New Japanese Pop Idol Shocks Fans With News–She’s Not Real (video)

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A star is born! (and she only takes up 150 gigs of memory)

Only 15 seconds in the limelight and she’d already created an overnight buzz. She was the newest member of the very popular all-girl Japanese idol group AKB 48. Upon seeing the new face appear on a candy commercial, the band’s faithful took to the message boards: Who is Aimi Eguchi?

This past Sunday, Ezaki Glico, the candy company which aired the commercial, confirmed what many of AKB 48’s fans had come to suspect: Aimi Eguchi wasn’t real. The new group member, it turns out, was a computer-generated composite of the real band members. Her pretty face was actually made up of the “best features” of six other members: her eyes, nose, mouth, hair/body, face outline and eyebrows were not flesh-and-blood, but cut-and-paste.

Not everyone was so quick to catch on, however, and Aimi had already formed a fan base of her own. “The video shocked fans of Eguchi,” reports ChannelNews Asia, “who were convinced that her features were more the result of good genes than the skillful use of computer graphics.” Watch this video and see if you can tell which ones are human, and which one is Aimi.

But why the suspicion in the first place? A quick search and fans found Aimi’s AKB 48 profile, discovered she was sixteen years old, that she competed in track and field, and that she was from Saitama, a prefecture on the island of Honshu. They would have also discovered that Aimi had debuted in a photoshoot for Shueisha’s Weekly Playboy magazine.

Conspiracy theorists who gave it more thought, however, would have found it a suspicious coincidence that the letters of the new member’s name could be derived from the name of the candy company, the theme song in the commercial, and the name of the candy being advertised (Although I must say it’s a pretty impressive connecting of the dots to me. Then again, I would never have thought to turn the volume down to “Wizard of Oz” and play “Dark Side of the Moon” instead.). They would have also found it suspicious that Aimi’s birthday, February 11, was coincidentally the date Ezaki Glico was founded, and that the company’s slogan “Hitotsubu 300 meter,” sounded all too much like Aimi’s favorite sport (I guess). Not to mention Aimi bore a striking resemblance to six other members.

Time’s up. See which one is Aimi in the “making of” video below.

Sorry fans, you’ll just have to make do with AKB 48’s 61 members that are real. Yeah, that’s a big band.

A lot of work was invested in creating Aimi Eguchi. In addition to the commercial–which still has me completely fooled–they released a video in which Aimi makes a statement. I have no idea what she says because I don’t speak Japanese. Take a look at this third video and judge for yourself. I think maaaaaybe her lips look a little off, but it’s a damn good job.

The publicity stunt that Ezaki Glico and AKB 48 pulled off is pretty impressive. It’s also pretty fun. I wonder what would’ve happened if they didn’t make it so “obvious” that Aimi was CG. What if Aimi had continued on as the 62nd member? If the videos aren’t perfect, they’re pretty close. Are we on the verge of creating CG performers that appeal to fans just as much as their flesh-and-blood competition? Oh wait, we’re already doing that. Japan’s 3D hologram rock star Hatsune Miku already has a following that would make Brittany Spears take notice. And I’ll just bet that Hatsune Miku’s promoters aren’t nearly as concerned about her off-stage image. But how would the world react to a whole generation of performers–pop idols, actors, game show contestants–that aren’t human? What defines a public persona?

What defines a person?

I’m a big fan of Woody Allen. How would I feel if I found out that he was created by Japanese CG engineers rather than a controlling, neurotic mother? Would you idolize the characters on “True Blood” less if you found out they were computer-generated? And never mind for a second visual media. Would you buy a novel that you knew was entirely written by a computer? Do you need real human angst behind your plot or would emulated angst be good enough for you as long as you couldn’t tell the difference? At any rate, it would most certainly be better than Dan Brown (ooh, I just did that!).

Well, no matter your opinion now, it looks like we may be forced to answer these questions at some point in the future. The disappointed fans of Aimi Eguchi already have. I wonder if they might say to the AKB 48 managers, “Okay, so she’s not real. Give her to us anyway.”


video 1: commercial
video 2: making of
video 3: comment

Discussion — 56 Responses

  • Joe Nickence June 22, 2011 on 10:00 am

    In the immortal words of Bugs Bunny: “So she’s mechanical!”

  • Doug Graham June 22, 2011 on 10:47 am

    She’s good, but it’s the lack of expression in her eyes that gives her away.

    Not that the rest of AKB48 aren’t good-looking ladies…in fact, they’re all very beautiful ;)

  • Ver Greeneyes June 22, 2011 on 1:09 pm

    In the third video, she blinks oddly at the beginning and her head movement looks a little jerky (the wave at the end too, but that could be attributed to nervousness if she were human). That stood out to me more than the way she moves her lips. Of course, I also knew what I was looking at when I saw that video.

  • Neurosys June 22, 2011 on 4:06 pm

    Dear Japan,

    Please make it into a robot and I would like to order a dozen.

    KThanks.

  • Krishanu A. Ray June 22, 2011 on 4:39 pm

    Her mouth and head movements were a dead giveaway… looks extremely artificial. However if I were shown just still images I wouldn’t have known better…

  • bigtech June 23, 2011 on 7:27 am

    Compositing like this is powerful, but it’s a long way from truly computer generated human characters. Watching the ‘making of’ video it’s hard to understand why they didn’t just use one of the actresses.

  • Juan Romero Abelleira June 23, 2011 on 12:24 pm

    You gotta admire the hoops they go through to sell candy.

  • rsswier June 24, 2011 on 4:45 pm

    She says something like:

    “Nice to meet you. I’m AKB48’s new member, Eguchi Aimi. I debuted in the Glico Beautiful Ice commercial. Let’s work hard together. Best wishes!”

    I think she’s pretty convincing. The stiffness of the head and the hand movement in the comment video is not at all unusual among female Japanese who are trying to be cute and formal at the same time.

  • Joe Nickence June 25, 2011 on 2:08 am

    My earlier “Bugs Bunny” comment aside; you know this stuff is only going to improve over time. If you’re going to interact with AIs, then you’re going to need a visual interface that is as believable as possible. Avatar software will be achievable long before robot hardware will be accepted as a natural C/Fe interface.

  • Disa Marnesdottr June 26, 2011 on 6:33 pm

    We just pole-vaulted over the Uncanny Valley.