How the hell do you review a music video? Even as someone who really loves animated music videos, it seems impossible, and before I saw the MV accompanying Shinsei Kamattechan’s “Ruru’s Suicide Show On a Livestream” I’d have had no motivation to try. Yet, like many commentators on the arts, I have a weakness for taking wild swings at the zeitgeist. Sometimes, even if only for yourself, you come across a singular piece of art that seems to just click things into place. Seems to “get it” in a way that most do not. The “Ruru’s Suicide Show” MV premiered all the way back in early January, just eight days into what would become what is unquestionably the darkest year for the world-at-large that I have ever lived through. 2020 finally winds down in just over a month as I’m penning this, and I think I can safely say that somehow, no other anime anything this year captured the unique mixture of toxic, spiraling misery, delirious, denialistic euphoria, and the tragic endpoint of both quite like this song and this video.
All of this, I must imagine, is very much accidental. Perhaps it’s unique to me, even, and given that the video with its scant runtime of just four minutes sits atop this article, perhaps you’ve watched the whole thing and are feeling very confused as to what I’m on about. But, as I write this the video sits at over fourteen million views, far more than any other music video ever associated with a Shinsei Kamattechan song. It makes sense; the band are immensely talented and wildly creative, but they’re definitely niche despite being signed to a major label (Warner Japan, via their Unbonde sublabel). Lead vocalist Noko is an acquired taste, (I’m not even sure if that’s them on “Ruru’s Suicide Show”. It doesn’t entirely sound like them, but their voice is very flexible, so who knows.) and the band in general are no one’s idea of a shiny-polished pop group.
“Ruru’s Suicide Show” itself is the kind of song whose utility is difficult to put into words. It is based, albeit only loosely, on a very real tragedy involving a young girl named Roro that occurred some seven years ago*, which can make it seem odd, possibly even exploitative, to the uninitiated. More broadly, it taps into a long lineage of Japanese rock that I’m frankly a little unqualified to explore in-depth. (And it’s beyond the scope of this article anyway.) On a surface level, it isn’t hard to understand why a song about suicide would resonate in a particularly bleak year for the world, but I think dissecting our opening question of why specifically this requires digging a bit deeper than that.
Songs that are simply sad are one thing, “Ruru’s Suicide Show”‘s “trick”, such as it is, is relatively simple. Despite its bleak subject matter it is sonically upbeat. However, most songs like this rely on simple lyrical dissonance, the classic example over here in the US being OutKast’s “Hey Ya” (which itself is merely about heartbreak). “Ruru’s Suicide Show” goes well beyond that. Its relentlessly upbeat sound is pushed into the proverbial red, becoming first disquieting, then almost a kind of confrontational, and finally cathartic. “Ruru’s Suicide Show” is not a song for people who need a pick-me-up, it is a song one listens to so that they know that they aren’t the only person in the world who’s ever suffered like this. And whether or not “Ruru’s Suicide Show” is the sort of music that resonates with you can be correlated pretty well to whether you know what I mean when I say “like this.” It is a song for a very specific sort of person. That a major label–even an ‘indie’-focused subsidiary of one–would bankroll a video for this thing is nothing short of astounding.
And yet, there it sits. Fourteen million views and counting throughout the course of just one calendar year. Some of that popularity (like with many things nowadays) can be thanked to / blamed on TikTok, where the song caught on as something of a minor meme of all things. But while that might account for an initial spike in popularity it does not account for its continued success. And indeed if one visits the video’s comments section it is mostly people (fairly young ones, is my impression) defending the song, the video, the late Roro herself, and so on from being appropriated as a fad / fandom / meme / whatever term you care to use. These users, to whom the song clearly means as much as it does to me, demand that it, and its subject, be treated with respect.
I think some of this broad resonance may have to do with the elephant in the room. The music video itself, and how it welds to the song. Enhancing, as it does, every line with surreal, dire imagery that expertly conveys internal crisis through symbolic destruction of the outside world. And, sadly, the very literal destruction of the self.
Music videos, like other short-form projects, can be some of the “purest” animation imaginable, unbound by conventional narrative. Some months ago I compared Eureka Seven to a collage of images, but that’s often literally all music videos can afford to be, given their limited run-time. It’s no surprise then that “Ruru’s Suicide Show” is on the more surreal end as far as such things go. One can map out the broad story of the main character, but the real resonance lies in the details.
To state the obvious; the “Ruru’s Suicide Show” music video is gorgeous. Director Rabbit MACHINE has built up a body of music video and commercial work over the past decade or so, but it’s hard to imagine any of it could top this. There’s a particularly unnerving edge to the editing in this video. I imagine it’s an attempt to underscore the sharp distinction between the main character’s flights of fancy–often rendered in an even more cartoonish art style and depicting such feats as her miraculously ducking under and dodging a train–and the darker side of her psyche, including the suicidal ideation itself. To me, the grimmest shot in the entire short is a first-person aside where the “camera” is tossed into the path of a speeding train, presumably the Chuō Line mentioned in the lyrics.
Elsewhere; our protagonist laughs, lugs her stuffed rabbit around an unfriendly city, stands alone in a classroom, at one point in front of chalk drawings of butterfly wings and at another as the world outside explodes, is lost among a forest of nooses, envisions a rose blooming from her corpse, poses atop an ocean of (what else?) power lines, and pictures herself crawling into a coffin. She speaks of being bullied, of “building a gravestone” for herself on-camera. Finally, she laughs again, as she jumps.
Despite many of the details matching to the real tragedy alluded to in the song’s title, I don’t believe most of this is intended to be literal. Even the bleakest moments of the video are defined by a bright art style that does not lend itself to such interpretations. Our protagonist seems cast less as specifically Roro and more as an amalgamation of all who’ve taken their own life because they could see no other way out and were spurned there by the uncaring masses of the world. She wants to stop hurting, she wants to stop being lonely, she wants people to look at her. All of this is driven to its horrible endpoint.
Her look–downright stylish, if we’re being honest–might seem at odds with the core theme of the song and the video, but the same dynamic present between the music and the lyrics is repeated here. Her blonde hair, the pink smartphone taped to her face, the black lightning bolt hairclip providing a visual metaphor for the term denpa, all of it is intended to push past merely cute into a funhouse mirror reflection of getting lost in your own head. If you’re the sort who demands evidence of a mask slip, there is a literal one in the video, though only for the briefest moment.
We are clearly intended to both sympathize and empathize with the protagonist, but what happens to her is tragic, and here we have to return to the song itself again and more generally to Shinsei Kamattechan as musicians. I am admittedly a neophyte when it comes to the band’s discography, but I can tell (and have been told as much secondhand) that much of their work deals with alienation and a feeling of not belonging. Be that to some specific part of society or simply the world in general. It is an uncomfortable feeling, and one far more people have than I think many others may realize. It is no wonder so many of us want to be witches that talk to kittens, or aliens riding in a UFO. It is no wonder then again that so many of us come to eventually half-believe we really are. Checking each other, keeping each other in good spirits but away from the brink, is arguably the duty of those of us afflicted by mental illness. Because the consequences of dealing with this alienation alone, or with the toxic fake-help of bad actors, can be, as “Ruru’s Suicide Show” illustrates, tragic.
So the real power of “Ruru’s Suicide Show” is in melancholic solidarity. You are not alone, but giving in to this feeling will not end well. It’s also a plea for understanding; some of the lines spoken by the protagonist in the chorus could just as easily be said from a child to their parent, the so-simple-its-devastating “Mama please listen this isn’t a phase” foremost among them.
In this strength we find that “Ruru’s Suicide Show” is, in a peculiar way, a sort of two-way elegy. On the one hand it is a memorial to the titular Roro and many others like her. On the other; it is a prayer from those who did not make it for those who are still alive.
In my heart I am a worrywort. Any time I listen to this song I think about those people in the video’s comments, many of them obviously kids, and I hope that they’re okay. It’s naïve, but my hope is that by writing this, I am somehow doing some small portion of my part in the “duty” outlined above. To you, my limited audience, I simply want to reassure you, if you are reading this, you are still alive. For those who aren’t, the most we can do is to remember, and to eulogize.
Take care of yourself.
*The “Roro-chan Incident” as it’s come to be called is the sort of case where rumor and reality have bled together so much that it’s hard to know the truth of things. I will not deny that several times while writing this I did wonder if this song could be construed as exploitative. I have no real answer, the question of how much leeway a musician (or anyone) gets via artistic license is, as far as I am concerned, an unsettled one. Regardless, I find the song and video’s power impossible to deny.
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