By Andrew Osmond.
I’ll assume everyone clicking on this review knows who (or less gallantly, what) Hatsune Miku is, so let’s skip that. On Saturday night, the green twin-tailed Vocaloid hit London for her very first “live” performance at Kensington Olympia. If we were reviewing her performance as a piece of software, then it’d be fair to describe Miku’s Brit debut as entirely satisfying, with neither disappointments nor surprises. As for the crowd, the audience seemed highly enthused throughout the two-hour gig – not wild all the time, but fully engaged with a performer who, after all, doesn’t actually exist.
Assuming you’ve seen some videos of her Miku’s past gigs round the world, then the experience was all you could reasonably expect. All stops were pulled; the live backing band was on magnificent form, as was Olympia’s light show facilities, with the performance bookended by ejaculations of steam and rains of ribbons.
As for Miku and her fellow Vocaloids… I was with the “standard” ticket holders, roughly halfway from the stage (I arrived at the venue two hours early, but hundreds of attendees were there before me, and I’d guess a fair contingent had queued all day). From my vantage, the illusion was perfectly easy to buy; Miku looked three-dimensional and solid, her dancing entirely natural except for a few deliberately artificial moments.
The illusion was only broken when I looked at two screens at the side of the hall, playing a live feed of the concert. On the one hand, it often showed the audience back to itself, the visual feedback heightening the enjoyment greatly. When it showed the Vocaloids, it was easier to see their faces and expressions, but their lack of dimensionality really marred the pretence that these were physical people. I found it better to look at the central stage, even through a forest of heads, mobile phones and glowsticks.
About half the audience seemed to have invested in those glowsticks – the pre-show announcements reminded us repeatedly that only the official Hatsune Miku glowsticks were allowed, though I’m not sure if security would have waded into the crowd to nab rule-breakers. The stick sea, rising and falling added massively to the shared experience, especially with the colour changes when other Vocaloid characters performed their numbers.
I’ve never been particularly taken with cutesy corn-yellow twins Rin and Len before, but they seemed particularly energized in their numbers this time, while the pink-hued Megurine projected mature sinuousness to counteract the general moe, and the male Kaito guested for one solid song. The playlist was well-modulated; the set kicked off with max adrenaline, but I was surprised by the number of slower numbers, perhaps one or two too many.
As an interested rather than serious fan, I could only recognize about four of the songs performed, out of about 23 in total, including three encores after the “Last Song” notice. Many of the audience plainly knew far more of them, although the biggest cheer was for arguably the most familiar number, Miku’s coquettish “The World is Mine,” at nearly the end of the set. I cheered along with them, though I found myself underwhelmed by that particular performance. Slick as it was, I found myself missing the far stranger Miku who performs the song in the video everyone’s seen on YouTube, striding the stage like a sassy alien. Technically inferior that Miku may be, but her personality cut far sharper than the new version, like early Mickey Mouse before he went corporate.
Given audience restrictions – no under-14s without an accompanying adult – it wasn’t surprising that may of the event’s audience seemed to be student-age or a bit older, with a few middle-aged buffers like me and plenty of Asian faces too. The audience split seemed to be towards male, but with perhaps a third or more female fans, and dozens of Miku cosplayers among them. One woman queuing right behind me actually burst into tears as we came into the hall before the performance, saying that she had been waiting for this event for so long. I find it hard to imagine she was disappointed.