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Maru The Cat Teaches Us The Secret to Viral Success

[show=kittykittykitty]How have I, a long-time fan of the cat video genre, gone so long without writing about Maru? Beats the heck out of me. But it’s time to correct this grave, grave oversight.

According to Wikipedia, Maru is a popular name for Japanese cats, similar to Fluffy or Socks (though, on a slightly less adorable note, the word actually translates as “demon” or “spirit”). But currently, the most famous Maru in Japan is a chubby male Scottish Fold whose antics have been uploaded to YouTube since July 2008. In that time, Maru has acquired over 13,000 subscribers and 600,000 channel views — his channel is the No. 7 all-time most subscribed YouTube partner in Japan.

Little is known about the human behind the the mugumogu YouTube account and blog distributing these videos, but over the past nine months he or she has achieved viral fame for their pet simply by following the tabby around the apartment with a camera. Urlesque dubbed Maru “the cat who likes to get stuck in things,” which is a pretty apt description — most of Maru’s antics revolve around getting trapped in bubble wrap or plastic cups. But don’t let it be said that the series lacks a sense of irony — watching Maru struggle to escape a cardboard box boldly labeled DIET is a visual gag on the level of classic Simpsons episodes.

While the videos overall lack the technical polish of I Can Has Cheezburger’s edited pieces, Maru’s latest adventure, the title of which Google Translate claims to be Cat and a large box, does demonstrate a higher level of editing work, incorporating fades and multiple angles to document Maru’s attempts to jump in and out of a giant box.

This video is the simplest possible narrative you could come up with, short of “See Spot Run” — but it does reveal a keen understanding of story structure. We see that Maru wants to get into the box. Then we see Maru’s efforts to achieve his goal. Will he accomplish his goal? That’s the question upon which the drama hinges, the question we want to see answered. And because there’s a likable protagonist at the heart of the story, we really hope he does achieve it — all this in under two minutes with no dialogue. They should show Cat in a large box in Screenwriting 101 classes.

In the world of online video, cat videos aren’t exactly considered high-brow entertainment, often ranked with punches to the groin and farting babies. But there is a lesson to be learned from their vast popularity — specifically, the lesson that a tightly paced piece of content with nearly universal appeal, a video that captures the essence of what makes for an engaging narrative, will always make a splash. People of all ages, all races, all languages can understand and enjoy these videos. As long as they’re cat people, of course.

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