Japan's Virtual Idol Unmasked After Fans Question Her Humanity
CREDIT: Ezaki Glico Co./AKB48
Robot receptionists, video game girlfriends and digital pop stars; Japan has embraced them all with an open attitude toward the future of non-human companions. But such openness comes with expectations of honesty about that non-human element. In a bizarre twist, some Japanese netizens began to suspect that a new member of a female pop group was not human as advertised.
They were right.
The girl in question, Aimi Eguchi, raised eyebrows for appearing out of nowhere as an "idol-in-training" for the popular 48-member group AKB48, according to Brian Ashcraft, Kotaku editor in Japan. What's more, Eguchi became the spokesperson for a Japanese brand of ice candy called Aisu no Mi and starred in a cover spread for the Japanese magazine Weekly Playboy (no connection to Playboy Magazine).
Japanese netizens said that Eguchi represented the digital composite of the most popular AKB48 members; an ultimate fantasy girl. They pointed to extensive use of Photoshop in Eguchi's magazine images, as well as her unusually stiff acting in the ice candy commercial. They also noted that no one had seen the girl in public.
Their suspicions proved well founded when the ice candy maker, Ezaki Glico Co., confirmed that Eguchi is indeed a virtual girl created from the faces of six real AKB48 bandmates, according to Japan Times. Digital artists took the eyes, nose, hairstyle, mouth, face outline and eyebrows from one of each.
One AKB48 member, Ayaka Kikuchi, had previously blogged that Eguchi was a virtual entity, but her post ended up being taken down.
This incident confirms that digital wizardry can already create stunningly believable faces and characters for virtual characters. Eguchi's seemingly perfect face and stiff acting may have still triggered suspicions, but no one was calling her creepy by referring to the so-called Uncanny Valley where artificial beings can't quite pull off looking human.
Digital artists had already pulled off stunning achievements with virtual human faces back in 2008, when Image Metrics coaxed a lifelike performance from its virtual character "Emily." The line between artificial and real has gotten even more blurry three years later.