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Kyoko Date - Virtual Idol
A Retrospective View
By: W. Dire Wolff

In 1996, HoriPro Inc. launched the career of the female virtual idol, Kyoko Date. The project was code named DK-96. Kyoko's first CD single, "Love Communication" was released in Japan on November 21, 1996. The CD featured the title song, "Love Communication," plus a data track for Macintosh and Windows computers. The data track has a MTV type video, of the song, which showed scenes of Kokyo walking through the streets of Tokyo and New York City. The CD met some radio success in Japan, and soon the teenage girl was featured on a weekly Japanese Radio Talk show. Hori Pro began making plans to feature their new idol on television talk shows, and even were talking about a concert tour. But by the fall of 1997, interest in the new teenage idol began to fade, her 15 minutes of fame had come and gone.

Kyoko was born as the first daughter of a Japanese couple who ran a sushi bar in the Fussa District of Tokyo, Japan. Her parent's restaurant was a popular place for the American soldiers stationed at the Yokota Air Base. As she was growing up, her middle aged father loved Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Kyoko has one sister, just a year younger than herself. As a child, Kokyo played on her grade school soccer team. She likes reading manga (Japanese comics) and enjoys drawing. Her favorite Actors are Christian Slater and Kyoko Nagazuka. She worked at a fast food restaurant part-time, while developing her singing career.

Kokyo hit the scene as the ultimate "Cool" teenage girl from Tokyo, Japan, with one catch. Kyoko Date was actually a computer generated person and the first widely publicized attempt to launch the career of a "Virtual Idol". Visual Science Laboratory (VSL), one of Japan's top computer graphics software houses, was brought on board by Hori Pro to bring Kyoko to life. Working from artist's illustrations and computer generated graphics, the developers at VSL began developing a walking, talking virtual girl. VSL incorporated use of "Full Motion Capture" computer graphics to provide body movement for Kyoko Date. This technology is commonly used in computer games, it incorporates the use of multiple digital cameras and special reflectors to convert the movement of a live model's body and facial muscles into computer data. The developers at VSL were able to take the computer data that was captured from filming the real life models, to simulate actual facial and body movements while Kyoko was walking, singing, and talking. Using computer technology, Hori Pro was able to create the first "Digital Kid", hence the project code name of "DK-96" (Digital Kids 1996) was used to identify the creation of Kyoko Date.

Kyoko Date's release and introduction came at a time when Japan's real teen idol's career, Namie Amuro, was reaching a Zenith. Upon signing her production over to Japan's top pop music producer, Tetsuya Komuro, Namie Amuro's hit CD "Sweet 19 Blues" climbed to the top of Japan's Pop Music charts. Komuro had already proven to be Japan's Pop Music producer and all of the young artists that signed with him, seemed to have a way of making it to the top. Although not stated in Hori Pro's marketing of DK-96, Kyoto Date seemed to create a virtual mirror of Amuro's rising stardom.

In Japan, trends rise and fall quickly, and unfortunately for Hori Pro the company failed to bring a greater technology to presence before the initial flash of success of Kyoko Date had begun to fade. Despite the fading fade of the Virtual Idol in Japan, Hori Pro also missed the greater opportunity of holding the attention of the even larger international market.

When the western press began to learn of Kyoko Date, they knew little about Japanese pop music trends, and thus her appeal in Japan was more a novelty news item. America and Europe's interest in Japanese female pop music was being fueled by the success of the bubble gum punk sound of Shonen Knife, the experimental international tone of Pizzicato Five, and the crazy club music of Cibo Matto. Small footnote articles appeared in music magazines such as "Spin", about DK-96's virtual phenomenon. Meanwhile in America, Laura Croft of the video game "Tomb Raider" was demonstrating how a virtual being, could achieve widespread fame and popularity. International curiosity about Japan's virtual idol was growing, and the press was hungry for more information.

One evening in the early spring of 1997, I made an insignificant web page with links to all the web sites I could find on Kyoko Date. I submitted the page to the most popular Internet search engines, and within 24 hours I was being contacted by journalists from Europe and America. I received one of my own 15 minute segments of fame by consenting to interviews by journalists from a handful of publications. In this example, you can see how flawed Hori Pro's public relations were in handling the western media. Writers were coming to me for information, because so little information on Kyoko Date was available in English, and Hori Pro didn't respond back to inquiries from interested members of the western press. I pointed people to the available information on other web sites and previously written articles. We pondered the attraction of a cyber woman, and philosophized on the moral implications of cyber sex.

"How different is it to fantasize about a "Super Model" than a "Cyber Girl"? I mean most of us are not any more likely to have a date with Cindy Crawford than with Kyoko Date." I mused in one interview.

On the Internet, teenage boys from Italy, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and around the world were flooding Kyoko Date bulletin boards with postings, and scouring the web sites for graphics of her cyber beauty. To a lesser degree, teenage girls also shared an interest in the virtual idol. After the excitement of release of her single began to wane, nothing more seem to happen and the world began to lose interest in Project DK-96. Hori Pro didn't seem to have anything new to add, and Kyoko Date's 15 minutes of fame began grinding to a slow death. Now, the Kyoko Date web sites have become ghost sites and have disappeared one by one. A posting by one Kyoko Date Fan Page webmaster, Matthieu Feanor Dumas, seems to say it all, "After 10 months of activity and 1 year of inactivity, I've decided no to update this page anymore. Thank you to the 100.000 people that saw my page and enjoyed it !"

The day of Kyoko Date and DK-96 are over, yet I suspect that we have not seen the last of virtual idols. As technology advances and the bandwidth available to Internet users increases, more advanced technology will create new media forums for interactive virtual beings. Possibly Hori-Pro will introduce a new version of DK-96 in the future, and we will see more of the virtual idol, Kyoko Date. It is more likely that a new virtual being will be introduced that learns from the mistakes of the implementation of DK-96, and will take advantage of the rapidly developing technology gains to support a more functional cyber being. Kyoko Date will be remembered as one of the first pioneers in the cyber frontier that lays waiting for us to discover.

Kyoko Date is registered trademark of HoriPro Inc.

Copyright(C)1996 HoriPro Inc. All rights reserved.

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Copyright © 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999 by W. Dire Wolff