Unofficial Hatsune Mix
メーカー非公式 初音みっくす (Maker Hikoushiki Hatsune Mix)
Shounen – Comedy, fantasy, sci-fi, slice-of-life
1 Omnibus (3 Japanese volumes) (complete)
Join Miku and her Vocaloid friends and family for a series of adventures — and misadventures! Each chapter features a different story and setting, but music is always a part of Miku’s life.
Vocaloid fans will love the presentation but not the adaptation.
If you don’t know who Hatsune Miku is (note that she always goes by Japanese name order even in English), here’s a quick introduction: there’s this software called Vocaloid that is basically a singing version of speech synthesis software. Companies starting making voice banks with anime-like names and images to market them; Hatsune Miku is the most well-known. People use Vocaloid to sing songs they make and upload them online, often teaming up with others to create whole music videos. The voice banks’ personas are often called “Vocaloids”, but technically it’s the name of the program. This volume of unofficial comics was done by the person who designed Hatsune Miku.
OK, on to the review.
The first thing you’ll notice is when picking up Unofficial Hatsune Mix (besides how thick it is) is all the color pages. The first 20 pages are all in color, plus there’s about another 30 pages total where the Japanese volumes two and three begin. While some pages are colored comics, the vast majority of these images are beautiful one-page spreads of Miku and friends. It’s almost like getting a mini-artbook. I applaud Dark Horse for keeping all the colored pages, especially since there is over 475 pages in this omnibus at an MSRP of $19.99. The volume is a little taller than standard U.S. manga size as well. Big size, lots of pages, color pages… compare this to some of their competitor’s offerings at $13.00 or more, and I have to wonder if there is much — if any — profit to be made on this omnibus. I do think it was smart to put all three volumes in one to avoid sales dropping after volume one.
Since this manga is full of short stories, it’s best to read a chapter or two at a time when you have time at home. Reading it all at once may cause you to rush through the stories or feel like they get repetitive and uninteresting. (Trust me, they will if you marathon the manga.) Unofficial Hatsune Mix is too thick to transport comfortably, and you won’t want to handle it while eating in fear of getting food on the color pages. Readers may want to cradle the manga carefully, as I’m already noticing creasing on the spine.
And random they are. Just as how Vocaloid songs all tell different stories, so do the chapters here. There are a few recurring set-ups (like Miku, Rin, Len, Meiko, and Kaito all living together), but otherwise settings vary: high school, poor family living in the boondocks, mermaid under the sea, etc. Miku can be a normal girl in one and have the power to jump into the Internet in another. The chapters (each about 15 pages long) flow in traditional manga format. Some stories are serious, others comical. As you would expect, they’re very hit-or-miss, and a lot do miss. (As I will discuss later, perhaps some of the misses are not KEI’s fault.) I tend to prefer chapters that were more slice-of-life while keeping Miku’s identity as a machine or creation. For example, I really enjoyed reading how the dirt-poor Vocaloid family send out Miku, Rin, and Len to raise money for their own concert. This type of plot is a lot better than reading about giant Hatsune Miku battling a giant Hachune Miku or Miku-like bugs. But at only 15 pages a chapter, I wasn’t spending a lot of time reflecting whether each story was good or bad; I just wanted to see if the next one is even better. In this sense, the manga is addicting, but no story really impacted me.
While Miku is the titular character, she is joined by many other Vocaloids. Rin and Len appear almost as often as Miku while Meiko and Kaito — never named — support the stories as needed. Luka eventually joins in the second Japanese volume; Meiko continues being important but Kaito pretty much fades away outside of making a comment and then getting beat up. The cast brings with them some of their more well-known traits (Miku and leeks, Meiko and alcohol), but otherwise there’s not much to say character-wise. Miku is usually the lovable protagonist, Meiko is the old maid who doesn’t want to admit she’s over-the-hill, etc. The characters are really cast members, and there is at least one hilarious instance where Miku complains about her role in the series. Rin and Len are listed here as twins, but as Vocaloid fans know, this is not official. (The official stance is they share the same soul.) A few cameos are also included.
So since Unofficial Hatsune Mix “casts” Vocaloids into different roles, the manga doesn’t really get tied up in the Vocaloid subculture. The in-jokes are rather few and far between. Someone who has never watched or listened to a Vocaloid performance will not be completely lost; they’ll still understand the jokes and the overall stories. However, I don’t think non-fans would want to buy this series. Really, the appeal of Unofficial Hatsune Mix is to see all the Crypton Vocaloids hanging out together in different situations. If someone just wanted to read some good short story manga (comedy or otherwise), there are plenty of options out there. For Vocaloid fans, though, this shouldn’t be an automatic buy just because you have Miku-mania. If you want to see the titular character and her friends doing random things and getting into a bunch of different situations, you can do that for free by watching any Vocaloid music video.
As KEI is the original character designer for Miku, the color pages feature some gorgeous artwork of Miku and the others. It makes you just want to rip out the color pages and put them on display. Again, Unofficial Hatsune Mix doubles as an amazing artbook. Non-fans might find all the color artwork pretty, but they just won’t have the same level of appreciation. The regular artwork in the comics tends to look nice, but there are some images that are just plain ugly. Generally, the happy and straightforward expressions are wonderful, but the angry expressions are often terrible. Backgrounds are minimal. KEI did touch up and redo many panels for the tankouban, so quite a bit is improved from the original magazine serialization. (It really needed to be.) The art does seem to get better over the course of the series. The artstyle also fluctuates depending on the mood of the chapter. The more serious scenes have lots of larger panels while the comedic ones have lots of exaggerated expressions that sometimes are off-model. Since the volume is so thick and the chapters short, whether you like or dislike the art, readers will likely keep pushing through to the end.
Some honorifics are used. While “onee-chan” is kept, “senpai” is changed to “senior”. It’s a bizarre decision. Some Japanese terms like “sakura-mochi” are kept. Most terms are explained in-text, but I think the omnibus could have included translator’s notes to go into more detail and explain some of the references (like who is wat).
By far, the bigger issue is the “adaptation”. Dark Horse punches up large chunks of the script and completely changes much of the dialogue. I’m going to use excerpts from “Mermaid Mix” as examples:
- Miku, who is eating, is crunching down but not belching in the Japanese version.
- In the original, Rin’s line about lead is her order to do 100 laps. The other speech bubble is supposed to be Miku whining the doll is heavy; Dark Horse changes it to the 100 laps.
- In the original, after being hit, Miku basically shouts she’s going to really die at this rate; in English, she’s shouting to the world she’s trying to lose weight.
- When Miku spots the prince falling, in English, she says, “…See? What did I tell you…?” In Japanese, she’s like, “HE REALLY DID FALL!!!” Notice her shocked expression. So in Japanese, she’s horrified the prince fell overboard, but in English, she’s sighing. Japanese Miku is nicer…
- In the Japanese version, she notes it was a lot of effort to save the guy, but she definitely doesn’t say anything about her “non-existent buns”.
- Miku comments in Japanese about the prince’s strange clothes but in English says he doesn’t look too bright. Again, English Miku seems meaner than her original self.
- The line about her flesh being eaten is an English invention.
Here’s page 134, the original Japanese version, my translation, and then the Dark Horse version. (Click to enlarge.)
Again, the translator changes the speaker in some of the speech bubbles so he can rewrite his own jokes. Notice the witch’s house. In Japanese, it’s assumed Miku and company go to see the witch, but in English, I guess the witch lives nearby? Not to mention in the last line, Miku’s expression is one of shock with her mouth open (since she’s supposed to be speaking). It looks off in English since now the witch is talking. Plus why does Miku, a mermaid, not believe in witches? I don’t know. I guess English Miku doesn’t know because she’s too busy being rude, whiny, and mean.
I could keep pointing out the differences in just this one chapter, but you get the idea. The entire manga is like this. It’s one thing to punch up a few lines, but don’t change the whole story! Don’t alter lines so that it’s at odds with the art! I mentioned not always being impressed with chapters in this omnibus, but maybe a lot of my reactions would be different had the translation been more accurate. On the other hand, maybe you find the English Miku funnier?
Quite frankly, I hated how Dark Horse handled Unofficial Hatsune Mix‘s “translation”. This is not even a localization; it’s a straight up different manga than the Japanese version.
Normally, I never would recommend a manga that alters the dialogue so much. The English version of Unofficial Hatsune Mix didn’t just add jokes; it changes plot points and character personalities. However, while Unofficial Hatsume Mix retails for $20, overstock (never read) or gently used copies are widely available for $6 to $8 shipped. At this price, Unofficial Hatsune Mix is worth it for the colored pages alone, and plus you get three volumes worth of content. Even if you only like 1/3rd of the stories, that’s still a very good price. At MSRP? It is a more difficult call, but I think Vocaloid fans would be better off either finding a good short story manga or buying an artbook. The presentation and value are good, but the content is lackluster.
Udon Entertainment has released several Vocaloid artbooks, and KEI is one of the featured artists in those books.
Also note there is a Vocaloid producer named Kei, but the two are different people.