Thursday, April 17, 2014

My Hatsune Miku Blog Post

Awright, so I’ve been meaning to write a Hatsune Miku post for the uninitiated for quite some time now, but I just really haven’t had a whole lot of free time to put my thoughts into words – until today that is.

In hindsight, I’m also questioning why I’m even writing this since if you’re reading my blog, then you’re probably not uninitiated into the different aspects of the otaku fandom… oh well, let’s continue

Now even if you are totally unfamiliar with Hatsune Miku, I’m sure you are at least aware of her image/appearance. Y’know, she’s that blue-green (teal or aqua, actually) haired anime girl with gigantic twin-tails who looks somewhere between 14-16 (16 officially). Miku’s fandom and popularity have expanded exponentially over the years since her initial release and she’s received at least 7 official dedicated handheld games along with several iOS/Android spin-offs. Furthermore, just type in “Hatsune Miku” on either Youtube or Google and you’re bound to come up with millions of results… no, really. I did it just now and got 38,300,000 on Google. Not bad for a non-sentient virtual singer

Ok, so let’s get down to the basics of Hatsune Miku. Most people have this misconception that Miku came from the Project Diva games for the PSP, which is a reasonable assumption (especially in the Philippines) since the PSP was and still is super popular here… but that’s wrong. See, Vocaloid 01 Hatsune Miku is simply the name for one of Yamaha’s voice synthesizer software from the vocaloid line. The Project Diva games on the PSP are simply spin-offs of the actual vocaloid software; people have been making songs with Hatsune Miku and other existing vocaloids long before the Project Diva games ever came into existence. You can wiki the more nitty-gritty details about Miku or read an explanation about her from a more musical perspective on this blog, but basically, what you need to know is that Miku originated from a type of music software developed by Yamaha that synthesizes voice. Her voice is not completely artificial since it is still generated using actual voice samples from the Japanese voice actress/singer, Saki Fujita (who doesn’t really sound like Miku when she sings). Think of Miku as something like a software-based keyboard synthesizer, except that you can make her sing virtually any lyrics that you want with vocal ranges that no human voice could ever compete with. Miku’s official character art is that of a cute girl with aqua eyes, gigantic twin tails and her signature black/grey/teal costume consisting of two futuristic floating hair ribbons, two arm warmers with synthesizer buttons on them, glowing headphones with a microphone, a necktie with two clasps, a short pleated skirt, and thigh-high boots. Miku’s voice library has also been upgraded quite a few times since her initial release and with the right tuning, producers such as Mitchi-M can now make her sound almost indistinguishable from an actual human singer.

Now the great thing about Hatsune Miku is that there are no “official” Hatsune Miku songs because anyone who has the vocaloid software can make Miku songs, and a Miku song by “Juan De La Cruz” (or John Doe, if you prefer) is just as legitimate as one made by the more popular vocaloid producers such as 40mP, Supercell, Doriko, or KZ Livetune for example. Thus, you can find Miku songs from almost any genre of music. The more recognized producers have developed signature tuning styles for Miku’s voice that suit their songs and the genre of music that they create, but there are thousands of vocaloid songs being produced in and outside of Japan, and even covers for popular songs such as the Japanese version of Frozen’s “Let It Go.”

So why is Miku the most popular one if there are other vocaloids as well? Well, the truth is that it’s because she was the one of the first to be packaged with an “image” so to speak and then some people from Japan’s answer to youtube, Nico Nico Douga took notice of her, and started making anime cover songs, original songs, artwork and promotional videos. This marked the start of the whole vocaloid phenomenon and before you know it, she’s appearing in Toyota commercials, her own video games, several collectible figures, posters, bags, and even doing sold out live concerts.

Thus, more than just a virtual synthesizer, Hatsune Miku has become a true virtual idol – an ongoing musical phenomenon, who – although she may not be literally “alive,” lives in the hearts and souls of everyone who cosplays her, creates and/or listens to her music, or participates in the fandom in one way or another. I believe this song by KZ Livetune best summarizes just what Miku has become for her fans.

With that said, let's go to my favorite Miku/vocaloid songs:

Odds & Ends
The opening theme of the PS Vita game, Hatsune Miku: Project Diva f composed by Ryo. If someone ever claims that vocaloid songs lack emotion, then this is the song to show them - enough said. 

While the song itself sounds pretty ok as is, it’s simply beautiful when paired with the amazing video created specifically for it. A real tear-jerker in a good way.

Cascade of Words
The movie made for this song is all about childhood sweethearts who are forcefully separated by circumstances but are happily reunited. Basically a sappy love story in a music video done right. It’s like the happy ending to 5 Centimeters Per Second, if you’ve ever seen that movie.

Real Life Stupid Game
This song has a nice, catchy beat with a tune reminiscent of 16-bit videeo games. It depicts Miku and the other vocaloids going through a frustratingly hard rpg called Real Life using cute, 16-bit graphics. I like how the song tells a positive message about life: despite all the rpg-esque frustrations that we have to go through on a daily basis - somehow, everything is still worth it as long as you don't give up and keep on moving towards your own happy ending.

Once Upon a Me
I really like the instrumentals in this particular song even though the use of Miku's voice isn't that stellar. The graphics are probably done in flash and thus, they look quite crisp and cartoony when compared to Real Life Stupid Game. Miku has a perpetually angry face plastered on in this PV. The message of the song is pretty similar to the previous one, although a bit more vague. My favorite part of this PV is when Miku throws a hardball at Kaito with a satisfied evil grin on her face.

Classic story here kinda similar to an old movie called Mannequin. Apparently, the guy's name is Stargazer. Uses the high range of Miku's voice. The song itself doesn't sound too special when you listen to it without the PV, but it's really quite a different experience when you put them together. The PV is somewhat crudely drawn and uses stop motion pseudo-animation at a very low framerate - which actually gives it a certain amateurish charm. This is one of the more popular Miku songs in my list. This song was even featured in a Project Diva 2nd DLC and subsequently in Project Diva: Extend

This PV makes use of MMD (Miku Miku Dance) and uses the Lat Miku model. This is one PV that's not really worth mincing words on because quite simply, it's beautiful. Watch it now if you haven't seen this before - this is how MMD should be used. It's also a plus that the song is composed by one of my favorite Miku artists 40mP. He makes the best use of Miku's voice even before the Miku append versions were released.

This song has a nice, gentle melody that fits in quite well with the cute, pastelly artwork used in the PV. It tells of a girl who forgot to say "thank you" to an older woman who always used to be there for her. Now that the older woman is gone, her only souvenir is her bittersweet tears of regret or somethin to that effect. Really lovely song that makes use of the low as well as high range of Miku's voice.

Letter Song
A really uplifting Miku song by my other favorite Miku composer, Doriko. Nothing to see in the PV, really, but the song itself more than makes up for it. The lyrics kinda remind me of a really great short stoy called "Calling You" published in a light novel of the same name by Tokyopop.

Yuuhi Zaka
Another lovely song by Doriko. Tells the story of a young girl who is remniscing about her high school sweetheart who is no longer with her.

A nice song in its own right, but it's pretty forgettable without the awesome custom PV that comes with it for Project Diva Extend. Some fans claim that this story is a continuation of from Y to Y. This comes from the same composer as Reboot. Worth a watch if you like tragic stories to go with your Miku songs. Reminds me a bit of Macross.

Hello Planet
This is another one of the more popular songs on my personal playlist. The song along with the PV look quite cute together, but it actually has a bittersweet ending. It tells a tale of Miku, who is an android traveling all throughout a dystopian world all alone in order to meet with her master or something to that effect.
But... don't let me do all the talking. If you're fan of Miku and vocaloids in general, feel free to share your favorite songs with me in the comments.

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