October 18, 2007 12:06 AM | Leigh Alexander
[The Aberrant Gamer is a weekly, somewhat NSFW column by Leigh Alexander, dedicated to the kinks and quirks we gamers tend to keep under our hats-- those predilections and peccadilloes less commonly discussed in conventional media.]
We’ve discussed before the ways that hentai games tend to rely on archetypes to make the impossible possible. Because the common h-game protagonist tends to be a regular, shy young boy – studious, socially awkward, perhaps a bit insecure – only a coup of fate would put him in such intimate contact with a selection of beautiful women. There are exceptions to every rule, of course, but Let’s Meow Meow! is not one of these.
In fact, Let’s Meow Meow!, which revolves around a subservient cat girl and a host of other strange creatures from her homeworld, takes both archetypes and fantasy to an unusual extreme. It only makes sense, though – girls with cat ears, or rabbit ears, or puppy ears don’t actually exist, of course, so it takes more than a little stretch of the imagination to create an entire plausibility background for a rather long game employing all of these and more.
Highly fetishistic, anti-realistic, silly bubblegum – Let’s Meow Meow! is all of these and more. But is it really so strange?
The game casts you as Ibuki, a humbly appointed student who keeps to himself, generally – save for his unusual compassion for stray cats, which he feeds dutifully with the leftovers from the restaurant where he’s employed (by a blonde, massively-endowed and sweet female manager, of course).
All of this kindness to felines won’t go unrewarded, of course; the game begins with a visit from the “Cat God,” a bizarre comedic figure resembling a traditional lucky cat statue. The Cat God tells Ibuki he will grant him any single wish, from riches to world domination. Ibuki, whose walls are festooned with posters of cat-eared anime characters, asks the Cat God to bring him a cat girl. Shortly thereafter, Mikan -- a girl with furry ears, a tail, and a bell around her neck – appears naked in a cardboard box outside of Ibuki’s house.
Inheriting a mansion, bathhouse, harem or restaurant staffed by gorgeous waitresses, or tumbling outright through the aether between this world and the next into a mysterious dimension of gorgeous ladies, are regular occurrences, in terms of implausible exposition intended to launch your mild-mannered everyman into a sexual fracas. But the exposition of Let’s Meow Meow is even more ridiculous.
Funny thing is – well, it’s kind of funny, and humor and sexuality aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. Despite a very highly awkward scene very early in the game revolving around a misinterpretation of the word “milk” (use your imagination), a possibly intentional tongue-in-cheek send-up of another not-unusual hentai archetype about the nourishment of alien women, the rest of the game is somewhat charming, if conventional. There’s even the archetype of the childhood friend in the form of Nanami Aoba, who’s also the daughter of your landlord, and is willing to punch you often for your totally irrational lechery toward naked fantasy women. High moment: Ibuki goes online to research the Cat Kingdom, from whence Mikan says she comes, and discovers an egocentric personal web page belonging the lucky cat statue Cat God, and featuring pictures of him in a variety of emotional or self-aggrandizing poses.
As Ibuki adjusts to life with Mikan early in the story, it soon becomes apparent that the wiggling cat ears and flicking tail are more than a visual thrill for a specific niche. Even though Mikan is cross-bred with another archetypal fetish – she is a “cat maid,” and as such wears a maid’s costume and refers to the player as “master” -- she has the mannerisms of a cat, too, becoming distracted in crowds, falling asleep in the sun, compulsively playing with things that move, such as a duster or a cat toy. She mews, snuggles, nuzzles, and the motions of her ears and nose indicate her mood.
And as the game progresses, more animal girls appear, too, accidentally pulled into the transportation “ceremony” Mikan performed to arrive in Ibuki’s world. Hanabi is a rabbit girl, and observing her personality makes it evident that certain sexual personas associated with animals are not excluded from Western culture. It’s easy to pass off “kemonomimi” – the phenomenon of girls with animal ears – as some kind of moderation of the easily-maligned furry fetish, but the two aren’t related. After all, aren’t the fantasy girls of the Playboy mansion called “bunnies” even here in the States, sometimes even wearing mascot ears? The bunny girl Hanabi appears in a tight red leotard with fluffy white ears, a tail, and tumbling blond hair, and exudes sexuality in a different way than Mikan’s clinging, mewling attentiveness – she looks quite like something right out of the Playboy Club, only her ears are real.
And there are more “kemonomimi” creatures that arrive as the game progresses. The dog girl is, rather sensibly, a dutiful police officer on a rabbit hunt – Hanabi turns out to be a thief on the run. And of course, since those who buy Let’s Meow Meow! are probably most interested in cats, there are two more of those – while Mikan, cute and playful, demonstrates the best traits associated with cats, Kohaku is an embodiment of the worst – lazy, aloof and distractible. There is also a robotic cat girl, on loan to the police officer, to assist in tracking Hanabi down. The robot, Koboshi, is a bit of an interesting one, an archetype of the features that might be considered “cute” about androids – uncomprehending of humanity and mechanically unreliable to the point of endearment. Think C3PO, only female and sexy. And with cat ears.
Of course, the choices you make in the game will determine which of the creatures stays with you. Though all of the other girls have stumbled into Ibuki’s world by accident, Mikan alone came intentionally and willingly – abandoning the lonesome cat girl in favor of a more attractive creature feels like a little bit of a crime, and the game will exploit your “aww! Cute kitty!” reflex at every turn. The aggressive Nanami had to be convinced beyond obvious envy to allow Mikan to stay in your apartment; when she arrives to find bunny girl Hanabi there as well, her anger frightens the girls, who hide like tiny animals would – though Hanabi’s mature and womanly look is contrasted to rather nice effect with the fact that she tries to hide under the table, especially when she can’t fit her voluptuous bottom, fluffy tail and all, underneath.
That’s a trend throughout the game – the potential mates behave somewhat like a caricature of animals – and the rest of the way, a mockery of women. Though Ibuki takes great pains to remind himself that the subservient cat-maid Mikan is a girl, not a pet, the implication is clear. Girls with animal features aren’t just sexualized by archetypal traits of the animals they represent, but by the fact that all of these furry animals -- puppies, kittens, bunnies -- are pets, and the evolutionary superiority of mankind is translated into the superiority of the only male in this scenario, who’s got women licking his face and cuddling at his feet like cats and dogs. It’s a vapid fantasy, but self-consciously humorous, and errs on the side of being more charming than not.
[Special thanks to JList for providing us the game for review in this column—you can purchase the game or check out more NSFW screenshots at their site.]
Categories: Column: The Aberrant Gamer