by David Cabrera,
Necomimi Brainwave-Controlled Cat Ears
Cost - ~$100 (plus 4 AAA batteries)
I already have the toys that were planned for Astro Toy this month set aside on my shelf. They're still on the schedule, and they're way past cool... but this weekend at Otakon something a little special came up. This calls for an emergency bump.
If you've been to a convention in the last year or so, you might have seen the necomimi (Japanese for “cat ears”, of course) ears going around. They tout themselves as “brainwave controlled cat ears”; that is, put on this headset and the motorized ears will actually react to your thoughts and emotions by moving around. This is quite a claim.
I first saw them on Halko Momoi-- and if you're me, this is a very high-level celebrity endorsement. At Otakon, several buyers had each stocked a small mountain of the $100 items, and from the shrinking mountains and the heads of the congoers, they appeared to be selling at a healthy rate.
This was too weird. I had to have it. I was kind of waffling about it over the course of the weekend-- the price is absurd! but it's the future! but it's really silly! but it's spectacularly silly! – and ultimately I bought one at the dealer's room in the final hours of the convention. And then I pitched it to the boss for Astro Toy, and here we are!
So like I said, necomimi makes a hell of a big promise: the otaku dream of real, working cat ears. It's pricey too, definitely out of impulse buy territory. So does it do what it says on the box? How the hell could it, with just an ear clip and a little stethoscope-lookin' doohickey on your forehead? I was extremely Some testing was going to be necessary.... luckily I was just about to take a long road trip back up to New York.
The bare headset, out of the box. The protruding arm is the first contact with your face: it has to be adjusted to rest gently on your forehead. The second is a tweezer-like clip that goes onto your ear. The box (and the promotional video) avoid mentioning this stuff. We first unboxed this thing in the gift shop of a Cracker Barrel, by the way. (Our waitress was jealous.) Sorry I didn't think to take pictures of my friends and I taking turns putting them on and laughing, laughing, laughing. Fans of Vertical's Ed Chavez will likely never forgive me.
An included note “strongly recommends” that the attached strap be pulled around the back of your head to secure the headset. The fact is, this is not a strong recommendation but a necessity if you want this thing to actually fit well on your head. The size of the headset itself is not adjustable, and before finding this tiny card and using the strap, I thought the thing just wasn't made to stay on my big ol' American head. The elastic strap loops around to the other end of the headset and attaches to itself with some Velcro. Be careful you don't strap it on too tight.
I will be indelicate here: you are going to look completely ridiculous, hilarous, and perhaps cringe-worthy wearing these ears. I took pictures of myself with them on just now and I deleted them all immediately. When we took turns putting these on at the Cracker Barrel, passers-by were either hysterical or horrified or disgusted with us. I think I know why there's a 14+ age warning on these: kids, if you wear these to school you're going to get beat up and somebody's going to stomp the headset into the ground.
The “ears” themselves are simply fuzzy covers that slip over the headset. I think these cat ears are sort of ugly, as cosplay cat ears go, and maybe that's the idea: the company plans to sell extra covers separately, including licensed stuff. I want Chiyo's Dad ears or super robot horns, so someone get those done.
Anyway, once you get the thing going the ears will twitch and move around a bit to tell you that they're ready to go. In this video, as the ears go uneven, it's also giving you the “I'm not connected to anything, how do you expect me to read your brain, idiot” sign as noted in the manual.
And yes, the ears work. On the car ride back, I decided to just wear the headset as we talked to pass the time and read the Comiket catalog (a fine source of shocks of the “what is that, and where is she putting it?” variety). Over and over again, the ears kept reacting to me, causing everybody in the car to laugh hysterically every five minutes. When you're focused on something in front of you or you've got something on your mind, they wiggle. When you're suddenly interested in something, the ears perk up. When you're sad, they droop down.
I knew for sure that the ears worked when a friend said to me, “They'll never make another season of Shin Mazinger.” The ears flopped down instantly. There's no faking that.
Since I've gotten home, I've tested the device writing and playing video games (deep-thought wiggling), hopped-up on caffeine (perked way up, non-stop buzzing). I'll let you know what alcohol does for them the next time I'm drinking with friends. I'm not going to lie: I am really excited for this. Don't drink, kids, you might soak your cat ears and get 'em all smelly.
However, the motors are noisy, and when the ears move, you'll hear whirring and buzzing. That feedback means that you can vaguely feel them moving up on your head, as well. It feels like there's a sentient, buzzing organism wrapped around your face. Added to the fact that you're a human being wearing robot cat ears that react to your brainwaves and the effect is more than a little bit surreal. Over Otakon weekend I saw and talked to people who were wearing them, and it is some truly weird sci-fi stuff.
Also, given the nature of the device, I assume it is fragile: I would not throw this around the way you might with headphones. I've been keeping my pair safely in the box since I bought it.
I wanted to put the ears on my dog but they didn't fit him, and he wasn't too enthusiastic about it either. Mud the pit bull sends his regards.
You know what? This was one entertaining novelty item. I was skeptical that the ears would even work, and at first they seemed like they'd be a pain in the ass to use, and you'll definitely look stupid... but they do work, which is remarkable, and ultimately I had a lot of fun. I am man enough to admit that. If you've ever wanted to have anime cat ears, the future is now. necomimi me cost about $110 at the con, tax included. You can also buy them online at neurowear's store right now. Four AAA batteries are required, but not included. Enjoy, nyaa.
When he isn't killing time on fighting games and mahjong, David Cabrera gets hype about anime, manga and gaming at Subatomic Brainfreeze. You can follow him on Twitter @sasuraiger.
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