For a long time Vocaloids were not something I ‘got’. A million years ago on an anime forum that was basically my second home, one of the regular users switched their icon and signature image (remember when those were things, ah, the simpler times of the internet) to the green haired Miku. Sure, it was cute art, but I didn’t understand what anime she was from. A little digging on Wikipedia and I got my answer, Miku wasn’t an anime character, she was a mascot for a software program. She was the name for the voice that was intended to sound like a young Japanese idol girl. After learning that, I couldn’t understand the hubbub. It seemed weird to me to be obsessed with a musician who wasn’t real. I looked at videos on Youtube of songs, but it seemed ridiculous to become a fan of someone who wasn’t a person, just a piece of equipment. And yet Miku and the other Vocaloid characters spread.

Through the magic of cultural osmosis I eventually learned who most of the other characters were. Fan art, cosplays, stories about how Miku was getting special mangas and even concerts. It was perplexing. I didn’t judge people who were fans, but I just could not wrap my brain around it. Eventually Miku jumped to the next stage in media: video games and suddenly I was a lot more interested. I remember Novibear’s review of the first localized Project Diva F game, looked up play footage and that’s when Miku finally had my attention. While I still thought most of the songs were insipid bubblegum pop tunes, the gameplay looked INSANE. I love rhythm games, and the thought of a game that stupidly challenging seemed like something I wanted to play. Eventually I decided to take the leap with Project Diva F 2nd (and you guys thought the names for Kingdom Hearts games were stupid) at Gamestop a couple of years back.

I loved the challenge. Most of the other features of the game were ‘meh’. I didn’t care about ‘playing’ with the Vocaloids or buying them presents, and I didn’t care all that much for most of the songs, but the difficulty was just as advertised. Behind all the cutesy music and bubbly dance moves beat the heart of a rhythm game beast. Even the most basic songs could foil me and while most of even the normal songs were too difficult for me to pass, I did unlock all the songs and even got some decent scores, so I started looking into more Project Diva games and tracking down the first F game.

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That proved to be a bit tricky. The first game had far less physical copies than the second game, and based off of the law of supply and demand, that also meant it was more expensive. It took a while but I finally got a copy of the English version of the game from my bf (though Amazon in their infinite wisdom initially sent me the Japanese copy. Nice try, Mega Corporation, the Japanese copy is actually way cheaper than the American copy so I didn’t appreciate the bait and switch). Right before Christmas things got super busy so I didn’t get to chip into it as much as I would have liked, but after running into something of a brick wall with Final Fantasy XIII-2, I decided to go back to it and see if I could clear more of the tracks.

First off, the first F game is actually much easier than the second. The schematics are still based off of the PSP’s controls (the system the series originally appeared on) so you don’t have any of the combos that require the double joysticks, and the notes aren’t quite as close together as some of F 2nd’s songs. I even managed to clear one or two of the Hard songs on my first try, whereas F 2nd’s songs are still kicking my ass even on Normal. While the game still features the goofy Diva rooms which I largely ignore unless I’m seriously bored, I found I actually really liked more of the songs than the 2nd game. The first game had more enjoyable rock songs than the largely poppy second, with a larger selection of keys and rhythms so they didn’t all sound like variations of the same peppy song. There are still some slower, cheery romantic tunes, but there was genuine heavy metal on there as well, which I found surprising. While older sounding Meiko’s songs were the best tracks on F 2nd, I found that when it comes down to it, chipmunk sounding Rin can really throw down. Tengaku and Tokyo Teddy Bear were really edgy and Kaito’s Ashes to Ashes is not just a cool sounding Gothic number, but probably had the best video in the game. I enjoyed it so much I started looking up some of the songs on YouTube and that’s when it hit me ‘holy crap, I actually like these songs.’

I also learned something else. I was under the impression that Miku music was all manufactured by some recording company in Japan, and that everything I saw on Youtube were just AMVs and remixes a la all those videos featuring Linkin Park or Evanescence. It turns out that Miku being a tool is actually her biggest appeal: because anybody who purchases the software can use her to sing their songs. Those songs weren’t being done by some soulless studio, but by small music producers using a new technology to expand their medium. Who needs to autotune the next forgettable teen sensation when anyone, anywhere can get one of the most famous musicians in the world to sing their music? Miku wasn’t the harbinger of a Cyberpunk future of fake singers holographed onto a stage (though, essentially, those are what her concerts are...) but rather the symbol of revolution for people who may not have the knack to sing, but still have music in their hearts. And I finally got it.

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I finally understood the appeal of Vocaloids.

I still am not super fond of some of the Vocaloid characters’ voices, since many of the songs still sound like screeching chipmunks, but I have found myself downloading music from artists using the voices I do like. I’ve found I prefer Gumi songs the most, but some of the other Vocaloid voices aren’t that bad. But I’ve finally drunk the Kool-Aid, and am now officially hooked on the Project Diva games, and a lot of the songs that appear in them.

Long Live Miku.