Binge or Purge?: Meow Meow Japanese History
Or Should it be Binge or Purr-ge? We look at a cutesy anthology of animated cats recreating Japanese history.
Between all the snow and the cineplex being inundated with pretentious Oscar hopefuls, I decided to stay in and watch something silly. Now showing on VRV and CrunchyRoll, Meow Meow Japanese History is a collection of short animated skits where anime cats guide you through major events in history. Can the sacharine silliness of these felines act as catnip for my soul, or is it just a hair-brained hair-ball?
Meow Meow Japanese History (2017)
If you like Japanese culture, be it Manga, Anime or period films like Rashomon, you’ve probably been adjacent enough to Japanese history to be curious. Who were the Shinsengumi? Why is Nobunaga Oda revered in one series and reviled in another? Was Tom Cruise really the Last Samurai? Meow Meow Japanese History aims to scratch such itches by providing short history lessons leavened with crazy cat antics.
Lesson One: Queen Himiko!
Way back at the beginning of written history, the early Chinese recorded an interaction with the first Queen of Wa (what ancient Japan was called), Himiko. She united a fractious group of warring states, and was rumored to possess bewitching powers. Turns out it was just clever use of foxtails.
The first episode of Meow Meow Japanese History sets the tone real quick: A wikipedia level summary of actual historical events made palatable by cute kitties. All the events in this 9 minute cartoon jibe well with the earliest texts regarding Himiko: she united warring clans, had an air of mystery about her due to a reclusive nature, she sent envoys to China, and her people got into a skirmish with a clan of warlike Japanese called the Kunu.
It then takes all these points and loads them with silly cat tropes. She didn’t use witchcraft; she got all of the warring cats attention with cat toys. Himiko was reclusive because she was a lazy cat that liked to spend all day sleeping in her cat-fort. The Kunu skirmish was subdued by sunlight putting all the cat combatants into a belly-up kitty stupor.
If you like lighthearted, cutesy fare with historical facts peppered in, Meow Meow is going to be a nice little break from other things.
Lesson 10: Hang in there, Fujiwara no Michinaga!
Fujiwara no Michinaga is the 5th son in a family vying for political power in Heian Era Japan. Michinaga works his way up from nearly the bottom of the totem pole to become one of the most powerful men in early Heian Japan.
This episode is all about politics. Asking cat jokes to make this interesting is a big lift. A lift that Meow Meow largely can’t achieve. Michinaga’s rise is presented as it actually happened; in a boring, fairly unremarkable manner. He just kinda stuck it out, got lucky (?) when some of his brothers died, and then hitched his fortunes (and his daughter) to the Emperor. Adding some cultural references by having the cats at court mess up popular games of the period (such as Go) in adorable cat fashion can’t sandpaper-tongue over the dry material.
Lesson 48: Congratulations?! Kitty Cat Japan Opens Up!
The infamous black fleet has arrived in Japan, as US Admiral Perry seeks to open Japan up as a trade partner and port for American whaling vessels.
I found this episode interesting and fairly balanced, but once again, the humor didn’t really do much. The presentation of Perry’s arrival takes into account both US and Japanese perceptions of the encounter, and it covers most of the political aspects evenly. The jokes about catnip firing cannons and Perry almost sinking his ship due to nervous scratching just didn’t make landfall.
Binge or Purge?
Neither. This show isn’t bad at all, it’s just not as funny as I was hoping. The lessons are pretty accurate and add little touches from historical source materials. It’s a purrfectly fine way to get a wikipedia-level understanding of these events and characters. It’s cutesy, but the cat jokes never really get past the same old cat memes Anime has been using for decades. The Himiko episode was the funniest of the three, but it never got to Delinquent Hamsters levels of absurdity or hilarity.
If you enjoy Japanese culture, I’d keep Meow Meow Japanese History in your back pocket. Say you’re watching a show or reading a manga and don’t quite get the references: pop in the appropriate episode(s). If you just want to laugh your tail off, look elsewhere.