Crypton Future Media

But we just think of them as the vocaloid people.

"Cultural mismatch" was the unofficial theme of the Crypton panel at AX. It's not necessarily a bad thing, even -- just the way things are, and I think even a large contributing factor to the success Vocaloid's experienced over here in these glorious United States of America.

I'm not even kidding. We like the exotic -- gravitate towards it, even. Perfectly normal human tendency.

Hold that thought. Back up a bit. I've long held that the Japanese internet is built around different sites than the American. Most likely the situation is the same with every language -- the Chinese-speaking, Russian-speaking, Portuguese-speaking internets all look vastly different from their English-language counterpart. I only notice it with Japan because of my cultural bias. We use eBay, they use Yahoo auctions. We use .com, they use .jp. We have DeviantArt, they have Pixiv. And so forth. In practical terms, it's as if there's a wall between our mechanisms of cultural exchange and theirs.

The Crypton staff knew this, but they also underestimated just how porous certain of those barriers are. They knew that people had cross-posted many of the Vocaloid videos from Nico Douga, but not the extent to which people had watched and browsed them on Youtube. When they asked about various songs, we'd heard them. Every one, though some had fewer fans than others. They'd underestimated the appeal of the exotic, the novel otherness of the vocaloids.

By extension, they also seem to have underestimated the negative stigma that some fans associate with localization.

I can't really overemphasize this. When they asked the crowd how they felt about having Vocaloid songs produced by Americans, the reaction was complete silence. It was kind of embarrassing, and it really drove home that a big part of Vocaloid's appeal is its foreignness. A difficult line for a company like Crypton to walk, and we're still trying to see how it's playing out.

The panelists had a fair amount to say on the cultural aspect of the whole thing, intermixed with more specific stuff on their plans for the software. They commented that Japanese music draws heavily from Western rock and pop. Everyone knows this. However, they then asserted that Vocaloid producers use more traditional Japanese influences, thus bringing more of a native sound into modern electronic pop. I'm not sure whether I'm buying it, myself -- I think a lot of it might be that the Japanese vocaloid producers use elements a la Japonaise precisely in order to get that same distancing effect.

After all, the elements of Japanese traditional music sound somewhat foreign in Japan as well. It's like keigo -- generally acknowledged as part of Japan's cultural heritage, widely recognized, but not a going concern.

Perhaps a certain amount of cultural distance just works well with the Vocaloid music. If it sounded familiar, maybe it would be too inhuman.

—chris