There is a method to the madness of the PVs of j-pop singer, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. Although at first they may seem to be nothing more than a visual cacophony, understanding them simply requires the right background knowledge. For instance, in the case of the PV for, “PonPonPon”, it is helpful to be familiar with Harajuku culture and fashion, and the imagery in “Tsukema Tsukeru”, makes infinitely more sense, if you are aware of the fact that Kyary has her own line of false eyelashes (The title of the song attests to this fact, as a translation of it is ‘putting on falsies’)
This holds true for the PV, “CANDY, CANDY”, as well, which is full of references to anime, especially that of the shoujo ilk. Scenes like Kyary running down the street with toast in her mouth, to fighting her evil twin, are not simply absurd dada-ist elements, but have actual substance and purpose. They have a dual function, playing a role in the larger narrative of the video, and also when viewed and understood together, add a deeper layer of meaning to it.
“I’m late! I’m late!”
The very first anime reference occurs early in the video, within the first 30 seconds, with Kyary running down the street with a piece of toast in her mouth. The toast is perplexing detail to most viewers, but to any seasoned anime watcher the purpose of it is clear: in an anime, when a character is running down the street with toast in their mouth, it generally means they are late for something. This is especially typical of the shoujo genre, as explained by TV Tropes,
A common device for a series opening or Establishing Character Moment. Things begin in a frantic rush which usually results in taking short cuts, eating breakfast on the run. The classic image is of someone running down the street with a slice of toast hanging out of their mouth, dragging their backpack with one hand while trying to put on their jacket or sweater one-handed with the other, bumping into important people in a manner that gets the plot started.
In manga and anime, this is associated with the shoujo (girl’s) genre, where the original intent was to establish the protagonist as cute but clumsy, or give her a minor flaw 
The toast in the context of the “CANDY CANDY” PV serves multiple functions. One is that which is articulated in the quote from the TV Tropes website, which is it acts as a visual indicator, telling the viewer that Kyary is late for the music show in the television studio. This in turn sets up the narrative that plays out over the rest of the video.
Another function of the toast, has less to do with the story and more to do what it reveals about Kyary’s character in the video. By having her run with toast in her mouth, she is essentially performing an action most closely associated with females in anime, and by extension, places her within the environs of other female protagonists of shoujo anime. Viewing Kyary as such, not only normalizes the other anime references through the video, but also begins to condition the viewer to be sensitive to such references, but provides a clue on how they should be understood and interpreted.
Clothes Make the Woman
Further buttressing the connection between Kyary and female anime characters set up in the opening sequence, is her hairstyle and clothing, both of which remain relatively constant throughout the video. She wears her hair in two pigtails, a style typical of many female anime characters, such as Usagi from Bishōjo Senshi Sailor Moon, Candy from Candy Candy, and Sakura from Cardcaptor Sakura. In the instances of each of these characters, the choice of hairstyles is meant to both enhance their cuteness, while also emphasizing that they are indeed young girls.
While Kyary’s pigtails reference a clichéd anime hairstyle, her clothing and accessories, more specifically reference the costumes worn by the senshi (sailor scouts) in the shojou anime series, Bishōjo Senshi Sailor Moon. Her outfit has the sailor-esque details common to the costumes of all senshi, while certain details seemed to more specifically reference individual scouts. For example, her boots are not unlike those worn by Sailor Moon, while her giant bow and heart pendant are similar to those worn by Sailor Venus.
The specificity of this particular reference should not be disregarded, as it adds another dimension to Kyary’s character in the video. In the realm of shoujo anime, there is a good amount of gradation in the types of female heroines, with some being stronger or more proactive than others. With the references to Sailor Moon and the senshi, it becomes easy to place Kyary on this spectrum, Since Sailor Moon and the senshi are some of the stronger female heroines from anime, who actively fight evil, while also remaining feminine, Kyary likewise possesses this dual nature, of both a cute girl, but also a strong fighter who asserts herself when necessary.
Her role as a strong fighter dominates the latter half of the narrative in the PV, particularly when she confronts her evil twin. The evil twin is another common narrative device in anime, but it is neither endemic to shouju anime, nor is it only female anime characters who have an evil twin. But, in the case of Kyary’s evil twin, there is a bit of a divergence from the typical evil twin of anime.
Generally, as a ‘twin’ an evil twin is a mirror image of the good twin, with the conflict being one of morals, rather than appearance. In the case of this PV, there is a slight deviation from this as Kyary’s twin is not identical, and has eyes like that of a female anime character. While at first they may seem to be the large eyes typical of any anime character, upon closer inspection, it is clear that they are slightly different. They are not just big anime eyes, but the large starry eyes that female characters have when they see a cute boy or small animal.
Their presence on Kyary’s evil twin, not only makes the application of the term ‘evil twin’ a misnomer, but very much subverts the expectation of the viewer. The twin is not malicious, but one that does little to fight back, and is more befitting of the cutesy tone of the video.
Following the model set up by the previous anime tropes in the video, Kyary’s confrontation with her evil twin perfectly matches the evil twin storyline seen in your typical shoju anime. Upon seeing the evil twin dancing in her spot on stage, Kyary confronts her, felling her with a kick, obviously emerges victiorious. But as in the wonderful, happy world of shoujo anime, despite the fight, the situation is still more or less resolved amicably. The twin is not killed, and appears later in the PV dancing on stage with Kyary, most likely in a gesture of friendship
Genius of “Candy Candy”
I made no mention of any of the lyrics in the course of my discussion of the video, but rest assured, the lyrics themselves reflect a similar celebration of cuteness and being a girl, and of course candy,
Ah, but, this or that, everyone
Wants to be amazing
I heard your request, but I had no time to tend to it
Because, because, I’m a girl after-all, so I treasure “now”
A sweet smell lingers in this fluffy atmosphere
Candy candy candy candy candy
Sweetie sweetie girls love
Given the superficial nature of the lyrics, some people have criticized this song for its lack of redeeming qualities, as it really is indeed about candy and cuteness, and therefore representative of the paradigm of the excessive shallowness of pop music.
Having just demonstrated that the video is essentially a collection of anime clichés, certainly does little to counteract this condemnation. This is not a fair assessment, and if anything is a gross simplification that misses the entire point. “CANDY CANDY” is not meant to be an intellectual exploration, steeped in symbolism, but simply a celebration of cuteness and being a girl, which is done through the song itself, and the PV. Furthermore, the extensive appropriation of shoujo anime in this video, only highlights this, allowing for the gendering of its intended audience. It is not only a video celebrating the fact of being a girl, but also a video made for girls.
That is the genius behind this PV. While other videos may attempt to hide their superficiality or lack of substance behind fancy circumlocution or imagery, in “CANDY CANDY”, this fact is unequivocally, and unashamedly, advertised to the world.
Update: This post was mentioned in the article, “How J-Pop Stars Gain From the West’s Obsession With ‘Weird’ Japan” which was published on The Atlantic website in June 2012
- There is a whole Tumblr dedicated to gifs and pictures of anime characters running with toast in their mouths called, Fuck Yea Animu Toast (http://fuckyeahanimutoast.tumblr.com)
- The extent to which Usagi can be called a true ‘heroine’ since Tuxedo Mask so often rescues her is matter of debate and subsequently has been covered in academic discourse. For more on it see, has been a subject covered in academic discourse. For more on this see Mary Grisby’s “Sailormoon: Manga (Comics)and Anime (Cartoon)Superheroine Meets Barbie: Global Entertainment Commodity Comes to the United States" and Anne Allison’s "A Challenge to Hollywood? Japanese Character Goods Hit the US”