Hatsune Miku: What comes next to Anime and Manga

Vocaloid Hatsune Miku

Introduction
The Internet has dramatically changed subculture scenes worldwide in the last decade. Even in the last five years, after various social networking websites have played an important role in networking people and establishing online communities, subculture fans have shared information and contents they like with others who love the same genre. Some have even created their own pieces such as music, videos, photos, and writings, and posted on their Facebook pages. In Japan, the same things happen, but in a bit different way. People developed online contents collaboratively and share them with other users in a unique way. In the following article, by using the example of Hatsune Miku, I’d like to show how the online collaborative creation process has develop and become a huge phenomena that can no longer be ignored in Japan today.

Hatsune Miku phenomenon in Japan

Click the image to watch live video

A digital character called Hatsune Miku has been popular on the Internet in Japan in the last few years. She now became a virtual pop idol in the digital age, especially for the younger generation. For example, the tickets of her two-day concerts held last month were immediately sold out. 10,000 people enjoyed lives at the theater, while more than 120,000 people watched them online. It now becomes more than 123-million-dollor business in Japan. Many kinds of commercial goods such as CDs, figures, and games are sold at the stores and online. For example, SEGA sold more than one million copies of Miku-related games in total so far. At a karaoke shop, more than 1,700 Miku-related songs are distributed and sung by fans. Her songs became so popular that one of her songs was sung in the graduation ceremonies at several junior high and high schools.

Hatsune Miku phenomenon in the U.S.

Click the image to watch Toyota ad

Her name also becomes known outside of Japan. Last year, she had her first ‘virtual’ concert in L.A. with 5,000 audiences (See the live video above). There, she was shown as a projection of 3D animation, as if she were singing on top of the stage. Some big-brand companies also started to use her popularity in the ads. Last year, Toyota featured her in its TV commercial aired in the U.S. She was also featured as a campaign character after Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber in the Google Chrome’s global promotion campaign.

Who is Hatsune Miku?

Vocaloid 2 interface shot

She is the mascot image of Vocaloid 2, which is singing synthesizer application software developed by Yamaha (Her name in kanji literally means “first sound in the future”). By typing lyrics and melody, a user can synthesize singing so that amateur songwriters can produce their original songs without any ‘real’ singers’ help for their vocal parts. There are more than 30 types of Vocaloids available now with different characters including male, child, and Korean characters. Miku’s voice still sounds a little ‘robotic’ for the first-time listener, but the latest model IA in Vocaloid 3sings songs so perfectly like a ‘real’ singer that the listener doesn’t recognize the song being sung by a Vocaloid.

Hatsune Miku as a ‘singer’

Click the image to watch music video

Today many amateur songwriters and musicians use Vocaloid as their ‘singer’ and upload their original songs on YouTube and Nico Nico Douga, which is the most popular video-sharing website in Japan. More than 32,000 Vocaloid-related songs were uploaded on Nico Nico Douga last year. Several songs have become No.1 hits on the charts. For example, the song used in the Google TV commercial called “Tell Your World” by Livetune reached No. 1 on Japan’s iTune Store chart. Some professional musicians such as Tetsuya Komuro also started adopting Vocaloid to their music. As a result, many music listeners now choose songs by songwriter’s names, not by band’s names. In a sense, as Hatsune Miku becomes a ‘common property’ among the listeners, song composition and live performance by a group band are no longer seen as a standard musician style.

Massively collaborative creation

Click the image to watch video

Song writing is, however, just a beginning of the consequent creating process by different kinds of creators. As I examined one of the songs’ variation in my previous blog post, a various types of videos related to a song are created collaboratively by many users in different genres (You can see how they are actually interrelated to each other in the video on the right). For example, one user draws illustrations that match to the song, attaches them to it, and uploads the video. The other user sings the song and uploads the video. The other ones create MAD videos based on the lyrics of the song and upload them. Some play the song with musical instruments. Another user choreographs the song, which makes others dance with it and upload their dancing videos. Some create 3D CG video with the Vocaloid character dancing to the song. Another user makes a hit chart of the week including the song. These different kinds of videos are uploaded simultaneously within a few months by many users if the song becomes popular among the them. Several genres such as singing, dancing, and 3D CG are so popular on Nico Nico Douga that hundreds of videos about a popular song are uploaded in each genre. Some of them are watched over a million times. In many cases, the viewers are inspired by other videos and make their own videos. In this way, they form loose creator communities online. On Nico Nico Douga, the reuse of existing videos on the website is welcomed. All users upload their videos in acknowledgment of the videos they used. Last year, the site started its own creator’s incentive program so that the video creator can receive a certain amount of money accordingly if the video were viewed a certain times for a certain period. The Google TV commercial (See the video below) describes the collaborative works among different online users very well in 60 seconds without any words.

Copyright issue

Crypton CEO Hiroyuki Ito

All the creations mentioned above can be done because there is no copyright issue involved. Crypton allows the users to use Miku’s voice, name, and image freely as far as it is not commercially used and offensive. In other words, these creations cannot be done with other commercial characters such as Mickey Mouse or Hello Kitty. In this sense, Crypton proposes a new licensing business model. This coexistence between commercial products and fan creations is widely supported by the Internet users in Japan. This is thought partly due to Crypton’s CEO Hiroyuki Ito‘s career background as a programmer and Japan’s fan-fiction culture of anime and manga.

Conclusion

Click the image to watch Google ad

“HATSUNE MIKU is not merely music software anymore. It’s turned into a source of inspiration to create its derivative works.” — What Crypton says on its website describes precisely what actually happens on the Internet today in Japan. Miku has emerged as a new type of music creation and consumption in the online-sharing culture. I’d like to see how this ‘digital diva’ will change the music scene also in the world.


[Activity 3] Collaborating Process of Creative Works on a Social Networking Website

I’m thinking of writing a blog post for Project 3 about the collaborating process of creative works on Nico Nico Douga. I once wrote about it on my other blog, but this time I’d like to discuss it on more academic perspective.

Shinichiro’s Blog: Users’ different participating styles on YouTube and Nico Nico Douga

View the sources of the topic on my Storify page


Three Online Polls

The following three websites contain online polls. Each has its own characteristic and purpose of the polls.

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Who won the GOP Debate? Take our poll

Here are some online polls on CBS News website asking who won the GOP debate in November 12, 2011. They have many other polls on their website, but most of them are NOT done through online. At the bottom of the  page, they note the following disclaimer:

“DISCLAIMER: This poll is hosted online and therefore is not scientific.”

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The Nation’s Favourite Poet Result – TS Eliot is your winner!

A British poetry society called the Poetry Season and BBC held an online poll on 14 May, 2009 asking the viewers who the nation’s most favorite poet is. In this poll, the society had chosen 30 poets beforehand and let the voters choose one among them. The society and BBC also set strict 11 voting rules including the one such as “The BBC reserves the right to change, cancel or suspend this event at any time.”

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Singers You’d Like to Perform at the 2012 London Olympics Opening Ceremonies

A British website held an online poll asking viewers to vote for a singer whom they want to watch the performance at the 2012 London Olympics Opening ceremony. Regardless of the web editor’s intention probably hoping for a famous British singer to be chosen, a Japanese virtual character called Hatsune Miku competed with several Korean pop singers and groups on the chart. It is said that many people (mostly not Japanese) voted for Miku to make her to be on the top of the list just for fun.

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The editors of the first two sites seemed to well-aware that the results of the online polls could be a disaster, which actually happened in the  third example.


Review on Kai’s Publication on Issuu.com

The Change in Baseball Terms by Kai

Kai writes about how the terms and slangs related to baseball have changed in the last 100 years in media in the U.S. In his article, he examines how the terms such as “World Series” and “box” have been used in dictionaries and newspapers. The followings are some good points and the points that can be improved in his publication.

One of the good points in Kai’s publication is an interesting topic choice. A story about a particular word usage and history always grabs an intellectual attention of some readers. The other good point is that he places several old illustrations of baseball such as a ball park and baseball players. They visually show to the readers that baseball style was totally different 100 years ago. As for his article, the history of how the term “World Series” has been used is well-researched. It is also interesting to know how the term “box” has faded away.

There are several points that can be improved in Kai’s publication, though. One of them is that there is no caption on each photo in the article. There should have been the names of the newspaper and the publication dates as the sources. Also, instead of just placing the headline of the article titled “Baseball Slang,” there should have been a copy of the whole article. Otherwise the readers would not understand what he means by saying “this article.” The other point is that many sentences and paragraphs seem a bit too long for the readers to follow. As for the sentences, a conjunction “and” is used too many. (The first sentence of the article, for example.) As for the paragraphs, since there are only three, it’s difficult for the readers to know which part is an introduction and which is a conclusion. The paragraphs could have been separated into at least five.

The last point that I regret most is that the thesis of the article is not clear because of the paragraph structure. There are three topics on “World Series”, “box,” and the general history of sport media, but they are not well-connected. For the readers, they are more like three separated columns. The readers may get this kind of impression from the article probably because there is no separated introduction part to tell what to tell and no separated conclusion part to conclude what was told, although there are actually introduction and conclusion in the first and last paragraphs.

Overall, Kai’s article is well-researched and written. It is interesting enough to catch the reader’s attention. At least I enjoyed reading it.


Review on Kris’ Publication on Issuu.com

Native American Events in the 1800’s Possibly Wrongly Reported by Kris

In the article on Kris’s Issuu page titled “The Kris Gazette,” she explains how news reports in the 1800s in the U.S. on Native Americans are different from that of today. She analyzes two articles in newspapers published in 1851 and 1853 and points out how the news sources were limited and the facts were poorly reported with bias in those days. Here are some good points and the points that could have been improved in her publication.

One of the good points of her publication is the layout of two photos. Portraits of a Pawnee male warrior in the 1800s and the female Chief Executive Director of the Pawnee Nation today are sharply contrasted. (Old photo is black and white and the other is color.) They clearly show to the readers without any words how the real Pawnees have changed in the last 200 years. The other good point is the title of the publication. “The Kris Gazette” is decorated with a horse image, which looks very nice even the readers know the newspaper doesn’t exist. As for the article, it’s also very interesting to read Kris’ analysis on the tendency of the reports on Native Americans in those days. (According to her, newspapers tended to report daily tribal life, wars between tribes, and conflicts / treaties between tribes and emigrants or “white men.”)

There are a few points that could have done better in Kris’ publication, though. One of them is the layout of the two old news articles. They are placed at the right corner of the publication, but they are just too small to read. Instead of inserting the whole articles, only the first paragraphs of both articles might have been enough for the readers since Kris quotes important parts in her article. They could have placed vertically in two tiers in a larger size. The other point that could have been improved is the caption of the old articles. Instead of just putting “Fig.1” and “Fig.2,” There should have been the name of the newspaper, the publishing dates at least. What I regret most is that the article is a bit too short to convey the story and her thought. There were something more to tell about the contents of the old stories and her analysis on them. She wrote a lot more in detail in her final draft. It’s pity that she didn’t make it a two-page article.

Overall, Kris’ story is well-written and interesting enough to catch the reader’s attention. At least I enjoyed reading it.


What’s Good about DS106? (Activity 2)

Here I report DS106 and what’s good about it in audio. DS106 is an open, online digital creative course. (The name “DS” comes from digital storytelling.) Professor Scott Lockman introduces a part of the course in his Cyberspace and Society class at Temple University’s Japan Campus.I had an interview with him asking why he introduces it. I also asked one of the students in his class about the activities in class. Also my personal experience of doing assignments in the class and my thought on creativity are presented.


What’s Good about DS106? (Activity 2)(2nd draft)

Here is my second draft of Activity 2 script.

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Here I’d like to talk a little about DS106 and what’s good about it. DS106 is an open, online course for anyone who can access to the Internet. The name “DS” comes from “digital storytelling.” According to Wikipedia, digital storytelling is defined as “using digital tools so that ordinary people can tell their own real-life stories.” What students actually do in this course are art workshop and technology training. On their website, a various kinds of assignments are designed and posted with the descriptions. The assignments fall into eight categories: visual, audio, web, writing, design, video, mash-up, and fan fiction. I’ve done some of them. One of them was to design a greeting card with mashed-up photos. Other one was to make my own ring tone. I also wrote haiku based on a favorite picture and create a short video with my photos.

They were a part of the assignments in Professor Scott Lockman’s class. He teaches Cyberspace and Society class at Temple University Japan Campus. He also recommends to post comments on other students’ works. At first, I felt the assignments were a bit too much, but as I started to work on them, I greatly enjoyed making pieces of art. I began to wonder why Professor Lockman introduced the DS106 assignments in his class. So I asked him about it.

Me: What was the main purpose to introduce DS106 assignments in your class?

Lockman: The purpose, because I wanted students to learn how to use the different digital tools to create art. And I also believe very much in the idea of DS106, which is investigating the different types of tools in social networking and also occupying space where you create your work and present it, and also get the feedback from people in the class and people outside of the class. I think it’s a very powerful model.

According to the DS106 website, there are three course objectives: One goal is to develop skills in using technology as a tool for networking, sharing, narrating, and creative self-expression. The other one is to frame a digital identity wherein you become both a practitioner in and interrogator of various new modes of networking. The last goal is to critically examine the digital landscape of communication technologies as emergent narrative forms and genres.

But why are these assignments important for the students, most of whom are probably not an art major? Tim Owens, who is also a main designer of the DS106 course, gave an online lecture in 2012. In his lecture titled “We Are All Artists,” he talked about the central idea of the digital storytelling assignments. He pointed out that creativity is not inherent and should be taught at school, and the DS106 course gives the environment to be so. According to him, one of the main purposes of the course is to get rid of the perception that “Art can be made only by artists.”

I’d also like to know how a student actually thinks about the DS106. I asked one of the students who is now taking Professor Lockman’s class:

Me: What do you think about the DS106 assignments?

Student:

I personally think that the most important feature of the DS106 is the public display of student’s work pieces and a mutual evaluation system by posting comments to each other. Compared to the assignments conventionally assigned to college students, DS106 ones put a different kind of pressure on the student since the work is evaluated not only by the instructor but also by the other students. For me, other people’s comments have always got me motivated and made me realize my creativity in a totally new perspective. I think the effect of this educational method on motivation should be more focused.

I hope there are more this kind of online activities in class so that they stimulate student’s creativity and change his or her learning experience.

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Notes:

1. I received a thoughtful comment on my previous post. I’m still thinking how I should reflect it to my script.

2. I somehow made the script shorter to fit within 5 minutes including interviews. I had to cut most of the interview parts that I recorded.

3. I had an interview with Nana, but it didn’t go well because of my poor microphone… I may have to do the interview again.