• Music

Hatsune Miku Turns 16; Vocaloid Software Same Age as Fictional Background

Art by Rella ©CFM
The main image for Hatsune Miku’s 16th anniversary project, “Hatsune Miku Happy 16th Birthday.” Her costume was designed with inspirations from various costumes she has worn in the past. On her back are the “wings of creation” made up of musical instruments and painting tools — essential equipment for the creation of works of music and art.

Hatsune Miku, the virtual singer who boasts worldwide popularity, has turned 16. The most prominent Vocaloid voice synthesizer software burst onto the scene 16 years ago. She now has reached the same age as her character’s fictional background.

Let’s look back on the history and allure of the virtual star who has revolutionized the world of music and started creative chain reactions in a wide range of media, such as illustration and video.

Developed by Yamaha Corp. in 2003, Vocaloid is a type of software that enables vocals to be treated like a musical instrument by inputting words and melodies on a computer.

The first software featuring Miku was developed using this technology by Crypton Future Media, Inc. in Sapporo and went on sale on Aug. 31, 2007.

What was so epoch-defining about Miku was that the software not only produced voices but created a character in the form of a 16-year-old girl who is 158 centimeters tall and weighs 42 kilograms.

“I thought it would be more appealing if the product and the package bore something like the personality of a character who actually sings the songs,” Crypton Future Media president Hiroyuki Ito said.

Art by KEI ©CFM
An official illustration of Hatsune Miku. Voice synthesizer software developed by Crypton Future Media, Inc. using Vocaloid technology. Through the countless number of works featuring her, she has been recognized as a character and now gives live performances as a virtual singer both in Japan and abroad. The latest-version of the software, Hatsune Miku NT, was developed using Crypton Future Media’s own technology. *Vocaloid and Vocalo are registered trademarks of Yamaha Corp.

The time was right for a presence like Miku. The year 2007 coincided with the emergence of video-sharing services, such as YouTube and Niconico, for which music, illustrations and videos using Miku were produced en masse. Amid the surge in popularity, Crypton Future Media opened piapro, an art and music posting and sharing website, through which the company offered users and creators platforms for creating works — either by themselves or collaboratively — using set frameworks.

Miku’s presence has had a big impact on the music scene as well. Those who create music using Vocaloid are often called Vocaloid producers, or Vocalo P, in Japan, and there are now many singers who cover songs composed for Vocaloid. These include top J-pop artists such as Kenshi Yonezu, Ado and Ayase of YOASOBI. “Senbonzakura,” one of the songs created for Miku by acclaimed Vocalo P Kurousa, has become a popular karaoke number.

“Progress in woodcraft led to the development of pianos from which Chopin’s music was born, and the electric amplification of the guitar sound produced rock’n’roll. I think Vocaloid has brought such qualitative changes to music,” Ito said.

Miku’s great run knows no end. She has appeared in commercials of global corporations, such as Google, and has joined Lady Gaga on tour. She has been a part of operas, orchestral concerts and kabuki. She has been given roles in charity activities calling for blood donation, fundraising and other purposes, as well as in a project for the conservation of cultural properties.

Hiroyuki Ito, the president of Crypton Future Media, Inc.

“I often hear people say, ‘I’ve been saved by Hatsune Miku,’” Ito said.

It is said that hundreds of thousands of pieces of music have been composed using Miku. “Among them, there are songs you can really connect with and down-to-earth songs created by people who are part of the same generation and in similar circumstances as you.

“The internet may feel state-of-the-art, but it’s a platform for people’s wishes and sympathies. I think Miku serves as a medium there in a way,” Ito said.

Therefore, it is important to develop more platforms and new technologies so that many people can create works with Miku and continue with their activities from now on, Ito stressed.

“They are all working hard to express something and connect with each other,” he said. “I want various people to fully engage in creating works and connecting with each other. I think Miku is also looking forward to being expressed in various ways.”

Miku fans unite at ‘Magical Mirai’ events

“Hatsune Miku ‘Magical Mirai’” is a combined event of concerts featuring Hatsune Miku and other virtual singers alongside interactive exhibitions featuring artworks about them and workshops to share the fun of creative experiences. The event has been held every year since 2013, and this year’s edition took place at its Osaka venue in August and at the Tokyo venue — Makuhari Messe in Chiba — in September.

©CFM / ©TOKYO MX / ©SEGA
Virtual singers celebrate the 16th anniversary and birthday of Hatsune Miku, third from left.

I went to Makuhrari Messe, which was filled with visitors of all ages and various nationalities. Some fans avidly looked around the exhibitions and others enjoyed cosplaying. At the concert, 3D computer-generated images of virtual singers, including Hatsune Miku, came on stage one by one. The audience had no time to take their eyes off the singers’ engaging singing and dancing. The fans waved glow sticks of various colors during each song and generally had a lot of fun.

At the culmination of the concert, Miku debuted the 16th anniversary song, “Blue Planet,” created by Vocaloid producer DECO*27. Then virtual singers Kagamine Rin, Kagamine Len, Megurine Luka, MEIKO and KAITO celebrated Miku’s 16th birthday by singing “Birthday Song for Miku” by Mitchie M. Finally the event’s theme song, “HERO,” written by Ayase, rounded up the concert.

Amid the audience’s enthusiastic calls of “Miku-san!” and “Miku!” the event ended with the sense that the whole audience had become one.

Miku ‘can respond to what I want to produce’

DECO*27, who created Hatsune Miku’s 16th anniversary song, “Blue Planet,” spoke to The Yomiuri Shimbun of his history with Miku.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
DECO*27 was born in Fukuoka Prefecture. Mostly creating original songs for Hatsune Miku, he celebrated the 15th anniversary of his career this year. He has also created songs for various artists and has been involved in making songs for other media. His most famous songs include “Mosaic Roll,” “Yowamushi Mont Blanc” and “Vampire.”

I met her in 2007, when I was a university student. I was browsing Niconico video site, which a friend of mine had told me about, and I listened to Miku’s song, “Packaged,” which was created by the artist Livetune. I thought this singer has a very good voice and a very unusual name. Then my creative phase, which I had when I was in junior high school, came back to me, so I bought the software and equipment and started writing songs. One year later, in October 2008, I posted my first song, “Boku mitaina Kimi Kimi mitaina Boku” on Niconico.

©DECO*27 / OTOIRO ©CFM
A scene from the music video of “Blue Planet”

I have created more than 100 songs with Miku. I like her clumsiness as well as her tone and the sound that no human singer can replicate. Humans have to deal with various restrictions, such as the limit to their vocal range and the speed they can sing. They also have to breathe. It’s difficult to operate a Vocaloid in a way that the lyrics can easily reach the listeners, but because it can transcend all of the restrictions and respond to what I want to produce, it’s really fun.

I composed “Blue Planet” last year after I went to a concert by Miku and the company, and the idea about the song just flowed out of me, so I wrote it. Miku looks and acts like a madame in the song’s music video. I thought that would be a bit interesting because, even though Miku doesn’t age, everyone has become aware of her age this year.

To me, Miku is like a partner with whom I can create great works. I guess it must be tough for her to sing my songs, but I’m grateful to her for singing them wonderfully. I feel a bit annoyed that only I am getting old, but I’ll seek various ways to continue writing music and lyrics so that fans will appreciate them.