Back in 2004, Yamaha released a project going under the name “Daisy” that was under development for four years. With this program, you could use a pool of short reference vocals to synthesise human-like singing. Of course, since it wasn’t an actual human singing the vocals sounded a bit off, but nonetheless music created using this program, renamed to “Vocaloid” before release, found it’s niche and popularity on the internet — especially after the release of a voice for the program popularly known as Hatsune Miku in 2007.
With Vocaloid songs gaining popularity on Japan’s video sharing website, Nico Nico Douga, so did a separate but similar culture of internet music known as utaite. With most Vocaloid music, once the song was posted an instrumental would be given to people who wanted to cover it. While a good number of Vocaloid producers have gone on to be famous producers with real singers, such as ryo who is the composer for supercell and EGOIST or toku of GARNiDELIA, utaite have mostly stayed in their niche or only gone into popularity in the doujinshi music scene.
This isn’t to say that these utaite aren’t flourishing in their niche, as more popular utaite hold concerts and special events for their thousands of fans, but for the most part they don’t have the same reach as Vocaloid producers that have gotten their popularity boosted to a whole separate level. Despite that, there are exceptions to this, so today let’s take a look at some utaite that have moved into the spotlight and even gone on to be responsible for a few anime openings and endings.
First let’s take a look at a couple singers that have only recently jumped into the anime scene with their massive popularity. First up, 96Neko. Known for her incredible range, being able to reach both impressively high notes and mimic male vocals with the lower part of her range, 96Neko is easily one of the most popular utaite to date. Though she still covers Vocaloid songs, she’s also gained popularity through a few anime openings and endings. Her first introduction into anime was for a children’s show Tanken Driland, doing the second ending song for it, but later when she performed the opening songs for Flying Witch alongside miwa and Kuzu no Honkai is when she’d gather much more popularity in the space.
Another voice somewhat newer to anime is the singer and composer Mafumafu. Known for his high voice and incredible upper range as well as his production of music behind not only rising utaite but also well known and memorable Vocaloid songs, it’s no surprise that he’d also eventually make his way into the anime scene. In 2016 Mafumafu found his way onto the credits of three different productions — Masamune Datenicle and Reikenzan: Hoshikuzu-tachi no Utage as the composer, arranger, and lyricist for their opening themes and HoneyWork’s movie, Kokuhaku Jikkou Iinkai as the performer behind an insert song. The year after he was the composer, arranger, and lyricist for Gamers!‘s opening and with fellow singer Soraru as the musical duo After the Rain did the opening song for Atom: The Beginning and the ending song for Clockwork Planet.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have singers that have been more well known names in anime but nonetheless still found their start in being an utaite. One of those singers is the popular nano. Beginning as an utaite in 2010, nano was well known for her English and Japanese covers, having been born in New York in the United States. Even into her professional career as a singer she still continued to work with fellow utaite and even Vocaloid producers — some of her most popular songs, such as No pain, No game and Nevereverland, were written or arranged by other musicians in the space (the Vocaloid producer kemu and the utaite neko being responsible for each song respectively). Where her popularity began in 2012’s BTOOOM!, she’s still found her way back to anime time and time again.
One of the best examples of an extremely popular figure in anime having found their start on NicoNico, however, is the duo ClariS. Originally beginning with Alice and Clara’s shared NicoNico account, Alice☆Clara, in 2009 this rather prominent musical duo started their first two years of singing by covering Vocaloid and anime music including songs like Kimi no Shiranai Monogatari by supercell from Bakemonogatari, only my railgun by fripSide from Toaru Kagaku no Railgun, and Black Rock Shooter by ryo. What’s particularly interesting about these two is that they never necessarily took off on NicoNico before beginning their professional career.
While the two did work together with the Vocaloid producer kz from livetune in their time on NicoNico (who would also go on to produce some of the duo’s most popular songs, irony and reunion both from Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai), they never had a considerably large following on the platform. Even to this day with them having performed fifteen openings and endings for anime from the infamous, like the aforementioned Oreimo, to the hugely popular, like Madoka Magica and the Monogatari Series, and their past as utaite being a known background amongst their fans they only have a little over 8,000 followers on the site. The reason this is interesting is because in most situations an utaite gains popularity and is discovered through NicoNico before before beginning their professional career and while this still may certainly be the case, it’s very interesting that their popularity never reached the heights any of the utaite mentioned have reached.
Utaite in anime are by no means exclusive to Japan, as the YouTube singer JubyPhonic has also found her way into anime. Popular for her English covers of Vocaloid songs and writing her own translyrics (lyrics in English based off of the translation of the original as to preserve the original meaning of the song as best as you can when swapping languages), JubyPhonic also works for the western anime licensing company Sentai Filmworks as a voice actress. While this is certainly different from any of the other singers mentioned (aside from 96Neko who also had a minor role in Kagewani: Shou), JubyPhonic still has the popularity to back up her presence in the space with well over half a million YouTube subscribers all obtained from posting covers of Vocaloid and anime songs.
If I’m to be completely honest, the utaite subculture on YouTube and NicoNico is one of my favourite things ever alongside Vocaloid music in general. The more I see of these singers and composers getting into the anime space for the first time or even gain popularity in the space, the happier I am to know where they’re from and to see where they’ve gotten. Whether it be Mafumafu or JubyPhonic, I’m happy to see these individuals succeed in their own ways.
Thank you so much for reading this week’s editorial! I suppose this week was more of a spotlight piece than my usual opinion piece but this has been something I wanted to talk about for awhile nonetheless. As a sort of apology for being late today and unintentionally taking last week off, for all those interested here’s ClariS’s first ever song on the internet. As always if you have anything to add about the topic I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter in the comments below and if you’d like to see what I’m up to when I’m not writing for this blog you can follow me on Twitter. I’ll see you all next week!