Pinpointing Miku’s Success

This post is more of a gag reflex over John’s usual wax poetic treatment over some simple question. This time I think he missed the boat by a good measure that it triggered some kind of motor reflex. It’s probably unhealthy, but here goes.

For those who didn’t read the original post, it goes like (my TL;DR paraphrasing):

Q: Why is Miku so popular?

A: Because she embodies a lot of stuff anime fans (lack of a better term) have liked since a long time ago, and she is the best version given the elements of such database animal ecology.

I think it’s a pretty feeble answer. This is because I believe there are 3 key elements to Miku’s current status as an icon that John doesn’t really get.

One of the three elements is the participatory culture. The first comment in John’s post hones in on this aspect immediately, and it is sorely absent from John’s post. By participatory culture I mean several things, all together. First is something John touched upon, that Miku is an avatar that carries with her the things befitting an virtual idol, in how people would like to see her as imagined. But even then it’s not quite right. Miku is a canon character, and her fans largely agree and obey this canon. A better analogy is that Miku is more like an entertainer or actor, and while she takes up a wide variety of roles,  in the end she is still one unified identity. This is distinct from the Rei Ayanami example in the sense that Rei is still Rei even if you give her a ballerina dress or just a bunch of bandages. In other words, as an idol, she is pretty much the same character, just given the liberty to pretend (lack of a better word) to be something else.

And yet this is just one facet of the first tenant of Miku’s underlying success. In fact I think in order to unify her fanbase to the extent that it is, she needs to have a uniform core identity, while allowing a variety of expressions. This is distinctly different than John’s model. As to John’s point about elements, I think that’s pretty much an obvious observation. What’s less obvious is that I think Miku has gone beyond merely just a list of database entries; she is more of a mirror that enables people to project whatever they think is apporpriate or desirable. We are the database animal, in which we expresses ourselves through Miku. She wasn’t created to express all of this from the get go, after all. In order to invite us to participate, she can’t possibly be already doing it all for us. Rather, Miku is the blank slate that we pen our desires and creativity upon, to express whatever the hell we want.

Besides, Crypton never commissioned Miku for this purpose from the onset. It is all a happy coincidence.

To be fair, the visage of Miku contains straighforward elements befitting of a mascot, and some of these factors are taken from the same toolbox the rest of Japan’s modern visual pop cultural creators draw from. A mascot is who Miku originally was (and still is). So this entire idol identity, too, is a function of fans projecting what they wanted onto Miku. Given that she adorns the cover of a second-generation vocaloid software I think that is a logical and natural conclusion. And hey, we can’t forget that at least the software wasn’t horrible; it is easy enough to use and it became a real enabler to some indie and amateur musicians.

The rest to the nature of participatory culture is fairly well written. We can talk about behaviors of fans, the youtube generation (or NND in this case), that YOU are the TIME’s person of the year in 2006 (2 years before Miku, FWIW). There’s also the meme factor, both in terms of Miku herself and the music she took part in. You are better off reading stuff written by academics, so I won’t rehash too much more.

The second and third factors, well, maybe for another time. I don’t think John touched on them, or maybe just in an indirect way, so I’ll keep them to myself. I’d like to write more posts about Miku’s phenomenon, after all; it’s fascinating.

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5 responses to “Pinpointing Miku’s Success

  • dm00

    The real reason she’s popular is because she’s a siren. Those aren’t ponytails, they’re seaweed.

  • omo

    In this trade, sirens are dime a dozen. What makes this siren different than others before her will be addressed in part 2 of this post.

    Seaweed would keep in line the negi metaphor, like some ingredients of a winter-time soul food.

  • Mystlord

    Going on a slight tangent, I feel as if the real origins of the Miku and Touhou boom have been kind of lost to time. It might just be because we’re reading Rousseau in class right now, but none of these explanations are really satisfying in terms of why Miku and Touhou hit it big when compared to other random projects that I’m sure happened at some point or another.

    I also get the feeling that some of this can be crossed over to explanations of why Touhou hit it big too, though I think the specifics are drastically different.

    Something that’s also rather lacking in your explanation I feel is why the average anime fan is somehow attracted to the Miku fandom. The big paragraph to the right of the picture seems to explain as to why the creative people love her, but why does the average viewer love her if not for the sheer diversity of stuff that’s resulted from her. I feel that it’s the same deal with Touhou. I mean where else can we find literally every genre of music and art all constrained to the confines of one phenomenon? Does she have one identity? I’d argue no, at least not in the sense that I can reconcile her vastly different portrait from the 3D idol dancing to AMVs of a completely different nature.

  • omo

    Well, this is part 1 of 3!

    Your concerns will be adequately addressed, hopefully. The same criticism as you applied here is, on second thought, John’s real focus–how to distinguish Miku from her predecessors. Well I think it’s pretty easy to do so without drilling into why she is attractive. For starters, the concept of participatory culture in itself explains how both Touhou and Miku fandom got as big as they did, in regards to meme, propagation of ideas in virulent manners, simple word-of-mouth, and the nature of hitting “critical mass” and establishing platforms for people who can leverage them.

    There is another angle to answer all your question, if not more. Hopefully I can touch on that in the future posts.

    After reading and thinking about what you are saying some more, if you mean how I didn’t explain the whole participatory cultural thingy in terms of why is a meme (or a meme-generating organism) is attractive to its target audience (hosts) then yeah, I didn’t. I thought it would be better if you found out on your own, probably because it seemed obvious.

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