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The Ninth Inning

I'm not a sports fan. In high school I was large enough for football, but not aggressive; tall enough for basketball, but not agile; long-legged enough for track but not fast. I tried all the sports but with the exception of track was uniformly bored by them. It didn't help that my father had chosen to vicariously live out his own sports dreams through me.

So today I bask in my adult freedom to completely ignore the world of sports. Except for a few high-profile names, I manage to be blissfully unaware of who the stars of various sports are, or even what the key teams are. In many cases, I can dumbfound my friends by being unable to name what sport a team name is associated with.

Not that I think sports is the domain of dumb sweaty jocks reveling in displays of brute strength as overmuscled men butt heads on muddy fields. I know that each sport has its strategies and tactics. I understand that for many, a sport can be an entire field of knowledge and speculation. Fantasy baseball leagues are not born out of a vacuum. Yet while chess has strategies and tactics, I dont find myself tuning into the Chess Channel to shout for my team.

This will never change. There was a moment there, when I thought that I might be able to interest myself in baseball. The predilection for statistics, the slower, less testosterone-driven tone of a game, and the fact that several anime I like were centered around baseball, led me to believe that I could be a normal adult American male, albeit in the minority by my choice of sport. I mean, cmon! Baseball isnt really the all-American pastime anymore, is it?

So I tuned the dial to some game picked at random off of ESPN, and settled in to divine the subtle nature of baseball. Five minutes later I was racing for Cartoon Network and a dose of Toonami. It seems I was never to know the not-so-secret society of the sports fan, never to shout, cheer and jeer as my team tasted the agony of victory, the joy of commercial endorsement contracts. I should have guessed, since my favorite baseball drama was Princess Nine. Women's baseball is ghettoized compared to Major League Baseball, centered on men. But high school girl's baseball/romance/melodrama is right off the map.

But this year I got my first taste of cheering for a team, and really caring. This year, three members of my anime club, NOVA, were to enter into the Anime Expo 2001 Anime Music Video Contest: Dan and Terry entering a drama, and Eric entering an action/comedy piece. When I saw Dan and Terry's Kenshin video I felt I was watching a professional production. And once Eric unveiled his Trigun/Cowboy Bebop video, I was totally psyched, pumped in the knowledge that here was a form of comedic AMV such as I'd never seen before.

If you don't know what an anime music video (AMV) is, go elsewhere for an explanation, or better yet, hunt down an anime club and talk them into showing you a few. Any anime club worth it's salt will have at least a few of these, and should also have some examples of that other fan stalwart, the parody dub.

I mention parody dubs in the same breath as AMVs because they are kith and kin. Each is an example of that mongrelization of culture which occurs whenever two cultural boundaries rub shoulders. In the South Pacific you get Cargo Cults. In the Pacific Northwest you get AMVs.

I've enjoyed a handful of AMVs over the years. I've seen many more, but as Sturgeon's Law reminds us, "90% of everything is crud." And another five or eight percent is inoffensive but insubstantial, the training ground for future geniuses. It is the remaining three to five percent that I remember. While I cannot cite the authors, I remember an AMV using footage from Iczer One, set to Metallica's "Enter Sandman". I remember a hilarious AMV using footage of Ranma 1/2 and the song "I'm Too Sexy" by Right Said Fred. And my first exposure to lip-synch in AMVs, Akira's Tetsuo apparently speaking the words to "Comfortably Numb" by Pink Floyd.

These are the exceptions. I don't have a hard disk filled with AVIs of every AMV ever produced. I don't even have aging videotapes containing every entrant to every anime music video contest ever held. But Dan, Terry and Eric bring forth the video made flesh. Now I am involved. I am touched. And this year I am going to Anime Expo 2001. So I can be there, cheering, shouting and applauding as my boys, my proxy for fame, duke it out with the visiting teams.

...

That sense of immediacy is past now, as I approach my second week after Expo. Before the memories fade, I want to record here my impressions of the contest. I won't review every one of the videos shown, because even today, when production values have taken a quantum leap beyond the day when I happily watched the grainy pictures of Ranma-kun covering her breasts to the tune of "I'm too sexy for my --- ", Sturgeon's Law applies.

If all goes well, linked to this review is a table listing, to the best of my abilities, the AMVs shown in this year's contest. You can find out the name of the creator, the title of the AMV, the anime used (except when a ton were used, where I cop out and say merely 'Various'), and the music source. In a few cases, I've made some minor mistake, and somebody will correct me later. In a couple, I was unable to track down the music. Please forgive these lapses, and work with me, okay?

Each year that I go to Anime Expo, I attempt to do something unfamiliar. I'd never been to the AMV contest, so this was my first time witnessing the format. The contest may change from year to year, I can't swear otherwise. So this is one man's experience, at a single convention. Dont expect tales from the old swabby here.

Over 100 videos were submitted this year, and the MC stated that it took two days to view them all and narrow the field. The judges categorized each video into one of: action/adventure, drama, comedy. In the case where the judges were tied on what category the video belonged in, the author of the video was allowed to cast the tie-breaker vote. Since the contest, Eric has pointed me to animemusicvideos.org, and I've seen confirmed what I already believed. Odorikuruu, for instance, is classified there as 'fun', rather than comedy, and this is a much more apt category. But running a contest you have to draw the line somewhere, and as a result, some of the entries seemed like lost dogs.

Thirty videos made it into the final draft for the contest, ten for each category. I'm sorry to say that Dan and Terry's entry didn't make it. Elsewhere in this issue is an interview with our creators, so I'll let them address the whys and wherefores of that decision. Suffice to say that I was disappointed to hear the news.

The format of the contest was to present all ten videos in a category, one after the other. Once the category was exhausted, each entry was summarized by a thirty second clip, following which the MC invited the audience to applaud to express their vote, and the result was recorded using a decibel meter. The category winner was announced at the end of this review segment.

Structurally, I think there must be long experience guiding the order in which the videos were presented. Action/adventure was first. This whet the audience's appetite, keeping the excitement level high. Warming up the crowd, as it were. The second category presented was drama. I think putting this in the middle was correct, as it allowed people to settle down for a period, become more thoughtful. Closing the segments was comedy, which I would guess is always the crowd pleaser. I don't know what the historical record is, but if I had to guess, I'd guess that a comedy entry takes the overall contest most years.

Which comment anticipates the structure of the remainder of the contest. After awarding the category winners, several judges' awards are presented. Finally, the audience is invited to choose it's favorite overall winner for the year.

Without further ado, then, here are my observations of the various entrants. This is, of course, purely personal:

Action/Adventure

Under the 'Death of a Thousand Cuts' subheading, there were three entries which used the music from the movie version of 'Lost In Space'. Mostly my response was ughh. Repetition probably didn't help, but the entire concept was pretty damn obvious, so no little flash of genius showed through. Patrick Delehanty's entry (Cowboy Bebop source material) made me a little nervous, because he slipped in some quick shots of Trigun, 'anticipating' Eric's video. Joe Croasdaile's entry using Irresponsible Captain Tylor! resonated the best for me.

The second entry out got my attention. It was "I'll Probably Survive", by Scott Francis. Though in the action category, it was kind of funny, and even though the source was not as polished as Nic Neidenbach's initial entry, it just felt more entertaining. The editing was decent, matching the appropriate footage to the music. A side-effect of seeing this video is that it made me more interested in watching Gatekeepers!

I promised not to review every single stinking video, and I won't, but I must mention the third one, because it is where I began to make distinctions about what makes a successful AMV for me. Richard Reyes' "Beach Patrol" used footage from You're Under Arrest, and while technically smooth, it just seemed flat to me. He used a non-vocal musical piece, pretty much a Beach Boys pastiche of surf guitar. But the story of the video had to stand on it's own. There wasn't really any synergy between the music and the images.

On the other hand, Jesse Menendez' "EoE Dragula" mixed well-selected footage with a driving and well-matched Rob Zombie tune. I bothered to applaud for this one. I also made a note to buy the album! Charles Bathel's "All Out Of Enemies" also chose aggressive music, which I liked, but I had a harder time determining if the lyrics added much to the visuals.

The ninth entry in this category started out annoying me, but by the end I felt I knew what the category winner was going to be. Justin Emerson's "Soul of an Angel" had wonderfully matched music, excruciatingly complex cut edits, and very interesting choices of story integration with the lyrics. The audience seemed to find some of the incongruities funny, such as calling a clearly defeated child "the bravest soul I've ever known", but I found it very powerful. This by the way did win the category.

Drama

About this time I'd gotten used to taking notes in the dark, and I was getting into the contest more. I'd seen Justin take the cake, and I wanted more. I thought that many of the videos from the Action/Adventure category were well done, but I didn't think they were of a calibre with Eric's video. "Soul of an Angel" was very touching, and very polished, but I still felt Eric held the ace. Still, it was very hard to tell where the audience would go, as they had been wildly enthusiastic about videos I couldn't really get into. So entering the Drama category, my faith was somewhat shaken. Could my team win?

Ryan Tharp read my mind and gave himself automatic bonus points by choosing Kareshi Kanojyo no Jijyo for his source material. "Her Circumstances" had totally appropriate music (Story of a Girl). The source video was not up to the top competition, but I applauded for this one vigorously.

The secret spice of this category was the perhaps unintentionally hilarious "One More Day" from the folks at Otaku Outpost. Using music from Les Miserables, and footage from Macross, made for a very disconcerting mix, and the resulting cognitive dissonance initiated a positive tsunami of laughter from the audience. I don't care what reasoning the judges used in categorizing this thing. It should have been in comedy, by god!

I want to say good things about "Ruri In Trance" because it was competent and I liked the music, but by this time my palate had been spoiled by crisp editing and good storytelling. Image pieces were just not reaching me. I think this is a weakness I spotted in several of the AMVs in the drama category, and some in other categories as well. That is, my own reaction to mood pieces was generally, so what? That is why most (but definitely not all, as you shall see) AMVs with non-lyric music pieces just left me cold.

Ronald Ladao and Vlad Pohnert both put the lie to the last paragraph. "Nature's Scar" was a masterful integration of imagery and mood music. "Memories Dance" was still more powerful, combining choice images with visual effects to lace together a message that didn't need to be propped up with lyrics. The black and white photograph motif which linked all the images made a powerful impression on me by the end of the video.

Now I was worried. "Memories Dance", the ninth entry for Drama, took the category. By now, the total stranger to my right was pointing out to me that the ninth entry in each category had won. Was this some kind of magic sports synchronicity, like the ninth inning? Was some total rube going to luck into slot #9 in the Comedy block, and steal home plate?

Anyway, coming into the Comedy category, we had two strong entries to challenge Eric. And we hadn't even seen the competition in his own category!

Comedy

It's simply frightening how many of these I really enjoyed. I'm just a pawn of the easy crowd pleaser, I guess. Looking over the entries, there are seven that I find memorable, and hope to see again. Nevertheless, I felt a lot more comfortable in the category with Eric's entry, as he was so much more sophisticated and fun than anything else in the category. As we inched toward the end and his entry didn't show, and didn't show, and the other entries proved to be fun, but not up to par, I felt better about the category. My boy was going to win.

At this time, Alan beside me had me unveil the digital video camera so that we could record the sound, capturing the audience reaction. He didn't plan to film, as there were security people posted everywhere threatening to confiscate any video equipment on the spot. So now I was a felon as well as a sports fan!

The judges put their best foot forward by placing Tim Park's "Right Now" entry first. If any comedy video had a chance of beating Eric's, it was this one. I won't try to describe it except to say that it was totally tooled to the fan base, and had many belly laughs in it.

"Mambo #5" and "Shiro Shonen" were both fun, the latter also quite funny. "Anime Polka" was a chaotic frenzy of goofy matches to Weird Al Yankovic's "Polka Power!", while "I'm Super" was a much needed video adaptation of Big Gay Al's song from South Park.

Next came the virus. Alan and I were both infected, and I must say I've never enjoyed being sick so much. "Odorikuruu" had images which had us puzzling (where is that from? who are those singers?) and tapping our toes, to the music of Elyssa, singing Mamboleo. Alan and I both rushed for our Internet connections to hunt down this song (and Alan got the video, which I will promptly mug him for), it's that good. Kids, source material is everything! While it didn't win the category (thank gods for that!), it did get a Judges' Award, which it richly deserved.

After Comedy Entry #8, Noreen Frost's "You Spin Me Round", which was okay, came the moment of truth. Eric Kobet's "Tainted Doughnuts" came on the screen, claiming slot #9. At first the audience was quiet. I was worried, but they were merely absorbing the premise established by the opening sequence. As the music started, people around me started moving to it, titters escaped, and finally, outright laughter.

The response was very uneven, sometimes lapsing into another silence. I didn't quite know what to make of that. When I first saw Eric's video at a NOVA meeting, I felt it was pivotal, making strides in the artform which I'd never seen before. After seeing twenty-eight other AMVs, I still felt that way, but I was no longer so cocky. Clearly there were a whole passel of sophisticated young guns out there with their eyes on the prize. Still, despite my worries as a fan of the sport, rooting for my 'team', I couldn't help being absorbed by the story once again.

Finally the 'punchline' was delivered, the video was over, and after a moment of silence (stunned silence, as it turns out), the audience reacted. They went wild! I was elated. I felt vindicated. My instinct had been right. Can you see how even though I was surely glad for Eric that he was clearly going to be the winner (at least of the category), that I was also undergoing some transference here? I was the Monday morning quarterback. I was able to inhale that sweet smell of success and consider some of it my own, though I had done no more than cheer for my pick.

Attending the Con, watching Dan and Terry enter, then not even be let out of the gate, well, I knew that feeling already. I felt for them, and I have to honestly say that their video was head and shoulders above several of the entries that made it. They were the victims of popularity. They didn't manage to stride the thin line between what's the crowd pleaser and what's too popular. The judges had just seen too many Kenshins, heard too many Queens. Is there an analogy to sports here? Damned if I know. I'm not a sports fan, remember?

Okay, I backed the right horse. By now everybody knows that Eric not only won the category, but took the honors for the entire contest. Congratulations, Eric! But this experience, returning to my original thesis, gave me some small insight into the notion of team spirit. I'd never really had that before.

So having had that little epiphany, will I revisit my aversion to sports? Will I hunt across ESPN and ESPN2 for that sport that will speak to me? Will I finally be able to stare at home plate for two hours without blinking? Will I now start watching Monday night football? Lacrosse? Curling? Horse racing? It's a longshot, so place your bets.

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