In 1999 a city-sized alien spacecraft crashed on South Ataria Island. Over the course of the next 10 years, U.N. Spacy, the space related wing of the U.N, reverse-engineered the technology and rebuilt the spacecraft, naming it the SDF-1 Macross. In 2009, during the launch ceremony of the Macross, a space war fleet from an alien race of humanoid giants arrived and identified the Macross as a former battleship used by their enemies. In the resulting battle the Macross was catapulted to the edge of the solar system and forced to come back to Earth by conventional power.
This is the view of the future as presented by the wonderful eighties anime, Macross. Its prediction of the future was wrong, it also incorrectly predicted that aeroplanes will be able to turn into robots and that a song can save the world.
One of it’s many sequels did get something right though…..
Macross Plus, the only Macross sequel to live up to the original, was made in 1994 and in true Macross style it contains futuristic dogfights, a pop idol and not only one, but two, love triangles. The first involves two test pilots and a music producer while the other contains one of the test pilots, the music producer and the pop idol. While the first is not so interesting, just two guys trying to out macho each other, the second is much more compelling.
The pop idol in question is a computer AI, named Sharon Apple, which creates light shows and displays holograms of itself during concerts. Myung, the music producer, generates Sharon’s music by hooking her brain up to the computer and uploading her musical knowledge. The AI then performs the finishing touches. Myung is the talent behind the talent so to speak. The problem is that the AI is reading all her thoughts and emotions and becomes obsessed with the test pilot she truly loves. The computer pursues him relentlessly and without any morals, perception of pain or limitations, it does some pretty nasty things. Sharon Apple is basically what HAL 9000 would be if he took up a pop career and then fell in love with someone.
So, Sharon Apple was a music generating virtual idol, she was the first Vocaloid.
Vocaloid software is a computer program which can synthesize singing by typing in lyrics and melody. The melody and the lyrics can be entered for each note and the software can change the stress of the pronunciations, change tone and add effects to the voice. The voice is specially recorded from voice actors or singers, each piece of Vocaloid software features a different type of voice.
This software has become very popular in Japan and I think it is not because of the programs themselves but because of the cute little mascots on the packaging. Each piece of software is designed to be “a singer in a box” acting as a replacement for an actual singer. They have invented a character for each voice, which have become known as Vocaloids.
Of all the various characters they have made one Vocaloid has become very, very popular here in Japan. Her name is Hatsune Miku and she is everywhere. Apparently it all started when a user of the software uploaded a song with a little animation of Miku carrying a leek on Nico Nico Douga, a kind of Japanese Youtube. From here many others began making videos and songs and sharing it on that site.
The character is so popular now that I have seen her on the side of race cars, on drinks bottles and outside karaoke bars. She has two PSP games and one Arcade music game by Sega which seem to be very successful. It has got to the stage where there have been live concerts of ‘her’ most popular covers and original songs.
This is where the comparison to Macross Plus comes in. At Miku’s concerts a hologram projection is used on stage and seeing images of people cheering a hologram gives me mad flashbacks to that old anime.
The comparison is quite freaky.
I’m sure the stuff that geeky looking kid was trying to do in the cartoon is the content of those Hatsune Miku fans’ wet dreams.
One of the overreaching themes of Macross Plus is that a computer can never match a real person’s voice when singing. At the bottom of this post is a Youtube playlist of an original song plus the Vocaloid cover. As great a technical feat as Vocaloid software is, imagine a Dalek singing one of your favourite ever songs. It’s just not right.