Hatsune Miku.

21 April, 2010 (08:43) | Games, Life, People | By: Olivier

Here’s a story: a big corporation wanted to write software that could replicate a singing human voice. To do so, it needed samples from real singers. Fearing they would be rendered obsolete if the software could clone their voice too well, the singers refused. Thus, the corporation had to develop the software using samples from well known actresses instead of professional singers. And so it did…

Sounds like the pitch for a bad cyberpunk novel, right?

Except the story is true. The big corporation is Yamaha and the software – known as Vocaloid – is licensed to smaller corporations who then sell it as “voice packs”, complete with a name and a face such as Hatsune Miku – from Hatsu (初, first), Ne (音, sound), and Miku (未来, future) thus meaning “the first sound to the future.”

Hatsune Miku

Listen to her launch single (warning: J-Pop inside!), or her greatest accidental hit the “Levan Polkka” (fan made) or even the theme song from Mario Bros or Tetris.

Decent singing for a computer – it holds a lot of promise for the future indeed – but nothing really earth shattering yet…
So all of this would only be mildly interesting if it were not for this surprising fact: Miku is a huge hit here in Japan!

It really dawned on me while walking around Akihabara (the otaku district in Tokyo) this evening. Around 08:00pm, after work, grown men and women waiting in a queue to play the recently released “Project Diva Arcade”…


…look closely: these are not kids nor crazed teenagers. They are well behaved, twenty to thirty, salary men and women…


…who just desperately want to play the arcade version of a PSP game featuring Miku Hatsune and her songs!
In fact she’s all over the place. In the streets, in the stores, from the anime shops to the UFO catchers:


It’s Miku everywhere!

But I don’t really understand why… As a singer she’s barely decent, as an anime character she’s nothing out of the ordinary and the game is just an average rhythm game. So why? If anyone reading is well versed in otaku culture, I would love to hear a coherent explanation for this surprising popularity.

So far the only theory I could come up with is that her success is largely due to the fact that people can make her sing whatever they want. Fans can create their own songs with her voice and share it all over the internet. This gives them a sense of ownership over their idol that might justify her meteoric rise.

Hatsune Miku, future of the music industry and first UGC star?

EDIT (11/10/10) – This story keeps getting better: Miku now goes on live tours!


Comment from William
Time April 21, 2010 at 12:25 pm

I don’t like her voice, and I listened to some other voices (Sweet Ann and Big Al). They all have these strange “electronic waves” (like they were drinking while singing) and brutal changes. Real human singers are still better…for now.

Comment from William
Time April 21, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Oh, and about the possible otaku “success” : some people like the fact that the characters can do whatever they want.

Comment from maomi
Time April 21, 2010 at 6:33 pm

it was because of leek!
first – manga Bleach (1:10)
then – “Leekspin”
final – miku leek

Comment from Olivier
Time April 21, 2010 at 7:36 pm

@William yeah, her voice is annoyingly high pitched at first (but that’s how they like it here) and she does too much Jpop. But you get used to it after a while and some songs are more bearable than others. Try this track or that Trance piece for example. The vocaloids also sound better in Japanese rather than English: the software flaws are less apparent when you don’t understand what they are saying! ^-^

@maomi You’re right that the leeks (actually “negi”, spring onions) and the polka helped grow the buzz early on, there’s no doubt about it. But it doesn’t quite explain the sustained popularity she seems to be enjoying…

Comment from William
Time April 22, 2010 at 1:44 am

You’re right, the two other tracks you point out are better, with quite good music and better use of the voice (they don’t try to use it too high). I should stop listening to them, I’ll start to like that. :)

Comment from Olivier
Time April 22, 2010 at 8:42 am

Careful there… Keep at it and soon you’ll be addicted like I now am and have “Last Night, Good Night” on repeat despite the high pitch!(*´▽`*)

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