Jul 132014

During our visit to Anime Expo 2014, the MikuFan staff had the fortunate opportunity to interview one of Crypton Future Media’s on-site staff, Kanae Muraki, and cover various topics and questions that have been heard throughout the Western community.

Kanae Muraki is the director of Crypton Future Media’s global development team for marking and promotions in Western countries. She has also represented Crypton at a number of information panels at overseas conventions and events.

We hope you will find the interview below insightful and informative. It’s quite long, so be sure to read the full story by clicking “more” below.

Legend: MF = MikuFan, CFM = Kanae

MF: Thank you very much again for taking your time for this interview.

CFM: Oh, thank you, too!

MF: To start off, I had a couple questions of my own. The first being the collaboration with Hatsune Miku as the opening act for Lady Gaga’s ArtPop Ball music tour. The announcement caught many fans by surprise. Can you comment on what it was like working with Gaga for these events?

CFM: The offer from Lady Gaga to have Hatsune Miku as the opening act came very suddenly, just 7 weeks before the first show was scheduled to start. We were already in the process of planning out the next Miku Expo at the time. We did not have much preparation time to decide what the performance would be like, and we could not have a live band during the opening act since the stage would need to be cleared quickly. We had to create everything for each set from scratch, from the video to the music selection. But we knew it would be really boring having just a video, so we had the idea to have other on-stage live dancers.

Hatsune Miku’s opening act on June 2nd at Lady Gaga’s artRAVE in San Diego

CFM: Even though Miku was announced as an opening guest, we knew the majority of the audience would be Gaga fans, so we decided to try something new. We wanted to do something special for the music set list, and the first song I found was “Glass Wall“. It was a really good song, and the English was well done. The song gave me a feeling similar to the first Hatsune Miku songs from 2007, when she first started getting popular. So we first shared that song on the Hatsune Miku Facebook, and it got great feedback from fans. Then we contacted the producer to ask permission, and he was very excited. Another great song we chose was Story Rider by Eleki. It felt more like a Western style song, and Lady Gaga’s fans ended up loving it.

MF: I had noticed that the crowd seemed confused and unsure about Miku’s appearance at first, but they started warming up more as the opening act progressed. I’m glad to see that things went pretty well overall.

MF: I know that Crypton has faced a number of challenges while trying to expand their market to the West, primarily due to the vastly different demographics compared to Japan. Can you talk about what some of these challenges are, and maybe your future expansion plans?

CFM: Before I started working in US and EU marketing 2 years ago, I helped manage the Facebook page, among other things. When I first came to Anime Expo, I started doing research on the U.S. market. I saw the merchandise being sold, much of it being pirated goods. There was also a lack of “cute” goods, something many fans in the West seemed to like. So my first idea was to introduce good quality “cute” merchandise at the right prices.

MF: Mhmm. And many fans prefer purchasing official goods so they know that they’re helping support the industry in some way.

CFM: Yeah, yeah. In addition, many fans are always sending messages asking for us to have a concert in their area. Of course, these concerts cost a lot of money. Even after selling out the tickets, it still doesn’t cover the costs of hosting the event. So we make sure the concert is going towards the promotion of the business. This means finding business partners to create merchandise, campaigns, etc, and then licensing the rights to use our characters for the products or promotions. MightyFine has been a great overseas partner in that regard. Similarly, we have another unannounced and exciting collaboration coming this October.

Hatsune Miku performing ‘Last Night, Good Night‘ at Magical Mirai 2013

The following questions were asked by Lawrence Elsa, MikuFan’s co-writer:

MF: Crypton has grown a lot over the years, but is still a relatively small company. How many more people and departments have been added on since it started, and how many people work in each department?

CFM: Crypton, as you know, is a music software company, so we do have a team of about 10 people that manages the physical and digital distribution of software. We also do everything in-house, so we have a team of about 8 people, sometimes more, responsible for website and promotional flier designs. Then we do have a programming team, responsible for website programming, mobile applications, and the Vocaloid programming team (numbers for these teams not mentioned). When it comes to things like concerts and merchandise within Japan, we have a marketing team of about 20 people. When it comes to the international marketing team, it’s only 5 right now. But it used to be only me and another lady, so it’s growing (laughs).

Crypton Future Media’s company building in Sapporo.

CFM: A good aspect about having such a small team is that decisions can be made fast. Compared to other traditional Japanese companies, where you have to go to boss after boss after boss to get approval for an idea, Crypton is not like that at all. It has a very “flat” employee structure, so it’s easy for me to simply just go straight to the CEO and ask “hey, this is cool, can we do that?”, and get approval right away.

MF: With the new music video for “Ray” by Bump of Chicken featuring Hatsune Miku, Crypton also introduced their own Type 14 Hatsune Miku model (pictured left). This same model was also used during the Lady Gaga tour, and more recently for Hatsune Miku’s performance at the MTV Japan Music Awards. Is Crypton working on creating their own models and concert studio, so they can work more independently from the Mikupa or SEGA concert teams by hosting their own concert events?

CFM: I think it’s more of just another option. It’s more fun for us to be able to work with our own model. When we didn’t have our own model, then we had to figure out something with either SEGA or Mikupa. This makes things difficult if we need to arrange a show quickly, because such collaborations take time.

MF (response by jrharbort): Much like with Lady Gaga and the short notice to invite Hatsune Miku as a guest. Using your own model and ideas worked out best for that situation.

CFM: Yes. Since high quality performances take time to arrange, it’s good for us to have another option. We still plan to collaborate with SEGA and Mikupa, but it’s good to have more options based on the situation.

Crypton’s Type 14 Hatsune Miku model in “Ray” by Bump of Chicken

The following question was asked by jrharbort, MikuFan’s head writer:

MF: Does Crypton Future Media plan to keep the Type 14 model private, or will there be an eventual public release for the model?

CFM: I am not sure. We are still developing the model itself, so it’s not complete yet. It still has a lot of room for improvement, and we’re constantly testing new ideas with it. We’re still working on things like the textures, eyes, etc.

The next question was asked by Lawrence Elsa, MikuFan’s co-writer:

MF: A lot of fans were surprised that Miku Expo in the U.S. was announced not only for Los Angeles, but also New York. Is there a particular reason that two locations were chosen for the United States?

CFM: We just really wanted to do a show in New York, and Miku Expo was planned to be Miku’s first appearance there before the Lady Gaga show was scheduled. The United States has a very large fanbase on the West side in California, but there is also a lot of fans in New York. I’m really sorry we couldn’t do something more in the middle, since we have seen the feedback from fans. But since the U.S. is so large, it worked best to hold the event at both ends of the country.

Announcement video for Miku Expo in Los Angeles and New York

CFM: Miku Expo of course is going to have a big concert, as well as an art exhibition. Setting up a large scale concert like Mikupa takes time. For the Lady Gaga tour, using a video and such allowed for quick setup. But if you want a live band, and the necessary equipment for that high quality experience, we need significantly greater setup time. Because of how large the U.S. is, moving all of that staff and equipment to the middle of the country would make hosting such an event extremely challenging. So it was easiest to choose two locations at each end of the country, so U.S. fans and Canadian fans can choose which city they want to go to.

The following questions were asked by jrharbort, MikuFan’s head writer:

MF: Some of these questions I gathered from the community. Fans are curious as to when we might be able to expect to hear some Megurine Luka V3 demos, and if an English voice bank is still being developed for V3 Luka?

CFM: She is still planned to get an updated English voice bank for V3. I’m not too sure about a release date, though. I’m more involved in the marketing staff, separate from the Vocaloid development staff. This year I didn’t have any panel, so I couldn’t bring any demos. If I were to host a panel, then maybe I could bring a demo. But no time period is 100% confirmed yet, as they are still making it.

MF: Another question from the community regarding CV04, and if that is still in development?

CFM: I don’t think so… But the funny thing about Crypton is that we are constantly getting new ideas all the time. I can say right now that we are not doing anything in regards to CV04, but things may change just a couple days later.

MF: Another fan question is regarding “Project If”, and the recording done for the “Project If” libraries will be used for later products?

CFM: That is also a question that is best asked of the Vocaloid programming team, but “Project If” was first mentioned several years ago. I’m not sure, but I believe “Project If” was more of a test on recording for different languages, such as Chinese. Even if we and up doing nothing with “Project If” directly, we can use what we’ve learned later for things like a Chinese, Spanish or French Miku if we wanted. But I’m not sure about all the details regarding “Project If”.

MF: Will it be possible for Crypton to release patches for their V3 voice bank products to apply fixes or tweaks? In addition, the feedback regarding English Miku has been very mixed. Is Crypton considering releasing another “unmodified” version of English Miku so she sounds more like her original voice bank?

CFM: I think we may still be working on something like that. We are always listening to feedback. Before we release anything, we test it very extensively for quality. So we make sure we are happy with the product result before release. However, if there is enough feedback and interest, offering patches and fixes later, or even another voice bank, is always a possibility.

MF: Is Crypton interested in expanding some of their operations to Western countries, such as opening an office in the United States? Are you still too small of a company to even consider it at this point?

CFM: Sometimes I feel it would be easier to be based in LA or San Fransisco. But the funny thing is that we do far more of our own business in Japan, but we have yet to open a branch in Tokyo. One of our workers on the concert team is in Tokyo about 20 days each month, but has to stay in a hotel. It is probably because Crypton’s CEO feels pride in keeping the company’s operations within its home town of Sapporo.

MF: I’m sure the point will come in the future where Crypton will consider expanding their operations to other regions.

CFM: I could see that happening in a few years, or if we make new partners to help us expand. It would be great to work in another location while it snows in Sapporo during the winter (laughs).

MF (Asked by Lawrence Elsa): Is taking in more community feedback for new projects also part of Crypton’s plans, or is there more focus on ideas from within the company?

CFM: It’s a mix of both, really. Sometimes we come up with ideas based on market trends, but sometimes we get feedback from fans as well. It is a bit difficult to explain, but we are always connected through online media. When we do get an idea, we just start doing the project. (The topic changed slightly here) Here in Japan, we have many more good Miku merchandise available, and I want to bring those kinds of things to America. But higher product costs and import costs don’t fit the U.S. market as well as Japan, because of the different demographic. So we are trying to find other partners to help with the productions of goods in America.

MF: I have a question regarding that. I know that for a limited time, you opened online sales of some of the limited Snow Miku festival goods to overseas fans, and they sold out very quickly. Was this a profitable venture, or was it more of a courtesy act towards the overseas fans?

CFM: I don’t know… (Laughs)

MF: I think it would be great if the marketing team would consider doing that more often.

Some Snow Miku goods from the 2014 Snow Miku Festival in Sapporo

MF: Is there anything else you would like to talk about?

CFM: I would like to talk more about the upcoming Miku Expo. Since you’re here at Anime Expo, you may not have seen it, but we recently uploaded a documentary on Miku Expo in Indonesia. It’s a very good half hour documentary, and I would really love it if the fans would watch it.

Road to HATSUNE MIKU EXPO 2014 in Indonesia Video Documentary

CFM: I would really like fans in America to come to Miku Expo, because I don’t know when it will be possible to do such an event again. Miku’s first appearance in America was 3 years ago in Los Angeles. This time, we will try to make it the best concert experience possible, as well as the art exhibition. There are many fans who have bought the DVDs or Blu-Rays, but it is an entirely different experience to see an event in person. I think it is important to experience such an event at least once. We also plan to have some exclusives for the art exhibition in Los Angeles and New York.

MF: I did hear from friends who attended the talk sessions with Crypton’s CEO at Miku Expo in Indonesia, and I heard how these overseas events, especially Miku Expo, do take a financial hit on Crypton. So I just wanted to say THANK YOU for doing this for the fans. And we truly appreciate it.

CFM: Thank you! I am really relieved that after over 2 years of work, we can finally bring Miku to America again. When it came to doing Q&A at panels, it was always about concerts. Finally we’re doing it, and I’m so happy and excited.

MF: Thank you again for taking the time for the interview. We’ll meet again in 3 months at Miku Expo in LA!

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About jrharbort
A Hatsune Miku fan since December 2007, jrharbort joined MikuFan as the Head Writer in October 2011. Follow on Twitter at @jrharbort.