The Hatsune Miku English concept has been in the works from ages pretty much from when Miku herself was first released, and it’s hard to appreciate that the Miku V3 English has already been around for a year since the 2013 release simply because no one really uses it. Crypton Future Media clearly wants to turn that around, first by having Miku open for Lady Gaga’s concert, and now directly marketing a Miku Expo 2014 for large LA and NY venues this fall. Although they are never short of international Miku fans, one of their biggest downfalls would happen to be the lack of quality and renown English songs Miku sings. Case in point: I could review Sharing the World, Miku’s nominal theme song for the Expo lives, but it doesn’t have enough substance to qualify for much analysis.
Bu-La-La is one of the few English songs I can find that not only manages to keep me listening the whole way through, but actually ranked a weekly Best 11 on Niconico. While it remains to be seen if Miku will be showcasing many English versions of her songs, I would not be too disappointed if Bu-La-La was part of that setlist.
In being fair to the song, I will start off reviewing Bu-La-La as if it were any other song. What drew me in Bu-La-La was not only its rather catchy beat, but also the abstract and fairly high quality PV. Producer piroparu has only ever released Japanese songs, so it would be safe to assume they themselves were Japanese. I enjoyed the little lyrical spin they took with the English words; “dollar” and “blur” had the sounds “dolla-la” and “blur bu-la-la” attached to them, like the title. It connects the English words to Miku’s Japanese way of pronouncing it, making the blurring of the r and l sounds cute rather than foreign.
The girl, some bubblegum-chewing version of a Miku stand in, has a lot to complain about her town. She sports black hair and a little yellow parakeet on her shoulder, but I’m going to refer to her as Miku all the same since the song is in first person. “Towners” are symbolically bleached skeletons in the deadbeat “worthless world” Miku inhabits. At times she is shown walking down the streets, turning in agony away from the skeletons, standing in front of a moving train, and finally singing to a crowd.
These snippets of her life accompany lyrics that may not make a lot of grammatical sense, but loosely tie together. Miku is unashamedly thinking about herself most of the time, criticizing the others living in the world and saying how “her pride[ful?] eyes/ears” are fogging up. What I think this adds up to is a self-aware narrative Miku tells of the drive of money, pride, and validation in a meaningless society.
My favorite part of the PV comes after Miku’s eyes start spinning in crazy circles and the chorus becomes “What a scary world this place is.” In the well-executed (though grammatically malformed) twist ending, Miku’s “Doc” tells her he is the same. The revelation frames the song into something Miku is relating to a psychiatrist, and explains the “problem” Miku is writing down on paper and burning up in the very beginning of the song. So surprisingly, the story is rather compact despite the metaphoric elements.
As for the music, I enjoy the fact that Bu-La-La is written not with the intention of being an “English Miku song”, but rather a song that just happens to be in English. What that means is, even if the song was in any other language, the musical beat is still just as catchy. Miku’s tone has just the right amount of dryness, and there’s a good variation within a song that’s strong point was its somewhat nonsensical repetitiveness. Again, some of the English is incorporated in a way that sounds natural to a Vocaloid song.
However, generalizing the problems with Hatsune Miku V3 English is unfortunately easy: unclear pronunciation continues to bar Miku’s usability in different languages. During drawn-out notes of slower songs, you can sort of make out the effort Miku’s voice actress, Saki Fujita, put into the English. Fujita reportedly re-recorded many times at the instruction of an English tutor, and trained to differentiate r and l sounds. Miku already has a robotic lilt in her Japanese, so it’s unfair to expect her English not to have an unnatural feel that goes beyond the Japanese accent.
Half of the problem lies with the use of the software, because one of the key differences between the Japanese and English languages is the way the words are emphasized when placed in a sentence. Japanese is largely syllabic and can withstand and even suit being broken down into robotic sounds, but English words and sentences have very specific ways of delivery.
In Bu-La-La, for example, the lines “What a worthless-world this place is” and “All the fogging-round my pride eyes” (dashes mine) tend to skip over the two phrases that hold the most meaning, “world” and “fogging.” In the interest of fitting the entire line in, the spacing is jumbled together and we don’t really catch the words. English singers would likely draw them out for their impact and ditch a few extraneous articles.
In the end, I can accept Bu-La-La’s shortcomings as an English song written by a Japanese person. Even if piroparu doesn’t intuitively understand the way the English language is spoken or sung, he dares to write an abstract song with a quintessential Vocaloid song sound. At the very least, it doesn’t commit the sins of tediously straightforward messages of love that both Glass Wall (that opened Lady Gaga’s concert) and Sharing the World (the one that will open Miku Expo) have.
Even if you can’t understand Miku’s English when she sings too fast, restricting Miku English to ballads sounds infinitely boring and loses the Vocaloid appeal she has. Therefore, Bu-La-La gets bonus points and the “not as bad as it could have been” award.
-Great PV animation.
-Well-written lyrics that actually tie the story together.
-Daring use of Miku English for an unusually abstract song.
-Miku English’s shortcomings in pronunciation and grammar.