You walk into a concert hall. People mill about you, some in Vocaloid cosplay, some not. Nearly everyone has a sea-green colored glow stick at the ready. The hall is dark, but you can vaguely see the faces around you – EVERYONE looks excited. You look to the stage and see the band start to come out. They take their places as the fog machines start. In the middle of the stage, you see a strange contraption: a nearly unnoticeable screen and projection equipment. Then, from above, you hear the first chord of the opening song. The crowd screams in response, raising their glow sticks high above their heads. A light appears on-screen and the introduction animation plays. Then, a silhouette of a girl with pigtails appears. The crowd, and you, goes wild.
What is a Vocaloid concert?
To many, the idea of going to a concert to see a virtual singer sounds absurd. Why would you pay money to see what is clearly just an animation on a screen? However, like any other concert, it is the experience of seeing their favorite singer live that draws fans to concerts. We know she is fake, but we indulge in the amazing technology that, for a second, makes our favorite Vocaloids seem real.
The concept of having Vocaloids in concert is not new. Hatsune Miku, and the other Vocaloids, have been performing in concerts since 2009. The first major Vocaloid concert was in 2010, the Miku no Hi Kanshasai 39’s Giving Day concert. This concert was a collaboration between Sega and Crypton Media to promote their new game, “Hatsune Miku -Project DIVA- 2nd”. These first concerts were blurry and the animation was clunky, yet fans loved seeing Miku and the other Vocaloids in front of them.
The biggest problem with the first few concerts was that the organizers had yet to perfect their technology. The main fault was with the projector, which was weaker than modern ones, and thus led to a more diffused image when projected onto the screen. But, as the years passed, virtual concert technology only improved. Modern concerts have Miku and company looking crisp, clear, and with better animation. She even greets the audience and introduces the band in some concerts. She, and the other Vocaloids that appear in the concert, have become full-fledged pop idols!
The concert itself is only possible through the use of a Dilad screen. Dilad screens are designed by the Kimoto Company, who specialize in these rear projection screens. The screens themselves have multiple layers, shown below, with each layer contributing to the overall trapping and diffusing of light. The screen is adhered to the back of a pane of glass and can be either transparent or translucent. The transparent ones allow for a more immersive experience, but have a smaller viewing window, while the translucent ones have a wider viewing area, but are more obvious.
One interesting thing to note is that the main layer is comprised of what appear to be equally spread out, yet minuscule, bubbles. These bubbles help capture and refract the light that is projected through the screen. This allows the image remain crisp more consistently to the viewer. However, as mentioned above, the technology still has its limits. The company is still working hard to make their screens better and better. But, in its current state, the projection can be difficult to see from extreme distances and angles. When viewing from the side, the projection looks flat and fuzzy no matter how good the image quality is. As such, it is the concert coordinators duty to modify the space so that the audience can have the best viewing surface.
One of the other big issues with the technology is the reflectiveness of the screen. This means that every glow stick in the audience reflects on the screen, compromising the image. The concert coordinators have developed strategies to minimize this, such as raising the stage above the audience so the interference only hits the bottom part of the screen, and keeping people further back so the reflection isn’t as large or bright. As of yet, this issue has not been resolved, because the screen cannot display the images and be non-reflective at the same time.
The Culture of the Concerts
Despite problems with the technology, the concerts still present a fundamentally amazing outlet of fan culture. An interesting component of Vocaloids themselves is that none of them have any canonical traits. Any mannerisms, backstories, or personalities of these characters are entirely fan created, and it is in the Vocaloid concerts where these collaborative fan stories take shape.
Collectively, the community created personalities for Miku and the others through their music. This bleeds through into the concerts, where each Vocaloid has their own unique stage presence based off of their fan-made personality, which perpetuates what each Vocaloid’s personality is. It is an interesting cycle of cause-and-effect that has solidified the characters as people to many fans’ eyes.
It is in this humanization that the most interesting component of the concert, to me, comes in to play. If you think about it, animation is limitless. Thus, Miku and the other Vocaloids are limitless, as well; they are not constrained by what a human performer can physically do. And yet, for most of the concerts, the Vocaloids act how performers act. They use microphones, stands, and headsets, they use props, and they even talk to the audience as though they are responding to conversations they hear. At their core, they seem less like animated figures and more like real people, and real performers.
Vocaloid concerts truly are a flagship technology in modern-day. Unfortunately, it is a flagship seen only by a lucky few. For Vocaloid fans in the states, we have to wait for a company that owns Vocaloids to bring a concert to us, or make our own official derivative concerts. As of yet, there have been no announcements as to whether there is going to be a Vocaloid concert in the states this year; it seems like the only places having concerts this year are Japan and China. If you have the means and opportunity, though, this year’s Magical Mirai concert is gracing Japan September 1-3. This is an annual concert held by Crypton Media and features all of the fan favorites: Hatsune Miku, Kagamine Rin, Kagamine Len, Megurine Luka, KAITO, and MEIKO. If you’re interested, you can check out last year’s show below.