Miku at the Opera

Poster of "The End."

You likely not only heard of Hatsune Miku, but also heard herself, or at least you saw her signature light teal pigtails. She’s the most famous of her kind, the Vocaloids, a family of virtual singers created by a company in Hokkaido, Crypton Future Media. Their songs, dances, clothes, scenes, and any other aspects of their works are written, choreographed, tailored, and designed by many of their fans programming their material on computers.

It began with the original synthesising software by Yamaha in 2004, allowing its users to borrow the digital voices of Vocaloids as accompaniment to their songs. Then, it moved on to musical video games, the first of many other realms the Vocaloids have touched until today. Miku is the icon of that digital chorus, with a following worthy of a religion. Her Facebook page is on its way to attract a million fans while cosplay events have dozens of people dressed up in her various outfits. She even has her own social sharing site, Mikubook, where her admirers by the thousands post their fan art while listening to their favourite songs. In Japan, among aficionados of gaming and electronic music, she can be seen everywhere. She performed her most famous songs on stage in the form of a hologram in many places in the country, then went on a tour around the world. And she didn’t stop there…

Guide and programme of "The End" opera.

Yesterday, I went to Miku’s first opera, The End, which premiered in December 2012. Part of this collaborative audiovisual presentation, the soundtrack was produced and directed by Japanese electronic musician, Keiichiro Shibuya. The music followed the computer imagery conceptualised by graphic artist YKBX, which had characteristics similar to the virtual scenery found in Rez. As for Miku’s wardrobe, the star took off her trademark silver and teal outfit to wear clothing designed by Marc Jacobs and his team at Louis Vuitton.

The opera begins with introductionary music composed of digital clicks and scratches, like listening to a bad modem connection, reminiscent to glitch tracks by Oval. Slowly, the curtains are pulled up to reveal the stage, on which are four semi-transparent surfaces set as walls of a large cube for projectors to shed light on. Another smaller fence in within, surrounding the director and his equipment. The setup looked like we were peering inside a holodeck.

The virtual scene fades in, and Miku wakes up to the voice of a furry bunny standing next to her. The synthesised narratives and their captions take us through the story between songs, with a deep human-like female voice in English, and a chirpy high-pitched robotic one translating in Japanese.

Miku wears an outfit designed by Louis Vuitton.

Going outside together to buy a drink at a nearby vending machine, Miku and the rabbit encounter a strange being heading towards them. The humanoid has a strange bait, and looks it is trying hard to match the look of Miku. The hair seems right, but everything else about the creature looks a little bit off.

We do not find out who or what that entity is. Instead, from that moment, the rabbit guides Miku on a journey about a subject she hasn’t thought before. An inevitable point in her life that she didn’t think she will have to deal with, because as she grew older over time, as her friend points out, she became less human.

That moment she has to face is death. She never thought she would die someday, thinking only others around her were meant to pass away.

The story onwards takes us on a flight in and out Miku, exploring questions anyone wonders, and that Miku now has to ask herself: “What is death?,” “What is a human?,” “What is the end?”

Watching the opera was nothing like I have seen from Miku or any other Vocaloid before. Rather than the rhythmic, pop-like, happy-go-lucky material I came to expect from those digital characters, The End felt a lot darker, departing from Miku’s usual display of simple cheerfulness. The visuals, the sounds, and the underlying topics made the half-an-hour performance look like a rare, if not the first, experimental work involving Miku I have ever seen. It was surprising, but it was nice to see the leader of the Vocaloids being capable of expanding her psyche.

Miku makes an appearance.

If you heard Miku before, but don’t know much about her, or if you liked watching performances by pioneer of electronic arts like Yellow Magic Orchestra and Daft Punk, I definitely recommend spending a bit more to go see the opera. If you love Miku, I still recommend it, but don’t expect her usual light-hearted dances and joyful songs like those she performed during past appearances at Mikupa.

We are never told who was the strange beast we saw at the beginning. On my way out, a reporter of NHK stopped me for a short interview. She asked me who I thought it was, to which I have simply said, “Perhaps it is best we don’t know.”

[Trailer for "The End."]

Tokyo Institute of Technologeeks

Rémi with Miku.

The day after I attended the culture festival at an all-girls school, a photographer and friend of mine, Fernando, invited me to another festival at the Tokyo Institute of Technology (TITech… I know), where he has a few acquaintances. So, I hopped to their campus near Ookamachi station for university-style greatness!

The academy is not only reputed for the quality of education in various fields of technology, but it is also known for its high concentration of otaku that we all appreciate for their tenacity to squeeze in a Vocaloid or two in their scientific projects.

My friend and I failed to locate their anime club, but after braving the hallucinatory prettiness of the college girls at the food stands while filling our bellies with beer, chicken, waffles, and chocolate bananas, we ended up at no other place than their cosplay café. (Okay. I asked to go there.)

Mathematical formulæ for punching a black hole in the fabric of space. Right?
Students at TITech are developing Tsubame, a tiny satellite to be launched in space later this year.
Students at TITech are also developing tacos. The taste was quite decent, despite the weak spiciness.
Students at TITech are not developing beer, so the best I could do is buy some Thai lager on sale at one of the food tents.
Fernando is blazing through the campus, whacking people on their heads and racing a car among the crowd. I recorded the events for evidence. Such rage!
Girl with purple cat paws. Makes no sense, but I bet you wouldn’t mind her keeping you company.
Kyubey is asking Nyaruko to sign a contract. Not sure this was a good idea.
Luka and Miku will sign a duet for us tonight. Be sure to press the buttons at the right time.
Nyaruko will join Luka as a new Vocaloid.
I greeted her…
…and this is how Black Rock Shooter introduced herself.
As the sun sets, I can rest knowing we saved another day from nothing.

Thanks go to the cosplayers who let me do my Dutch angel of them. Photos by myself and Fernando Ramos, a.k.a. Mr. Outside.

Waiting Game: Tokyo Game Show 2012

After my first cosplay at Comiket 82, I guess it was no surprise to have fellow cosplayer friends ask me to join them at Tokyo Game Show. As I didn’t expect to have any costume in preparation ready by then, and could hardly justify being an anime character like Miketsukami at a gaming event, I said I’ll gladly go take photos of them, but I won’t be able to dress up at the event this year.

Although this excuse might have been reasonable, my next statement was stupid: “At least, not wearing a costume will allow me to play more games.”

Insert your biggest laugh here.

Arriving at the venue, located in Chiba, out of Tokyo, quickly reminded me how going to Tokyo Game Show as part of the public to play games is an expectation too high for many attendees. The general public doesn’t go there to play games — the people go there to get freebies from their favourite game makers, take photos of booth girls, see cosplayers, and watch trailers that’ll be available online, for anyone to view them at their comfort at home, right after the show.

Even buying, or should I say “reserving,” tickets online to save time and money was questionable. Saving 16% off the tickets sold on location was good, but having to wait because of their lack of organisation was not. The organisers managed to make me wait extra longer before I made them search for my ticket, after which they realised they gave it to someone else.

Fortunately, the growing pains somewhat faded away at the sight of the banner at the entrance.

Bandai Namco, Tecmo Koei, Sega, Konami, Capcom, Sony, Square Enix… The large players of the industry were all at the Nintendo-free event again. This year, there was an increasing attention given to mobile gaming, with large spaces for developers of mobile gaming platforms and games like Gree and Gloops. The familiar big names were also giving more showcase space to their mobile ventures.

Since mobile games were not the main attraction to the event, despite the space they occupied, it was easy for people to try many titles without waiting in line. As I wasn’t willing to wait hours on end at each booth, they were the only games I got to try. Those I played were by Sony, running on their smartphones and tablets. One of particular interest, Kaikan Ashitsubo Massage, had for mission to give a good rub on the legs of a girl wearing a skirt and a pair of stockings. The score was determined on how good she felt and how much you brought out of the pervert within.

It was nice being there, but I really think Tokyo Game Show should be about playing games rather than just watching them and waiting in line. But this is Japan, I guess. That said, perhaps it’d be best to go there as a member of the press next time, if I can manage to register as a reporter. This, plus doing my own cosplay. What a killer combo that would be.

Let’s hope my attempt to get the most out of Tokyo Game Show will succeed next year.

Ryū ga Gotoku 5: Yume Kanaeshi Mono, a.k.a. Yakuza 5, is an upcoming game by Sega due this year.

Sega was showing off their mobile games under the label Sega Apps.

Presenting Need for Speed: Most Wanted to be released later this year.

Chun Li, Ryu, and Cammy of Street Fighter. The cat in Ryu’s belt is just a fan.

My friend Yuuchi cosplaying as Homura Akemi of Madoka Magica. The anime series got its feet on the PSP with Madoka Magica Portable by Namco Bandai, released earlier this year.

I heard Luigi was kicked out by Nintendo for taking drugs. While he’s in rehab, he came at TGS to play some Tekken.