Speaking of Japanese culture, what is the first word that comes into your mind? Maybe you’ll say Kawaii (lovable) culture. And that’s it.
An official music video posted by Kizuna has received more than 10m views on YouTube. This music video exemplifies Japanese Kawaii culture. Then you may wonder who is Kizuna? Is Kizuna a Japanese singer? Well, it is only half right.
Kizuna or to say Kizuna AI is a Japanese virtual YouTuber and self-proclaimed artificial intelligence. First appeared in 2016, Kizuna AI operates three YouTube channels, “A.I.Channel”, “A.I. Games”, and “A.I.Channel China”. She once posted videos almost every day on YouTube. With 2.69 million subscribers as of February 2020, Kizuna AI is the most popular virtual personality on the site.
What does Kizuna AI post on her channel?
The YouTube channel “A.I. Channel” was created on 18 October 2016. Kizuna AI started to post videos on 29 November 2016. She claims to create, design and host a series of videos. The content includes music videos, pranky videos, chatting, sharing life stories, answering questions, hosting discussions on trending topics, and so on. Kizuna AI encourages users to interact directly with her in virtual space.
The videos Kizuna posted contain much similar content to other video bloggers. The general style of these videos is comedic.
As of February 2020, Kizuna AI has posted 800 videos and reached more than 284 million views on YouTube. There is still a regular update on her channel.
This channel was once banned due to inappropriate content. In January 2017, Kizuna joked that she is technically always naked because her clothes are merely holographic projections. YouTube detected the word “naked” and banned this channel. However, the popularity of this channel was not reduced. When the channel was unbanned several weeks later, her subscriber count reached 100, 000 soon.
The channel “A.I.Games” was created in April 2017. On this channel, Kizuna periodically posts videos of her doing commentary while playing Avabel Online, an MMORPG designed for smartphones. Many other games are also included, such as Resident Evil, Trap Adventure, Terraria and more. Some of Kizuna’s videos involve augmented and virtual reality games.
Some say Kizuna’s game operating techniques seem a little clumsy though she makes seemingly real comments and reactions to the games like other gaming YouTubers.
As of February 2020, this channel has over 1.42m subscribers. Kizuna AI has posted 703 videos with over 140 m views.
Kizuna AI also has a YouTube channel called A.I. Channel China. However, it is not as popular as other channels due to all kinds of reasons. Compared to that, Kizuna’s channel on bilibili seems more popular.
Last June, Kizuna had her own channel on bilibili, a popular Chinese video-sharing website. The content on this channel is nothing different from her YouTube channel. According to the comments and real-time subtitles, Kizuna AI also gains popularity in China.
Bilibili was originally themed around animation, comic, and game. It has expanded to a relatively comprehensive site, offering videos of various fields, including music, dancing, science and technology, entertainment, movie, drama, fashion, daily life and documentaries. This fast-growing site features a real-time overlaying subtitle system for interactive playback experience.
The language used in all of Kizuna’s videos is Japanese. Many fans voluntarily offer translations for the videos including Japanese, English, Korean, Spanish, and many others. It also contributes to her global popularity.
Besides YouTube and bilibili, Kizuna AI also has her own official account on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok. She also has her own official website.
In 2017, Kizuna accepted an interview PANORA, a website focusing on the topic of virtual reality. You can find the video on Kizuna AI’s official website. She also performed and interacted with fans live on the stage of AnimeJapan.
Is Kizuna a real AI or a man?
As this virtual vlogger goes viral on social media, some begin to question whether Kizuna AI is a real AI.
Though Kizuna claims that she is an independent artificial intelligence, many speculate that AI Kizuna was created using the MikuMikuDance software which has often been used to import and control the 3D models of virtual characters such as Hatsune Miku.
It is widely believed that En Morikura designed the character, Tomitake made the 3D model and Tda was in charge of modeling supervision. No one has publicly claimed to be her voice actor. It is speculated that her voice and motion capture are provided by the same person.
Some speculate that Kizuna’s facial expressions and eye changes are done through facial recognition software such as FaceRig, something like projecting facial expressions onto a virtual reality model while hiding the identities of creators and actors involved.
Kizuna AI’s actions are believed to be given by motion capture technology. The data recorded from the actions of real actors is applied to simulate the movement of the character in a virtual reality setting.
All of the previous methods make Kizuna act like a real person in terms of expressions and actions. Since her actions and expressions are all given by motion capture technology, Kizuna AI is not real AI on the whole.
Why Kizuna AI so popular?
Actually most people believe and admit that Kizuna AI is not real AI. But it has nothing to do with their affection for her. Why would that happen? The answer probably lies in Kawaii culture.
Kawaii culture is the culture of cuteness in Japan. It can refer to items, humans, and nonhumans that are cute and lovable, such as some characters of manga, like Hello Kitty and Pikachu. Cute elements can be found almost everywhere in Japan, from big business to corner markets and national government, ward, and town offices.
Kawaii culture is not a privilege for children. In Japan, being lovable is acceptable for both men and women. A study from a cosmetic company found that Japanese women in their 20s and 30s favored the cute look” with a “childish round face”.
Kawaii products are seemingly gaining more popularity beyond Japan into other markets. Especially in the U.S., young anime and manga fans are influenced by Japanese culture. Kawaii culture has brought tremendous profit to Japan and also become a part of its soft power.
Even though Kizuna is not real AI, the way she expresses and behaves is still very attractive or to say kawaii. She can express herself and behave in an exaggerated way that real YouTubers may feel shy or embarrassed. On the condition that they have similar content and Kizuna AI is not real AI, what makes Kizuna AI widely accepted is kawaii culture.
“VTubers” has become a global trend?
VTubers become so popular that one company is investing tens of millions in “virtual talent”. Some talent agencies are being founded to manage these avatars. “We saw this start to take off right at the end of 2017… and it’s continued to grow,” says Kevin Allocca, head of culture and trends at YouTube.
It is estimated that the number of daily views of VTuber videos in 2018 was quadruple the figure in 2017 and a Tokyo-based web analytics site counted VTubers at least 2,000.
Ami Yamato, is a British virtual vlogger based in London who has a penchant for Starbucks and strolls around in the “real” world, occasionally alongside live humans. She’s been blogging since 2011.
VTubers seem not to be a global trend yet. They are popular mostly in Japan now. Maybe because the Japanese are not good at expressing themselves openly. Many of them want to say something to the world without revealing their appearance. And those VTubers are quickly gaining more popularity around the world. It is just a matter of time.
“I would say that the biggest contributor to the rise of virtual YouTube is the huge audience outside Japan who normally have interest in Japanese media and culture, such as anime,” a fan said.
Vloggers will be replaced?
Usually, vloggers are people who speak directly into the camera to their audience, sharing things like makeup tips, beauty tips, product reviews, and some personal advice on specific topics. As “VTubers” like Kizuna AI appear, some may worry about the future of bloggers.
Compared with human YouTubers, a virtual character can be used at scale in ways that human characters can’t. They can appear in video games and apps. After all, they never get tired and their appearance can be changed on a whim. They never demand payment or more Patreon donations.
“If this (digitization of ourselves) develops in the future, we could train avatars to act like us without having to re-record our movements…… It doesn’t have to do 100% of what we do or even 80%……a character could be programmed with our voice and just enough of our actions so that it could interact with friends and family after we die……It could interact with other virtual avatars or real people. Can we live forever?”, said Pechev, CEO of IKinema.
However, a problem can’t be ignored. Last year, Kizuna AI suffered a decline in her subscribers or to say fans due to the personnel exchange. It was said that the voice actress and other staff who had involved in the creation of Kizuna AI would be replaced. Then is this new version “Kizuna AI” still the one that most fans fancy? Do they adore Kizuna AI as a whole or just enjoy this identity regardless of who is behind them?
The future of VTubers is full of potential. Maybe it is not in the way of vloggers.