Compared to YouTube users, Japan's Nico Nico Douga users are more likely to be involved in social media activities without revealing themselves, which leads them to generate unique and interesting pieces of work of their own by focusing more on imaginary characters or characterizing themselves. Here I'd like to illustrate it by examining how the users play with a song and create their own videos.
[Example videos on YouTube]
[Example 1] Symphony Orchestra 2011
The website above asked the viewers to join a temporary orchestra by posting videos on YouTube. The contest had clear procedure and rules for the participants to follow on their website. After the members were selected, they converged in Sydney for a week-long festival of musical collaboration and participation (101 members from 33 countries got together).
[Example 2] We Are The World 25 For Haiti (YouTube Edition)
[Example 3] We Are The World (Ukulele style - 33 ukulele players from all over the world)
[Features and tendencies of the participants in the YouTube videos]
As you know, many people sing a song and perform music, and upload the videos to YouTube everyday. So many people have posted their own "We are the world" videos since YouTube started. What I'd like to focus on here is the way they play with the original song or music online. In both examples, all the performers show their faces in the videos and their names are listed on the description pages. As for the quality of the performances, most of them are quite good (that's why they are chosen by the editor of the videos). Although each singer/performer has his or her own style and characteristic, the whole performances are quite close to the original song. The videos are edited quite simple and clear. More highly-skilled and professional-like users tend to participate (especially in the case of Symphony Orchestra). This is probably because there were clear rules and instruction addressed and it had fewer barriers (such as a language barrier) so that a wide variety of people could participate in the event from all over the world. As the whole population of YouTube users in the world is so huge, the quality of the top-level works tends to be very high (They are often performed by professionals).
[About Nico Nico Douga]
On the contrary, Nico Nico Douga is not open to all the Internet users like YouTube. One has to become the member of the website to watch the videos. It targets only for Japanese and those who understand Japanese (There are Nico Nico Douga websites also in English, French, German, and Chinese, but they are totally different). As a result, not so many people can enjoy it compared to YouTube. The whole population and the numbers of uploaded videos are very different between them. However, in Japan, Nico Nico Douga has gained a large membership. It now has more than 25,500,000 members (As of July 2011). It is very popular especially with the young generation. About two third of the members are in their teens and twenties. More than two out of three people in their twenties have a Nico Nico Douga account in Japan.
[Vocaloid songs and the variation of Happy Synthesizer videos]
There are many amateur composers uploading their original songs to Nico Nico Douga in Japan. Many of them use a singing synthesizer application software called Vocaloid so that they can put the synthesized voice on the vocal part without asking some one to sing the song. It is estimated that more than 20,000 Vocaloid songs are uploaded so far. Among them, a song called “Happy Synthesizer” was originally posted on the website last year on November 22 by an amateur composer then named easypop (His real name is unknown. He now becomes professional and released his first CD a few months ago).
[Example 4] Happy Synthesizer (uploaded on YouTube)
The song became very popular (more than 1,300,000 times viewed so far on Nico Nico Douga and about 1,200,000 times on YouTube) and many users started to consume or play with the song in their own ways by uploading their own videos related to the song. Here is the chronological order of how they have enjoyed and reproduced it.
1. The composer posted the original song on November 22, 2010.
2. Many users started to post their own videos singing the song. (1,500 videos were posted so far.)
3. Its English version was also made and sung by the users.
4. Some users performed the song with different kinds of instruments such as piano or guitar.
5. Several dance remixes were made.
6. A dancer choreographed the song on December 3, which is two weeks after the original song was posted.
7. Many users started to dance on the choreography and post the videos. (More than 1,800 videos were posted so far.)
8. Some user groups had off-line meetings all over Japan, danced together and posted the videos.
9. Several users traced the dance and made 3D CG videos using a free 3D modeling software called MikuMikuDance (MMD) at the end of March next year.
10. Many MMD users started to create their own CG videos with their favorite characters. (About 300 videos were posted so far)
Here is a variety of the videos posted based on the original song. (I edited them into one video so that you can visually see and understand how the original song has been consumed and developed by many users.)
[Example 5] Variation of Happy Synthesizer Videos
[Features and tendencies of the participants on Nico Nico Douga]
These variety of videos based on the original song have been generated by many users within almost four months (and they are still making new ones everyday). The users created their videos in these ways partly because there are such categories set on the website, which encourages them to create in these ways. Since not so many users are expected to participate in the activity in each category, the quality of the works on average is not so good as that on YouTube. Most of the singers and dancers do not seem to have any vocal or dance trainings. They are far from professionals, but they posted their videos because they love the song. One of the most explicit features of the users is that most of them do not reveal their faces or real names in the videos or on the description pages on the website. They usually use their user names with no real face photo. Not only the music composers and 3D CG creators do not reveal themselves, but also the singers and music performers do not do that either (which is totally opposite to those in the YouTube videos). Even more than half of the dancers wear masks while they are dancing in order not to be identified themselves. As often said, it may come out from the Japanese sense of "Shame” or “Haji” in Japanese, but it may have an effect on the users' creativity in somehow.
[Comparison and conclusion]
Japanese tendency not to reveal oneself online is often pointed out for the reason why facebook is not so much popular in Japan. It can be also said to the tendency of Japanese twitter users that many of them do not put their real names or face photos on their profiles. Here I'd like to put focus on how this tendency effects on the creativity of modern Japanese sub culture. It is difficult to draw any patterns or principles just from these few examples from YouTube and Nico Nico Douga, but I'd like to draw a hypothesis on this phenomenon anyway. For the performers in the YouTube videos, the original song or music they sang or performed is just a medium or tool to prove their performing techniques, and the viewers appreciate the performances and evaluate the performers or performers' skills rather than the work pieces themselves. In other words, for them the video is just a result or proof of their performances and the applause is given more to the participants themselves rather than their works. On the other hand, Nico Nico Douga users seem to be more interested in the videos as a work piece or the ways the song is expressed. The viewers do not seem to care much about who the creators of the videos are. More specifically, they are more interested in playing with the song or the fictional characters involved in the song (In this case, they are the vocaloid characters such as Hatsune Miku). The dancers in the videos seem to show and characterize themselves as cute and lovely as possible with their fictional user names (Some of them actually did cosplay and became one of the vocaloid characters). The viewers are more likely to appreciate the dancers’ characters (which is called “kyara” in Japanese) and enjoy them without any questions who the dancers really are. Same thing can also be said to the creation of the 3D CG videos. When the variation of the video expanded to the 3D CG phase, more high-quality videos were made intensively. It seems that all the performers, creators, and viewers tend to focus more on the characterized figures in the videos rather than on the creators. In a sense, they express themselves through their favorite characters or characterized self-images. They tend to erase their bodily images as the subject of the action and leave only the deed (in this case a piece of work) in order to enjoy or consume the topic with the following members in the same but small interest group who have the same taste. It is hard to prove this, but I think this Japanese tendency not to reveal oneself online seem to have a close link to the reason why Japanese people love so-called “characters” so much.