If you search for the acronym MMD on Niconico or YouTube — the two most popular video-sharing sites in Japan — the resulting list will have over 100,000 anime videos, most of which have 3-D anime-style girl characters singing and dancing to electronic J-pop music. What’s surprising is that these (usually short) videos are not created by professional anime studios; they are mostly made by amateurs.

MMD stands for MikuMikuDance, a freeware animation software that has taken the Web by storm. The tool was originally released online in February 2008, with a very limited set of features that enabled users to animate a 3-D model of Hatsune Miku — the mascot character for the artificial singing software Vocaloid, which was released six months earlier in August 2007 and generated a boom in indie idol-music compositions on Niconico.

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