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    Vocaloid – Technology and Japanese Anime Culture Essay

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    In modern Japan, popular musics are always related to idols as being one of the Japanese social mainstreams. For the consumers, most of the idols are popular due to their stage appearances and visual attractions rather than their musical or vocal skills. However, there is one additional technique that Japanese use to produce unique idols and tend to distinguish them from other common idols. They are manufacture idols, which are good examples of how Japanese make new innovations in their pop culture. Manufacture idols system is a combination of anime-like characters and the technology in Japan.

    Both of these factors are huge in Japan and are well combined in other field of works. With the great novelty and the visual attractions behind the idea, manufacture idols become very popular in Japan; and because anime and technology are two widespread cultures in Japan, their combination make the manufacture idols system carry a very uniquely Japanese style. Japan has huge technological industries as its recent technology fast developed. The Japanese are likely and even proud to use technological productions, and many of the creative ideas are based on their technology.

    Similarly, Manufacture idols came from a technological software called “Vocaloid”. Vocaloid is originated from the singing synthesizer system which dates back to “a research by Kelly et al in 1962 when there have been various singing synthesizers proposed since then, whether they are commercial or noncommercial” (Kenmochi, 2012). However, Kenmochi (2012) also indicates that “those singing synthesizers have not been widely used in musical creation, although some musicians experimentally utilized them in their music. Later on, Japan became one of the countries that tended to develop this type of technology. “Since 2007, there has been a big boom of musical contents using singing synthesis software especially in Japan” while “amateur musicians use singing synthesis software to create their original compositions.

    (Kenmochi, 2012). Vocaloid was developed by Yamaha Corporation which is a Japanese multinational corporation, and it came out as a commercial singing synthesis software and are widely used in Japan. Yet, According to Kenmochi and Ohshita’s article (2007) Vocaloid is not released by Yamaha Corp. “Yamaha licenses the technology and software to third-party companies.

    Those companies develop and release their own singer library bundled with the Vocaloid software. Since 2004, five products have been released with Vocaloid version 1 so far: “Leon”, “Lola”, and “Miriam” from Zero-G Limited, UK, and “Meiko” and “Kaito” from Crypton Future Media, Japan” (Kenmochi & Ohshita, 2007). These first released Vocaloid characters (known as Vocaloid 1) have different voices and appearance, and they are divided to different language categories as some of them were released by the British company and others were released by the Japanese company. The voices of these characters were not completely artificial. Instead, the producers collected the sample voices from certain singers or voice actors first, and then produced the singer library. Musicians with certain musical knowledge and technique could make musics by using Vocaloid, and they could choose to make musics for certain characters based on their preference on looks or voices.

    Vocaloid consists of three parts. Score Editor provides an environment in which the user can input notes, lyrics, and optionally some expressions; Singer Library, mentioned previously, is a database of samples (mostly diphones) extracted from real people’s singing; and Synthesis Engine receives score information, selects necessary samples from Singer Library and concatenates them. Kenmochi & Ohshita, 2007) Later on, more and more characters came out in Japan released either by companies such as Crypton Future Media or on the Internet. These new characters are known as Vocaloid 2 and the second generation of Vocaloid software, and they embodied the same technology used in Vocaloid 1. Eventually, in 2007, Vocaloid technique and its characters became a huge boom in Japanese pop culture. Many music production teams in Japan started to make songs for these characters, and these producers are known as characters’ masters.

    Moreover, as the first Vocaloid 2 character Hatsune Miku came out followed by various Vocaloid characters, more and more amateur musicians (especially those who like electronic musics) joined to make Vocaloid musics; more anime fans started to support such products; and more other audiences appeared to be interested in such innovations. Different characters came out with different Vocaloid software and are released by different companies and medias. The productions began to play a big role in the music market in Japan. Like Goto says in his research “As music synthesizers generating various instrumental sounds are already widely used and have become indispensable to popular music production, it is historically inevitable that singing synthesizers will become more widely used and likewise indispensable to music production” (Goto).

    How technology naturally involved in Japanese music is indeed incredible. As we perceive in the naming of Hatsune Miku which could translated to “the first sound from the future”, we simply discover how Japanese producers and audiences strongly pursue the advanced technology. However, the fascination of the technology is not only manifested in the scientific technique that is used in Vocaloid, but is also displayed in the way people make the anime characters doing vivid musical movements and expressions like humans. As Hatsune Miku and other Vocaloid characters were developed to music and game market, besides the technological success in some human-like elements reflected in their singing such as breathiness, portamento, etc. hey are required to have dance movements, gestures and even facial expressions. Nevertheless, as she sometimes appears in 3D image, Hatsune Miku is very different from both real humans and most of two dimensional anime figures.

    Thus, she is like a robot on the computer that is more likely to be stiff, and it is very hard to make her and other characters move as smooth and lively as humans or two dimensional anime characters do. Yet, creators took efforts to make their characters mimic the musical gestures and expressions of humans. From my perspective, this process is very similar to another scientific process relates to movements of musical robots although it is easier to make 3D characters do human-like movements than a real robot. Similar to the Vocaloid characters, Japanese also concern about the vividness among the robotic movement of musical robots. “Humanoid robots are polyvalent, and thus are perfect platforms for synthesizing the work from specialized, disparate domains. The idea is to develop a general ‘emotional intelligence’–an ability to express emotion in music as well as speech, gesture, and other modalities.

    (Lim, Ogata, Okuno, 2012) For instance, musical robots should imitate some natural habit of human musicians when they are playing music. “Human musicians naturally use visual cues such as eye contact and instrument movement to coordinate with fellow ensemble players, similar to conductors who use their batons to indicate beats. In fact, a study on clarinetist’s movements found that “movements related to structural characteristics of the piece (e. g. tempo)” were consistently found among player subjects.

    Movements included “tapping of one’s foot or the moving of the bell up and down to keep rhythm. Although we do not claim that all musicians use movements when performing, we believe that identifying common, natural gestures is a starting point to using vision as a human-robot interface. ” (Lim, Mizumoto, Cahier, Otsuka, Takahashi, Komatani, & Okuno, 2010). Likewise, Vocaloid characters are required to do human-like gestures when they are singing and dancing in games and perform at concerts.

    In this case, Japanese producers did a good job on creating dancing movements and facial expressions for these characters by using advanced animation technology. They led the Vocaloid character (especially Hatsune Miku) to be on the stage like real idols by using the advanced 3D technology, and unfolded the vivid impressions of characters before their audiences’ eyes. “Although Hatsune Miku is a virtual singer, she has already had live concerts with human musicians in Japan, USA, and Singapore” (Goto). Although these characters have not reached the state of doing movements and expressions exactly the same as real humans, they appeal to their consumers very positively for their almost lively human-like characteristics. Moreover, the advanced animation technique in Japan definitely helps Japanese producers approach the goal, as the anime culture being one of the most popular social phenomenons in Japan’s market.

    Vocaloid characters are popular not only because of their unique singing style that is distinguished from humans’ voices, but also because of their anime appearance. For example, Hatsune Miku, the most representative Vocaloid character in Japan, was actually just a simple print on the Vocaloid software package at the beginning. However, such simple illustration has enough visual attractions to Japanese due to Japan’s widespread anime culture. Before games and concerts of Vocaloid characters came out, people had very few information about these characters. The only information they gained was the characters’ personalities which is portrayed in some typical published songs written by these characters’ “masters”. Therefore, amateur anime artists made videos of characters dancing and singing, and sometimes they tended to post their work on some popular website in Japan.

    People draw and post different illustrations of Hatsune Miku. Then people started to create videos, such as promotion videos for musicians, with such original songs and drawings. Some people even create 3D models of Hatsune Miku and create 3D animation videos. ” (Hamasaki, Takeda, Nishimura, 2008). Apparently, it was not the production companies who promoted the idea of making the characters visually alive; it was the audiences who involved into animation works and advanced computer technology at first.

    Such phenomenon reflects that how Japanese, especially the younger generation, are highly involved in modern technology and animation as two of their social mainstreams. After such a huge impact happened to the consumers of Vocaloid characters, many more corporations and companies were involved to various productions of making animation images of Vocaloid characters. Some game companies such as PENTA and Tones Studio made Hatsune Miku a game character or made her sing one of the background songs in the games. Other CD company such as Frontier Works recorded some old songs, but some of them were sung by Hatsune Miku. Additionally, as more and more people continue using Vocaloid characters to sing their favorite or original songs, some amateur singers even sing the characters’ original songs and post them online. The website that receives most of these posts is called Nico Nico Douga, which is the most popular video sharing website in Japan.

    The websites’ basic service mostly resembles that of YouTube, besides most of the posts are animation work as “Douga” means animation in Japanese. What is more interesting than YouTube, is that “a user can add comments about a specific playback time at a specific position in the video which gives people a sense of sharing the viewing experience virtually. Furthermore, the creator can instantly know which specific moment or specific scene is appreciated by a viewer” (Hamasaki, Takeda, Nishimura, 2008). Videos relates to Vocaloid stuff are usually categorized as “hot topic” on this website.

    Such popularity on an animation website implies that Vocaloid system manifests the interaction between audiences and Japanese anime culture. Moreover, Characters like Hatsune Miku are always engaged with Japanese anime culture even they do not have any story or background. Anime fans can easily create stories, images and even personality for them according to the contexts among their well-known songs. “voice-generating software called Vocaloid, which makes anime-like songs in the voice of an imaginary character called Hatsune Miku (lit. “first sound of the future”), inspired fans to develop images, stories and videos around the synthetic voice.

    There is even a blog that tracks the best fan-made music videos featuring this character” (Condry, 2009). Such enthusiasm among anime fans reflects the connection between Hatsune Miku and Japanese anime culture. In Japan, it is very common to consider a virtual idol like Hatsune Miku as popular even though she does not have any musical or vocal skill. Japanese audiences always have obsessions with visual attractions. Not every idol have to be good at singing or instruments, but popular idols are always good-looking, cute or sexually attractive. Hatsune Miku, with cute anime looking, is attractive to a lot of Japanese heterosexual male fans.

    However, as she being an anime character, she is still different from other living idols. For one thing, Hatsune Miku is never separated from the engagement with the consumers. To be more specific, living idols engage with their audiences when they perform on the stage or acting certain roles, but they separate from their public images when they come back to their private life. “stars have an existence in the world independent of their screen/ “fiction” appearances, it is possible to believe.

    hat as people they are more real than characters in the stories. ” (Dyer, 1998) On the contrary, as a virtual character as most of anime characters are, Hatsune Miku has devoted everything to her fans. She does everything that satisfies her consumers and keeps her pure and ideal image. Such characteristic is very common in Japanese anime culture and is quite fascinating for anime fans and especially for otaku. “Otaku, which translates to the English term “nerd,” was a slang term used by amateur manga artists and fans themselves in the 1980s to describe “weirdos” (henjin). The original meaning of otaku is “your home” and, by association, “you,” “yours,” and “home” (Kinsella, 1998).

    When normal anime fans like to talk to each other about their common interests, anime otaku people prefer just engaging with two dimensional or virtual anime characters. Although otaku culture is strange from an American perspective, it is still somehow considered as a symbol of contemporary Japanese society, as it reflects a popular phenomenon in Japanese younger generation. Otaku came to represent a younger generation so intensely individu-alistic they had become dysfunctional, a generation of ‘isolated people who no longer have any sense of isolation. ’ The dysfunctionality of otaku proved the unhealthy nature of individualistic lifestyles” (Kinsella, 1998).

    In this case, Vocaloid characters are tied to otaku culture because of their two dimensional or virtual images. “the virtual idols very clearly ties together the otaku obsession with computer technology, animation technology, robotic or otherwise artificial bodies and the kind of femininity presented by the living idol” (Black, 2012). Male anime otaku are usually obsessed with bishojo(pretty girls in Japanese) in animation works like Hatsune Miku, because “the virtual idol can satisfy fan desires in the way that living idols can not” (Black, 2012) Thus, Vocaloid certainly has an attractions towards anime fans and otaku, which can be another engagement between Vocaloid and anime culture. On the other hand, for anime fans or even other audiences, the gender interpretation appears to be more ideal on virtual characters. Choo mentioned that anime girls are more ideal with big eyes and smooth skin, and sometimes they involve in sexualized images in the contexts. In addition, anime boys are more attractive for female consumers because of their slim bodies and pretty faces (Choo, 2008).

    Therefore, with the same gender oriented attraction, Vocaloid characters gain more attentions from their heterosexual fans, and have more advantages because of their anime imagery. In conclusion, Vocaloid is an extremely representative symbol of Japanese pop culture. Among many music forms in Japan, Vocaloid music reflects how Japanese is good at making innovations, as they blend advanced cyber technology and Japanese anime culture. However, the novelty inside this music form is explicit not only due to the genius combination, but also due to the reactions from the Japanese consumers.

    As we watch Hatsune Miku’s 3D image dancing on the stage with hundred thousands of living fans, we can simply realize how Japanese audiences support their technology and anime culture.


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