Hatsune Miku will perform concerts in Los Angeles and New York in October. I went to see her in Tokyo last week and it was one of the most unusual and amazing concerts I've ever seen. Here's why.
The Tokyo concert (and its Osaka leg, where most of these photos were taken) was called Magical Mirai. "Mirai" means "future," because that's where Hatsune Miku is from. I'll explain more in a minute. Look, here she is playing guitar on stage.
© Crypton Future Media, INC. www.piapro.net / © SEGA?Graphics by SEGA / MARZA ANIMATION PLANET INC./Organized by TOKYO MX / Crypton Future Media, INC. The stage is real but the guitar is not, which is fine, because Miku’s not real either. Hatsune Miku is a voice bank created by Crypton Future Media for Yamaha's Vocaloid software, which lets anyone type in a melody and lyrics and have Miku sing on their song. Her basic visual appearance is also free to use for non-commercial purposes.
This makes Hatsune Miku not just the world's first virtual superstar, but also the first open-source superstar, and a huge community has sprung up around the world to create and share songs and music videos. All the songs performed at the concert were made by fans.
© TOKYO MX/© Crypton Future Media, INC. www.piapro.net © Crypton Future Media, INC. www.piapro.net / © SEGA?Graphics by SEGA / MARZA ANIMATION PLANET INC./Organized by TOKYO MX / Crypton Future Media, INC.
Magical Mirai was Miku's biggest concert ever, and the see-through screen on which she appeared ran across the whole stage. She was beamed onto it by several projectors working in tandem, a cutting-edge technology developed by Crypton Future Media just for Miku's shows.
Taking advantage of her holographic form, Miku was enhanced by visual tricks that a human singer could never do. She changed outfits instantly between every song, from dresses to miniskirts to leather chaps, disappearing and reappearing with a swirl of light or a wash of bubbles. Here she is in a cute little black number. © Crypton Future Media, INC. www.piapro.net / © SEGA?Graphics by SEGA / MARZA ANIMATION PLANET INC./Organized by TOKYO MX / Crypton Future Media, INC.
Miku was backed by a live band of super-tight rock musicians, which really brought the whole illusion to life. When she toured with Lady Gaga in the United States a few months ago, the restrictions of being an opening act meant the experience was scaled down, and the music came from a backing tape. But the concerts in October will feature her live band.
© TOKYO MX/© Crypton Future Media, INC. www.piapro.net
Crypton Future Media has several other Vocaloids, each with their own voice and look, and they all appeared on stage too. Here's Megurine Luka. © Crypton Future Media, INC. www.piapro.net / © SEGA?Graphics by SEGA / MARZA ANIMATION PLANET INC./Organized by TOKYO MX / Crypton Future Media, INC.
And here are the twins Kagamine Rin and Len. The boy (Len) did backflips and breakdancing like it was the 80s, even though he was only created in 2007.
© Crypton Future Media, INC. www.piapro.net / © SEGA?Graphics by SEGA / MARZA ANIMATION PLANET INC./Organized by TOKYO MX / Crypton Future Media, INC.
All the dancing was motion-captured and mapped to 3D CGI models, and it looked completely fluid and realistic. Andy Serkis may have the monkey face down, but Miku has the moves.
I was right at the back of this massive arena, the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium. From where I was standing Miku and friends appeared almost 100% real. The only thing that ruined the illusion was the reflection in the screen of the audience's glow-sticks—you'd think they'd ban those at a concert by a hologram, but hey.
Hatsune Miku's core audience in Japan is otaku, a subculture group of obsessive hobbyists. Otaku tend to be indoor types, so having tens of thousands of them together in one room was a proper nerdgasm. If you've ever seen an otaku dance you'll understand why they usually don't. It was all centered around the glow-sticks, which they thrust skyward and waggled in time to the music. No moshpit, then.
Here’s a group of fans at the Osaka show, uh, fishing.
Some had come in cosplay, though none of the fans I asked wanted to have their photo taken. So here's how the staff at the CD booth were dressed instead.
The merchandise booth had sold out of almost everything by the time I arrived, but I’m sure you'll be able to get some cool swag at the US shows. And since Hatsune Miku is all about harnessing the creativity of the fans, start practicing your Miku illustrations now.
Hatsune Miku Expo 2014 will be held on October 11-12 at Nokia Theater in LA and October 17-18 at Hammerstein Ballroom in New York. As well as the concerts there will also be exhibitions in both cities. For more info, visit www.mikuexpo.com
Daniel Robson is our Japanese music expert. Follow him on Twitter.