Why Miku Has Continued to Be Miku
The Vocaloid producer 40mP, who began posting his works to video-sharing sites starting with NicoNico Douga in 2008, and the illustrator Tama. From their collaboration on "Delusion Sketch" posted January 2011 up to the present, they've sent many videos out into the world. Natalie.mu decided to interview the long-entwined pair of 40mP and Tama. They spoke not only on Vocaloid in a musical sense, but the charms of Hatsune Miku as a character. And last but not least, they spoke on the prosperity of video sites like NicoNico Douga, on which not only composers, but other creators like artists and video producers, continue to post their works.
— The two of you began posting works to NicoNico Douga in 2008. When did you first learn of Miku?
40mP: I might have heard the name Hatsune Miku somewhere or another, but I believe 2008 is when I actually became conscious of her. I recall the first Vocaloid song I heard was kz-san's "Finder," and that helped me to understand what exactly Vocaloid was.
— And you started making songs yourself very soon afterward?
40mP: That's right. Until I'd actually listened to a Vocaloid song, I had the preconception that it's just a machine singing, so you couldn't make works that were especially high-quality. But once I came to actually listen, I found there were many high-quality works, and all of the creators at work were really amazing. That made me want to try it myself.
Tama: I knew about Hatsune Miku from her release in 2007. So I also experienced early songs like VOC@LOID in Love and Miku-Miku ni Shite Ageru ♪. I was initially just an ordinary viewer, but when Kagamine Rin and Len were released, I was really fond of their designs, so I started to draw the Vocaloid characters. I began drawing Rin, Len, and Miku together, and that's brought me to the present.
— Of the many Vocaloids, you have a lot of songs using Hatsune Miku. Where do you think Miku's charms lie?
40mP: In using various Vocaloids, I've always felt that Hatsune Miku is a really easy-to-use voicebank. Of course, she's a bit immature, a bit shaky, but she can sing lyrics decently enough for you to make them out just by typing them in. I think Hatsune Miku is what made the Vocaloid software into something anyone could casually try out.
— Tama, as an illustrator, what do you feel are Hatsune Miku's charms?
Tama: Obviously her pigtails are distinctive, but just the color of Miku's hair feels like it's rare. For instance, in the song Love Trial, I drew Miku with braids, but by simply preserving that hair color, you can tell "It's Miku!" even without the pigtails.
40mP: It's not your ordinary green... it's like an emerald green. Since it's not fully green, it can even be blueish and still be Miku.
Tama: Right. I can do her up with whatever hair and outfits I like, and with things like hair color and pink highlights, still bring out the Miku-ness. She's a character with a mysterious power to her, and I often enjoy drawing her because of the strength of her individuality.
— 40mP and Tama, you've put out numerous collaborations like Love Trial, The Boy and the Magic Robot, and Eye Examination, but when did you first meet?
Tama: We met each other because I liked 40mP-san's song Torinoko City, so I made a PV for it.
40mP: At the time, people didn't make videos for others often; at best, you'd get an illustrator to draw a single picture for you. I was always thinking I'd like to make videos, but I figured I would want to ask someone who liked my songs - and then Tama-san independently made that Torinoko City PV. So then, wanting to make a song together, eventually we came to my first song to have a video attached, Delusion Sketch.
— And since Delusion Sketch, your songs have continued to have videos by Tama-san.
40mP: This gets a bit into my own personality, but I don't really like working with a broad array of different people. I think it came to feel like if I wanted a video made, Tama-san was someone I could safely depend on. As a result, my songs have an association with Tama-san's illustrations, like they come in a set, and I'm personally rather grateful for that.
— How do you plan together for the creation of a video?
Tama: Um, the answer is I don't plan anything with 40mP-san at all. (laughs)
40mP: When there is communication, it's only about a single round trip. I generally leave it all in her hands.
Tama: When I make videos, I just keep listening to the song, waiting for scenes to come to mind naturally. At the start, I do consider whether the character will be Miku or someone else, but after that, the characters move on their own, and I intuitively turn their actions into a storyboard.
40mP: What's amazing about Tama-san is, once she's made a storyboard, she doesn't budge from it. Not much changes in the real thing. So at the point I receive the storyboard, I can often be confident that it's going to be good.
— You've drawn illustrations yourself, 40mP - what do you find appealing about Tama's?
40mP: There's a lot that's amazing about it, but I'm particularly struck by how no matter where you slice it, it's good art all the way through. In my own art, and watching videos, and seeing manga and anime, I often find myself thinking "I think this scene was done a little better than the rest," but Tama-san's art has no such seams. That's astounding.
Tama: You're making me blush. (laughs) As a video-maker, I don't know what scene is going to be the thumbnail, so maybe I feel I can't slack off on any section. Also, you can pause a video on any frame, so I want to make it so it'd be a good single image no matter where you stop.
40mP: It's incredible how you can actually accomplish that.
— Meanwhile, Tama, what about 40mP's songs captivates you?
Tama: I think Miku's voice in them is really natural. With those natural vocals over a distinct melody, you can tell it's a 40mP song just by listening to a little bit of it. I can't express it in words, but there's this "40mP-san quality" to them, and hearing it puts me at ease. Also, his songs are really easy to imagine scenes for, which I always marvel at as I'm working.
— Is there a video you've made together that's especially stuck with you?
40mP: Let's see... Probably Love Trial.
Tama: I'd say Love Trial, too.
40mP: Even after its posting, it's been used in a lot of ways, including a novelization. And the visuals provided by Tama-san received a lot of attention.
Tama: It was a pretty arduous task making it, though. (laughs)
40mP: Love Trial is a real step above the rest in quantity of illustrations.
Tama: It had much higher production values than other videos, so I'm particularly attached to it. I don't normally show up on site, but I witnessed the recording for Love Trial. That actually served as a reference for the video, so I remember it as a very stimulating work.
— Why did you put so much extra effort into Love Trial?
Tama: It's not like there's any particular reason... (laughs) If I had to say something, maybe it's because when I heard the song, a lot of scenes I wanted to draw came to mind. I had many ideas like "I want to have Miku dressed like a judge" and "I want to have a male character to interact with her." Keywords like the "guilty" line leave a strong impression for a 40mP song, so as an artist, it felt like a worthwhile song to do.
— Re:Start, the compilation album released to commemorate Hatsune Miku's 10th anniversary, has a new 40mP song, Initial Song, and its Tama-made music video was posted on NicoNico Douga and YouTube.
40mP: It may be 10 years since her release, but I feel Hatsune Miku herself hasn't changed at all. Of course she receives version updates, but Hatsune Miku is a character, so she doesn't age, and is software, so her voice doesn't change. Thinking about those aspects, I wanted to make a song that gently said "I'll always be here, never changing," so I made Initial Song.
Tama: It was a song that brought to mind Miku in her early days, so I wanted to make the video simple to match. 40mP-san also told me "you don't need to draw that many illustrations."
40mP: At first, I said "one illustration, please." (laughs)
Tama: Since everyone used single illustrations in the early days of Vocaloid. But for this, I really wanted to change up Miku for when the song swells at the end, so I drew a few.
40mP: There were many songs featuring Vocaloids as protagonists at the outset, but there are relatively fewer these days. And indeed, Initial Song was my first song in which Hatsune Miku sang about herself in quite a while. I was conscious about returning to the roots, so I created it with more old-school methods, and did all the guitar and other instruments digitally.
— Doesn't that take more effort than recording live?
40mP: It's much more laborious than just playing. (laughs) Still, I wanted to try that old way of creating again.
— In turning back toward the origins to create Initial Song, what differences have you felt between now and when you started making Vocaloid songs?
40mP: My method is very different from what it was at first, so while I don't have a real sense of "I sure matured," there were many times back then where I was unable to make a song that reproduced the image in my head, and felt frustrated. But now the tracks, Miku's vocals, the arrangement, I can make them all pretty accurate to how I imagined. Making Initial Song made me think, "Miku will never change, but I've sure changed as a creator."
— That means a lot coming from someone who's made songs with Hatsune Miku for so long.
40mP: This is going to sound like I'm bragging, but out of all the Vocaloid producers, I think I might be the one who's used Hatsune Miku for the longest amount of time.
Tama: He uses Miku just that much.
40mP: For instance, even songs that aren't Vocaloid, I use Miku to make temporary vocals. I also have complete knowledge of what kind of noises get in when I'm making songs. But I digress. (laughs)
— Incidentally, what do you think about the advancement of Hatsune Miku's software?
40mP: Actually, since I'm always sticking with V2 (Vocaloid 2), I don't really know. It's not like I'm shunning new things, and I think V4 (Vocaloid 4) has very high-quality libraries, but I just feel like the initial V2 produces the most Miku-ness. It's what works best for me.
— That follows with your statement of "Miku never changes."
40mP: I think Vocaloid will keep advancing technologically, maybe in the near future being able to produce voices no different from humans, and come to be heard by a lot more people. So I think it's for the best that the technology of Vocaloid advances. But the Hatsune Miku software, shaky pronunciation and all, is part of Miku's charm. So I'd like Miku at least to stay as she is, even as technology advances.
— What do you think about the change in movements on video-sharing sites like NicoNico Douga?
40mP:I have the impression that listeners have changed quite a bit compared to the early days. With all the songs early on that starred Hatsune Miku with lyrics about "a machine singing," I felt there were many core fans. But over the years, she's come to sing more general themes, which adds a lighter layer of fans, you could say. I think songs with a strong story focus have been on an increase since 2012.
— How have you viewed changes in the scene?
40mP: I actually try not to listen to Vocaloid songs on NicoNico much. Not because it's too much effort or anything, but I'm rather easily-influenced, so if I did, I might accidentally borrow too much. So I'm not very attuned to the way things are flowing, I've just kept making songs as usual.
Tama: In 2007 when Hatsune Miku appeared, partially since you had to register to watch videos on NicoNico, I think there were more people in their twenties than teens interacting with the video culture. But now it's totally normal for elementary- and middle-school kids to watch videos, so the fanbase is getting a broader age range in that sense. Of course, some fans grow distant, but I feel like new fans keep coming in.
40mP: When I was little, music wasn't as abundant as it is now. I think it's a good thing to experience music through videos from a young age.
Tama: The genres of Vocaloid songs vary completely depending on the creator, so you get exposed to a variety of music.
40mP: I've heard the songs you listen to around middle school stick with you through your whole life. Those could end up being Vocaloid songs, so I feel a lot of responsibility. (laughs)
— What do you think about the current state of the boom surrounding Vocaloid?
40mP: Creators continue to exist on video-sharing sites like NicoNico Douga as they always have, so I don't feel any such decline like I've heard so much about. There are people who have kept making songs alongside me, there are cases where old-timers who vanished come back to post a Vocaloid song, and of course there are people newly starting to make Vocaloid songs. There's an established cycle of creators, and I don't think it'll peter out anywhere. Hatsune Miku continues to exist as the axis at the center of that cycle. I'd like for that Vocaloid scene built around Hatsune Miku to long continue being enjoyed by all.