Feline Friday: Nyan Cat

Feline Friday is my chance to celebrate famous cats across the arts, whether their origins are in gaming, film, anime, literature or anywhere else.

If you have a request for a future feline, please let me know on Twitter.

Nyan Cat

First Appearance: LOL-Comics (2011)

In modern internet culture, there is a razor thin line that divides hideous annoyance from viral sensation. Trying to quantify what will fall on either side of the equation is a veritable crapshoot, and those who have broken the algorithm are assured hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions or even billions of views.

As someone who has had to languish in the fringes of online notoriety myself, I often consider the popularity of others with an admitted modicum of jealousy. By my standards, a tweet that gets more than ten likes is a runaway success.

By Nyan Cat standards? That’s not even on the rainbow radar.

First created by 25-year-old Dallasite Christopher Torres in 2011 (under the nom de plume, prguitarman), Nyan Cat is a simply illustrated cat with a pink pop tart for a body. He drew it at the request of a viewer during a charity livestream, and would then animate the critter flying through the night sky.

Based on his own pet kitty Marty ⁠— rest in peace big guy, you a real one ⁠— its unassuming origins would bely its subsequent success. One year prior, a video featuring the Vocaloid virtual singer Hatsune Miku called Nyanyanyanyanyanyanya! was uploaded to Niconico by the user daniwell. The song, if you can really call it that, repeats the word “nya” throughout its duration.

Nya, for the uninitiated, is the Japanese equivalent to meow. For what it’s worth, it feels to me to be a closer onomatopoeia to the shrieking of a kitten who is demanding food/attention/the downfall of the bourgeoisie. It’s just apt, you know?

A cover version using the UTAU voice Momone Momo was then uploaded by the user Momomomo (don’t worry, we’re almost free of these accursed usernames), which YouTube user Sara June (saraj00n) would place upon the pop tart cat gif.

The resultant product was the fifth most viewed YouTube video of 2011.

It’s hard to define exactly what makes Nyan Cat so enjoyable. It may lose a sizeable chunk of viewers within the first few seconds, however not all of those who are initially repulsed will stay offended. It’s funny, then it’s not, then it is… Back and forth it teeters, like the pendulum of a clock or an unattended child swinging from a precarious height.

More than that, though, there’s a sense of bold optimism. As if this baked good feline could achieve anything that he set his mind to, and should you follow his lead, you can too, friend.

As is often the case, Nyan Cat would ride an ephemeral yet intense wave of popularity, including an officially licensed game and its own form of cryptocurrency. Yes, I hate that last part a lot. It has long since given way to a myriad of other memes great and small, owning its own definitive portion of popular Internet antiquity.

By my estimate, it peaked that July with the smooth jazz cover, but that’s just my personal taste.

Whether this particular brand of lunacy would have quite the same impact had it surfaced in 2022 is a toss up. In the meantime, content has shifted towards the TikTok obsessed masses, which makes for an awkward match with a pop tart cat GIF.

I pray that I will be proven wrong sometime in the near future, as the world could use a little more Nyan Cat drifting through the cosmos, nyan-ing to its heart’s content the whole day long. Hope you’re proud, Marty, your likeness would go down in the annals of digital history.

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