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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

J-POP Update: Vast Volumes of Vocaloids in Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai Complete

Posted By on Wed, Oct 28, 2015 at 9:30 AM


Every genre or franchise in pop culture is a rabbit hole, and one that I’ve been enjoying falling into these past few years is that of Hatsune Miku, the Vocaloid icon. A Vocaloid is the avatar of a voice synthesizer, and Miku is by far the most popular; she’s appeared in countless videos and remixes, live in concert, and quite a few video games, including the Project Diva F games for the PS3 and PS VITA, and Project Mirai games for the 3DS. It’s the latter series that’s covered in the limited edition Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai Complete box set, which the Kawaii Kakkoii Sugoi Shop is releasing in the United States this week. Among other things, it’s a swell crash course into this particular niche of Japanese pop culture. 

You should totally watch the above faux-infomercial, because it’s quite hilarious. Becca makes an excellent point — Mikudayo doesn’t have a neck! — and also parodies how we attempt to fill an emptiness in our lives with images and toys from pop culture. I wouldn’t know anything about such things, of course, and it’s completely coincidental that I have two illustrations of Miku on my living room wall, one of which is signed by the original artist Kei. (In between them are portraits of myself, so, do the math.)


Among other things, the quite reasonably-priced box-set contains 5 CDs featuring over 100 tracks of songs used in the games; a Blu-ray with the opening movies as well as standalone music videos of Deco*27’s "Yumeyume", PinochhioP’s "Nice to Meet You, Mr. Earthling," and Mitchie M’s "Age Age Again," those same three songs from the actual game(s), storyboards, and some rather horrifying live-action Mikudayo videos; and a Nenodroid Petite Mikudayo. Which is what, exactly? Mikudayo is a full-body Miku costume, and for mine and a lot of other people’s money, it goes waaay too far into the Uncanny Valley. Case in point, the video of Mikudayo dancing to "Yumeyume," the theme song to the first game, Hatsune Miku and Future Stars Project Mirai:

"Yumeyume" gets a lot of play on the Blu-ray, since as mentioned, it was also the theme song to the first game:

That same song, in one of the standalone videos.

But, oh, Mikudayo. An Uncanny Valley-dweller the full-sized one may be, but the original Nenodroid included in the box set is just right. By way of reference, she’s size-appropriate enough with a blind bag Rarity to offer her a delicious piece of tuna nigiri.


The storyboards are fascinating, and to me they demonstrate how Miku works best in a traditional, hand-drawn context.


For example, the sketch of Miku at the top of this storyboard page...


...became this in the game, and for me, it just doesn’t convey the same emotions. There’s a truth in the illustration that’s lacking in the graphical version.


By contrast, this storyboard from Deco*27’s official "Yumeyume" video...


...was translated much more successfully in the traditionally-animated video. And, notably, it’s the more human-proportioned Miku which prefer.

That said, the leek-waving official derivative Hachune Miku (misspelling intentional) does make a brief cameo in the Hatsune Miku and Future Stars Project Mirai intro: 


And she’s also currently appearing on the fuel door of my Saturn.


But as neat as the Blu-ray and the various tchotchkes are — including a "confidential application ticket which enables Hatsune Miku fans to be chosen for a special secret event," which I would totally fill out and send in if I could read or write a lick of Japanese — the real killer app of the box set are the 5 CDs containing all the songs from the Project Mirai games. I appreciate these sorts of curated collections because I’m always looking to discover new music, J-POP or otherwise, but like I said before, sometimes those rabbit holes get awfully deep.

Vocaloid music is a very particular strain of music, by definition using voice synthesizers rather than humans, though humans do provide the voice samples; Hatsune Miku is based on voice samples provided by one Saki Fuijta. But beyond that novelty factor, there’s also some great music. On Disc 2, Track 6 is what may be Miku’s signature song, ryo’s "World is Mine." Note that the following videos are not included in the box set, though it’s neat to see the actual gameplay.

There’s a misconception that all J-POP music is high-energy dance music, but that’s not true; Disc 1, Track 7 is OSTER Project’s "Piano*Girl," which has a Manhattan Transfer vibe.

Along similar lines is Disc 3, Track 7: OSTER Project’s hella-jazzy "Piano x Forte x Scandal." And, hey, that’s not Miku, it’s Meiko! Her teal-haired counterpart may get all the attention (it’s her name and picture on the box, after all), but the brunette Meiko predates Miku by three years, her voice provided by Haigo Meiko.

Meiko’s lower register also allows her to be quite the torch singer, as in Disc 4, Track 7: OSTER Project’s "On the Rocks." Accompanying Meiko is Kaito, the comparatively rare male Vocaloid, voice by Fuga Naoto.

Meanwhile, over on Disc 1, Track 3, Miku duets with her immediate successor Kagamine Rin (voice by Shimoda Asam) on SunzRiver’s four-on-the-floor "Reverse Rainbow."

And there are dozens of other great songs. If you’ve been looking to expand your musical horizons beyond the confines of the English language and in-studio singers, Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai Complete is a great place to start.


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Sherilyn Connelly


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