A self-indulging celebration, or a critical look at otaku consumption practices? “ME!ME!ME!” is a short animation that debuted on November 21st as part of the Japan Animation Expo, a project between famed anime director Hideaki Anno’s Studio Khara and Dwango that showcases young animators. While two shorts came before it, with one more releasing every week until all 30 have been posted online, “ME!ME!ME!” has undoubtedly been receiving the most attention for its striking visual style, catchy soundtrack, and dark themes.
The buzz surrounding “ME!ME!ME!” is almost certainly justified, but when poking around the internet, I didn’t find much in the way of long-form discussion outside of forum threads about what I found to be very harsh condemnation of the specific style of media consumption exhibited by the protagonist of the video. Instead of focusing on my personal interpretation, however, I thought it would be more interesting to kickstart discussion by using this article to attempt to illustrate just how complex “ME!ME!ME!” is.
The girls’ mannerisms get increasingly erotic, with bikini shots and panning shots such as the one above, where the girl’s expression is flushed and drooling, as if aroused.
It’s here that we’re introduced to the main “antagonist” of the video, a masked woman. Upon her entry, the video’s colors shift from bright yellows, purples, blues, and whites, to mostly red, black, and purple.
This shot in particular is a perfect parallel to the previous panning shot of the blue-haired girl, except this time she’s fully naked and featuring a collar and nipple piercings. In this “club” sequence, it’s worth noting that the images of the girls dancing are now interspersed with shots the masked woman, whereas the previous “pop” sequence frequently cut to the protagonist.
The music, too, is completely different from the sequence before it, with a much more club-like ambience. I think it’s worth noting that in all these graphic sexualised images of the blue-haired girl and her clones, the tone is rather different from the first sequence, where she had a degree of agency when she was prancing around for the camera/protagonist. Now, her sexual pleasure is at least to some degree being controlled by an outside force, as in the image above where the chain attached to her collar, nipple, and genital piercings is being pulled by someone else, presumably the antagonist.
Now we are introduced to another central character, who has been dubbed Hana (flower)-chan due to the flower in her hair. At this point we know nothing about her, but her gentle expression and innocent demeanor indicated by the flower is a stark contrast to the erotic club scene footage.
I wasn’t able to get a good screenshot of it, but what follows the (very brief) introduction of Hana-chan is the masked woman rising from her seated position, walking toward the rather flustered-looking protagonist, and smothering him with her breasts.
The protagonist then wakes up in the exact same way he did at the beginning of the video, indicating that he is in some kind of loop, which is reinforced again at the end.
Instead of being transported into the world of his desktop screen, however, this time the masked woman literally bursts out of the screen into his bedroom. Now that we are able to get a better look at her, her hair color and flower hair tie resemble the innocent-looking girl introduced briefly before.
This is both an interesting sequence and fun cameo – the Evangelion figures on the protagonist’s shelf appear to come to life, and they don’t look all too friendly.
I think it’s worth noting that Evangelion is often pointed to as the precursor to moe, and the female characters have been arguably more heavily comodified than any other female anime/manga characters in the industry. Of course, Hideaki Anno, known for his work on the Evangelion anime, founded the studio that created this short, but the impact of Evangelion on the kind of otaku consumption the animation is addressing is definitely worth considering. Also worth considering given the content to follow is Anno’s own self-proclaimed dislike for otaku dating back to when the ending of Neon Genesis Evangelion originally aired.
Speaking of consumption, I absolutely love what happens next – while I (and probably most people watching) was expecting the masked girl to seduce/try to have sex with the protagonist, she instead takes off her mask and proceeds to spit/drool/regurgitate water into his stunned open mouth to the point that he chokes. It’s totally weird and seemingly random, but when considering the overconsumption of consumers coupled with overproduction/over-saturation of products from the side of producers, it’s not too far-fetched to imagine the protagonist is both literally and figuratively drowning in his hobby.
It’s a minor detail, but while the protagonist is being approached by the masked girl, a flicker of a photo of him and Hana-chan appears on the screen on his desk.
A lot of the imagery in this sequence is extremely sexualised, with long pans of women’s bodies and flowing hair. The screen from the protagonist’s desk shifts from the image of the blue-haired girls featured at the very beginning of the video to a clearer version of the photo of him and Hana-chan briefly shown before.
We then see two versions of the protagonist with Hana-chan – presumably, the darker one is his current self watching an episode from his past.
Since there is no spoken dialogue, it’s up to the viewer to decide what to make of this sequence in which Hana-chan is depicted as crying and reaching out for the protagonist as he turns and walks away from her. The sad tone of the music indicates that it is probably illustrating a breakup that Hana-chan herself may not want to happen. And check out that suspiciously triangular shadow…
It seems as though the protagonist himself also feels a sense of regret at parting ways with Hana-chan, indicated by his current self reaching out toward the memory of their breakup as he falls backward.
Next is what might be the most striking scene in the whole animation – we see a close-up of the (presumably dead) protagonist’s head with one gouged-out eye socket. He looks as if he’s being thrust upon by an outside force – given the sexualized content of the video so far, my first reaction was that one of the girls was having sex with his dead body.
Instead, the camera reveals the naked masked woman consuming the protagonist’s organs in an animal-like manner, and she runs off with part of his intestine like a dog on all fours.
Then, Hana-chan reappears, still crying, and kisses the dead, disembowelled protagonist. When she kisses him, he wakes up (this is all some weird dream, so he can’t die, right?), and scenes of them together flash through is mind.
I’ve heard some questioning as to whether Hana-chan actually “existed” and if their relationship was real, or if she is some kind of representation of “old” anime versus more recent, oversexualized, moe-centric anime (the blue-haired girls/masked woman). I personally think that while that specific argument may be hard to make, viewing the characters as broader representations of cultural phenomena (i.e the protagonist is not just one specific man with love problems, but rather a certain type of modern anime otaku) can lead to some interesting interpretations.
After the photo memories, Hana-chan appears naked for the first time and is engulfed by water as the masked woman simultaneously reappears. Given the use of water in the protagonist’s drowning sequence, I think its use here could also further support readings of the protagonist’s hobbies figuratively drowning both himself and his partner. Meanwhile, the masked woman emerging from the water in armor-like garb helps posit her as the ultimate manifestation of the protagonist’s “perverse” sexual urges and obsessive interest in his hobbies.
After a quick rewind and another shot of the protagonist’s room, we’re treated to a transformation sequence where the mech armor from his desk finally makes a reappearance. I chose the first screenshot in particular because after watching the video 2-3 times, I never noticed that it was his spine and organs that are being recreated as part of the transformation, which I think is a very neat detail.
Also worth noting is the protagonist’s anger at Hana-chan being “taken away,” after he has only just remembered that he made a mistake in leaving her. His disgruntled expression at the end of the transformation is reminiscent of a lot of unlikely male protagonists/heroes who don’t have many redeemable qualities at the beginning of their personal journey.
I’m not sure if I’m the only one, but the sequence that followed actually disturbed me more than anything preceding it so far in the video. The protagonist is dropped into a dark alleyway that, considering the lit signs and posters, could be a representation of a shopping district where graphic anime/manga/games are sold.
It wasn’t the setting that made me uncomfortable, but rather the fact that we enter first-person mode, viewing the world through the eyes of the protagonist as he shoots down a number of sex-crazed blue-haired girls as they giggle and try to attack him. Complete with reloading, dizzying sound effects, and the protagonist wiping neon green blood out of his eyes/the screen make it clear that this sequence is imitating a first person shooter such as Doom or Call of Duty. Oh, and don’t forget the dubstep.
A pixelated image of Hana-chan calling out for help as she falls, naked, through space cements the depiction of her as a damsel in distress, at least in the eyes of the protagonist. I personally viewed this whole this whole sequence as a masculine power fantasy where he imagines himself doing the “right” thing by shooting down the oversexualized women of his otaku fantasies in order to rescue his pure ex-girlfriend.
At some point during this falling sequence, the protagonist loses part of his armor and an arm. The fact that it doesn’t make much sense how this happened, or if he was even attacked at all, is worth noting.
It’s here that the masked woman and the “nightclub” location return in the form of a very yonic spaceship. [Update: A friend pointed out that the glowing pink circle is very likely a clitoris, which I think is definitely worth mentioning, as it helps support the reading of the spaceship as vagina.]
We’re then treated to another transformation, where the masked woman shifts to “battle mode” and gets a much more deity-like design than her previous form. The light shining behind her certainly evokes imagery of the Shinto sun goddess Amaterasu, but the elongated horns on her head are more oni (demon)-like.
Now the blue-haired girls’ sexuality is literally weaponized in the form of bullet-shooting breasts. Again, they all retain the drooling expression, making them appear lusting and sex-crazed, rather than the sexual but playful versions shown at the beginning of the video.
It’s clear in this sequence that the protagonist is fighting a losing battle, as even when he shoots missiles of his own, he’s constantly bombarded by the woman and spaceship. The imagery features a lot of red, pulsating objects, and could very well be associated with an orgasm.
In the end, he is left completely limbless and impotent in space, and he is approached by his attackers who are clearly taking pleasure in torturing him.
Hana-chan is nowhere to be found as the protagonist’s decapitated head settles on the ground. We hear a female voice whisper “sayonara,” and the protagonist opens his eyes, directly mirroring the opening of the video. At this point, it actually does loop back to the beginning of if you wait long enough, indicating that he is being consumed by this endless cycle.
I hope by going through “ME!ME!ME!” piece by piece with me, you’ve found a new appreciation for this complex video. I will fully admit that I was very put off by the overly sexualized, violent nature of the video at first watch, but I think the fact that the protagonist does not triumph over the women of his anime/manga fantasies in the end can be read as making powerful statement about the negative effects of the type of hyper-consumption he is a part of.
There are also certainly critiques to be made, such as female sexuality only being depicted as negative in the video, or the fact that the creators themselves are part of the consumer-driven otaku culture they are commenting on, and thus implicitly contributing to. I also won’t turn a blind eye to the fact that nearly all of the buzz surrounding the video has been about how hot/sexy it is and that many people will not stop to consider their own consumption practices and treatment of women after watching. Still, I hope to see more creators attempting to be critical of otaku culture, and more fans opening their minds to receiving such criticism.