As I mentioned in my quick run-through of Anime Expo 2011, there wasn’t any event that left me quite as befuddled as this year’s Mikunopolis concert. The Mikunopolis concert was far outside my usual realm of experiences and I came out of it with more questions than answers. First off, the very concept of rendering a judgement of a concert headlined by a voice synthesizer is already fraught with peril. Unless the song selection was terrible, the concert itself marred by technological glitches, or the choreography half-assed, could any Vocaloid concert be deemed to be less than perfect?
I may have to defer to the crowd reaction for this one since I’m not the most qualified person to answer such a question. And based on my observations, the crowd was thoroughly entranced; the overall consensus would probably be an enthusiastic “YES!” From my initial vantage point on the balcony, I could see the audience participating wholeheartedly in the performance and, in doing so, putting their own stamp on the whole Vocaloid phenomenon. During the concert, their glowsticks would be moving frenetically during the explosive rock tracks, gracefully during the more flowing songs, or excitedly without care for rhythm when Miku or her other cohorts appeared.
But me? Somehow, I wasn’t able to break through the mental hurdles of fully embracing the notion of a virtual diva. Part of the problem was that the Mikunopolis concert doesn’t have the same sort of unifying feeling that most other concerts possessed. And by that, I mean that I don’t think there was one single reason as to why people attended and enjoyed this concert.
Were people there to witness the technology? There’s no doubt that seeing Miku and company come to life through the projection screen was pretty thrilling, making it one hell of a visual treat. The rapid-paced transitions from one song to the next, while they left fairly little room for the audience to take a breather, were dazzling in the effects that were used. Vocaloid characters would sometimes materialize from clusters of light, some of which were color-coded to correspond to specific characters, thereby heightening the excitement, for instance, when pink-colored light heralded Megurine Luka’s stage appearance. No discussion of the technology would be complete without a mention of how well the characters’ hair and clothing flowed as they danced on stage. The clothing, in particular, was very appealing as they included Rin’s black and white dress that she donned for her performance of the imploring “Meltdown” and Miku’s elegant garb during “Moon.” All of their clothing and hair swished, swayed, and fluttered along with the characters’ movements, making the entire presentation feel pretty lifelike. If showcasing the technology was a goal, Mikunopolis sure was successful in meeting those high expectations.
Were people there simply to see Miku and company? Of the possibilities, this one seems the least explanatory since Miku herself is a bit of a blank slate upon which the fanbase can pour out their (to quote Kylaran’s post, Virtual Diva) “mini-narratives in the form of songs and videos, which in turn brings her to life in such a way that she’s more than character.” So seeing how Miku and friends effectively derive much of their personality through crowdsourcing and the hundreds of interpretations that go into that, it’s very possible that some fans simply attended to listen to a specific song exhibiting a specific trait belonging to their most favorite Vocaloid character.
For me though, my focus was solely on the music, which means that my primary treatment of Mikunopolis is that of a music festival that showcases composers who happen to use Vocaloid as their medium of choice. And there was a lot of music to explore too! The Mikunopolis concert included 23 tracks (setlist located at the bottom) such as the classic ryo(supercell) song “World is Mine” to more recent fare like wowaka’s “World’s End Dancehall” which was sung in garbled English. Because of the edge that Vocaloid has over people, it was more interesting to see performances of songs such as “Two Faced Lovers” or cosMo＠(暴走P)’s “Disappearance of Hatsune Miku,” which wouldn’t otherwise be performable by a mere human because both songs featured sections in which Miku would sing the lyrics at a rapid-fire pace – far too fast for any human to enunciate clearly.
But while the Vocaloids took center stage and occupied much of the attention, I found the human elements that surrounded Miku and company to be far more interesting. Prior to the concert, the audience was treated to a DANCEROID routine and I was fascinated in the way the Vocaloid phenomenon spawned a side group of fans who simply love to dance along to Vocaloid music. The way they moved in sync with the music was delightful as they brought out the visual aspect of the rhythms and melodies, rendering the song as a whole engaging on more levels than simply just the auditory one. A shame they didn’t stick around on stage for the remainder of the concert because I would have been interested in seeing human dancers and Miku perform side by side.
The human musicians who were on stage were also excellent, and Miku did take the time to introduce the electric guitar, bass, percussion, keyboard, and the string ensemble. The electric guitarist, in particular, had quite a few shining moments through his solos, which carried an element of virtuosity missing from the vocal part of the concert. His riffs imparted a high-octane dose of energy during the bridge in “StargazeR” and kept me entranced with the skill that he displayed. But nothing impressed me more than the incorporation of the strings and keyboard, especially when it manifested in the wonderfully sublime melody in the closer, “Hajimete no Oto,” which carried the sentiments that made up Vocaloid’s past, while ushering it forward into the future with a gentle touch of hope and optimism.
There may not have been a single, overbearing reason that brought so many fans to the Nokia Theater in the first place, but the fusion of technology, character/personality, and music was on full display, and the overall experience was very exciting. Vocaloid technology is still a long ways away from reaching the point of dominating the musical sphere, and in its current incarnation, it’s not yet able to replace the sort of genuine human emotional expression that lies at the heart of music. So in light of all this, Vocaloid has been, and currently, still is, a curiosity more than anything else, but I do feel the rumblings of change. The proliferation of auto-tuned singers means we’re probably a few steps closer to virtual idol-dom. Now whether the winds of change will whisk away human singers completely, who can say, but for now, I’m not ready to bet against the human performers. At least, not yet.
1. Diva Desu
2. World Is Mine
3. Electric Angel
5. Clover Club
6. Po Pi Po
7. Romeo and Cinderella
8. Two Faced Lovers
13. Disappearance of Hatsune Miku
14. Butterfly on the Right Shoulder
16. Just Be Friends
17. World’s End Dancehall (English)
18. From Y to Y
22. Ai Kotoba
24. Hajimete no Oto[/spoiler]