Vocaloid has already become a turning point not only in music as such, but also in cosplay. In a very short time, it succeeded in attracting the attention of so many cosplayers, that presently there is almost none without at least a version of a Vocaloid costume. Maybe the most interesting of its features is its limitless versatility and its power of perpetual transformation. Always elusive, just when one thinks it’s getting too boring to see the same Vocaloid outfits, suddenly a new version appears, emphasizing yet another facet of a character everyone considered done with. It’s not only a costume, but a whole universe that must be understood before completing each outfit, and such a universe is created for each of the already countless versions of Hatsune Miku, Gakupo, Luka or Kagamine Len.
Each Vocaloid can be regarded as a huge dollhouse, in which all the outfits are very well kept, and then taken out and worn one by one, in a never ending stream of stories. The concept itself has its own story, and Mr. Hiroyuki Itoh, CEO of Crypton Future Media, mother-company of Hatsune Miku and other Vocaloids, was kind enough to recount it for us. In his own words, Vocaloid was the name of artificial-voice technology and had no meaning of “singing character”. We put “personal appearance” on the package of Meiko, our first Vocaloid, for the first time in 2004 when we developed it and had a sales success for it. After that, we have been using “personal appearance” for Vocaloids we produce. However, YouTube had not been born yet when we released Meiko and Kaito. We started developing Hatsune Miku in early 2007 and had decided to use the voice of an Anime voice actress for the model of Miku because there are a lot of Anime fans in Japan and we thought the software with an actress’s voice would be accepted by them.
Paradoxically, in a world in which almost all media has become the target of a veritable copyright infringement paranoia, the element that contributed a lot to the development of Vocaloid and Vocaloid cosplay was the license policy adopted by Crypton, who understood the role of the fans in the spreading of this phenomenon. The Vocaloid fanbase is increasing worldwide, and for many it has become an outlet of creativity, whether by creating their own songs, illustrations or cosplay. In most cases, these elements are actually inter-related. Users of Vocaloid software synchronize the music they produce with illustrations and create videos, then upload them on video sharing sites such as Nico Nico Douga or YouTube. As Mr. Itoh recounts, in December 2007 a further step has been taken. We thought the illustrations of our characters would be necessary for music creators who make videos, so we launched a website called Piapro (piapro.jp) a platform for the music creators and illustrators to meet. Also, we made the copyrights for our characters open to illustrators, in order to allow them to use our characters, such as Hatsune Miku, for their creations. I think the number of Vocaloid cosplayers has increased because such creations on video sharing sites have spread around the world.
Perhaps what makes Vocaloid so special in comparison with other elements of Japanese contemporary culture is its perpetual changing in both characters, and universe alike. A Vocaloid is not a static character, with a given story and a fixed set of attributes, as in the case of many classic characters, such as those in manga or anime. A Vocaloid is in fact a process, and, as with any real artist, the virtual one also has a career, songs, stage performances, and personal life with ups and downs and its share of dramas and happy moments. And the most amazing fact is that nothing of these is scheduled beforehand, but all of them develop and unfold unpredictably, and the fans have a huge role in this development; no one knows what future holds for Miku – although virtual, she has a life of her own, and the fans and cosplayers alike will eagerly follow her along the way.
There are tons of Vocaloid versions and interpretations already released, and there will surely be other tons in the future too. Complexity is another incontestable trait of the entire Vocaloid universe, and the wide variety of choices is a blessing for any cosplayer: Sandplay Singing of the Dragon, Venomania, Magnet, Love is War, 1925 or Imitation Black – to name just a few.
Of course, different cosplayers like different Vocaloids for different reasons, a fact that once again underlines the complexity of the Vocaloid world. In order to make a more specific approach regarding various aspects of Vocaloid cosplay, I interviewed five different cosplayers, to have some “inside” opinions: Aki, Hisui, and Rina from Hong Kong, Kanasai from Singapore, and Lina Lau from London.
Aki prefers the official version of Kaito, and she made quite an interesting statement: she was not drawn to Vocaloid due to the songs or the beautiful artwork usually associated with the virtual characters, but due to the feeling of their belonging to one big happy family – It gave me a feeling of warmth when they interacted with each other, and I thought it was very cute! As for her particular preference for Kaito, she explains it within the same pattern: he seems to be the most kind and caring out of all of them, like he can become my friend. Although Kaito is the “big brother”, his personality is very adorable and he seems a little slow… and just like me, he has a strong preference and love for ice cream! I love him best because I feel there is a certain link between us.
Hisui prefers Luka in Magnet for her voice, and for her personality in that song, while Kanasai is attracted by far to Gakupo, not only because she is a fan of Gackt, but also because he has this maturity that translates into sexiness in some songs, and then silliness in other songs. I do find myself fitting into Vocaloid cosplay groups as the ‘resident’ Gakupo – namely because he is my favourite and my height and appearance helps a little; otherwise when going solo or in pair, I usually show interest in a variety of songs for many kinds of reasons.
Gakupo is also the favourite Vocaloid of Lina Lau, but her reasons are slightly different: I think I have a slight propensity for long haired and slightly camp yet dorky characters too, and Gakupo fits the bill perfectly. I also tend to cosplay him since his look is one that suits my face and my feel more than some of the other Vocaloids. Gakupo is a fun Vocaloid because people don’t really take him very seriously most of the time. The very first PV I watched featuring him was Dancing Samurai, and that really cemented my love for him over the others. I am also especially drawn to historical and cultural settings in general, and since Gakupo’s image is loosely based on samurai themes, it immediately drew my attention. He appears to get a lot of historical makeovers as well, for example in Venomania where he gets Western treatment, so his character designs are always interesting.
On the other hand, Rina prefers the cute Miku, although she rarely cosplays as her. She is also attracted to the Cantarella version, be it Miku or Kaito (although she cosplayed only as Kaito), due to both the lovely costumes and the mood of the song.
Choosing the right Vocaloid version to cosplay is also a pretty complex process, as there are several elements to be taken into account, depending on each cosplayer. For instance, Aki is more attracted to those versions where the hair looks quite different and special, such as the question mark shape on Miki’s head, or Miku’s giant curls in Secret Police, which she always finds funny to style. Also, another important factor is the song, along with the PV and the story behind.
In Lina’s opinion, the art of a successful Vocaloid cosplay lies in capturing the nuances between one version and another. Although the core character is basically the same, the difference in interpretation and personality is huge, from Miku in Secret Police to Miku in Cantarella; or from Gakupo in Venomania to Gakupo in Dancing Samurai. Given this wide range of options, research is an essential element for a good Vocaloid cosplay, and Lina also pays attention to it. First, she goes through the lyrics of the song and screencaps the PV, in order to feel what the original creators wanted to express; nevertheless, she doesn’t intent do recreate the PV or certain scenes, preferring a personal interpretation, which she always considers more interesting.
Still, beyond the visually attractive costumes and characters, music remains one of the main factors when choosing the right version to cosplay, and this is the case with Hisui, and Rina. Kanasai makes no exception, admitting that she tends to be more creative in a photoshoot when choosing songs she can relate to.
Is Vocaloid cosplay more special than other cosplays derived from manga, anime and games? Some would say it is, while some would argue that. In Aki’s words, Vocaloid has a wider influence and can encompass a greater range than normal anime, manga or games. Although Vocaloids originally are only a product associated with music, what is actually derived out of it is a lot more than just that; it includes manga, games, concerts and even stage productions. Hisui shares the same opinion, considering that Vocaloid has a very complete design, which includes also distinct personalities, and at the same time generates a lot of fan-work, be it art or fiction.
On the other hand, while not considering Vocaloid cosplay rather special in comparison with other cosplays, Kanasai acknowledges its amazing power, given mainly by its direct connection to music. If everyone gives Vocaloid works a chance, they will find a song that they can relate to, sing along with, or get addicted to, regardless the reason.
Same thing goes for Lina, who approaches Vocaloid cosplay the same way she does for her other cosplays. Nonetheless, she still considers that Vocaloid cosplay provides a little more artistic freedom in the sense that you have less background information to work with, be it in terms of the story of a particular PV or the costumes themselves. I particularly like this since I like building up back stories and atmosphere, and the lack of specific boundaries gives me more license to play around with it. I enjoy putting in some personal interpretation when I plan my cosplays and photoshoots, and the Vocaloids are a perfect medium for that.
Vocaloid universe continues to be a veritable stream of creativity and originality, in a very direct and special relation with an ever-increasing fandom. And in this expanding universe, cosplay continues to be an essential element, promoting not only a beautiful character with an amazing costume chosen among other tens of similar characters with equally amazing costumes, but also the love and fascination for music itself.