Text version and links:
This past week, the music video for Porter Robinson’s Shelter was garnering lots of attention in the anime sphere; so I thought, what better time than now to talk about anime music videos? Considering that I’ve seen pretty much all of them, I do know of a few that I think are worth sharing and perhaps talking about.
Thanks to their typically short length and the lack of need for much in the way of narrative or sound design outside of whatever song they’re set to, anime music videos tend to be a hotbed for experimental animation techniques and concepts that we’d just never be able to get out of TV anime. A lot of it is really just experimentation for the sake of itself, and there aren’t a whole lot of truly standout videos, but personally I’ve always found it worthwhile to explore the world of anime music videos just for the chance to see new things and to broaden my perspective on what the medium is capable of. Having said that, in the process of exploring every anime music video that I could get my hands on, I did come away with a handful of truly impressive pieces that I think everyone should check out, regardless of your interest in boundary-pushing art; and I’ll be linking all of them in the description!
The world of anime music videos is fairly small, and a lot of it is interconnected. There’s a handful of directors and animators who work almost exclusively on anime music videos, and certain musicians who have a tendency to commision animations for a majority of their singles–not to mention all the Hatsune Miku musicians who have full-blown 3DCG videos for all of their major songs. Out of everyone working primarily in this tiny industry, my favorite person would probably be director and animator Kousuke Sugimoto.
Sugimoto splashed onto the scene in the late 2000s with his highly colorful and energetic animations; the best of which is The TV Show–a lighthearted satire of modern society as nothing but a sequence of shows within shows which all start to bleed into and subvert one-another. The tiny scenes in this video all have a tight, rhythmic flow which they cycle through in time with the music, growing increasingly frenetic as the video goes along and ultimately leading to wide-scale chaos. This is the kind of music video that first leaves an impression with how goofy and over the top it is, and then continues to leave an impression on repeat viewings with just how detailed and funny it is, packing so many ideas into such a short space and communicating all of them well.
It would be hard to pick my favorite Sugimoto video between the TV Show and this next one, but his video for Sing In My Own Way by Handsome Kenya certainly has the more imminently memorable concept. The singer-songwriter goes about his day normally as the representations of himself as a bunch of different instrumentalists split off from himself and end up getting caught up in their own business. It’s like a day-in-the-life story that ends up showing us half a dozen days in the life, reaching various levels of abnormalcy, and all culminating, once again, in wide-scale chaos; seems to be a hallmark of Sugimoto’s, and rightfully so, as he’s damn good at portraying it.
If I have one complaint about The TV Show and Sing In My Own Way though, it’s that I didn’t really care for the music in either video. Sugimoto’s next work, though, with a Russian alternative grunge band, has an awesome and hilarious song that the video adapts in a pretty literal way. It’s nothing all that complex, but the chorus is a sort of punchline that I just don’t want to spoil. This video is a lot more subdued both in color palette and animation than Sugimoto’s previous work, but I still had a lot of fun with it; just make sure you have captions on when you watch it.
Sugimoto has produced a small handful of other music videos, some of which are a bit more normal and at times not even animated, but his last one that I’d fully recommend is yet another Handsome Kenya song, this one called Tooryanse. It uses a mixed media approach of what seem to be animated photos of the actors overlaid with these really beautiful and trippy color textures reminiscent of something like Mononoke or Sayonara Zetsubou-sensei. This one sees Sugimoto revisiting his propensity for the epic in a big way, but unfortunately I could only find it viewable on Nico Nico Douga, so I hope that you can figure out how to navigate the site and to make an account to view it.
Another music video director of whom I’ve become a big fan for his unique and vibrant style is Wataru Uekusa, whose choices of color palette speak directly to my soul. Uekusa’s videos typically follow a clear formula–an adorable, precocious girl is hell-bent on accomplishing some sort of esoteric and self-destructive activity. There’s usually a bunch of crazy monsters and wild palettes, and the storylines communicate more emotionally than logically. That’s a fancy way of saying that I have no idea what the hell is going on in some of these, but I nonetheless feel like I “get it,” so to speak.
Mukougaoka Chisato Was Only Gazing is a trip and a half of a video, but more so than any of the other esoteric arthouse stuff that I watched while putting this list together, I actually felt some connection to it. The Tender March gave me similar feelings, and I would give anything to get a full blown anime series made with this aesthetic. Some of Uekusa’s later work includes two music videos for a cool Japanese rock band called A Crow Is White, those being fake!fake and Himitsu Spark, which each star a character that I assume is related to the band in some way, as she turns up in some of their other videos as well. Uekusa was also responsible for the ending video for the anime series Punch-line, which is obvious in retrospect.
Now, I’m sure that some of you coming to this video off of having seen Shelter might be looking for something a little bit more narrative-driven and emotional than what I’ve presented so far–so here’s a few stories which fall more into that vein.
Kanamewo is a tragic love story about a young woman who finds this weird alien frog tree girl thing laying around, takes her home, nurses her back to health, engages in a burning, passionate romance with her, and then learns that for this creature, life may yet be fleeting. It’s a very simple story, but presented with a really rough and raw aesthetic that makes all of the emotions feel intense and heavy, and it’s set to a fucking incredible post-rock song which is probably my favorite musical accompaniment for any of the anime music videos I’ve seen. I’m sure it won’t be to everyone’s taste, but if you’re looking for something a little bit more raw and intense than the typical anime pop fair, then you should definitely give this a look.
If you’d prefer something more conventional and direct, however, then you might enjoy this video for the song Mudai by Amazarashii. In this case, the song itself very literally tells a story in its lyrics, and the video is a literal representation of the song, albeit with some very cool and slightly abstract watercolor artwork. This one tells the story of an artist who rises to popularity with the help of his loving partner, only to find that when he tries to express something different, everyone ends up turning their back on him. Personally, I found a lot to connect with on it, though I’m not sure how I feel about the ending. Let me know if it worked for you in the comments.
If neither of these was enough of an emotional gut-punch for you, then maybe you’ll deal better with some stuff that gets kind of heavy in context. Hana wa Saku is a song that Yoko Kanno wrote for the relief effort in the wake of the 2011 Tohoku triple-disaster which Japan is still not totally recovered from. An anime video was made for the song a couple of year later, and even though the song and video are almost painfully saccharine and go right for the bicuspid when it comes to trying to pull your heartstrings, it’s hard not to fall for it when you know that it’s speaking to something so immediate and real.
Likewise, By Your Side couldn’t be more blunt with its emotional attack of adorable stuffed animals crying over their destroyed lives; but thanks to the absolutely gorgeous-looking stop-motion work, it’s hard not to appreciate. Each of these videos has an uplifting slant to it, so it’s not like they’re going to leave you an emotional wreck afterwards, but I think both do a fine job of aiming for the feels while still making a pretty good video.
If you want something that is really gonna wreck you though, then you can’t go wrong with this classic minimalist short called Furiko, which is famous for its ability to make people cry on command. I’m not going to say too much about it since Demolition D already gushed over it in his video on short film recommendations, but suffice it to say that the hype is warranted. The guy who made this thing went on to make a bunch of other, similar videos for other Muse songs, but personally I found that once the endearing clockwork gimmick of Furiko was removed, the exceedingly overt emotional scenarios of these videos became a bit cloying. That said, there’s a similar video that I don’t think is even related to this artist for a song by Denki Groove called Hikenai Guitar wo Hikundaze, which I managed to enjoy because it had much more of a rough, rock-and-roll edge to it which made the bluntness more effective–plus the ending is awesome.
Now, on the flipside of the coin, I’ve got a few recommendations for those of you who like your emotions to be more subtle, veiled, and metaphorical. Monotonous Purgatory is an aesthetically gorgeous video made entirely using the same style of oil-on-glass animation that got so much attention in Mob Psycho 100 this year. This is a pretty dark, atmospheric, and somewhat unsettling video whose storyline, if unclear, feels like it’s probably deep if you, like, think about it and stuff. I’d say the same about the artist’s other short films as well.
If that video wasn’t artsy and esoteric enough for you, then perhaps Airy Me will be enough to hit your sweet spot. This video is just goddamn visually incredible, with an animation style that’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before and really took my breath away when I first saw it–not to mention the music is really great as well. If you’ve ever had one of those experiences with a piece of art where you’re not really sure that you understood what the hell was happening or what the point of it was, yet you couldn’t help but feel like it was probably the best thing ever and you just know that whatever it was, you loved it–that’s how I feel about this video. I’m not going to pretend that I get it–only that it made me feel some emotion that I don’t have the words to describe. It’s great.
Alright, enough of that artsy crap, let’s get to something that’s just pure, dumb, awesome fun, by looking at the work of Fantasista Umetaro. You may be familiar with this guy’s work if you’ve seen the music video for It Girl by Pharrell, which apparently a lot of people didn’t like for some reason. Personally, the only thing keeping me from stewing in bitterness over the fact that I could never become the most famous person living in Virginia Beach as long as Pharrell is around, is the knowledge that he, too, has dedicated his career to spreading the anime loli gospel around the world. Seriously, this video is adorable, and I can’t get over the fact that this is a real thing that one of the biggest pop musicians working right now used as a music video.
But that’s not the one I’m here to recommend. Umetaro’s much more interesting video is called Transfer, and it’s about the endlessly repeating cycle of the high school girl just trying to get to school on time–here represented with a constant repetition of the same handful of animation cuts with an evolving background, which changes between all kinds of cool and interesting styles, often with hilarious little alterations to the context of the girl’s run. This video is just a goddamn blast to watch and I’m glad that it exists. It’s worth mentioning as well that this video is for a livetune song, and that livetune probably has the most anime music videos of any musician out there–granted most of them are Hatsune Miku videos, but some of those are pretty okay. Also worth mentioning is that Umetaro, as well, has made a video for A Crow Is White, tho it’s not as good as the others.
Maybe you want your adorable fun with a little bit more of an underlying narrative, though, in which case I recommend She’s A Zombie, which comes from the guy who makes Teekyuu and is every bit as frantic and hilarious as that show can be. Honestly, if you’d told me that this was something which studio Trigger put together in-between episodes of Space Patrol Luluco then I would have believed you–it’s got that same kind of adorably pure romantic heart mixed with crazy action and hilarious gore. Unfortunately, only the first half of it is up on youtube, so you’ll have to hunt down the full version if you wanna see the best parts of it.
Something a lot less manic, but every bit as much fun, is probably the first purely comfy slice-of-life anime music video I’ve ever seen, Korekarasaki, Nando Anata to. Never before have I so badly wished that a music video be turned into a full show than in the case of this video. Its fantastic setting and character design work and overall pleasant atmosphere won me over so quickly that I was really sad when I remembered I wasn’t watching the first episode of a cool new slice-of-life show. More of this, please!
So alright, most of what I’ve talked about in this video has been independent animations and music videos that were made-to-order for the songs in question. But how about some cases wherein big-name animation studios went out and made music videos just for the hell of it in the name of doing something cool?
If you’re a hardcore aficionado of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli–or if you’ve seen that Demolition D video I mentioned earlier–then you may be familiar with a video that they put together called On Your Mark, which is awesome for the obvious reason that it’s a goddamn Miyazaki joint. If you love that mid-90s Ghibli aesthetic and you haven’t seen this thing yet, then you should definitely give it a look. Since a lot of you have probably seen that one, though, I’m also going to recommend this other Ghibli music video called Dore Dore no Uta. It’s nowhere near as ambitious and high-concept as On Your Mark, but it is incredibly goddamn adorable and lovable and puts a really big smile on my face.
Continuing on the subject of stuff that you’ve probably seen before, but I have to talk about it because it’s awesome, is Me!Me!Me!, the music video from studio Khara’s anime expo that made a huge splash around this time two years ago. Vibrantly sexual, intense, and wild, this video is an audio-visual assault of awesome stuff and probably has a deep message about being an otaku or some shit, I dunno man, have I mentioned how much I love teddyloid’s music and Daoko’s voice? It’s a good thing this video loops in on itself cause I could watch it all day. And if you’ve already seen the video before, but you haven’t yet seen the My Japanese Animes take on it yet, then you owe it to yourself to give that version a watch as well.
Speaking of stuff made by GAINAX but not when they were called GAINAX, I wouldn’t be able to let this video end without recommending what is not only far and away my favorite anime music video of all time, but also just one of my outright favorite anime. I am referring of course to Daicon IV, which combines the incredible, newly-discovered talent of director Hideaki Anno with every piece of awesome action animation and nerdy cultural reference that the early 80s could muster. There’s a ton that could be said about this video, from how it basically has half of the most memorable imagery from the End of Evangelion in it but fifteen years before that movie was made, and how Twilight by ELO is one of the greatest songs ever written, but Mother’s Basement already made a twenty-minute video about it, so I’ll defer you to that. Just whatever you do, make sure you don’t live too much more of your life without indulging in this masterpiece of good times.
Anywho, that’s… probably like ten or so music videos? And this video is getting long, so let’s call it a day. Support me on patreon so I can keep doing crazy shit like watching a hundred or so anime music videos in two days just for the sake of a recommendation list, and share this video to everybody. Check out my other channels for more of me and, as always, thanks again for watching–I’ll see you in the next one.
The TV Show: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQ9YtJC-Kd8
Sing In My Own Way: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ygECmAslHCI
Mukougaoka Chisato Was Only Gazing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDnMMZDNPMY
The Tender March: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-vQ5SwncXrY
Himitsu Spark: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h_26_gR7Vs8
Hana wa Saku: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1EjeLyHI144
By Your Side: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iTOcoDfbAu4
Monotonous Purgatory: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RaVu3IxxavA
She’s A Zombie (incomplete version): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eyjsGstKHpg
Korekarasaki, Nando Anata to.: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HGfbkRm1avc
Daicon IV: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-840keiiFDE
Other Good Stuff I Showed In The Video
Nihonbashi Koukashita R Keikaku: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGgBk3icgi4
Hoka Hoka Oden no Uta: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=duV_Po5SzvY
Behind A Smile: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w_eqDbmOiRQ
6 Princess: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aoTP5Aig-wU
FR/DAY NIGHT: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJaT4-EYzZI
B Who I Want 2 B: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WAGwY9ODTEQ