Artbook Review – Mikulife: KEI’s Hatsune Miku Illustration Works

Mikulife: KEI's Hatsune Miku Illustration Works

Mikulife: KEI’s Hatsune Miku Illustration Works
KEI
Artbook
Udon Entertainment

Summary:

The best illustrations of the character designer for some of Crypton Future Media, Inc.’s Vocaloids are gathered together in this collection. While Miku is the star, Rin, Len, Luka, KAITO, and MEIKO also are featured in this release celebrating Hatsune Miku’s 10 year anniversary.

Review:

Mikulife: KEI’s Hatsune Miku Illustration Works is a nice but not extraordinary artbook.

Mikulife is about 120 pages full of the titular Vocaloid and friends. Vocaloid, for those who don’t know, is a software program that features synthetic vocals, and Hatsune Miku is the most famous software package-slash-mascot of the bunch. In Mikulife, drawn by the person who designed Hatsune Miku, each image is accompanied by small text about what the piece was used for (magazine, promotion, etc.). This information is repeated and also lists any credits in a visual index at the end of the collection. Artwork doesn’t seem to be organized in any particular fashion and has no commentary from KEI.

So, that leaves us with the visuals. While I have kind of fallen out of the Vocaloid fandom (there’s just so much to keep up with!), I still enjoy listening to my favorite songs. I did recognize some of the more prominent drawings like the game covers. Others I may not have ever seen the pieces themselves, but I know them from related merchandise, like Snow Miku and Sakura Miku figures.

Almost every page features a single drawing, no matter if it takes up the full page or is only about half the length of a page. There are very few exceptions like some chibis or matching Rin/Len and KAITO/MEIKO art. Fortunately, the majority of illustrations fill or almost fill the page due to the dimensions, especially once you get past the beginning. A few two-page spreads are included, mostly toward the end. The second page is mostly a continuation of the main, like hair flowing in the wind or a hand, so they’re not quite as busy or filled as I would have hoped in these extra large pieces.

Mikulife: KEI's Hatsune Miku Illustration Works Sample 1

As you would expect, Miku dominates this release. KAITO and MEIKO, as they weren’t designed by KEI, have only a few appearances, and they are almost always paired together. I knew they wouldn’t get as much pagetime as Luka or the twins (none of which really get a lot appearances), but I did expect more group shots. Generally, the images are of Miku alone. This does make sense because most of these images were used to advertise something (a game, an event, a magazine), but it still was surprising. Most pictures are music-related, but there are also images like Miku as a magical girl, going snowboarding, playing a game, and other outfits and activities.

What was disappointing, is how many of these images are paired in some way, like the front and back of a box or art for an annual event. With artbooks, I usually do a quick runthrough first before going back and observing them more closely, and I found myself doing a double-take a few times. Backgrounds would be almost or exactly identical, and poses were matched. With almost all pages having one picture, it makes Mikulife feel shorter since so many are similar. You don’t get a lot of the Vocaloids hanging out together and having fun. But if you just want to concentrate on Miku, Mikulife is at your service.

Mikulife: KEI's Hatsune Miku Illustration Works Sample 2

I mean, I would expect the annual Snow Miku illustrations to be winter-themed, but Magical Mirai’s 2014 and 2016 pictures can be summed up as “without microphone” and “with microphone”. Sure, the background is displayed differently and Miku is bending her leg in one, but the coloring, expression, and even the angle of her face are very similar. Two images for a symphonic event are much better if you ask me. One year Miku is smiling brightly in a conductor-like version of her regular outfit; the next year she’s in a long black gown as she concentrates on playing the violin. Both reflect the event they’re made for but are unique. Those combined with the other non-standard “Miku singing in her usual outfit” are the best in my opinion. Obviously, the latter are important in terms of promotion, but in a visual book like this, the more variety, the better.

Drawings here are dated between 2012 and 2017, so several years after her debut. While there are some differences depending on year and purpose, it is nice to see a full gallery of Miku in the same consistent style. KEI’s Miku is very manga-ish and full of pastels, and you don’t have to worry about awkward art like in the artbooks featuring various artists. Since these are more professional and promotional pieces, I would say the art is stronger here than in the Mikucolor collection, also by KEI. Plus, well, these are more recent pieces versus the 2014 Mikucolor release. However, the biggest difference to me is that a lot of the pieces in Mikucolor tell a story; here, most are trying to get you to buy something.

Mikulife: KEI's Hatsune Miku Illustration Works Sample 3

Anyway, the artbook is full of blues, my favorite color. My copy did have a couple of small ink smears on the whitespace on a page, but otherwise, the print is soft yet vivid. The softcover is a mix of sheen and matte, and it’s lovely. The background is a deep silver unlike the gray on the cover image of this post. I also love that while this is about the same length as Mikucolor, Mikulife is about twice as thick. That’s a testament to the difference in paper quality. Even the whiteness of the paper seems better in Mikulife. That’s despite the fact the two (which are separated by five and half years) retail for the same price of $39.99.

Translation:

Not much to translate here.

Final Comments:

If you want to see some of the strongest, most classically styled Miku drawings in the vein of the Project DIVA game covers, Mikulife: KEI’s Hatsune Miku Illustration Works will delight. However, if you like some of the more mystical, abstract, storybook-like drawings of KEI’s first artbook, this one will be not quite as fun.

Udon Entertainment has released other Hatsune Miku artbooks including Mikucolor: KEI’s Hatsune Miku Illustration Works. Seven Seas has released some Vocaloid manga like Hatsune Miku: Bad End Night while Dark Horse has published titles like Rin-chan Now!

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