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Japan’s Digital Pop Stars Blur Line Between Virtual and Reality

Known as VTubers, they act as live performers, corporate PR officials and surrogate children.

Suryatapa Bhattacharya and River Davis report: In live appearances on YouTube, the kimono-clad Kuon character, voiced by an actor hired by Mr. Takehisa, dispenses advice about the latest videogames and plays rock-paper-scissors with her fans.

The creator says he considers Kuon his “real daughter” even though she “resides within pixels.” While others may compete for fame or page views, “for me, I’m totally satisfied just with the fact that she was born and is continuing to live life in good health,” says Mr. Takehisa.

Sony Music Labels’ latest pop sensation, Kaguya Luna, performs her single titled ‘New Era.’

Digital avatars with human traits have long carved out a role on social media, on Instagram in particular. Japan, as it often does, has taken the idea and run with it, with its virtual characters now estimated to number more than 3,000.

Technology allows Kuon and her peers to have more direct engagement with fans—and sometimes a family-like relationship with their own creators. The characters, known as virtual YouTubers or VTubers because many are active on YouTube, sing and dance at live performances and answer questions on webcasts.

VTubers are so embedded in Japanese culture that one of them serves as a face of the Japanese government’s tourism campaign. Another presented earnings results for game-site operator Gree Inc. in August last year, informing investors that “we will aggressively invest in strengthening our three earnings pillars.”


The character called Mikuriya Kuon introduces herself to her YouTube fans Photo: Ryosei Takehisa

The making of a VTuber starts with a designer creating a cartoon character, often a young woman with an irreverent attitude. Producers pair that character with a voice artist and a person wearing a full-body suit with motion sensors. Then a computer program converts the data into a three-dimensional image of the character singing, talking and gesturing.

One of Sony Music Entertainment’s latest pop sensations is a VTuber called Kaguya Luna. The first single by the feisty, lavender-haired star, “Beyond the Moon,” made it to No. 3 on iTunes in Japan.

Luna was drawn by a 25-year-old graphic artist who goes by the name Mika Pikazo. “I don’t have kids, but I felt like I was creating my own child,” says Ms. Pikazo, who declines to give her real name.

Fans call Ms. Pikazo “Mika Mama,” and when Luna made her concert debut last year … (read more)

via WSJ

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