The Priceless Treasure "The People Inside the Vocaloids" Received
Hatsune Miku - the first in Vocaloid's Character Vocal Series, released in August 2007 - and Kagamine Rin and Len - the second in the series, released December that same year. Commemorating the 10th anniversaries of both, Natalie.mu conducted an interview with two voice actresses: Saki Fujita, who provided Miku's character voice, and Asami Shimoda, who provided Rin and Len's. How do these "people inside the Vocaloids" feel about Vocaloid and the scene around it, which started on the internet and grew to influence many cultures even beyond music? We had them look back on their respective 10 years.
Also, a separate take of the interview with these two with a greater length is planned to be included in the official pamphlet for the orchestral concert Hatsune Miku Symphony 2017, being held on November 17th at the Festival Hall in Osaka, and November 29th at Tokyo International Forum Hall A in Tokyo.
— I've been told that ten years ago, the two of you received offers around the same time to go do Vocaloid recordings. The release dates - August 31th, 2007 for Hatsune Miku, December 27th for Kagamine Rin and Len - were a bit separated, but were you aware they would be released as part of the same character series?
Saki Fujita: That's right, the offers were around the same time. I remember that in accordance with the order of release, my recordings were a little earlier.
Asami Shimoda: By the time my recordings were scheduled, I think Saki-chan was just about wrapping up with hers. Before the name "Hatsune Miku" had even been set in stone, I heard some samples, being told "this is Fujita-san's singing." For some reason, the song was "Oyoge! Taiyaki-kun." (laughs) Though there was already MEIKO (released November 2004) and KAITO (released February 2006), voice-synthesizing software wasn't well-known, so I was impressed and thought "It can sing so beautifully!" After her release, Miku-chan quickly became famous, so I wondered if the character I was recording, still unnamed, would be as accepted... I was much more anxious about that than I expected.
— Not only due to the voice, but also the visuals, the characters quickly drew people's interest. What did you think when you first saw the designs of Hatsune Miku, and Kagamine Rin and Len?
Fujita: At my first recording, I was shown rough drafts. A girl with green pigtails... It was a clean and tidy image, so I imagined "This must be a girl who loves singing," and decided I should put in a positive attitude toward singing - I clearly remember focusing on that in recording. Oh, and I remember being told "We want to make this into a sentai sort of thing." (laughs) In sentai, the Green is a bit of a niche character, but I guess it was like MEIKO was Red, and KAITO Blue.
Fujita: I thought Rin and Len were very likable characters too. The reason I was cast was because just around that time, the singing I did for some game characters (Ami Futami and Mami Futami from THE IDOLM@STER) was well-received on video sites, and Crypton took notice. They said my voice gave a "yellow" impression. That they would then base characters off of that notion was an incredible honor for a new voice actress... I didn't think at the time that it would get as big as it did, but I was certainly very happy.
Fujita: The first time I saw Miku-chan singing in concert with a DILAD board (a transparent screen placed on stage), and Rin and Len came out too, I felt like they were real living people, who were like part of my family. Seeing them move around and perform was incredible, and I remember wishing that many people would see it.
— Through the creation of countless songs and growing popularity, I think a major turning point was the release of the rhythm game Hatsune Miku Project Diva from Sega. Fujita-san, in a past interview, you said "the distance between me and Miku has changed."
Fujita: That's right. The release of Hatsune Miku Project Diva F was for the 5th anniversary - August 20th, 2012. I received an offer to be in a commercial where everyone celebrated Miku's 5th anniversary. So I went to shoot the commercial, and all these Hatsune Miku fans had learned this dance and gathered in the hundreds, and greeted me with warm applause. There were even stands set up - it was a bit of a party. I was truly moved seeing everyone dance to Weekender Girl there.
— I see.
Fujita: Before then, people would tell me "This boom is amazing!", but it didn't feel very real. But shooting this commercial and discovering "It's hard to realize since you can't see their faces online, but there are actual people, making a movement!", suddenly I understood the significance of the boom. Since there are so many people loving and supporting me, I felt I needed to give it my all too.
Shimoda: I always liked rhythm games, and I've played Project Diva at the arcade and at home. Miku-chan, Rin, and Len are characters who have grown big through the power of music, and they dance to pretty visuals... The fact digital music software has come so far is a real historical revolution. The culture spans making songs, and singing, and dancing, and drawing, so I was really happy there could be a game that could make everyone think "This is what we've all been waiting for!"
— In the shift from "using the software" to making "content everyone can enjoy," adapting it into a game was a key development.
Shimoda: It's really significant. There are lots of people who have become fans via the games.
— You mentioned the visuals; users drawing illustrations freely, and these being adopted officially to have the characters change in various ways, is very different from usual animation work. I doubt it would be incorrect to say Hatsune Miku is the artist who's worn the most outfits in history. How do you view the characters changing through the input of users?
Fujita: It simply makes me happy.
Shimoda: It does.
Fujita: Like Nobita-kun in Doraemon, it's standard in anime for characters to always wear the same clothes. (laughs) I'm grateful for all these people designing costumes, and it's wonderful for them to get official recognition as well. Even the people following it seek something fresh, and in that sense, I hope many, many more people keep dressing her up in different outfits.
— Now, besides just outfits, Miku, Rin, and Len have far greater range in their singing than normal artists. If you had to pick a song you like, that's special to you, what comes to mind?
Fujita: Picking one song is very difficult, but I really like "crack" (by keeno), which I sang at the Project Diva F release event (held in March 2013, at Tokyo Joypolis in Odaiba). I've treasured it ever since I first heard it, so it's special to me.
Shimoda: Probably Rin Rin Signal (by Signal-P), which I also covered. When Rin and Len were released, I promptly went on the lookout for songs. (laughs) And I became a big fan of this song, which makes great, adorable use of Rin and Len's characteristics and charms as characters. It makes my chest tighten and my heart go aflutter, so even now I'll sing it at events and such. As far as memorable songs, that's definitely at the top.
— Fujita-san, you covered "letter song" on doriko-san's tribute album "doriko 10th anniversary tribute," released in August. And Shimoda-san, you recorded a number of hits on the 2009 cover album "Prism." How does it feel covering a Vocaloid song that used your own voice? Some are also songs that had no expectation of humans singing them, so I imagine it's difficult.
Fujita: Well, first of all, "letter song" isn't that "inhuman" of a song, so it was fine. (laughs)
Shimoda: (laughs) But if you were asked "please sing The Disappearance of Hatsune Miku (by cosMo@Bousou-P)"...
Fujita: I'd have to tell you "I think Miku-san sings that one better." (laughs)
Shimoda: It's tough. I think Saki-chan must think the same way, but even if it's originally my voice, I'm not really the singer, so it's like a "reimporting," if that makes sense. I've done covers and found myself thinking "This song is nice, but it's definitely better as Vocaloid." Vocaloid essentially has a flatness to it, and being able to convey an image to the listener is one of its strengths. So there are some songs that lose charm if you add emotion. That said, I don't think holding back my emotion due to that pressure is right either, so in the end, I just have to sing my own interpretation with respect for the song. Still, a lot of people online sing them and perform them, and I think it's good to be free to say "I wanted to sing it too, so I did!"
Fujita: Yeah. In regards to "letter song," it's a song about these ten years, and doriko-san said "It means something to have you sing it, Fujita-san." Moreso than when Miku-chan sings it, he felt that me lending my voice would make it exude feelings about these ten years I've walked together with Miku-chan. So I sang it without worrying much about it, just thinking "I like this song." It's really a wonderful song.
Shimoda: That's a wonderful reason to make that offer.
Fujita: The moment I met doriko-san, I could immediately think "He's a good person!" (laughs) I could tell how much he respected me, so I was only glad to do something for him. He was sincere with the song, too, so it was an honor to sing it.
— In talking about Project Diva, you spoke about being moved to see people's real responses. Miku and company are getting more opportunities than ever to stand on stage, and while they're virtual entities, the crowd always gets extremely excited. How do you feel about these concerts?
Fujita: There's an excitement at them that only people who have attended understand. It's not just virtual, Hatsune Miku is really there. With the crowd's thoughts and cheers, Hatsune Miku becomes real. It's a truly miraculous thing, and watching the concerts, I feel like it couldn't be what it is if even one attendee's energy was missing. Like if even one person were to just give up, she'd vanish in a moment. Even the two-dimensional animation would just be images and sounds going by if it weren't for the real emotions of the listeners. These concerts are places that move hearts, where you can witness the act of sending something out, first becoming a story, then turning into reality. So I hope they'll continue for a long time.
Shimoda: I got really emotional watching Magical Mirai 2017 (held September 2017 at Makuhari Messe in Chiba). The continued chain of Hatsune Miku's history since her first concert is all owed to everyone's efforts, and this 10th anniversary show sits at the top of that mountain. The Vocaloids line up in a row and bring surprises beyond anyone's imagination. I'll continue to look forward to them always.
— In recent events, there's the Hatsune Miku Symphony 2017 being held in Osaka and Tokyo. This is another challenging project - to perform the music born on creators' computers in a big hall with an orchestra.
Shimoda: I attended last year's Hatsune Miku Symphony as a guest, and save for the parts where I performed, I watched it all from a guest seat. There were a lot of attendees who had never seen an orchestra before, so it was tense. (laughs) But I'm sure there were also people who were overwhelmed by the perfectly harmonious orchestra and were like, "I've re-evaluated my concept of music." When Popipo (by Lamaze-P) played near the end, everyone naturally started clapping along. It was really fun, and I look forward to things being even further powered-up this year.
Fujita: I don't normally get a chance to listen to orchestras, and they feel sort of out of my league. But listening to it live has a totally different depth from listening to it from a computer. It was fantastic having songs I was so fond of performed by an orchestra. I'm glad for Miku, Rin, and Len to expand their sphere of activity and guide people to new worlds.
— Looking back again on these ten years, tell us how you've personally been influenced and what you've gained - Fujita-san from Hatsune Miku, and Shimoda-san from Kagamine Rin and Len.
Fujita: I've gained connections with people. I've been able to meet a lot of different people, and talking with producers, I get to be told "meeting Miku changed my life." Many bonds between creators have been born through Miku as well, and I've been given the truly rare experience of supporting the formation of bonds between people. It's one of my life's greatest treasures.
Shimoda: It's like that song of Miku-chan's, Tell Your World (by kz).
— The lyrics "The words I want to tell you, the sounds I want to send you; countless lines become a circle, it all connects everywhere" - I think they certainly represent the movement Vocaloid has brought about.
Fujita: In the opening movie for the 10th anniversary concert, it starts with a single line, and it ends up taking the shape of Miku. I cried watching that. I thought, "This really is the history Miku's made."
— How about you, Shimoda-san?
Shimoda: Saki-chan put it so wonderfully, I can't make any further comment. That said, my comment is... (laughs) There have been so many changes and influences, I can't talk about them concisely, but I do think my life has been changed. Many people have become fans of me through the Kagamines, and with that expansion of bonds, I've been brought to unknown worlds. It's always giving me hope for what kind of future awaits, and just thinking how many people share those thoughts makes my heart feel full. I guess the biggest thing is, starting with Saki-chan, I've gotten to befriend many wonderful people. (laughs)
— Lastly, I believe Hatsune Miku and Kagamine Rin and Len will continue to sing for many decades to come. Looking to the next ten years, what do you think they'll become?
Fujita: My first thought is, I think they'll be something that can be supported across generations - like by both parents and their children, or even further, by grandparents and grandchildren. For a parent to share their favorite Miku songs with a child and have them listen without hesitation is something not easily accomplished. That shared support of the same thing can become a familial bond. I think it would be great for them to serve that purpose. There are many producers who write wonderful songs, and Vocaloid allows for the singing of many genres, so it's not like a human artist where people will say "They were better before." (laughs) In that sense, I think they're powerful artists.
Shimoda: Another unbeatable comment! (laughs) Miku-chan actually has a lot of fans not only in Japan, but overseas. The whole world being moved by the same thing has a really fast-spreading energy to it. The possibilities of Hatsune Miku won't stop with just music. Ten years from now, I'm sure they'll have easily surpassed our imagination and spread their areas of activity further, continuing to cheer people up and help them. The vocals are just voice data, so maybe it's inorganic at its core. But the people connected by it have hearts, and can link up with one another. I'd like people to discover the next ten years together, and wish that they'll be ten years of hope for everyone!