by Kireblue is an entirely different kind of gimmick AMV. It stars famed internet sex symbol Reigen Arataka explaining the facts of life (as taken from Dan Bull’s song “True Facts”) to his hapless ward Mob, such as, “vikings never wore helmets with horns. They never even wore pants and trousers at all.” There’s three levels of jokes here:

  1. Dan Bull, in character, thinks vikings were naked
  2. Reigen is just confident enough in his stupidity to believe this
  3. Kireblue cuts this with vikings from Vinland Saga in their underwear

The joy of “True Facts” is in matching the right visual prank with each lyric. “Poland stole and revolved the pole that holds the Indonesian flag” becomes a joke at the expense of Patema Inverted (Poland Inverted?) “Bambi was banned in Banbury for being too gory” hilariously cuts straight to Beastars. Some cuts are fairly complex, like a line about John Lennon and Paul McCartney switching from a Mr. Osomatsu riff to the Zombieland Saga girls dancing in chicken suits.

Videos like this are best watched in a crowd of rowdy people that shout and applaud when their favorite shows appear on screen. Groaning at the references to Michael Jackson and Harvey Weinstein is very different from the comfort of your home. What pushes this video over the top for me, though, is its effectiveness as a Reigen character study. Is Reigen being sincere, or is he teaching Mob a valuable lesson about conspiracy theories? Is it both? I’ll never get tired of seeing him bang away at his keyboard regardless.

All Vibes: “constant repeat,” sailormoonfreak

This AMV includes nudity.

Critic Autumn Wright once said that the AMV is “about the fleeting passage of an intense desire, of feelings that are necessarily unresolved. Of pining, yearning or longing.” That fits sailormoonfreak’s “constant repeat” to a T. It’s a Sailor Moon video made out of fragments: Usagi and Mamoru happy, Usagi and Mamoru fighting, Usagi transforming, Mamoru trapped. Overwhelming love coexists with romantic anguish. sailormoonfreak says in the comments that she “started working on this 4 days after being broken up with,” and you can see the dissociation that comes with separation and a major life change all over this video.

sailormoonfreak edits the footage of Usagi and company to move in sync with Charli XCX’s song, “Constant Repeat.” “When you’re lonely,” it goes, “do you ever think about the magic in me?” At these moments it feels as if “Constant Repeat” was written for this AMV, rather than the other way around. What makes this video, though, is when sailormoonfreak cuts to black on the beat. It’s a simple trick that matches the big teenage emotions of Sailor Moon perfectly.

There have always been folks that have chafed against the Usagi and Mamoru pairing in the anime series, regardless of the fact that their relationship is central to the manga and the Sailor Moon Crystal series and films. Isn’t it weird that Usagi and Mamoru are so mean to each other at the start? Should Mamoru have broken up with her when he did in Sailor Moon R rather than talking it out first? Those contradictions are at the heart of “constant repeat.”

The Retro-Epic: “This City Made Us,” SynaesthesiaAMV

This AMV contains flashing images.

Bubblegum Crisis has everything you’d want from an anime OVA that began production in the late 1980s: robots, great music, explosions, and impeccable vibes. Unfortunately, it is also nearly forty years old. The anime industry is too busy promoting contemporary Shonen Jump and light novel adaptations to spend time marketing the classics. It’s up to small distributors like Discotek and boutique streaming sites like RetroCrush to excavate anime’s past.

AMVs play a role in this process, and that’s where “This City Made Us” comes in. It’s a nearly six-minute epic that sets Bubblegum Crisis to a song by Mega Man concept band The Protomen. After a slow start, the video ignites the engines and launches off into space. Every image from that point hits like a hammer. Every emotion on screen is big and loud. People scream. They punch robots with their bare fists. All of this is laced with footage from the OVA’s opening number, “Konya wa Hurricane.” The AMV ends not with a battle, but with musicians wailing on their guitars as a motorcycle tears through the night.

Up until this point, I’ve always associated Bubblegum Crisis with Gen X fanfiction writers on TV Tropes. I’ve never felt compelled to check it out. “This City Made Us,” though, turned me around. That is the power of the AMV. Watching several episodes of an anime production is a commitment. Watching an editor’s specific take on that production is a joy. While I don’t know just how faithful SynaesthesiaAMV was to the original series, I do know that “This City Made Us” rocks.

The world of AMVs doesn’t end there. How about MegaAMV’s 15-minute tribute to Holst’s “The Planets” featuring Revue Starlight? The elaborate music video parody that is Datadog’s “Woolongs for Nothing?” vivafringe’s sprawling concept AMVs? We’ll be diving into these and even stranger corners of the medium in future installments. Until then, don’t forget: the AMV is limited only by skill and the imagination, copyright be damned.

Big thank you to our supporters

From their continous support, we are able to pay our team for their time and hard work on the site.

We have a Thank-You page dedicated to those who help us continue the work that we’ve been doing.

See our thank you page

Join our Patreon

With your support, you help keep the lights on & give back to our team!

Check out our Patreon!