So here we are. 2015 is half over with already and summer's heat has made it's usual presence weeks and weeks ahead of summer solstice, just like clockwork, and the internet is rife with colorful images of new Vocaloids and new appends.
Okay, so maybe we haven't used the word "Append" since Miku Soft was new, but I like using that word. It helps me separate the original voice banks from the new ones, and most longtime fans still use it anyways. Moving forward.
Every year, we fans all ask the exact same question.
Why are there NO new BLACK Vocaloids?
Well this year, I may get a reprieve from asking that tired old question. Take a gander at the upcoming voices for summer:
I've seen two more sketches of Ruby, and so far, I'm not seeing any of the usual stereotypes that are known to dominate anime, manga, video game and cartoon depictions of African Americans.
The reason why she sounds just like Miku and Aoki, is because she originally was going to be a Japanese Vocaloid, but her undisclosed voice provider is labeled as a "colored female" so Ruby became a new Engloid. If she sells well, Ruby will have a Japanese voicebank as originally planned.
But everyone is asking, is this enough?
The answer? Merli and Aoki are fairies....... because fairies can have the same mom and dad and come out with varying skin tones I gather. Not sure if the same logic applies to Tinkerbell, but then Tink isn't (yet) a Vocaloid, so it hardly counts. Merli and Aoki's race has yet to come up again, so most buy the excuse that they are a breed of fairy that can have different colors in the same gene family. It must be working, because nobody is talking about it anymore.
But Merli wasn't by herself for very long. The ZOLA Project was released just a ways different from Merli. ZOLA featured three male Vocaloids, the most amount of characters for one box to date. And among the three was Wil, accepted by many to be 100% Black.
Wil was also quietly released as part of the ZOLA project package and not as a stand alone. This split the Vocaloid fan base 50/50. Half of all Vocaloid fans saw him as a welcome change. He is included with other Vocaloids in promotional art, and is treated as being the same as other characters. He is also the only Black male to be released for Vocaloid 3, which leads into the other half of the fan base being more angry about his short announcement. There were no other Black males released during Vocaloid 3's reign, and again, he was released as a package with a White and a Japanese Vocaloid, as if he wasn't deemed fit enough to be released on his own.
Making things worse, Wil and Merli were both time and again described by their creators as having "Husky" voices. This angered Black Vocaloid fans in America. Why can't we have any other description? Why must Black Vocaloids be husky, why not cute, bright, soft, powerful or any of the other adorable adjectives Miku, GUMI and KAiTO get to enjoy? Even Big Al was spared being called husky, and his voice actually does qualify as being husky! It seemed less empowering and more like an insult.
But maybe more insulting than the word "husky" which may not have been an insult at all, is the treatment of Wil. Racist Vocaloid fans love to re-color Wil to be White, claiming that a Black Vocaloid is "ugly" or "unnatural" relegating Blacks to being less human than Dex and Daina, who are half wolf and half fox, respectively.
Racist Vocaloid fans have also done this to LEON and LOLA, claiming the duo are more pretty or handsome when they are colored to look like Rin and Len. Blonde. White. And with green or blue eyes.
Some Vocaloid fans are even trying to hide their racism, by lying. "Um um, the box doesn't really SHOW what they look like, so um um of course their White. You're just a race-bater." This clear and obvious lie, followed by an insult usually, is not even close to accurate.
Look at the boxes for LOLA and LEON. They both feature a set of Black lips.
Actually, to be more fair, LEON is just a photo of LOLA's lips, flipped backwards and tinted in blue. Yamaha hired one Black model to pose for both LEON and LOLA and nobody ever asked questions.
Also, Zero-G and Yamaha have both been proud to time and again make it clear that LEON and LOLA are based on soul singers. And "soul" is a genre normally associated as "Black" music.
Therefore, the very first Vocaloids/Engloids were Black. Without them, we wouldn't have gotten around to Miku. So Yamaha can say proudly that they started this amazing journey off of the success of Black Vocaloids, and that since LEON and LOLA, they've enjoyed a plethora of culturally different Vocaloids, and that for a Japanese company, they didn't actually make a Japanese Vocaloid until MEiKO, who was released eleven months after LEON back in 2004.
But here we are in 2015, some eleven years after LEON and LOLA, and to the Vocaloid fans, a Black Vocaloid is a taboo thing, despite the first two being Black, American singers.
The same excuse keeps coming up. "Black Vocaloids and Black images in general will never sell as well as White images." A racist tagline we see being pulled from many social media pages time and again, and yet it's become so commonplace that most people regardless of color, accept it.
And yet, the excuse falls flat. Miku has a strictly Japanese image. So do KAiTO, Yuzuki Yukari and Luke Megurine. And yet people worldwide prefer those four over Annon, Kannon and other, more Anglo Vocaloids. In fact, of all the Caucasian-colored Vocaloids, only Rin and Len do very well, and only because most people adore twins and see them as Miku's little brother and sister instead of an alternative to her sound. So if Miku and Yuzuki sell like hotcakes, then people really don't care about the race of their favorite Vocaloid. If a Japanese character can sell as well as a Caucasian one, then surely a Black or Hispanic character can also be a big money hit, and in the case of Maika who is Hispanic and has a huge fan base, that seems to be the actual truth.
Yamaha, ZERO-G and the other Vocaloid producers don't seem to be buying that "Black doesn't sell" excuse either, which is why Ruby seems to exist at all. They must have felt a Black Vocaloid works very well, otherwise Ruby would have gone back to her original designs as a Japanese girl.
But then, the White Washing seems to be accepted. After all, Sweet Ann's original box art was ripped from a picture of Lena Horne. Here, Lena was White-washed, and then placed in Hell. The image was produced while Lena was still alive, and very much without her consent.
But Yamaha doesn't seem to see it that way. While Sweet Ann's box art is still a blunder, they have done a fair job of sticking to LEON and LOLA's original art. As of yet, no official Vocaloid page has ever passed around LEON, LOLA, Merli or Wil's White Washed images as "official" or even as acceptable. So if they are adamant about those four being Black, why aren't we?
In answer to the above questions, maybe five Black Vocaloids isn't enough. We have a long way to go before we see more diversity in Vocaloid. Maybe we do need to see a new Vocaloid with rich, dark skin, bright brown eyes and a smooth voice, before we can truthfully feel the vocal melting pot of what remains a constantly evolving and incredible genre of music.
But we're getting there. Are we slow? Maybe. But Vocaloid's founders are leading the charge, and they don't seem to want to stop anytime soon.
We have British, Celtic, Caucasian, Black, Mexican, Chinese, Korean and Japanese Vocaloids now, and more than one in each category. We now have two half-human furry Vocaloids and even a few androids kicking around. We also have mixed-race Fairy sisters, Merli and Aoki.
Typically, Yamaha, Crypton, Zero-G, AHS and the other Vocaloid producers have been good about responding to their fans. They listen. They beckon us to their Facebook pages and ask us how we intend to use these voices.
So play along with them. If you want more Black Vocaloids, vote with your wallet. It does work.
Hispanic fans wanted more Spanish Vocaloids than just Bruno and Clara. So they voted with their wallets. They encouraged their friends and families to buy the duo legally. They were rewarded with Maika, one of the most beautiful and clear-sounding Vocaloids ever produced.
Chinese Vocaloid fans wanted more singers than just Luo Tianyi. So they voted with their wallets, by supporting Luo. They bought her Vocaloid software and her key-chains. They were rewarded with Yan He, Xin Hua and now have more Vocaloids in development.
Korean fans wanted someone to duet with SeeU. Uni is now on her way.
America and England's Vocaloid fans wanted more to choose from than just LEON, LOLA and Miriam. So they bought the first Engloids and encouraged others to support Vocaloid. Now? We have Big Al, Sweet Ann, Oliver, Avanna, YOHIOloid, Macne Nana, CYBER DIVA, Dex, Daina, Ruby, and as a bonus, Luka, Miku, Gumi, Gakupo, MEiKO and KAiTO all have English voice banks, and soon, Rin and Len will follow.
There really is no better or faster option. When Ruby becomes available, make your voice heard by using hers. Draw her as a Black Vocaloid, interacting with other Vocaloids. Make her sing on YouTube. Cosplay as her. Get your friends to grab her, Merli and Wil.
Make your message clear. With enough support, you can make other Black Vocaloids a reality.