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Special report: No human required

Japan heavily involved with a new, virtual girl

Meet Yuki Terai, a 17-year-old girl from just outside of Tokyo who enjoys eating strawberries, listening to jazz music and taking photographs. At 166cm tall, and with a refusal to divulge her weight, she's every bit the typical Japanese teenager except in one respect — she doesn't exist.

Terai is the invention of computer animator Kenichi Kutsugi, and is one of the better known of a growing group of 'CG idols' in Japan — computer-generated characters that are made so lifelike, they work just like other celebrities. Terai, for example, has released several CDs, an album of her greatest hits, a number of videos and DVDs and a photo collection and can be hired for other work.

But to date her most notable achievement came as she burst upon the scene in a TV commercial for toothpaste. When it hit the air she not only raised the profile of the product but expanded the popularity of CG idols beyond the world of internet-using, hormone-charged guys with too much time on their hands, to a new audience of TV-watching, hormone-charged guys with too much time on their hands.

Before Terai the most well known CG idol was Kyoko Date, a character developed in 1996 by major talent agency Horipro. The company pushed her to release a single — an easy task considering she can't say no and is capable of working 24-hour days — and a late-night radio show soon followed, but her popularity never spread beyond the web.

It wasn't until Terai came along that CG idols began approaching mainstream acceptance and, since her, only one other character has managed to make an impact on Japanese audiences. Fei Fei, a creation of artist Takatoshi Oki, lives in a futuristic world and has proved popular enough to support a photo book and posters.

But forget the real world — on the internet things really come alive. There are hundreds of websites devoted to cyber idols created by fans of graphics art from around the world. Many simply scour the internet looking for pictures of their favorite characters to post on personal fan sites but some are now taking things a little further. With the price of high-powered computer gear and software dropping, a new breed of would-be artists are publishing their own work and some are gaining large cult followings.

Of course, the end result for some people of all of this cyber-lusting is love, and some companies positively encourage such feelings. So is a wave of CG idols the next pop-culture export from Japan?

Not likely. Computer entertainment company Square lost a packet on a movie modeled on its highly successful Final Fantasy video game franchise. The movie was one of the first mainstream fully animated features outside of the cartoon genre and the graphics were hailed for their reality but audiences did not take to it. Square was left with its movie-making dreams in tatters and a £80m debt.

Have a look for yourself

Yuki Terai

Fei Fei

Primal Image (Japanese only)

Mail de Girl (Japanese only)


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