In Japan, though, Kill Me Baby has become something of an internet meme. Its popularity has only increased over time. This is particularly interesting because at first, Japanese viewers watched the show and thought, “Baby, please kill me.” That is to say, it was not a popular show when it first aired. The first BD volume sold a grand total of 686 units in the first week.
And yet somehow Japanese viewers changed their mind. When the Bluray boxset was released a year later, it sold over 4000 units despite costing some 16,800 yen. It outsold Toaru Majutsu no Index II (3830) and Infinite Stratos (2577). How did this miraculous turnabout happen?
The short answer: memes.
Wonderful, glorious, fantastic memes.
If you’ve seen the anime, you will doubtless be aware that despite the typical 4koma setup, Kill Me Baby has its memetastic elements. I’m talking about the OP and ED here. The OP song is, let’s say, musically unorthodox. By that I mean it’s pure turd, but somehow the “KILL ME BABY” part sticks in one’s head.
The song ended up catching on in a similar way the Lucky Star OP did, though. Whole threads on 2ch were dedicated to dissecting the lyrics. No one could mention the show without some other internet person responding with “WASA WASA” out of context. The OP single sold over 10k units, which suggests that even though the anime itself was considered too expensive at the time to buy as a joke, viewers were willing to fork over at least 999 yen for kicks and giggles.
The ED, however, rose on to even greater internet fame. The ED features a dance that can only be described as satanic. Anime fans love their dance EDs, but this one seems like an anti-dance routine, featuring Sonya and Yasuna performing gym exercises that no real human being should ever attempt.
Naturally, the dance spawned a great deal of parodies, including a routine performed by Gundams and multiple real-life attempts, one of which is shown below:
Hilariously, the creators caught on to the fan jokes and started incorporating them into their press releases and official merchandise. Here’s one of the figurines, ripped straight out of the dance routine:
Even more hilariously, the creators themselves made jokes about how hard the anime had bombed. The whole “we sold 686 units” thing went viral after the official website released 686 icons to celebrate getting 10,000 followers on Twitter.
The other thing that kept Kill Me Baby alive in the audience’s mind after the anime aired was the official Twitter account. Usually, official anime Twitter feeds stop tweeting regularly after the anime finishes airing, except to announce the occasional tie-in product. In Kill Me Baby’s case, however, the official Twitter account wouldn’t stop tweeting, and most of the tweets feature the kind of quality insights that would make dril proud.
— アニメ「キルミーベイベー」公式アカウント (@k_m_baby) April 27, 2015
The Kill Me Baby feed is still active in 2015, though it has admittedly slowed down since its glory days in 2012.
What made the KMB account engaging to follow was its willingness to retweet fan art and jokes. On top of that, the people behind the account personally thanked anyone who said they bought the BDs (all 686 of them amirite). When the anime was rebroadcast on Nico Nico Douga in March 2013, the number of Twitter followers shot up to 15,000.
Today, the follower count sits at a respectable 27.6k. Semi-regular tie-in products and events are still announced to this day. My favourite piece of merchandise to come out of the franchise is this military-style parka, which really doesn’t look like something that would come out of a cute girl anime.
The Kill Me Baby cult is still going strong. Kyou kara WASA WASA!
Source: Mantan Web.
There is a moral to this story. An anime with bad initial sales can redeem itself over time, and you shouldn’t take BD sales as the definitive measure of an anime’s popularity. Sometimes, a series can become an underground hit after the fact, as was the case here.
The other thing you can take away from the Kill Me Baby case is that it pays off when creators personally engage with fans. One of the single biggest differences between Japanese and English-speaking anime fandoms is that Japanese fans get many more opportunities to engage with the anime staff. Here is a clear case of an anime widely seen as poorly made that became popular because of ongoing interactions between creators and anime viewers. Those stiffly translated interviews on Anime News Network really aren’t the same.
Perhaps something should also be said about Kill Me Baby itself. Despite its inane and oft repetitive style of humour, it does have a weird way of growing on you. I can easily imagine it as the kind of oddball show that would alienate most casual viewers while also appealing to a niche (though not necessarily otaku) audience.
While Kill Me Baby never really caught on outside Japan, there are plenty of cult anime titles in the English-speaking fandom, including Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Revolutionary Girl Utena and Gankutsuou.
What do you think makes a cult anime hit?