The big draw for this year for Anime Expo 2011 was Japan's virtual pop star. Hatsune Miku is a character developed by Crypton and associated with Vocaloid synthetic voice software who shot to fame after a series of viral videos. She's been remixed visually and musically by fans and has appeared on tracks with artist like Japanese indie pop group The Aprils and Southern California's own Stephanie Yanez.
Miku has been all over the convention. On Friday, Crypton announced a collaboration with Sanrio, Miku-Kitty, as well as the new video sharing site Mikubook.com and the development of an English language version of Miku, but the main event came Saturday night with the blue-haired character's concert debut in Los Angeles.
This was Miku's first concert appearance in the U.S. and, although video from the Tokyo shows have spread via YouTube, fans couldn't help but wonder how a live event would work with a singer who isn't really live.The closest comparison is Gorillaz or Dethklok, but even those two animated groups aren't quite the same thing. The most obvious difference is that Miku's vocals are synthesized, though they are derived from human vocals that were provided by a voice actor. The other difference is in presentation.
When we saw Dethklok in 2009 and Gorillaz in 2010, the animated band members appeared on a screen above the stage. Miku, on the other hand, appears on a reflective screen in the middle of the stage. The human band members play to the side of her.The reflective screen was a good way to help give the illusion that Miku is human, but it isn't without its flaws. We were sitting in the orchestra section a little left of center, not terribly far from the stage. Yet, visibility was an issue. The further to our right that Miku moved, the more she faded away from our field of vision . Even though we were close to the stage, we frequently saw more of Miku by looking up at the big screens on the sides of the theater.
There are some benefits to having a non-human singer on stage. The biggest is that there are no lulls in the show, despite the fact that Miku has more costume changes than Kylie Minogue. There's also a strange blur between the line of fiction and reality that's really interesting to watch. Miku looks like an anime character, but her dance moves are so lifelike that there almost is something human about her.While the primary purpose of this concert was clearly for entertainment, we couldn't help but think that this was probably the best advertising that Crypton could do for its Vocaloid products. Miku was the star of the night, but other Vocaloid characters, including Kagamine Len and Rin, who are quite popular in their own right, appeared on the stage. The mix of songs performed could give musicians a good idea of what they can do with the software. Dance music dominated the night, but there were also ballads, rock numbers and even a pop-punk sounding piece. If Vocaloid programs become the next big music tool in the States, it will likely be because of this concert.