ME!ME!ME!?

ME!ME!ME!?

(Originally posted on my Quora blog.) 

(WARNING! Graphic content. Parts of this piece aren’t safe for work. If Quora has certain rules against animated nudity that I’m unaware of, then I’ll edit this article accordingly to censor such nudity. All rights to the animated piece in question go to the respective creators – in this case, I think Khara owns the copyright – and analyzing the video with complimentary screenshots is under fair use. Both this article – and in my opinion, a post about the video – are pretty overdue. Thus, I’m changing the name of the blog to something more… apt. I’ll be posting rather infrequently, but in exchange, I’ll try and keep quality up and only write about things that really interest me.)

It’s a famous trope that some of the weirdest stuff on the Internet spawned in the minds of the Japanese, with their “moé”, high-pitched voice actresses, Babymetal and perverted cartoons. Oh, oh, anyone remember the strange game shows?

In either case, that trope was echoed a bit more a couple months ago with the release of ME!ME!ME! –  which, to some, was a thought-provoking masterpiece clothed in flashiness and color, and to others, a case of overly-liberal artistic freedom and weak drug regulations in the obviously over-indulging anime industry.

ME!ME!ME! is strange, colorful, sexually-charged, off-putting, aggressive, mellow, worrying and fun animation born through the collaborative efforts of music producer/DJ TeddyLoid, rapper Daoko, director Yoshizaki Hibiki (also known as HIBIKI) and Hideaki Anno’s (yes, that Hideaki Anno) own animation studio, Khara.

You may or may not have seen it – as far as I know, the general lack of easily-attained YouTube links chock-ful with the video seem to indicate that it’s under protection of some heavy copyright, but feel free to go and scour the Internet for a link of it. It won’t take you long.

A bit of background info. The video was released in November, and was part of the 日本アニメ(-ター) 見本市 – to the best of my (and rikaikun’s) ability, that’s the Japanese Animator Expo. Khara, the studio involved, is known primarly for Anno’s Evangelion Rebuild series, and has done some extra work on other prominent productions – including Mobile Suit Gundam 00 the Movie, Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. Solid State Society, Gurren Lagann, Black Rock Shooter, Aku no Hana, and Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Rebellion.

Now. Assuming you’ve watched, you may ask: “what the hell was that?” And if you haven’t, you may ask: “what the hell are you on about?”

Both queries end in the same answer – ME!ME!ME! is a condensed criticism of the otaku culture. In the very least, that’s the simplest way to look at it. If you stare long enough, it becomes a music video about the over-sexualization of society, a music video about desensitization, a music video about some male’s fears towards women, a music video about regretting the past, and a music video about how sometimes, you just want to don a mech-suit and combat an army of moé-soldiers firing at you with their ballistic mammaries.

At this point in the video you’d be going: “why of course.”

Skipping back to our initial description, however, it would help to explain what exactly falls under the word “otaku”. Let’s take Wikipedia by its word here and quote that otaku: “is a Japanese term for people with obsessive interests, commonly the anime and manga fandom.”

Historically, the term originated in the 80s. Wikipedia cites its first known usage as in an 1983 article by Nakamori Akio for Manga Burikko (Burikko meaning cutesy/child-like woman). In the article, which calls itself an “Otaku no Kenkyu” (「おたく」の件きゅ)or study of the otaku, Nakamori creates a term for a then-new social demographic of manga-maniacs while recalling his experience at the previous year’s Comiket (コミケット) – essentially a Japanese comic-con, but for self-published works (同人誌 or doujinshi). It’s the largest doujinshi convention in the world, and had upwards of half a million attendees last year.

While being there, Nakamori noted the excessive numbers of socially-awkward teens obsessed with anime and manga, pointing out the stereotypes of bad fashion and physical apathy. Being written quite frankly for a magazine that, at the time, specialized in lolicon hentai, it didn’t exactly try to portray otakus in a good light. Rather, it was derogatory. Why otaku?In Japanese, the word “otaku” (お宅) is a pronoun, used in a formal manner to essentially say “you”. Less formal words are “anata” (貴方), “kimi” (君), or if you’re daring and abrasive, “omae” (お前) and “kisama” (貴様), both of which were formerly formal (the latter was used by samurai to address a respectable rival), but are now derogatory.

とにかく、 getting back to the matter at hand, Nakamori chose “otaku” to denote their social eccentricity and awkwardness, evidenced by their misuse of the term in casual, everyday scenarios, partially due to it becoming a bit of a meme in the late 70s/early 80s animation and manga scene. There are other origin theories, but all point back to it being a popular pronoun among the at-the-time not quite aptly named emerging demographic.

The term didn’t receive any particular level of notoriety until a few years later – when Miyazaki Tsutomu was branded, among other things, the “Otaku Murderer” on Japanese media. Miyazaki had engaged in vampirism and necrophilia with four victims; girls between the ages of four and seven; in 1989. After his eventual arrest, a collection of nearly six thousand videos was found in his home – he himself was a photo technician. Controversy followed as the animation content of the videos was highlighted, and the term “otaku” became a lot darker than it had originally been.

Since then, however, an effort to remove Miyazaki’s stain on the term has been somewhat successful – being an otaku, however, still isn’t a necessarily good thing in Japan. In essence, it means you’ve got an unhealthy obsession, usually with a form of entertainment or a product – be it anime, manga, Japanese idols, electronics or cars.

Outside of Japan, however, it’s less of a derogatory label, and more of, well… a label. Countless anime news sources incorporate the word otaku in them, and while many probably do so while maintaining self-awareness over the negativity of the term in Japan, many others do it because in the West, an otaku is just a lover of anime and manga.

Now, what does this have to do with the music video? Well, let’s take a look at the actual video in question.

Spot the idol?

As you can see, the main character in the video, Shuu-chan, is surrounded by various aspects of anime and manga culture – including convenient Evangelion product placements. Hi, dolls of Misato, Rei and Asuka! Alright, product placement might be unfair. Let’s call it a reference. On his table is an attempt at creating a figurine of the armor he uses later, with the full-scale pulse rifle beside it. As for the rifle. Is it a project of his? Is he a designer? Or is it cosplay?

On second viewing, he’s actually painting a collectible.

Strewn all around his room are books and magazines of various sizes. A poster of what is probably a Japanese idol is on his wall. The shelf by his bed is filled with more books and rolls of toilet pape- wait, toilet paper? I’m beginning to question the nature of some of these books.

As can be guessed from his vacant expression, and the sound of birds and crickets outside, I’m having a feeling that he’s been lying there for a looongtime.

Watching anime all day can lead to serious side effects and mental trauma.

The video then jumps into the delirious mind of our male character, and things get, well, weird. It starts off a bit like a Japanese pop video, with a group of seven identical idols (named Meme (メメ), according to the official info for the video) getting more and more… titillating.

I, uh. Uhm. That escalated quickly.

The emphasis of the video at first is, well, moé – which, in a simplified definition, is the Japanese aesthetic of cuteness. Cute goes sexual, and the song and video warps into a black and red, aggressively titillating, fast-paced visual attack on the main character, which aptly ends with him getting physically crushed by a pair of animated breasts.

Not the worst way to go, I guess?

Assuming this was a day-dream, he “wakes up” back on his bed, with the screen previously showing a paused music video now showing, well, breasts. They jump out of the screen, followed by a supposedly inhuman masked woman with pink-red hair. From a few frames in the initial sequence, we can guess that the pink-haired girl is Shuu’s ex, Hana-chan. The woman corners Shuu, his Evangelion figurines begin to crawl over him with red eyes, and she unmasks herself and begins to, uhm, evacuate some type of liquid from her mouth into his.

Chug! Chug! Chug!

The symbolism in that fails me, except for the notion that its a bit like an overly-exaggerated kiss of death. Maybe there’s a Japanese cultural trope that could be taken to a literal extreme in this? He chokes on the milky water he’s been forced to chug, and the dream sequence continues outside of his room, within his what looks a lot like a memory sequence.

The song takes on more of a rap sound, and in a bunch of images seems to send the message that the unmasked Hana was something Shuu lost – her destruction and sorrow is depicted over and over – until we come to perhaps the most significant part of the video. Three figures are depicted in a spotlight – one is drawn in a darker, more “real” shade. That is Shuu’s present figure. The other two are Hana and Shuu, in the past – indicating that this is a replay of Shuu’s memories. In this case, by what we can guess, Shuu’s regretting this. Alot. Why? Because after he witnesses this memory, he collapses in tears and we see Shuu lying on the floor, half of him gone, eaten away by the masked, animalistic, sexualized Hana. I had to take a long walk and think about the disemboweled, dismembered Shuu until I tried to explain the video to a friend, and realized something.

MRW I lose my girlfriend

The “real” Hana saves Shuu from the feeding, masked Hana, after which he goes on his little obsession-destroying mission. Masked Hana ™, (now with more religious overtones!) captures the Real Hana ™ and keeps her captive within what looks like, well. I’m not sure. It reminds me of a crossing between an auditorium, and a giant Yuuzhan Vong spaceship.

Untz, untz, untz.

Then, the army of Memes begin to fire at our protagonist through their breasts, which at this point is unsurprising. He makes a valiant effort to break through to Hana, loses, gets shot to pieces, and Masked Hana descends upon him while an army of Meme’s hold him. Masked Hana kisses him again, if we can call that first mouth-to-mouth waterfall an exaggeration of a kiss, and his head drops upon the floor, his entire body consumed. The video ends exactly where it started – in a closeup of his right eye, perfectly looping to the start of the video.

Peek-a-boo!

In that context, the animation’s criticism of otaku culture is this: their lives are consumed by their obsession to the very deepest level. The video ends and begins with the main character in bed, angry about the loss of his girlfriend, sad about the loss of his girlfriend – yet still just lying there, fantasizing about winning her back in an environment created and imagined with props originating in his obsession.

Epic, but still unreal.

Nothing about his quest to destroy his obsession and win her back is grounded in reality – it’s just a long segment filled with fictional elements that say “you think you want to win her back, but you’re too lazy/scared/addicted to do it.” In this sense, his obsession has grown so deep that he’s unable to even think about things important to himself without framing them in his fantasies. As such, the video criticizes otakus for disengaging from reality, for seeing life through the lens of their obsessions. For, perhaps, taking fantasy too seriously.

My theory? The masked, sexualized Hana is the representation of his obsession – obsession with anime, manga, games, whatever. Obsession, materialism, escapism and over-consumption in and of themselves seem to be the negative focus of the animation. First, we see an obsession with Meme, the idol – then, we see a shounen anime-style transformation into a heroic form of Shuu – before jumping into a video game, FPS-style shooter wherein he’s fighting his obsession’s minions, in the form of Meme.

Idol inbound!

After witnessing his break up once again, Shuu’s lower half is eaten away by Masked Hana – that symbolizes him losing half of himself – his “better half”, his “significant other” to his obsession, which Masked Hana symbolizes.

As for the title: ME!ME!ME! Does it have deeper meaning? If we’re going to go off on a limb and say that the idol, Meme, is named for the concept of memetics, which studies ideas and concepts as living organisms passing from one host to another in a viral, social fashion – much like the video itself – then perhaps with the title, the video criticizes otakus for being selfish in their escapism, avoiding reality and responsibility to indulge in their own world, while ignoring the feelings of those around them in their rampant disregard for normal social interaction and normal consumption.

Now, my Japanese isn’t good enough to translate the official lyrics, so I had to look around for a translated version. And boy. It could mean a lot of different things.

Depending on how it’s translated and from which point of view you choose to read the lyrics (either Masked Hana or Hana as Shuu’s ex-girlfriend) you get a different message. Was Hana ever real? Was she herself just a fantasy he created, and then corrupted? Did his obsessions become conscious within his subconsciousness, and jealous of his relationship with the real Hana? Is that why his obsession (Masked Hana) is modeled after her? Did his obsessions, so controlling of his life, and needy of his attention, decide to take her away and destroy his relationship with her to try and keep him all to… herself, now that his obsessions have taken form?

Are we looking at a catatonic Shuu, fighting to regain not just Hana, but his own will to live, from the repressiveness of his obsessions?

This isn’t the only way to view the video, of course, and interpretations aren’t ever “right” (remember that one time I contended that that Shinji/Catatonic Asuka scene in The End of Evangelion was a metaphor for their relationship? I now hold to the idea that it was Anno saying “fuck you haters” by going overboard on everything, from Shinji x Asuka, to Shinji x Misato and Shinji x The World).

There are other theories, some unpublished and still in the works, that probably do a much more thorough job of picking the video apart frame for frame in an effort to find meaning in every polygon. I even saw one saying the video is about sleep paralysis, a pretty good theory.

But, this post is what I think about the video, and why I like it so much in that it manages to jam-pack such a message in such an attractive, explosive 7-minute music video. Plus, the music and art are pretty cool.