Miku Expo 2016 – Los Angeles

It’s the third time Hatsune Miku has stepped on the stage in Downtown L.A., singing and swinging her teal twin-tails for fans. Yet, I still can’t shake off the feeling that this will be the last time in a long time I’ll get to experience the performance of a hologram shaking her booty.

One reason being that the concert tour started things off with PledgeMusic. The platform seems to function similar to Kickstarter, with pledges to the project’s goal. If it fails in succeeding then the pledgers get their money back. So, why not use a platform like Kickstater? This is the first I’ve heard of PledgeMusic, but it makes sense since it’s a platform catering to music artists to gain some funds while offering items or experiences to fans — or in this case, help bring Miku to the fans by taking a stab at the “logistically and financially” challenges that stand in her way. The highest pledge, for a million samolies, can get you a Miku concert right in your very own town. You could do worse with your budget, Michigan!

This wasn’t just a shot in the dark thing. The promoters wanted this to happen just as much as the fans did. They even went as far as to create animated videos to keep the awareness going. I personally enjoy this one with Miku singing in Spanish:

Perhaps my concerns are unwarranted. The pledged closed at over three times its goal, and they even added two new cities to the tour. With that amount of support, of course it seems like I’m trying to be a poo-butt. That’s where my poo-buttness must stem from; “how much of a good thing can possibly last?” Leeks can’t stay fresh forever, right?

Worries aside, let’s get into the music. Before reaching the Vocaloid side of things, I want to take a moment to look another artist who played with sounds; Isao Tomita. I bring this man up for a few reasons. One being that he explored the field of electronic music in Japan. A pioneer of synthesizer music, creating his most well known pieces while being surrounded by dials and cable wires. Who would have thought such a set up would create music that would be loved around the world, but he did it, and won a Grammy for it, too.

It wasn’t without some criticism, though. While he racked his brain trying to make sounds imitating a whistle, a critic in 1975 called anyone who appreciated Tomita’s music “quad nuts.”What an asshole, right? You can read the full quote on this article that highlights Tomita’s achievements at The New York Times. I don’t mean to let a negative remark overshadow a lifetime of amazing accomplishments, but it reminds how new acts today get pushed out for being different. Just look at Babymetal and how much crap gets thrown at them when they were first starting out to present day —  rock icons feeling they need to step in once in a while to tell people “If don’t like ’em, fuck off.” Even now, while it seems Miku has been around since forever and around the world and on David Letterman, I still hear people and read articles asking, “What the hell is Mikus?” I suppose as long as people are curious, they’ll be people gladly willing to answer – maybe even throw a concert!

The last point I want to highlight with Tomita is his orchestrated arrangement with Hatsune Miku, Ihatov Symphony. It’s a work inspired by Kenji Miyazawa, an author of children’s literature and poet. I’m in awe not just by the piece, but knowing that this was all brought together by visions that spans generations. Just listen and watch Miku’s ballet-esque choreography.

Arriving at The Microsoft Theater and entering the venue, I realized this was the closest I’ve stood near Miku. As close as I can get to her hologram form, at least. I remember the biggest issue I had with her first concert in L.A. back during Anime Expo 2011 was seeing Miku start to fade when she trails off to the side of the screen. Fans were raising a fuss when not all of the seats were offered to them when tickets went on sale, but even in the decent spot from where I stood still wasn’t enough keep the Vocaloids from becoming transparent, nearly disappearing at a few points.

Not the case at this concert. Five years later, the resolution has noticeably improved. The Disappearance of Hatsune Miku can refer only to the song now. I stood nearly center in the pit area and Miku was beaming through the arms stretching out, waving green glow sticks. Standing at 6’3″ I always try to be considerate to the vertically challenged folks behind me while getting my wotagei on. If you’re as tall as Miku (5’2″), though, and you’re in the pit area, you really ought to push your way towards the front. Fans with assigned seating should be able to see and wotagei without worry, though.

Being the third Hatsune Miku concert in L.A. I’ve attended, the latest one is noticeably reserved. Just thinking back to the first Miku Expo in October 2014; strobe lights, lasers, and the arc in the background that would light up with images that matched each individual song was the coolest thing I’ve seen at any concert to date. Most, if not all, of that was absent this time around. Now, we have huge white balls and different sizes of loops hanging in the back. What imagery that was trying to convey is lost in me, but while the pizzazz was toned down immensely, it brings focus back on the stars of the night. It offered a more intimate atmosphere, almost like Mikunopolis. I noticed most of the people at the concert mentioned this was their first time seeing Miku on stage and, in a way, they were able to see Miku and friends at their prime, technical-wise.

While seeing the other Volocaloid performances getting the same top-notch production as Miku had is great, there wasn’t much of them to see. In the past, it seemed like a given to see at least two or three appearances of Meiko, Kato, Luka, Rin and Len. Luka was featured in two duets with Miku, as well as Rin and Len doing a duet together. Aside from that, each Vocaloid performer had one solo song. Sorry, fans of lame blue-haired boys!

It is too bad, but it’s understandable seeing how the concert is set for two hours. I have to say, the most memorable moment of the night for me was seeing Rin and Len preform Remote Control. The choreography was impressive (Who would’ve thought Len could do a jump spin crescent kick?) and the song had the right amount of energy to pump fans into the second half of the concert. It would have been nice to see a duet with Meiko and Kato, or at least a few more songs from the other characters. Overall, it was enough to leave the audience wanting more and not feeling exhausted from just standing there. I know my thighs were aching by the end of the show, personally.

I was looking forward to seeing something new as well as some classics. Glass Wall and Just Be Friends are favorites of mine, so it was great hearing them again live. What’s new this time came with the help of electronic rock band Anamanaguchi. They were the opening act and quite a fitting one. This is the second time I’ve seen them preform; the first being back when they opened for Porter Robinson (who featured Vocaloid Avanna in his music) last year during Anime Expo. It was when they came back for the encore with Miku when I heard a song that was new to me and quite a few fans there of both Miku and Anamanaguchi. This isn’t the first time the group used Miku’s voice in their music, but this time, instead of just using her as a sample, she takes the lead singer role in this track with English lyrics. Aptly title Miku:

This ditty was stuck in my head for a while after the show. I don’t have an encyclopedia knowledge of Vocaloid songs, but I haven’t come across too many of ones completely in English. Glass Wall manages to be emotional and hard rocking, and it was good enough to be featured during a Lady Gaga tour. I haven’t a clue how to go about using Vocaloids in creating music (maybe the Miku guitar stomp pedal!), but I’m glad to see more composers outside Japan pushing it to the forefront of their music, and Anamanaguchi used Miku spectacularly.

My legs were killing me and 14 bucks went down the hole for drinks (if anyone knows good bars in Downtown L.A., please tell me!), but it was worth it. At the very least, it’s an event that just about anybody will walk away knowing they got a quality concert, hologram or otherwise. It is something to think about, for me, at least. With acts like Gorillaz, artists on stage with only their MacBooks, and very talented and famous singers who prefer to lip sync live, seeing a hologram form of a voice synthesis software isn’t strange at all and can actually expand the field of live entertainment. Who knows how much further Miku herself will keep pushing the boundaries, on and off stage, but as Anamanaguchi said it themselves, “She has entered our world, just as we are all entering hers.”