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Kizuna Ai, the most popular streamer in Japan, is an anatomically exaggerated, perpetually adolescent girl in frilly thigh-high socks and a pink hair ribbon. She’s also an entirely virtual character, given life by the actions and voice of an invisible actress.

In the home of anime and “Ghost in the Shell” futurism, millions now follow Kizuna Ai online, and that success has spawned thousands of copycat acts and a cottage industry catering to so-called virtual YouTubers, or VTubers. Defying the Western streamer blueprint of young male gamers like PewDiePie and Ninja, Japan has invented a new class of streaming star that’s equal parts digital avatar and interactive anime.

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