'Iron Editors' Test Anime Music-Video Skills

Do-it-yourself music videos are all over the Internet. They've been especially embraced by fans of anime — Japanese animated cartoons. Amateur video editors recently battled in an "Iron Chef" style competition at a Baltimore anime convention.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And now let's get the latest on do-it-yourself entertainment. People are making their own music videos to go along with their favorite songs. This practice is especially popular with fans of anime - Japanese-animated cartoons. The talent and skill of those amateur video editors was on display at a recent anime convention in Baltimore, and NPR's Neda Ulaby was there.

NEDA ULABY: Anime is a fantastical form that comes in full-length movies or episodic TV shows. It's about happy kitty cats, intergalactic bounty hunters or saucer-eyed school kids with robots that jumped out of their heads.

(Soundbite of anime cartoon)

Unidentified Man #1: Quit playing. It's got (unintelligible).

ULABY: Anyone with cheap, easy-to-use editing software can load up shows like "Hooley Cooley" into their computers, chop them up and use the bits to make their own music videos. YouTube has thousands of them, despite music industry pressure over copyrighted songs.

(Soundbite of music)

ULABY: Part of the wonder of these videos is the span of tastes they reflect. Each video weeds together clips of their creator's most beloved shows, matched to music to evoke moods or suggests stories. It's a twin act of fandom, marrying a great song to a great show.

Mr. BOB BABCOCK (Aerospace Engineer; Anime Music Editor): It's very much like any artistic endeavor, except the medium is we're with working with computers and music and video.

ULABY: Bob Babcock is an aerospace engineer by day and an anime music video editor by night. He is now mingling with his kind at Otakon - one of over a hundred anime festivals held so far this year in the U.S. Otakon drew over 20,000 fans - many of them costumed like their favorite characters.

Babcock says anime's had a following in this country for decades, but it really took off about 10 years ago when Japanese kids' cartoons like "Pokemon" were dubbed into English and syndicated. Now you can find anime clubs at nearly every U.S. college and tons of high schools. At Otakon, young people rush to compete in a music video trivia contest.

Unidentified Man #2: Here we go.

ULABY: The players must identify the shows used in the videos. Each mixes in dozens of them in clips that last just for seconds.

Mr. SIKER ALEXANDER(ph) (Contestant, Trivia Contest): "Perfect Blue?"

Unidentified Man #2: Yes. That was there.

Unidentified Woman: "Angelic Glare?"

Unidentified Man #2: Yup.

Mr. ALEXANDER: "Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya."(ph)

ULABY: Twenty-two-year-old Siker Alexander(ph) won the contest. He's dressed in a futuristic military outfit. Alexander watches homemade anime music videos -or AMVs - on a specialty Web site based here in the U.S. that has almost 700,000 members. Alexander is thrilled by the chance to see AMVs mixed live in the convention's Annual Iron Editor Contest.

Mr. ALEXANDER: A lot of us watch AMVs for fun, and it's kind of cool to see one being made like right there live in front of you. And it's sort of got that suspense that "Iron Chef" has in that it's more interesting to see the results of something like this when people are unprepared.

ULABY: Two young men are selected to compete with two video editing systems, five animes and two hours to make a music video onstage in front of hundreds of cheering fans. Jess Heller(ph) and Bryce Wynant(ph) usually devote weeks, even months, clipping, syncing and compositing.

Mr. BRYCE WYNANT (Contestant, Annual Iron Editor Contest): You're really under pressure, and you've really got to get it done because the audience -ultimately, this is not a competition. It's an event to entertain. And you have to make something worthy of entertaining them.

ULABY: What goes to your head when you have to put together an animated music video in two hours?

Mr. WYNANT: Oh, crap.

ULABY: The two know what the titles are in advance, but, as on the cable show "Iron Chef," the judges throw in a secret ingredient at the last minute - a mystery anime. Contestants must adhere to a theme. This time, it's "The World's Last Hope." And all of the source anime has apocalyptic elements.

Unidentified Man #2: Editors, you guys have about 30 minutes left.

ULABY: The judges are also young guys who've made their name as talented AMV editors. They hold their own contests in their basements. They announce the new Iron Editor by playing his video on the big screen.

(Soundbite of anime cartoon)

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #3: (unintelligible)

ULABY: Judge Kevin Chui(ph).

Mr. KEVIN CHUI (Judge, Annual Iron Editor Contest): Bryce's video is so epic, like, and it really seemed like it had, like a story, like conflict. And at the end, he had this, like, epic battle at the end. And I was like, wow, that really fits the theme. Because we really thought the editing was there, the secret ingredient's there, but Bryce had the theme, like, hands down. It was fantastic.

ULABY: Price Wynant took home a medal, a stock of DVDs and most importantly, a new reputation among his peers.

Mr. WYNANT: It feels amazing. I never expected it, because I'm, like, you know, I'm a new compared to everybody else. Before I start editing, the people that make good videos, they're like my heroes, like Jeff, Allen, there's whole tons of people that just make amazing videos. And when I get to meet them, I'm like, oh my God, like a celebrity. I mean, now I'm friends with them, but before it's just, like - it's just crazy. It's like living like a Hollywood life.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ULABY: The new Iron Editor headed off into the night with an entourage of guys and girls in grubby T-shirts, glitter, cat ears and wings.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

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