The Global Cult(ure) of Hatsune Miku

Curator's Note

On March 9, 2010, thousands of Japanese music fans attended Miku’s Giving Day, a concert for a singer that isn’t human.

The female diva is Hatsune Miku, a virtual idol created by Japanese software company Crypton Future Media, for their proprietary voice synthesizer, VOCALOID2. While not the first Vocaloid, Miku and her voice appeared in Crypton’s "Character Vocal Series" in 2007 and boosted the software to national attention in Japan. Over the next few years, Hatsune Miku would become an international cultural phenomenon.

Crypton’s strategic approach to the Vocaloid franchise relies on a delicate balance between copyright and fan production. The company relaxes its hold over intellectual property to allow creators to utilize the software for both free and commercial purposes (such as selling musical CDs). For the Japanese contents industry in particular, this approach — what Lawrence Lessig, in Remix, has called a "hybrid economy" — is novel and therefore precarious, particularly in light of recent economic woes. But Crypton has embraced doujin creators who produce thousands of songs with promotional videos that gain extreme popularity online (each garnering millions of views) in Crypton’s Piapro community, but more so on sites like the Japanese video portal Nico Nico Douga [1]. Vocaloid producers have even seen national success within Japan, such as the 11-member Supercell, who signed with Sony Music after reaching #4 on the Oricon music charts. Beneficial to Crypton, all the fervor around Vocaloid feeds back into consolidating the software as a salient cultural artifact and of course a commercial success.

Vocaloid represents a modern case study for globalization and "open-source" culture. But what about Japanese identity? Hatsune Miku’s aesthetics remain entrenched in local visual pop culture, otaku subculture, and Japanese idol performances dating back to the ’80s. Yet with the Internet, Miku has reached hundreds of thousands of international fans, and song-videos produced by Japanese musicians that are uploaded to Nico Nico Douga (where you need to know Japanese to view them) are frequently reuploaded to YouTube to reach the international fandom. While international fans gaze at the Japanese artists that popularize the franchise, Crypton must challenge traditional Japanese approaches to content production and distribution.

[1] Asahi Shimbun documentary with examples.

The untranslated video was chosen because of its popularity on YouTube (please check out the comments and annotation links). I encourage you to rewatch it translated.

Comments

Ian Peters's picture

Open Source Culture and the Globalized Otaku

A very interesting post, Alex. This really is a fantastic case study that shows how fandom and production can work together instead of against one another.  In some ways I am reminded of Doom and the ways that fans were able to create their own levels using the packaged code files.  This was a major aspect of that game’s popularity (which also relied on the internet), and it has recently begun finding its way into other online games like Star Trek: Online (www.startrekonline.com).

In this particular instance, what I find most fascinating is how the "virtual" and the "real" worlds intersect in the form of these concerts. Given that she has gained an internet presence and a fanbase around the world, I was wondering if any of these official Miku concerts have been held outside of Japan. Or has there been an attempt to integrate the Vocaloid aspects into any Western musical groups?

Alex Leavitt's picture

The modding comparision is

The modding comparision is interesting, because it is comprised of "user-generated content" to push a fan agenda. I think Vocaloid is a bit different, though, because it actually relies on UGC to maintain the popularity of the software (unlike modding, where the game in its original form sustains the franchise). 

As for the concerts, Crypton has done a few events at fan conventions in the States where they played the DVD of the concerts to packed rooms of fans, but they haven’t taken the initiative to put on a full concert. Perhaps this is because the original concert was partially an effort by Sega to promote an upcoming musical video game featuring Miku. 

The Western musical groups would be an interesting case, but I think Vocaloid is still less used in English-speaking contexts (since it’s primarily a Japanese software system). But word has gone around about development of an English-language version as well as quality English-language vocaloids, so we’ll see how that ends up.

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