The third point that I alluded to a long time ago is pretty simple: Miku has leveled-up to become a character franchise.
A better term, perhaps, is payload. It’s like a bomb (to truck on with the Mongol horde analogy) that exploded in Japan, fueled by its decentralized nature on top of a willing and pliable culture of doujin production crossed with YOU-generation-tube producers and viewers. Has this fire burned hot enough to jump a very large pond called the Pacific? I don’t know. I’m guessing yes, because we had that Mikuopolis thing after all.
But in fewer words, Miku is like a delivery system. Its payload vary, but if we can pull this off, well, the world is hers for sure, or possibly so:
Witness the elder, Kitty. She took a seat at the Mikufest booth at Anime Expo 2011. As she should be.
Before we talk about virtual idols, we need to talk about character franchises, because that’s what virtual idols are. Japan is particularly known for its variety of cute characters that form the business methods to drive corporate bottom lines. How does Miku fit in? I think that image explains it all right there: It’s a delivery system. What goes in it is up to you. In the case of Anime Expo’s Mikuopolis, it’s Toyota PR’s pocket change. But Hello Kitty has no issues doing a collab, since the two go together like peanut butter and jelly.
Put it in another way, why would we launch missiles and rockets with nothing in it? No; we do so to delivery the payload. Miku is the deliverywoman, the carrier, the platform, the API. The results are whatever we put in it. If it’s a PR campaign from Toyota, we’ll get…bacon-wrapped hot dogs? If it’s supercell, it’s some music that springboards the group/ryo into a major contract. Really, it’s whatever you want. Just as random vocaloid producers can make something out of Miku, so can a large corporation and their pet characters. That Miku allows for individuals and organizations of all sorts of sizes to be worn under the same blue wig is a big point that I’ve been trying to describe in all my previous posts.
In their present day iteration, Miku and her friends are a bunch of strange Japanese things, coming from an American perspective, and I think it is good to ask questions about vocaloid’s adaptive powers outside of Japan. It’s one of the curious thing about Miku in the first place as Japanese people were boggled by the same synthetic idol back in ’07 and ’08, and for years Westerners struggled to figure out Miku’s formula (if it exists) in the age of new media. Looking back, that’s what John was going for; Lelangir’s post is a good complement.
But let’s look in contrast. Hello Kitty needs her own managers and producers to make Hello Kitty media–games, anime, audio CDs, whatever. She kicked butts internationally and took names because her cuteness is universal. This is why I thought John missed the point: Miku can care less about any of that. Which is pretty cool, right? Toyota’s marketing campaign might incidentally expose people to what/who Miku is, but it’s still about Toyota’s cars at the end. It doesn’t necessarily add or delete anything “special” about Miku’s appeal, any more than a truck load of pornographic doujinshi would makes Miku a nymphomaniac. That kind of means-to-ends-ness is necessary if Miku is to take off the ground in America, beyond merely an imported curio. She’s only a messenger, after all. It would be interesting to say that Miku’s popularity in America is because she is cute, but that is no different than saying Miku’s songs are popular in Japan because they are popular. It sidesteps the point that Miku is what we like about Miku, and naturally we selectively fill and reinforce those contribution into the Miku “canon” with what majority of us like.
I think, in the end, it’s this kind of fractured-togetherness, the many-faces-of-Miku (as described by Kylaran) which makes up the roaring crowd at Miku’s concert. On the day that we cheered for a platform of expression with waving glowsticks, we were also really cheering at a reflection of our desires.