Americans already heard a little about Hatsune Miku earlier this year when the digital pop singer opened for Lady Gaga, but they can expect more in October, though just how the digital avatar for the singing-synthesizer software Vocaloid gets portrayed by the media remains to be seen. The first ever US installments of the Hatsune Miku Expo, an event devoted entirely to the aqua-haired character, ending in a live show by the holographic singer, happen on October 11 and 12 in Los Angeles and October 17 and 18 in New York. The biggest happening, though, comes a little earlier, when Miku makes her television debut on The Late Show with David Letterman on October 8, reaching a larger audience than ever before.
Considering that news stations Stateside turned Miku’s first concerts in Japan nearly four years ago into a “look at how weird Japan is!” segment, it is totally within the realm of possibility that her appearance on Letterman is going to become a gawked-at event. This premonition made visiting the Magical Mirai concert in Tokyo on September 20, a show devoted solely to Miku and other holographic Vocaloid performers, all the more revealing. Following a show in Osaka several weeks before, the Tokyo leg felt like a totally normal Japanese concert — hundreds of fans crowding outside the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, many lined up to buy merchandise and, once inside, they pumped glow sticks back and forth like they would at most live shows. It felt like a regular, high-profile show.
Rin and Len share the stage at Magical Mirai/Photo courtesy of Crypton Future Media
It wasn’t quite, though. This still was a show focused on non-human performers. There were flesh-and-bone beings on stage in the form of a band and, at the start, two dancers who performed to chaotic brostep. But all attention was on the holographic names, especially Miku, who performed notable Vocaloid songs from an array of well-known producers. She opened Magical Mirai playing guitar, every chord change rendered in great detail on the big screens positioned to the side of the stage. From there, she dashed through all styles of Vocaloid music, touching on hyperactive bleep-bloop pop (“Nijigen Dream Fever”) to ocean-themed ballads.
With a few exceptions — Miku’s ability to change clothes instantly from song to song, her ability to dissolve into the air after a dance — Magical Mirai presented its unreal performers in a very real way. This was especially true up in the nosebleed seats — from near the rafters of Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, Miku looked like an average-sized performer dancing around the stage. It felt like an average J-pop concert by a top-tier performer: fans swayed along to the dramatic balladry of “Glow” while Miku sang in front of a stand-alone microphone, and the audience waved their glow sticks in time with Miku’s own fist pumps on “Karakuri Piero.”
The show wasn’t just Miku’s to command; Magical Mirai also made time for other notable Vocaloid characters to take the stage. These included the blonde-haired pair Rin and Len, who led the crowd in various waves during the mid-tempo “Suki Kirai,” who came out later in the evening to help Miku with the livelier “Shake It!” The pink-haired Luka performed the driving “Hello Worker” and also joined Miku for a duet, while one of the few pre-Miku Vocaloid characters, Meiko, came out to sing a lounge-leaning number.
Even though time was carved out for others, the focus was on Miku and her digi-voice. She appeared in 18 of Magical Mirai’s 25 songs, and the highlights of the night were all notable songs performed by her. The dizzying electropop of “Weekender Girl” had the crowd bobbing along to every electric swish, while Miku executed choreography straight from the music video. The mood was far more subdued for the slow-burning “Last Night, Good Night,” the strongest ballad at the concert. Nothing approached the reaction to Miku’s signature song “Tell Your World,” however. That song, with its build up to an electric boom come the chorus, inspired the sold-out crowd to sing along loudly, the one time the fans’ voices matched that of Miku’s.
Like most human-helmed shows, Magical Mirai included an encore, Miku materializing back on stage for three songs, culminating in the fuzzy mid-tempo rock of “39,” a song originally written for her fifth anniversary (she’s now been around for seven years). Time will tell how her forthcoming American time in the late-night spotlight will go, but her recent Tokyo celebration confirmed her place in the J-pop scene: Fans, ranging from toddlers decked out in her wardrobe to older men with their own glow stick routines, regard her not as a novelty, but as a top performer. —Words by Patrick St. Michel