The voice of the future : seeking freedom of expression through VOCALOID fandom
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Hatsune Miku is a celebrity; she is also a virtual singer with no real entity. The phenomenon of her success in Japan and abroad provides the starting point for this report, which examines the different forms of collaborative creativity that grow out of social energy arising from a collective interest in the dazzling Vocaloid characters and VOCALOID singing synthesis technology. From an outside observer's perspective, the feverish reception of this anime character may be found to be uncanny. How can this "unreal" thing possess such affective power? By attaching themselves to a non-real object, are Japanese otaku (nerds) exhibiting pathological tendencies? Or has their frequent exposure to anime and manga predisposed them to be emotionally receptive to virtual characters in way that neophytes lack the experience to understand? Taking a cue from Bruno Latour, this report confronts these questions by opening the malfunctional social black box of otaku group formation. I try to understand how the meaning of otaku is made stable through a social explanation, and why the VOCALOID fandom is distinct from ordinary people. In contrast to the technological determinism and socially determined use of technology, I apply Actor-Network-Theory's theoretical and ethnomethodological perspectives to the VOCALOID community constituted from sociotechnical networks. Based on a position of ANT that each actor interacts with other actors (human and nonhuman) that constitute the network, this report looks at the particular media platforms and their infrastructures that allow the distribution and circulation of songs and videos. I then provide my ethnographic account based on a local VOCALOID event in Hong Kong in an attempt to understand how fans are recruited to the network, and what their motivations to collaborate, create, and share are. Making the connections evident, I conclude that the stereotypical social theory is somewhat unessential to our understanding of social relations.