What do bikes, music, windows and social networking have in common? No, it’s not Johnny Hallyday, but almost. It’s someone who does the same job, but who doesn’t exist. She’s a singer who has by thousands of of fans, but who earn nothing. A star revered by many, but accessible to everyone. People often consider Hatsune Miku like some random anime character created long ago to excite geeks, but that’s wrong. At the very beginning, Hastune Miku is just that :
WTFH? On August 31th 2007, Crypton Media, a Sapporo-based company specialized in music software marketed a singing synthesizer application based on Yamaha’s VOCALOID 2 (Yamaha manufactures bikes but also musical instruments). Crypton calls it Hatsune Miku (初音未来), literally «first sound of the future». To differentiate its product, the firm asks brilliant illustrator KEI do design a female persona to put on the cover. Boom. A that time, this kind of software was regarded as a success if it was selling 1000 units a year. In something like 2 weeks, Hatsune Miku was already around 3000 and 4000. But that was just the beginning…
There is in Japan a very popular video-sharing website called Niko Niko Doga. On August 31th, the site started to be flown with thousands of songs created by anonymous users who wanted to share their work, further accelerating the popularity of what was becoming a phenomenon. Crypton doesn’t limit the use of its characters as long as the user doesn’t intend to profit. The maker pushes the social particularity of its product, even turning down anime adaptation proposals with which TV studios were rushing in September 2007! The rules are clear : everyone can have its own vision of the character.
Within a year or so, as the amount of content was growing relentlessly, the problem of digital rights starting to become a pressing matter, because any user could re-use the work of another. Unscrupulous karaoke owners began to list several songs for their own business with little regard on who created it at first. Following a wide referendum, it was decided that users could patent the songs they put together in their attic. The patent system requires the applicant to establish a contract with both Crypton (for the profitable use of the trademark) and a label such as Sony Music, Enterbrain, 5pb, etc.
Thus appears a gigantic parallel economy revolving around social networking. If you type Hatsune Miku on Itunes, you can browse through more than 1600 results. ONE THOUSAND SIX HUNDRED! To compare, «Madonna» as an artist brings only 625 results. KEI, Miku’s official illustrator, has started a comic series which he takes the precaution to call «unofficial», to avoid going against to social principle. Concerts have been organized in Japan, Asia or the US with Miku appearing in an 3D holographic model. Adding to several partnerships with racing teams or spatial projects, a popular video game series called Project Diva launched in 2009. Published by Sega, those are rhythm games for PSP using the most popular songs (with prior approval and collaboration of the original creators) and even costumes created here and there. Each episode sells between 300’000 and 400’000 hard copies, to which add the digital sales. With 30-40 songs per game, SEGA can make new ones for the next 50 years! In 2012, the series is back with a new game tailored for PSVita. Look at this awesomeness :
When you come to think about it, Hatsune Miku is the perfect guy (girl) for the job : she doesn’t take drugs, never goes on strike, doesn’t need vacations, never tries evade taxes, doesn’t fear paparazzis and above all, SHE DOESN’T AGE! Hatsune Miku is just starting an official presence in the West, in several exhibits around anime/manga and by a recently made internet portal where you can find tons of clips and related content. Here’s a stunning example of what people can pull off :
Source : the Japanese wiki about Hatsune Miku and the related rights. And believe me that was one hard read! Took me 3 hours to fully understand. I’ve never seen such difficult Japanese since Natsume Soseki.