0 Items | £0.00


Virtual idol Hatsune Miku

Monday 21st November 2011

Andrew Osmond on Hatsune Miku and virtual idols

Hatsune Miku

Wielding a luminous forest of lightsticks, the crowd cheers lustily as the blue-haired starlet struts birdlike on the stage, her voice a piercing high warble. The audience is flesh and blood; so are the musicians sharing the stage with the diva. Hatsune Miku, though, is 100% anime. Her pale skin and train of blue hair glow in the auditorium like the lightsticks raised up to her. Projected onto a clear screen, she’s a cartoon image with a fanbase in the thousands. Last year, that image was etched on metal plates and sent into space aboard the Japanese unmanned Venus probe, Akatsuki. It seems only fitting, given that Miku’s “live” music videos look like something out of science-fiction.

When Miku isn’t being a stage projection, she has a second career as a videogame sprite. Go to the Sega World games centre in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro district, and you can see her perform pop numbers on a vast TV screen, projected from one of the many arcade booths where players struggle to follow her rhythms. The game is called Project Diva, a “hit the buttons in the right sequence” affair with dozens of different Miku videos (there’s also a version for the PlayStation Portable).

Hatsune MikuOfficially, Miku is neither a stage projection nor a game character, but a piece of software based on Vocaloid technology. The Vocaloid – in the words of Hiroyuki Itoh, CEO of Crypton Future Media, the company which owns Miku – is “an engine that produces a singing sound.” Other Crypton Vocaloid characters appear alongside Miku in her games and stage shows. There are the boy-and-girl twins Len and Rin Kagamine, and Megurine Luka with her strawberry hair and her deeper, funkier voice. Miku’s own voice has been described cruelly by her detractors (as Morph on a megaphone, or a strangled chipmunk) but her singing partners balance her out quite a bit.

One things which fascinates people is what Miku’s popularity says about her fans. How on earth can people in a pop stadium respond so enthusiastically to a cartoon character who –sorry folks – isn’t real? Inevitably, a lot of the press talks about Miku in terms of crazy Japanese pop-culture, or crazy otaku pop-culture. Actually, her lineage goes back before either idea was in circulation. Decades before Jurassic Park or Jar Jar Binks, cinema audiences were already used to the idea of actors interacting with characters who weren’t really “there.” Indeed, they responded to these characters themselves; they laughed at Bugs Bunny, blubbed at Bambi, and cheered at Gene Kelly dancing a duet with Jerry (from Tom and Jerry). Other characters provoked more, ahem, interesting responses.

In 1943, mad animation genius Tex Avery released a saucy cartoon called Red Hot Riding Hood, the centrepiece of which was a song and dance routine by sexy singer “Red,” wearing very little, very attractively. One can only imagine how a crowd of on-leave U.S. soldiers would react to that kind of spectacle (unsurprisingly, Red returned in several follow-up cartoons in the ‘40s). Skip forward forty-five years, and it was Jessica Rabbit wowing audiences in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, breathing “Why don’t you do right,” and getting Bob Hoskins’s dander up.

Sharon AppleIn anime, who can forget Sharon Apple (another redhead), the femme fatale cyber-goddess in Macross Plus, floating over her adoring fans like a luminous angel? It’s interesting to note, though, that in the anime story she’s the dream of a flesh-and-blood woman, her alter ego, whom she seeks to destroy. A similar idea is used in Satoshi Kon’s film Perfect Blue, where the singer-goddess is a creation of a psychosis; not that that makes her any less forceful as she skips atop lamp-posts and mocks her creator from a computer screen. An earlier virtual anime singer was Eve in the 1980s video series Megazone 23, whom the public believe is real, but who is actually the A.I. of a supercomputer.

Kyoko DateThe first “real” virtual idol in Japan was the crudely-animated Kyoko Date in 1997, who released a single called Love Communication. She was followed by Yuki Terai, who was packaged with early 3DCG software, appeared in pop videos and released a DVD. Hatsune Miku’s impact has been far greater, but her forgotten predecessors remind us even virtual pop-stars are transitory. Will we be talking about Miku two years from now, let alone five or ten?

The “live” concert footage of Miku is breathtaking, but according to people who were actually at the events, it’s also misleading. Reportedly, the illusion that Miku is on stage is only perfect if you’re placed watching the projection head-on; otherwise Miku and her chums look rather ghostly. Nonetheless, the potential of the stage technology is obvious. If it can simulate a pop concert, then why not a story, a whole anime drama played on stage with anime characters? An audience with Gollum, or Astro Boy, or Haruhi Suzumiya (or better still, all three)? Or how about a Roger Rabbit-style stage spectacular, with live and anime performers? Once you let a blue-haired, squeaky-voiced diva on stage, then brace yourself… It’s her world now.

“Hatsune Miku Live Party 2011” will be shown at the Apollo Piccadilly cinema on Monday November 28 (at 6.30 pm) and on Tuesday November 29 (at 8.30 pm) Tickets can be booked on the cinema website.


Akira (the Collector\'s Edition) Triple Play Edition (incl. Blu-ray, Dvd, Digital Copy)

was £29.99
Iconic and game-changing, Akira is the definitive anime masterpiece! Katsuhiro Otomo’s landmark cyberpunk classic obliterated the boundaries of Japanese animation and forced the world to look into the future. Akira’s arrival shattered traditional thinking, creating space for movies like The Matrix to be dreamed into brutal reality.

Neo-Tokyo, 2019. The city is being rebuilt post World War III when two high school drop outs, Kaneda and Tetsuo stumble across a secret government project to develop a new weapon - telekinetic humans. After Tetsuo is captured by the military and experimented on, he gains psychic abilities and learns about the existence of the project's most powerful subject, Akira. Both dangerous and destructive, Kaneda must take it upon himself to stop both Tetsuo and Akira before things get out of control and the city is destroyed once again. 
AKIRA The Collector’s Edition features both the original 1988 Streamline English dub and the 2001

Pioneer/Animaze English dub!



Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira then and now

Helen McCarthy examines Katsuhiro Otomo’s landmark Akira, then and now
1988 in Japan: Yamaha Motors won the J-League but Nissan won the Cup. Western pop divas Bananarama, Kylie and Tiffany were on TV. Japanese real estate values climbed so high that the Imperial Palace garden was worth more than the State of California, and Tokyo’s Chiyoda ward had a higher market value than Canada. The Government signed the FIRST Basel Accord, triggering a crash that wiped out half Japan’s stock market. Katsuhiro Omoto’s movie Akira premiered on 16th July.

Akira's Ancestors

Andrew Osmond on the unexpected forerunners of Neo-Tokyo
In Akira’s opening moments, a sphere of white light appears from nowhere in the centre of Tokyo, and swells to obliterate the city. Many Western critics saw the image as a symbol of the Bomb, like the earlier Japanese pop-culture icon, Godzilla. But the designer apocalypse could be taken as Akira’s own mission statement – to be a new kind of entertainment, blowing away its peers and reshaping the cinema landscape.

The Impact of Akira

Andrew Osmond reviews the reviews from 20 years ago.
On its explosive arrival in the West, Akira crossed the Pacific to catch the generation that grew up on the films of Spielberg and Lucas; it was also the generation that read adult superhero strips such as Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. Akira, though, offered the shock-and-awe widescreen violence akin to that of enfant terrible live-action director, Paul Verhoeven. For example, both Akira and Verhoeven’s Robocop (1987) have a gory money-shot scene in their early minutes, in which a luckless bit-part player is graphically torn apart by a hail of bullets. Unsurprisingly, such imagery excited reviewers.

Akira 25th Anniversary Screenings

Your chance to see it in the cinema in the UK
Neo-Tokyo is about to E.X.P.L.O.D.E. Katsuhiro Otomo’s debut animated feature AKIRA had its Japanese premiere on 16th July 1988. We are very proud to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of what is undoubtedly, one of the most celebrated animated movies of all time. Voted by Empire readers as one of the top 100 best films ever and cited by everyone from James Cameron, Ridley Scott, Daft Punk and Kanye West as a massive influence on their work, AKIRA kick-started the anime business all over the world, opening the doors for everything from Pokémon to Princess Mononoke.

The Art of Akira

Joe Peacock tracks down the original images from the anime classic
Watching Akira for the first time provokes a universal reaction of awe. And justifiably so: there’s often an overwhelming sense among audiences that this animated film is unlike any other they’ve ever seen. Casual viewers won’t be able to put their finger on it; they just know that Akira is visually striking. Art and illustration aficionados appreciate the intricacy of individual scenes, sometimes pausing the film to appreciate the detail in a particular frame.

Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira then and now

Helen McCarthy examines Katsuhiro Otomo’s landmark Akira, then and now
1988 in Japan: Yamaha Motors won the J-League but Nissan won the Cup. Western pop divas Bananarama, Kylie and Tiffany were on TV. Japanese real estate values climbed so high that the Imperial Palace garden was worth more than the State of California, and Tokyo’s Chiyoda ward had a higher market value than Canada. The Government signed the FIRST Basel Accord, triggering a crash that wiped out half Japan’s stock market. Katsuhiro Omoto’s movie Akira premiered on 16th July.


Short Peace

Jasper Sharp on the anthology movie currently touring the UK
There have been three Japanese works nominated in the Academy Awards category for Best Animated Short Film over the past ten years or so: Koji Yamamura’s Mt. Head (2002), Kunio Kato’s The House of Small Cubes (2008) – so far the country’s only winner – and most recently Shuhei Morita’s Possessions (2013). For all that, it remains pretty difficult for most viewers who aren’t regulars on the specialised festival circuit to catch such examples of cutting-edge animation.


Jack Neighbour prepares you for life in Japan
With the UK economy in the horrendous state it’s in, there’s no surprise that increasing numbers of young people are fleeing the baron jobless wasteland that our Great Britain has become in search of greener pastures, where they can drink and sleep in peace without being labelled as wasters. Japan is becoming a popular haven for the fallen to run to after they realise that a degree in the Arts will get you about as far as you can throw it.

High School DxD vs RIN

Andrew Osmond says if you liked that, you might like this…
“Sometimes you are thrown complete curveballs. So you will think that you are watching a series about a bunch of schoolchildren fighting aliens... and then one of them will stick their finger up another one's bum..."

One Piece Music Symphony

The Royal Philharmonic orchestra tackles the One Piece score
Anime composer Kohei Tanaka is to appear at London's Cadogan Hall as Jean Thorel conducts the One Piece Music Symphony with the Royal Philharmonic. Tickets on sale now...!

From Naruto to Fairy Tail

Paul Browne on the music of Yasuharu Takanashi
Two high-profile Manga Entertainment releases have something in common in the form of musician and composer Yasuharu Takanashi. It’s the distinctive musical strokes of Takanashi that appear on the new Naruto movie The Lost Tower as well as the upcoming movie addition to the Fairy Tail series – Phoenix Priestess.

Podcast: The Evangelion Two-Step

Box sets and brutal violence, in our 23rd podcast
Jeremy Graves is joined by Jerome Mazandarani and Andrew Hewson for our 23rd podcast., featuring cover woes, delayed shows, and several uses of the word Slash. Your questions answered, dodged or otherwise belittled, while Jerome confesses to his Facebook addiction, and Jeremy is reprimanded for flagging his own segues.

Fairy Tail: Phoenix Priestess

Anime’s answer to the summer blockbusters
This is the perfect summer blockbuster movie, as well as a textbook example of how to do a spin-off feature just right. Modern-day Hollywood could learn a lot from Phoenix Priestess, even as it sticks to lessons from an older version of the American Dream Factory.
Last week we gave you the opportunity to vote for your favourite male character from Attack on Titan. This week is your chance to vote for your favourite female character and while there may be fewer choices, we feel it’s definitely anyone’s game this week.
This week we have Dragon Ball Z Kai: Season 4, One Piece (Uncut) Collection 12 and Bleach Complete Series 15 Box Set.
Contact Us   |   Refund Policy   |   Delivery Times   |   Privacy statement   |   Terms & Conditions
Please note your card statement will show billing by MVM. Virtual idol Hatsune Miku from the UK's best Anime Blog.