How the manga “Akane no Ne” was created. The appeal of  VOCALOID culture to the author, Eriko Yada.

VOCALOID, which uses synthetic singing voice technology developed by Yamaha, has continued to advance since it was first released in 2003. The latest version is VOCALOID6, which features VOCALOID:AI. Other companies also sell voicebanks for VOCALOID. A genre has been established for music sung by virtual singers created using singing voice synthesis technologies. Called “Vocalo” in Japanese, numerous tracks of this now beloved genre are uploaded every day.

“Akane no Ne” is a manga about VOCALOID. The manga depicts contemporary VOCALOID culture, featuring Akane, a music college student who secretly posts videos as a Vocalo Producer. He is frustrated by his lack of notable achievements as the deadline for his promise to his father, a very famous music producer, to make his debut while still in college is ever closer.

“Akane no Ne” has become a major topic among Vocalo Producers and VOCALOID fans, and has led to the creation of new fans. This interview reveals the appeal of VOCALOID and why author, Eriko Yada, chose VOCALOID as the theme of her manga.

VOCALOID was not on my playlist

Ever since I was a child, manga has been by my side as a matter of course. My 4 years older sister had a lot of manga and also she had tools for drawing manga. As I read  and drew manga, I naturally wanted to become a manga artist.

 I studied manga in university and worked as an assistant manga artist after graduation. I kept submitting my own works to publishers and I got a chance to get the rookie award. But I had no chance to get a serialization in a manga magazine. When I was wondering what to choose for the theme of my next work, I came across “DTM (Desktop Music = creating music on PC)" on TV.

I have always loved music, and I always wanted to make a serialized music manga someday. So I drew a manga on the theme of DTM and applied for the “Spirits 40th Anniversary Commemorative Serialization Manga Award (https://bigcomicbros.net/54886/ )” in 2021.

My work was not selected as a finalist for the award, but the chief editor told me that the theme was interesting and he wanted to serialize it. At the same time, he also said that the genre DTM is too broad and difficult to understand. So the editorial section proposed VOCALOID as the theme.

To be honest, until then I had not been exposed to VOCALOID music at all. I knew of Hatsune Miku, of course, but the only other things I knew were that Sachiko Kobayashi sang “Senbonzakura” at Kohaku (Annual new years' singing competition show)  and that Kenshi Yonezu comes from a background as a Vocalo Producer. So when I received the proposal, I was surprised and worried.

But soon I changed my mind. I thought that VOCALOID is a culture that is so widespread and loved by so many people that I just don't know much about it. I believe that something that grabs people's hearts that much must be interesting. At the same time, I felt that I had to do my research and draw it carefully so as not to be disrespectful to the fans. After discussing this with my editor, I decided to draw on the theme of VOCALOID.

Depicting the change that one who was not interested got into VOCALOID

I started by listening to VOCALOID songs on YouTube. But the VOCALOID voices were not familiar to my ears at that time. I felt VOCALOID’s voice was stucking in front of my ear and didn't come in. But I kept digging VOCALOID music.  One day, I came across a song that was pleasant to my ears. It was “Dreamless Dreams” by Harumaki Gohan (https://harumakigohan.com/ ).

Harumaki Gohan - Dreamless Dreams

There is a sense of loneliness, emptiness, and warmth, while also having a machine-like quality that is unique to VOCALOID. Hatsune Miku's voice adjustion, of course, was excellent, and the video had great depiction as well. I can feel the complexity of the emotions and the depth of the work as a single piece of art. After that, I became more and more absorbed in VOCALOID, and I felt that other songs were also pleasing to my ears.

As those of you who have read the manga know, Akane (Sekiei), the main character in “Akane no Ne”, originally thought of VOCALOID only as a tool for expression, and he teams up with a singer at the beginning of the story. As I was drawing this part, I thought I'll get criticism from VOCALOID fans and in fact I was right. But I kept drawing it, thinking that if people read the rest of the story, they would definitely understand.

I wanted to make a manga that would move even those who are not interested in VOCALOID, just as I gradually got into VOCALOID from a state where I had no particular interest. Because the world of VOCALOID is still niche, we need to make it more universal and easy-to-understand, so that people can become interested in it without any knowledge of it.

Therefore, I didn't want to start out by explaining all the appeal of VOCALOID. Instead, the story is about how Akane was saved by VOCALOID when he was at the bottom of his life, and how he became more and more absorbed in its appeal.

I am currently a big fan of VOCALOID, but I am trying to keep the feeling of the old days when I was not interested in that.

Commonalities between manga artists and Vocalo Producers

In order to draw my manga, I interviewed many people, including Vocalo Producers. When I listen to a VOCALOID song and think about the message behind it, I get really interested in how the piece was created.  I was curious to know what kind of anguish, encounters, and drama existed in the “line” between the “dots” of songs. When I requested an interview, everyone was willing to cooperate.

Through the interviews, I realized that Vocalo Producer and manga artists are very similar in their circumstances and the structure of their respective industries. Nowadays, because of social media, both can be presented freely regardless of location and age, and both professionals and amateurs have a chance to create buzz. The situation in which they were struggling resonated with me in many ways. The more I interviewed them, the more I felt a sense of fellowship.

In drawing the “Vocalo Festival” section, I interviewed Iyowa (https://twitter.com/igusuri_please ), who won first place in the 2022 VOCALOID Collection (https://vocaloid-collection.jp/ ).  I was very much impressed by his interview. He is the model of Tag-Log in the “Vocalo Festival” section.

Iyowa has a great sense of balance because he has been dealing with VOCALOID since he was a child. He considers how he can combine his love of VOCALOID with what he wants to produce in order to come up with a work that will be accepted broadly. Listeners can find margins for their imagination in his finely created music.

When Iyowa won first place at VOCALOID Collection, I heard him crying during the video feed. It must be a scene of overflowing emotions right after such a big accomplishment, but the words that came out were all considerate of the suffering of people in various positions. I thought it was because of his humanity that he has always been close to various VOCALOID values.

Furthermore, during the interview, Iyowa was able to clearly explain what he is capable of now and what he would like to challenge in the future. He was able to calmly view society from a broad perspective, not only from the VOCALOID world. I also sensed that he was not immersed in his immediate accomplishments, but was looking further into the future. It also made me think about my own mindset as a manga artist.

Touched by the “enthusiasm” that has made VOCALOID culture what it is

I wanted to make a manga that could be read by people who were not interested in VOCALOID, so I was very happy when some readers told me that they became interested in VOCALOID after reading “Akane no Ne”. Conversely, I was also told by a VOCALOID fans that “Akane no Ne” got them interested in manga. Some people found out about VOCALOID Collection through the manga and decided to post their work. I am happy to be able to help promote the VOCALOID community through my manga.

I believe that my manga has been able to reach so many people because people in the VOCALOID community have been promoting the manga on social media since the serialization began. Especially during the Vocalo Festival section, people talked about my manga a lot because it was based on real characters, such as “Zenkyoku Checker” and “Kakita-san of Nikanika Video”.

I often receive comments that the depiction is realistic. This is largely due to the cooperation of everyone involved in interviews, which made it possible for us to depict things in a truly realistic setting. In particular, the realism of the Vocalo Festival was made possible by our interviews with Mr.Kurita of DWANGO Co., Ltd and the VOCALOID Collection management staff.

I have e-mailed Mr.Kurita several times with questions, not only for the Vocalo Festival section, and each time he responds with a tremendous amount of passion and long messages. He has also featured my manga many times on his social media.

Experiencing everyone's passion, I realized that the reason why VOCALOID is so popular today is because of the steady efforts that the management has continued to cultivate. I felt that because they believe in the potential of young creators, they are trusted by creators.

I believe that VOCALOID is full of elements that make people passionate. It is a tool that brings out the personality, strengths, and uniqueness of various people, and it offers a high degree of freedom in expressing these qualities. For both the producer and the listener, there is a great deal of room for imagination. The more I learn about VOCALOID, the more I realize that this is why they are able to create with as much passion as they want.

Thank you to VOCALOID and fans

To tell the truth, due to book sales and other circumstances, it was decided that “Akane no Ne” would be completed in five volumes. I was also very shocked because it was my first serialization of manga and it was a manga that I really wanted to draw. At that time, through the interview with Iyowa, I felt that I could not continue to be sad and decided to continue drawing the story that I believe in until the end.

But when there were only five episodes left before the final episode, the entire story of “Akane no Ne” was published on Manga One(Manga application by SHOGAKUKAN Inc.). When it was published, the response was great, with many people reading it in one sitting on the app. Maybe it was because I had announced on social media that the book would end at volume 5, readers were very encouraging. Miraculously, a sequel was decided upon.

I am now  working on the final story, which is the one I really wanted to draw. I am making the final story so that everyone who has supported me will be satisfied that they have read the manga. I hope you will look forward to it.

I was not interested in VOCALOID at first, but now I am a big fan of VOCALOID. I feel that it is a truly fascinating culture. Without this VOCALOID culture, I would not have been able to start a manga series. I am very grateful to the culture as a whole and to everyone who has continued to support my work as a part of it.

If you have not yet been exposed to VOCALOID, I highly recommend that you listen to many of them from the beginning. There are many VOCALOID artists who create songs, and even if you don't find one or two songs appealing, you will find an artist you like as you listen to more and more songs. What touches you depends on your situation, and your mood. I would like you all to feel free to try it out.