By clagnaught 43 Comments
Last night, I along with around a thousand or so other individuals gathered in downtown Dallas, TX to see Hatsune Miku, the universe's most popular virtual idol, and other Vocaloids perform live. Here is my detailed report:
Footage I recorded that definitely won't be pulled from YouTube:
What Is A Hatsune Miku Concert?
Since this is Giant Bomb Dot Com, a website about anime and wrestling, I don't think I actually need to talk about what this thing is, but I'll describe it briefly for the record, for those who haven't seen anything like this before. The two main components of the show are, 1) The Vocaloids, and 2) The band.
The singing is still from the synethic voice of the Vocaloids, which sounds identical to the original songs. Also, yes, there is a hologram in the middle of the stage that shows the digital idols singing and dancing. Because of this, I can imagine somebody thinking that attending a Hatsune Miku concert is the equivalent of watching a recording or movie. While that is true to an extent with the Vocaloids, the actual music is played by a live band. There is a real, flesh and blood guitarist, drummer, bassist, and keyboardist playing a vast majority of the songs people hear. By the way, it's actually kind of amazing that those four people have to cover all of those different styles of songs back to back. They don't have to pull off being a good J-Pop band; they have to work together as a good rock/pop/electronic/etc. band.
It's also worth mentioning that at the Miku Expo nobody is pretending that Hatsune Miku is a real thing. The concerts typically begin with a loading screen, the Vocaloids are digitized in and out of the stage, and the band members are clearly on stage next to her. You know the music is played by those specific musicians.
So, what is a Hatsune Miku concert? Well it's pretty much just like any other concert. There is a band playing music, they occasionally reference the city they are playing in, there is a section two-thirds through where the band members are introduced by doing a wicked cool solo, and there is even a fake encore I wish all bands and artists would stop doing forever. The only difference is there's a hologram in the middle of the stage and the singing was prearranged out of somebody's bedroom or studio with a program halfway across the world.
- World Is Mine
- The Disappearance of Hatsune Miku [Shortened Version]
- Two-Faced Lovers
- Unhappy Refrain
- World's End Dancehall
- Weekend Girl
- Deep-Sea Girl
- Glass Wall
- Change Me
- Tokyo Teddy Bear
- Butterfly On Your Right Shoulder
- Remote Control
- Love Is War
- Last Night, Good Night
- Ten Thousand Stars
- Just Be Friends
- Secret Police
- The Intense Singing of Hatsune Miku
- Sekiranun Graffiti
- Tell Your World
- Blue Star
- Sharing The World
- Star Fragment [Piano Version]
Out of the live concert albums I have listened to from the previous Miku Expos and the live Blu-Ray I own, I would say this is probably my favorite Hatsune Miku setlist I have seen. When I look back at the show as a whole, it is difficult to pick a specific highlight to summarize the experience. The main reason is because this show was just a hair under 2 hours and had a whooping 27 songs. While 27 songs almost sounds like too many, it's worth mentioning that a majority of songs are about 3 to 4 minutes long. This makes the Miku Expo both one of the longest concert setlists and one of the fastest moving shows I have experienced.
What also makes it hard to pick that one moment to summarize the show is in between everything you have the more typical J-Pop songs with fun and silly dances, to more rock oriented songs, to slow ballads, to dubstep. While I don't have a favorite moment of the night, here are a few noteworthy songs I will mention:
- World's End Dancehall: This is pretty much the song that got me into Hatsune Miku. It was the song I played during the PS3 demo of Project Diva f that made me think, "Huh...maybe there's something to this thing." Seeing this song live with both Miku and Luka on stage was kind of important for me on a personal level, in addition to the fact this is one of my favorite Hatsune Miku songs.
- Ten Thousand Stars and Blue Star: While I do really enjoy these songs, I wanted to highlight these in particular, because they were the main songs selected for the Miku Expo this year, like "Sharing The World" (that David Letterman song) was the theme for a previous Expo. My main takeaway from Hatsune Miku and the other Vocaloids--more so than all of the art, YouTube videos, and even videogames--is how I view them as a platform for other people to create interesting music. The person who wrote "Ten Thousand Stars", as an example, isn't a big and famous Vocaloid creator. He's just a normal dude who won a contest. He went from being a fan to having his song being performed by the real thing. It's an incredibly specific experience you won't really get unless you pay attention to the fact that all of these songs are created by individual contributors, but it is still awesome to see.
- The Intense Singing of Hatsune Miku: Even though I wouldn't put "The Intense Singing of Hatsune Miku" on a list of my Top 10 favorite Hatsune Miku songs, the second half of this song was the coolest thing I saw during the show. Basically when the Miku starts spitting hot fire, she sprouts huge angelic wings just as pillars of fog shoot out from the venue. At that moment, when I heard the music, saw what was happening on stage and how the lights lit up the room, to seeing everybody else around me freak out over the exact same thing was a jaw dropping experience.
There are plenty of songs that I like that were not played during this show, including, but not limited to, "Sweet Devil", "2D Fever Dream", and "ODDS&ENDS". Personally I'm not lamenting any of this. The setlist had really well done peaks and valleys, had fewer songs I did not care for compared to other setlists, and most of the songs I either loved, really liked, or was at least familiar with. While I have enjoyed all of the Miku Expo sets I have listened to in the past, there was always a time where another Vocaloid would come out and play a song I didn't care for, or they would play a song that would slow down the momentum too much. That and I'm also conscious about the fact that putting a setlist like this together must be incredibly difficult. For what Hatsune Miku is, building up a proper setlist is strangely a more difficult task than a band like Metallica would have, since all they would have to do is go out and play the hits. With Miku, you would have to factor in the different genres of music, balance it out between long and short songs, include songs from different Vocaloids, and have to choose between songs with radically different tones. So even though this was not the "perfect" Hatsune Miku setlist, it is practically impossible to do so and the list of songs they put together was really satisfying for me anyways.
So far I have almost been talking exclusively about Hatsune Miku. However, there were actually five other Vocaloids performing. The rest of the gang you may have seen from the Project Diva games, MEIKO, KAITO, Kagamine Rin, Kagamine Len, and Megurine Luka, were also there. However, the other Vocaloids did feel like the B team. KAITO and MEIKO, for example, only had one song each and they performed back to back. So while they were in attendance, the timing and the amount of stage time those two had felt like they were included more out of obligation and were then discarded. On the other hand, Len, Ren, and Luka appeared more frequently and appeared more throughout the show
For the record, I was mainly there to rock out to Hatsune Miku songs. I do really like a handful of Luka songs and enjoy random songs from the other Vocaloids, but if you were to ask me to go to a KAITO solo concert, I would say, "No, thank you, sir/madam". I still think that if all six Vocaloids are going to be billed and marketed together in some way, you should probably have more than one song from each of them. Especially when you consider there are other people who are huge KAITO fans, who might feel burned that he only appeared on stage for 3 minutes out of a 2 hour show. That said, MEIKO's one song, "Change Me", kind of sold me on her. Even with playing the more recent Hatsune Miku games and consuming random Vocaloid content over the past few years, I never really cared for her. Listening to "Change Me" at the show was the best song I've heard from her and it felt like I instantly turned a corner on her.
I should probably get right to it. So how was the hologram? Well, it was really impressive. The Miku Expo has actually come a long way over the past few years. If you search for Hatsune Miku concerts 5 or so years ago, there is a noticeable drop in quality from the models to the animation. I'm not 100% certain on this, but I think there were other issues where there could only be one Vocaloid on the screen at one time, which impacted some of the duets they could do.
If I had to pick one word to describe the holograms, it would be, "Smooth". There is a fluid movement between the effects, the animation, and the speed of everything. Nothing about it looks framey. While all of this is for a digital idol that everybody knows isn't real, presenting this in a believable way really sold the experience.
The other noteworthy thing from a production standpoint was the show's use of lights. Some of this is something you would really need to see for yourself to appreciate, but the show's use of lighting, strobe lights, and color, along with the occasional effects with the fog and the confetti at the end, helped intensify the energy from the band and the Vocaloids themselves. All of this also helped recreate some of the look and feel of some of the music videos for the original songs.
Also, they handed out glow sticks, because of course you would hand out glow sticks at a show like this. Some people even had specialty glow sticks that changed depending on who was performing. Everybody in the crowd having at least one glow stick was one of those perfect and appropriate details for a show like this.
Overall, I had a lot of fun at the Miku Expo and absolutely recommend going if you are a fan of Hatsune Miku. Over the years I've seen everything from death metal, K-Pop, rap, post-rock, indie rock, and classic rock, but nothing quite like this. This was the first Vocaloid, J-Pop, and (technically) dubstep concert I've attended, so I can go ahead and mark those off my bucket list. In addition to the novelty factor, this show was a really fun time that I never thought I would actually experience. When I was on vacation last year visiting Japan for the first time, I opened a random email that said Hatsune Miku was coming to my town and I metaphorically lost my shit. That night I set my alarm around 3:00 AM Tokyo time to wake myself up to buy a ticket for when they went on sale in the United States. Even during the show itself, I would randomly think, "I still can't believe this is happening".
Beyond that, there's really nothing else like Hatsune Miku and its fans. The audience ranged from kids, people in their twenties, to people in their fifties. It included people who cosplayed, to people decked out in random Vocaloid clothing and accessories, to more typical geeks and otakus, and a bunch of other people who you wouldn't immediately picture as being Miku fans (Hell, the last concert I went to was an Amon Amarth show). In the videogaming and music cultures, you may occasionally hear about how big Vocaloids are, whether its seeing articles about how Hatsune Miku is going to take over the world or seeing random things like that one Domino's Pizza ad explode. But it's another thing to see a thousand odd people all gathered around for the same (kinda weird) thing.
After seeing some bands or artists, I can say to myself, "I don't need to see X again". Even if it would be fun to go to another one of their shows, I have this feeling where I got what I needed to get out of it. And then there are other times where I will make an effort to see a band as many times as I can. If they come to my hometown more than once, I will gladly pay to go there again. Right now, I feel like I will see Hatsune Miku whenever I can. It seems highly unlikely she will come back to Texas anytime soon, so I'm not sure if that would mean I will have to fly somewhere to do so. Whatever the case may be, being in that moment in time, with those people, to listen to that music is something I would gladly do again.
Other Random Observations
- If you are going to go to one of these shows, get there really early. The Vocaloid community may be a niche group of people, but when they do all gather together, they swarm. I was there over an hour early and was met with crazy long lines for both the venue itself and the merch. At the bare minimum, you should be there at least an hour early.
- I saw a PlayStation Vita at the show. I've owned a Vita for almost 4 years now, and I have never seen one owned by anybody else. This includes day to day living, travelling, and going to Japan itself. Granted, I've never been to PAX or an anime convention, which feels like a more likely place one would find somebody with a Vita, but after going for so long without seeing one, it was kind of shocking. I literally did a double take. I'm not sure what's more surprising: the fact I saw a Vita out there in the wild, or somebody seemingly using it as a camera.
- I meet somebody who likes Giant Bomb! Again this would be less noteworthy if I went to a PAX or something, but this was still neat. For the show, I ended up wearing my luchadeer shirt to the concert, primarily because I didn't own a t-shirt that was analogous to Miku, but also as a way to see if I could bump into any other Duders/Dudettes. The Giant Bomb t-shirt got three reactions during the evening. 1) When I was standing in the merch line, somebody walked by quickly and yelled "I like your shirt", but he kept walking and I had no idea if he was talking to me or somebody else. 2) A guy standing in the merch line said "Mysterio" to me a couple of times, and I had no idea what he was talking about, and he dropped it. 3) At the end of the show, somebody talked to me for a few seconds to ask if I was going to upload the footage I recorded somewhere. As we were wrapping up, she said, "I thought I would ask since you seemed like you had a better view and, also, I like Giant Bomb."