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Some producers treat VOCALOIDs like they are dolls, and believe that they can make a VOCALOID do anything they want.
As noted by Crypton Future Media in regards to their Project If..., releases presented as young children risk becoming subject to pedophilic sexual portrayals. In particular, AH Software's first three VOCALOIDs and their VOICEROID products caught attention and were accused of being aimed at the lolicon fandom.
The elements in Hatsune Miku's design were commonplace in the early days of VOCALOID and owe their birth to the numerous derivatives of Hatsune Miku and other Crypton Future Media VOCALOIDs; however, it was not found to be associated with VOCALOID prior to Miku's release. The overall layout of Hatsune Miku's boxart has been largely referenced within the Japanese culture and is often easily noticed. KEI himself has been fully aware of Miku's fame to the point that he has parodied his own artwork of Miku from time to time.
The design influence of Hatsune Miku led to other cultural sources referencing the design. One example is Kasane Teto, an UTAU, being one of the most easily acknowledgable example of this. Her success to pass as a Vocaloid during an April Fools' joke was partly owed to how similar in design she appeared to existing Crypton Future Media Vocaloids, though that was not the sole factor in this. Furthermore, mascots of other music related software and hardware have been created based on the popularity of Miku's own design, such as FL Chan who owes her character creation to Hatsune Miku's popularity.
Her design also influenced other Vocaloids. For example, cyber-style clothes, as seen on the Crypton Future Media VOCALOIDs, were implemented onto Gackpo's design in accordance with their belief that this was a popular element of the current VOCALOID design. Macne Nana was created as a "sound princess" for the Mac computer; her working name was actually "Macne Miku" and she took influence from Miku herself.
Despite its influence on popular culture, by 2010, Miku's mascot was the source of some controversial opinions within the fandom, causing incidences of possible influence to be met with dispute and at times negativity.
In 2012, a Chinese virtual singer concert hit a particular point by Miku fans for a "Miku-esque" appearance of the main singer Dong Fang Zhi Zi. The conclusion was made that she was an attempt to 'cash in' on Miku's popularity by borrowing elements from her design and using the same virtual diva concept. This caused a negative reaction from Miku fans, and videos of the singer received several thousand "dislikes". This proved that singers who are similar to the point where fans believe they are 'ripping off' Miku are met with controversial outcry. However, designs are not restricted to post-Miku designs, but other pre-Miku designs on occasion are brought up.
However, this is not always a common reaction as many companies use "Formulas" within their products, these are based on the popularity of certain trends from popular culture. "Formulas for success" are found in books, movies, games and television already and are also often applied to something to allow the developers time to focus on other aspects of the end product without having to worry about the consequences of experimenting with unknown or complex elements.
As VOCALOID becomes increasingly more popular, more VOCALOIDs are made, and therefore finding new and unique designs becomes more difficult for studios. Therefore, the creation of VOCALOIDs whose designs resemble other VOCALOIDs may occur more often. Some cite CUL and Big Al as such an example.
In May 2015, Xingchen's unveiling lead to concern over her similarities to Hatsune Miku. This lead to her clothing being redesigned. Her signature hairstyle, the quad-pigtails, was kept but worn in a different way.
Despite the fact that artwork, also, has no effect on VOCALOID vocal performance, there are many who judge a VOCALOID upon their initial release getting excited or not based purely on design. Therefore, there is also a risk of a VOCALOID being judged by vocal performance based on the design, with fans downgrading VOCALOID vocals they like because they dislike the design. VOCALOIDs who have been effected by this include (but not restricted to) Sweet Ann, Megpoid/GUMI and Bruno.
Most VOCALOIDs had pale skin pigmentation during both the VOCALOID and VOCALOID2 era of voicebanks. The lack of multiracial representation within English VOCALOID mirrored issues throughout the creative industry, and Western music's treatment of non-white artists as a whole.
For Japanese VOCALOIDs, the lack of representation is partially due to the lower level racial diversity within the country, with 98.5% of the population being Japanese. This results in a lower demand for racial diversity within Japanese media.
The skin colour of a Vocaloid has influenced fan's reception. Some fans responded positively to VOCALOID Merli upon her design unveiling because she was "the first VOCALOID with dark skin". Clara and Bruno were originally going to be released with darker toned skin, however after a competition to pick new designs, Bruno and Clara are now depicted with paler complexions; despite there being a variety of choices put forward. The result was based on a majority vote.
Another concern falls onto avatarless Vocaloids, where the potential for racial diversity is often unused. In the case of Leon and Lola, despite being confirmed in 2009 that their vocals were both provided by black vocalists, they are still commonly depicted as white. Their most popular designs before the reveal were both white, falling into the stereotypically blonde-haired, blue-eyed archetypal Westerner seen in Japanese media. This in spite of Leon and Lola being marketed as soul singers, a genre featuring predominantly black artists.
There are also concerns mentioned in VOCALOID and politics, which at times impacts the portrayal of Vocaloids.
When RUBY's character design was revealed on July 4, 2015 at Anime Expo, Syo stated that PowerFX had gone against his wishes. He and Natasha Allegri worked on a final design for nearly a year, however, Anders relayed to them that PowerFX wanted a new illustration to appeal to their EDM audience. Syo stated he had been promised control over the design and was shocked to see a new illustration premiered at Anime Expo. The image was concealed from the developers until launch.
Anders, who acted as a relay between PowerFX and Syo, countered this, saying that he had not promised Syo complete control over the design. When Syo asked if his friend would be allowed creative input, Anders said: "I can't say that she will have the final say, but she can certainly come up with ideas for the design and if they're good we'll use them." This conversation occurred during December 2013, when Anders was communicating with Crypton about RUBY. After it became apparent Crypton would want more control over the design than they were comfortable with, Anders suggested moving to Zero-G or PowerFX because he believed they would offer them more freedom. Anders asserted that no promises were made and no contracts signed beyond NDAs.
PowerFX revealed they never received Misha's design or knew it existed. An email sent by Bil Bryant indicated that he had not seen Syo and Misha's concept until after Anime Expo. On July 7, Bryant stated that he had not been aware that Misha was of Latin American descent and wanted to be portrayed as such, nor that Syo had been promised input on the design.
The art that appeared was commissioned six months before its unveiling. PowerFX officially stated that only one artist was requested and paid to do artwork. The aim was to appeal to digital music makers and EDM producers while not totally alienating the existing user base.
After negotiations, the miscommunication between PowerFX and the developers was resolved. Misha's design would appear on RUBY's software installer and boxart. Misha stated that they believed that Anders had not intentionally misled any of the parties. She revealed that early whitewashing accusations were due to miscommunication, as they had never clarified that RUBY was supposed to represent her ethnicity.
A similar miscommunication occurred when RUBY's boxart was revealed. Once again, RUBY's team stated that the boxart PowerFX used was not the design they had created or intended. It was discovered that PowerFX had never received the boxart that the team designed due to the team members' miscommunication, each believing the other had already sent it to PowerFX. When PowerFX did not receive the boxart they had agreed to, they created their own. This contained factual errors and poor design, leading to fan outcry.
VOCALOID CHINA cast controversyEdit
During VOCALOID3's early days, a contest was launched to determine the design of the first Mandarin-Chinese capable VOCALOID. Five characters (Yayin Gongyu, Ling Caiyin, Yayin, Chou, and MOKO) were chosen, redesigned, and repurposed as VOCALOID characters and supporting members. In 2017, Aya, the original designer of Yayin (now Yuezheng Longya), posted her experience with the contest. She mentioned that when Shanghai HENIAN announced the VOCALOID CHINA characters, she was unaware of the new biographies. While there was an email, there was no contract and she never heard what happened to her entry until SHN made the designs public. There were no discussions about adding new backgrounds nor about having Yayin and Ling Caiyin (now Yuezheng Ling) become siblings. It is unknown if the other winning participants had similar experiences.
YANHE and Zhiyu MokeEdit
YANHE's voice was recorded prior to the choosing of an avatar and was intended to be the voicebank for VOCALOID CHINA PROJECT's runner up, Zhiyu Moke. YAMAHA became suspicious when money lent for the project disappeared and it was found that the president of Shanghai HENIAN Information Technology Co. Ltd. (SHN), Ren Li, had spent the funds at a brothel. YAMAHA removed the rights to all of the VOCALOID CHINA cast members and SHN was left with no other choice but to host a second design contest to find a new character for their completed voicebank. This caused an outrage from Chinese fans as they assumed the original cast members were to become VOCALOIDs after Luo Tianyi in addition to a lack of a proper explanation for the second contest. As a result, the fans shunned YANHE as they believed that she was replacing the original VOCALOID CHINA cast, which hurt her initial sales and reputation. The VOCALOID CHINA PROJECT cast members were unable to become VOCALOIDs until early 2014 when SHN repurchased the character rights from YAMAHA and ended collaborations with Bplats, Inc. to develop Chinese VOCALOIDs on their own.
Later in 2014, Flexin, a Chinese MMD user, tried to alert the rest of the Chinese fans about what happened behind the scenes. At Ren Li's request, SHN responded to Flexin with a lawsuit and claimed he was spreading false rumors. In the end, Flexin withdrew his statements and kept silent about the controversy. Other fans who discovered the controversial secrets avoided speaking about it due to SHN's reaction to Flexin.
When Ren Li "resigned" as president (in truth, he was fired for his actions), news of what had happened was able to be spoken and it was revealed by G.K., a former worker for SHN and member of Vanguard Sound.
Zhang Chuchu marketing controversyEdit
On May 13, 2017, Shanghai Wangcheng hosted a panel to introduce their newest VOCALOIDs Zhang Chuchu and Yuecheng. During the panel, several models and performers were wearing lolita-styled outfits that "Chuchu designed for Xin Hua" and were produced by Neverland. Neverland was informed by Shanghai Wangcheng that Chuchu would be described as a Neverland intern designer in her manhua. Neverland was interested in this concept so they provided Shanghai Wangcheng the lolita-styled costumes for the panel only. Shanghai Wangcheng selected some of these outfits for the panel, but displayed some of the unused costumes on Weibo without Neverland's permission and without crediting them, breaching their agreement. Instead, these posts credited Chuchu for the designs. Neverland no longer has any notifications from Shanghai Wangcheng again.