Vocaloids are characters that were originally created for Yamaha Corporation's Vocaloid singing synthesizer software. The software, which began life in the late-90's as a research project led by Hideki Kenmochi of Pompeu University and later Voctro Labs, is designed to generate synthesized singing by allowing the user to input both lyrics and an accompanying melody. First released in 2004, the Vocaloid software package includes a singer library; essentially a collection of different synthesizer voices, based on the voices of real-life performers, that can be chosen to sing the user's inputs. Initially, official voice banks for the synthesizer were designed specifically with Japanese in mind, but support for other languages has become increasingly prevalent since the "VOCALOID2" (or, V2) edition of the software released in 2007.
For marketing purposes, the companies producing Vocaloid voice banks often create characters to represent each bank, many of which have since become popular in their own right. The most famous of these are Crypton Future Media's characters, especially Hatsune Miku, a V2 voice bank based on the voice of voice actress Saki Fujita. Since release, Hatsune Miku has become the most famous Vocaloid character by far, appearing in marketing not just for Vocaloid, but for products ranging from Toyota automobiles to Domino's Pizza. Since 2009, Miku and other Crypton Vocaloids have received numerous real-life concerts, accomplished via a live band performing popular songs created by the Vocaloid community, while a projected image of the characters perform dance routines on-stage.
In video games, Hatsune Miku and other Crypton characters first appeared as cameos in titles such as PangYa. In 2009, Hatsune Miku received her own rhythm game with Hatsune Miku: Project Diva, which contains a variety of songs composed using the Vocaloid software. Subsequent entries in the franchise include other Crypton-designed Vocaloids, such as Megurine Luka, Kagamine Len and Rin, MEIKO, KAITO, and others.
Crypton Future Media Characters
One of the earliest voice bank producers, Crypton Future Media is responsible for many of the most well-known Vocaloid characters, including Hatsune Miku. In 2019, Crypton discontinued their involvement with Yamaha and the Vocaloid software, moving all of their voice banks and associated characters to the internally-developed "Piapro Studio" software. While technically no longer Vocaloid characters, Crypton's characters are still widely referred to and viewed as Vocaloids, due to their origins with the software and their reputation as the most famous mascots created for the software.
- KAITO and MEIKO - The first two Vocaloid voice banks to have mascot characters tied to them.
- Hatsune Miku - By far the most famous Vocaloid character, and often considered the mascot for Vocaloid as a whole.
- Kagamine Rin and Len - The second-most famous Vocaloids behind Miku.
- Megurine Luka - The first multi-lingual voice bank, launching with Japanese and English compatibility.
Since the start of the Vocaloid software, a number of fan-made Vocaloids have been created, often starting as character designs and/or voice banks for the freeware "UTAU" program, before becoming popular with the Vocaloid community. Certain fan-made Vocaloids have become popular enough to receive official recognition, typically from Crypton Future Media.
Fan-made characters are often portrayed together, especially in the case of Akita Neru, Kasane Teto, and Yowane Haku, the first three fan-made characters to receive recognition from Crypton Future Media.