Promotional poster for Mushoku Tomeisai
Mushoku Tomeisai II (無色透名祭Ⅱ)

mushoku tomeisai became an annual tradition this year, which is nice to see because it’s probably one of the coolest efforts nico has going on right now. something of an online take on the masked singer, vocal synth producers are given approximately two weeks to submit new songs, which then get pooled anonymously and mass uploaded to one channel. unlike that broadcast pageantry, though, where performers don elaborate costumes, mushoku tomei enforces a strict plainness that doesn’t allow for character PVs or kinetic typography. every participant, be they a hall of famer or someone greener, is limited to a white background and their choice of core font flashing their lyrics. functionally, this is a collapse of the polished PVs that have creeped further into vocal synth culture over time, and every song as a result can stand only as proud as its composition.

for the next three days, viewers now have a sea of thousands of new videos to wade through. some hunt for producer tells, trying to preemptively reveal heavy hitters. others draw accompanying fan art that imagine their worlds, the sort of attention typically reserved for songs that have already registered their larger audiences. most of us are probably just trying to poke our head out over the trees to get a sense of which ones are growing the tallest. after that time, producers are then unmasked, though only if they’ve elected to do so when applying. the majority end up opting to — nine out of every ten submissions did this year — but there’s never a guarantee that you’ll be able to put a name to one of the songs you may have liked. sometimes, your hunches are confirmed, or your expectations are blindsided. other times, they are left lingering, uncredited and likely forever unanswerable.

while there is a specific enjoyment to be found from playing producer bingo, what fascinates me most about this format is the specific microcosm of discovery it nurtures that feels analogous to the scene’s beginnings. the event’s copy seems to lay that ambition bare, as it also exalts itself as a world of music that hasn’t been created or discovered yet. talk to producers from vocaloid’s earliest era and it’s fairly likely you’ll hear them characterize things in a similar spirit, with probably the most common refrain being that the electricity of the movement was charged by none of the rules or audiences being defined for it yet. without the cultural cache of being attached to a known name, each submission is an unknown freed from expectations, only floated by word of mouth or simple heuristics that may help it to be found more easily. for oster project, a producer with storied success and easily the most veteran participant this year, that means using teto for a rock shuffle outside of their usual electroswing and big band styles. other proven names choose to thrive on misdirecting the obsessives, as iyowa did when opting for english lyrics last year and a hardcore style this year, removed from their recognized poppy fare. vocal synth music may already be the most diverse it has ever been by every observed metric, but there’s still an experimental atmosphere found in mushoku tomei inviting producers to test new styles, make unexpected names for themselves, or revisit concepts with enough gravity to pull in audiences that rewards digging into the heap at the chance of discovering a gem, more than a recommendation engine does when leading you down an expected path. flattening participation in the way this event does, where no one can rely on past successes or promotions, is probably the closest the scene can get to reliving its first fledgling golden era. clicking through seemingly endless video listings, tirelessly trying to chart more visited links, it reignites my own memories of nights I spent the same way back when flash still ruled the roost. it was not so long ago, back then, that the unknowns felt far greater.

you can take a look at all of the submitted videos for this year’s event on this channel and also view the producer details for those that decided to unmask themselves on this spreadsheet. the event does consider those details to be spoilers, though!