So a week or two ago I saw this picture of famous American news anchor Anderson Cooper wearing a pair of robotic cat ears.
Note that he's wearing them wrong: the headpiece should be on the forehead like a stethoscope, and the ears' half-wiggle posture indicates that they aren't working.
But that's not really the point! The point is that a piece of otaku culture has again popped up in the American pop-cultural mainstream. In this case it's necomimi, which have become a quiet phenomenon in geek circles already and have been selling like hotcakes at anime conventions. This kind of thing is always interesting to see.
Having written about necomimi once before (http://bit.ly/REMQkY ), I was going to skip it for this column, but the brain-controlled head wigglers will not go away. That they made it as far as a silly little segment on national TV demonstrates just how strong their novelty really is.
I'll offer my testimonial from a few weeks ago. My buddy told his girlfriend about the ears, and she begged me to bring them over to try them out. That night, I wound up passing my pair of necomimi around a table of friends at a nearby bar. About six people, all quite drunk, tried the headset on one after the other.
The first reaction is “This is ridiculous.” Well, yes, it definitely is. The second reaction is “Oh my god, it's moving”. The whirring, twitching motors above your head make it feel like there's a living thing wriggling around up there. The third reaction is “Oh my god, it works.”
The genuinely amazing thing about necomimi is that they work. It's unmistakable, and there's no trick to it. Usually when a novelty item shows up and makes such a claim as necomimi does-- I mean, to READ YOUR MIND!-- it's a complete joke, no different from X-ray glasses and the like. This is different.
Just talk with someone wearing them for a little while, and you'll see their ears react in line with the conversation. Wear them yourself, and watch everybody around you laugh as your ears tell your story before you can open your mouth. I think they even react a little slower if you've been drinking...
The necomimi are directly inspired by the idea of the adorable anime catgirl, but the actual item, in its plain white box, is consciously separated from that kind of otaku aesthetic. The ad campaign uses real people, without a cartoon illustration in sight. As a friend recently put it, anime (and in turn much otaku culture) bears the peculiar stigma of both being very popular and extremely uncool. See, everybody at the bar loved necomimi; that might not have been the case if it had come in a pink box with pictures of doe-eyed catgirls on it.
But who knows, maybe Anderson is just secretly a huge fan of Kyoran Kazoku Nikki or something...