Unless you've been living under some kind of cavern, from which even the slightest of foreign pop-cultural phenoms cannot penetrate (in which case, congrats on being able to find Topless Robot in your Luddite rock dome!), you've probably seen a few things featuring the precociously cute Japanese idol Hatsune Miku.
Who is Hatsune Miku? What is she? What does she do? There's two ways to answer that.
The Hatsune Miku Fan Answer: Hatsune Miku is a crowdsourced Internet idol, where hundreds of thousands of like-minded fans use the character and her "Vocaloid" song-creation software to share and upload their own pop songs featuring the title character. Her popularity soon exploded, and Hatsune Miku herself has graced some of the top products and cultural icons far and wide, both in Japan and in the West.
The Cynical Jerk Answer: Hatsune Miku is a CGI character who isn't real, and people both in Japan and in the US have paid outrageous prices to watch her dance around in a "concert" where they were for some reason entranced by a projected, fake 16-year old girl dancing around and singing clubby dance-pop songs that only slightly range above terms like "obnoxious."
Of course, the truth lies somewhere in between: Hatsune Miku was originally developed and designed as the virtual avatar in collusion with the development of a software called Vocaloid, which is a software that enables regular folk like you and me to develop your own J-pop songs by modulating the pitch and speed of the pre-recorded voice of Japanese voice actress Saki Fujita. The Hatsune Miku character herself was designed by manga artist Kei Garo. The potent combination of the software, wherein nerds like myself who grew up listening to catchy, high-pitched anime theme songs by the likes of Megumi Hayashibara and so forth could now participate, and the cute anime-styled character, proved to be a hit - so much so that Hatsune Miku is known pretty far outside of her initial purpose, which was to entice people to buy and mess around with a voice-synthesizer program.
Speaking as a guy who had to cover a Hatsune Miku panel at Otakon some years back, allow me to speak freely and say that Hatsune Miku, and the weird pop-cultural cult around her, is both fascinating and, well, weird. Here are some of the weird and true things I've come across about the pigtailed, blue-haired CGI songstress!
10) "MikuMikuDance" Is One of the Secret Most-Popular Things on YouTube
So, the Vocaloid software allows you to create your own J-Pop styled songs, right? But what if you, I dunno, wanted to make your own music videos as well?
But then, you probably though, "well, considering the whole 'open sourced' nature of the Vocaloid thing to begin with, people have probably figured out a way to make Hatsune Miku dance around to their music with their own software." Congrats on being correct, Person I Just Made Up! Indeed - thanks to a program called MikuMikuDance, you can sync up your own Vocaloid creation with some snazzy animation of Miku herself, dancing to and fro to your every whim!
So of course people have gone nuts with this, and it's all over YouTube - right now, as of the time of this writing, if you type in the appropriated acronym for MikuMikuDance - handily shortened to "MMD" - you'll wind up with OVER 1,570,000 RESULTS. Many of the more popular videos have over several hundred thousand views. But that's small potatoes compared to Miku's presence on the Japanese YouTube equivalent, Nico Nico Video. Typing "MMD" into the Nico Nico searchbar will unleash so many results you'd have to subroute them to the NSA's most powerful supercomputers to compile the data.
It's one of the bigger subcultures on YouTube, but it hasn't really branched out to a wider audience who isn't already familiar with the Hatsune Miku world. And just in case you think you're missing out, here's one of them:
The rest are pretty much exactly like that. Just think of all the hundreds of potential dollars you could be making with a sweet, sweet YouTube partnership and your own MikuMikuDance videos! Or don't, so that you can sleep at night.
9) Hatsune Miku Has More Endorsements Than Tiger Woods
Sure, Tiger Woods makes most of his immense wealth thanks to crafty business partners like EA Sports and Nike. But the companies Hatsune Miku has partnered up with are almost just as noteworthy: Yamaha, Sega, Toyota, Google, Domino's Pizza (more on THAT wonderful tie-in later), Japanese public transit, racing teams, and oh, so much much more. Given that Hatsune Miku is just a virtual character and not a human being, a human that would ask for things that Tiger Woods would demand from sponsorships, like "enough money to own several mansions," Miku is perfectly happy to shill her omnipresent bubbly image at the behest of her consortium of Japanese business partners.
She may not make as much from her myriad of sponsorship deals as Tiger Woods does with just one Nike contract, but she makes up for it in sheer volume. Hatsune Miku: Queen of the free market.
8) Hatsune Miku Merchandise is on EVERYTHING (Including Sex Toys)
But what is the world of endorsements without MERCHANDISING? Diddly-squat, that's what! And to slake the public's ever-loving thirst for pop idols, Hatsune Miku merchandise is everywhere. Mayhap you'd like to own an expensive Hatsune Miku lamp? Got that! Video games? Coming soon to American PS3 owners, thanks to Sega! CD's of Vocaloid Music that you could otherwise download for free, but wish to spend 20 dollars and upwards for? Got ya covered!
There is virtually NO END to this stuff. And yes, pun definitely intended, because Miku is a virtual character. Also, I'm willing to bet that some of you - cynics, through and through - were probably thinking to themselves, "y'know, I'll bet that some of these hardcore fans want to actually have sex with Hatsune Miku." You would not be wrong. You would be so very, very correct.
There are hundreds of smutty, unofficially-licensed Miku items out there, from dirty fan-made comics and videos, to actual, legit sex toys. I won't link them here, not out of some stupid duty to keep this blog SFW, but rather so I don't insult the intelligence of the industrious pervs of the world who are perfectly capable of finding this stuff themselves.
7) Hatsune Miku's Vocaloid Software Produced Japan's Most Popular Karaoke Song
When we think of America's most popular Karaoke song, we have certain touchstones; classics in the vein of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'," newer hits by Lady Gaga, and the like. Get a drunken rabble going, and once somebody starts singing "Sweet Caroline," and we all join in like the easily-led sheep that we are.
In Japan, the centerpiece of karaoke's invention, the MOST POPULAR KARAOKE SONG just so happens to be a Vocaloid piece.
Look at this thing. It has seven million views. This song played on the radio. It was a huge, chart-topping hit. Go fuck yourself, PSY.
6) The Wrath of the Hatsune Miku Fans vs. Louis Vuitton and Others
As I mentioned before, some people actually want to have sex with Hatsune Miku. Other people might have a bit more of a chaste relationship with the virtual creation, but that doesn't make their devotion to the character any less... creepy.
Case in point: Louis Vuitton and his famed designer Marc Jacobs were drafted to design a special outfit for Hatsune Miku in preparation for her 2012 Vocaloid Opera. Just to let that sink in: yes, there's an actual legit opera featuring CGI Hatsune Miku, and they hired Louis Vuitton to design her. This all happened.
The fans, however, went ballistic. On Japanese social forum 2ch (basically a big nerdy enclave that is the direct antecedent for 4chan), users were livid and said lovely things like this (through some translation, of course):
"There is no way the designer of some fashion brand for morons is going to be able to appeal to otaku with moe illustrations."
"What do you expect from some crazed homosexual fashion designer:"
Yikes! And there's others, of course. The comments section for this CBS news report on Hatsune Miku, calling her the "World's Fakest Pop Star," are filled with vitriol. The lesson being: overly-obsessive fans exist all over the world, people. We are not alone.