Article: Miku Hatsune - Birth of a virtual idol
Miku Hatsune - Birth of a virtual idol
Way back in the mid-1990s, Macross Plus introduced us to Sharon Apple - A popular and successful singer whose claim to fame was the fact that she didn't actually exist. Instead, Sharon was, to all intents and purposes (and let's not get too bogged down in the finer points of the show's plot), a virtual idol; a blend of an enchanting voice and a carefully crafted avatar designed to draw in the punters. The concept of such human simulacra to resonate with people in the same way as a real person would isn't a new one in the world of science fiction, but could a synthesised, virtual voice tied to a character really capture the imagination of the public?
Fast forward to 2007 and the "birth" of one Miku Hatsune. Then leap forward another two years to the present day, and our question has well and truly been answered; amongst anime fandom, at least.
The human face of Vocaloid
Anyhow, we're getting ahead of ourselves here - To return to the real roots of Miku Hatsune, we actually have to go back to 2003, and a project announced in Japan by Yamaha Corporation. The project in question later came to be known as "Vocaloid", and its remit was to create a synthesizer application capable of singing based only upon Japanese text and lyrics entered into the software alongside a melody. Synthesizers have been used in myriad other ways before, but could the same process really be applied to the human voice in song? A particularly tough question given the obviously robotic tones present in many voice synthesizers of the time, which struggled with normal conversation let alone carrying a tune.
The first iteration of Vocaloid arrived to little fanfare in January of 2004, via "singer libraries" developed by third-parties based in both the UK and Japan. So far, so good, but it's with the introduction of the second-generation Vocaloid2 application that interest in the software from the wider public started to take off.
Again, while Yahama provided the base software it was up to third parties to create the required synthesized voices and applications to wrap around it, and after June 2007 saw the launch of an English product named "Sweet Ann", it wasn't until August 2007 that a certain Miku Hatsune showed up, the first of a number of singer libraries developed by Japan's Crypton Future Media in conjunction with their Character Vocal Series application.
August 31st 2007 - The birth of Miku
Rather than simply creating a disembodied voice for use in their application, Crypton Future Media instead chose to go the whole hog for each of their Vocaloid2 characters starting with Miku Hatsune - As well as her name, Miku as a character was designed by the illustrator Kei, while she was also imbued with an age, height, weight and "specification" in terms of her singing abilities. Incidentally, the name Miku Hatsune can be roughly interpreted to mean "future first sound", which perfectly denotes Miku's role in what was to come.
Miku's voice itself was based upon Japanese voice actor Saki Fujita, whose anime-based roles include characters in SPEED GRAPHER and Yozakura Quartet, and on August 31st 2007 Miku Hatsune finally hit store shelves in association with her Vocaloid2 product. At this moment in time, few would have predicted the sensation that was to follow.