Virtual idol breaks new ground in cyberspace project

She sings and dances, favoring the style of teenage pop diva Namie Amuro. She’s got what it takes to make it as an idol of today — boyishly cute looks and a wardrobe of tight, satiny shirts and shorts.But that’s not why 16-year-old Kyoko Date became such a hot topic in media circles even before her debut last fall from Horipro Inc., a talent production giant. It’s because she lives in the world of virtual reality.Touted “the world’s first virtual idol,” Date is the brainchild of Yoshitaka Hori, 30, a director and chief of Horipro’s media project headquarters. Since releasing the debut single “Love Communication” through Victor Entertainment Inc. last November and acting as a weekly midnight MC at a Tokyo FM station, Date has been featured in the media both here and abroad, performing a feat that ordinary new faces would never be able to accomplish, Hori said.Thanks to the extensive media coverage, “Date has brought us an effect worth billions of yen in terms of ads without spending money to promote her debut and our company at the same time,” Hori said. “We could not have promoted her this much if she actually existed.”Horipro decided more than a year ago to launch the Date project using the latest in computer graphics technology in cooperation with Visual Science Laboratory Inc., a company specializing in computer image and virtual reality. Hori has headed a team of a dozen people on the project since its start.Behind the agency’s move into the so-called character business is the growing rage among teenagers for computer game characters and animation voices, Hori said. “You never know when a human will get sick, retire or even die. But ‘virtual idols’ are immune from such things, working flat-out around the clock for good,” Hori said. Hori, whose father, Takeo, 64, founded the agency, joined a Tokyo AM radio broadcaster after graduating from college in 1989.He said he came up with the idea that eventually led to a Kyoko Date prototype while working on a late-night radio show as part of its public relations staff in 1990. “Taking film director Nagisa Oshima as an example, we were talking about how his name sounds attractive even though the actual person is an old man,” Hori said.The idea of imagining someone from their names soon prompted listeners to participate in creating an “imaginary idol” called Yui Haga, who later ended up releasing a CD and photo book as well as turning up at autograph and handshake sessions and on some television programs. “It was never meant to be a serious thing. But it taught me how effective the business could be if appealing solely to one’s imagination,” said Hori, looking back on when the concept of virtual talent was new to show business.To stimulate the imaginations of fans, Hori and his team worked out such “specifications” for Date as her birth date, upbringing, height, weight, proportions, blood type and family tree as well as her favorite sports, colors, fashion, movies, music and tastes in boys. In response, some fans have already sent letters to her home page on the Net asking such questions as “What part of your body do you wash first?”