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This is a past article published in Hiragana Times. Each Japanese paragraph is followed by its English translation or vise versa, and furigana are placed above each kanji to make Japanese study even easier. [Magazine Sample] [Subscription Page]

Idols Taking on New Roles in a Variety of Fields

[From May Issue 2014]

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“Idols” are a cultural phenomenon representative of modern day Japan. Not a day passes when one of these girls doesn’t make an appearance on TV, in magazines or on the Internet. Besides the idols who are active on a national level, they play a variety of roles: from local idols designed to be associated with their region, to virtual idols – fictional characters that appear on the Internet.

The diversity of fields in which idols are active has been expanding recently in Japan. In the midst of this, a new group made its debut this year and has been attracting a lot of attention. They are the “Game Girls,” Japan’s first idol group to specialize in video gaming. The six game-loving girls were gathered together by Alice Project a large management firm that handles underground idols.

Underground idols are those that, rather than appearing on TV, appear mainly at live shows and other events. In live music clubs in and around Akihabara, many underground idols perform almost daily. Featuring extreme performances and aggressive sounds, their concerts have an underground appeal that sets them apart from the concerts given by regular idols.

Their manager recounts how the Game Girls came to be formed. “Live gaming broadcasts are now huge overseas. Japan is lagging behind this trend, so I thought of broadcasting live gaming with idols. As members, we selected idols who were particularly into gaming.” Each member is in charge of a genre.

“In 2014, next generation consoles like PlayStation 4, Wii U and Xbox One are being released. I was convinced that an idol group specializing in gaming would catch on while the gaming industry was so hot,” says their manager. “We are already flooded with job offers and inquiries from the industry. We’ll be working not only in Japan, but also overseas as much as we can,” he says.

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Meanwhile, virtual idols that have been popular in virtual platforms, such as the Internet, are now diversifying their activities into new areas. YUZUKI Yukari has been recruited as a brand ambassador for Memanbetsu Airport in Hokkaido. She is a virtual singer created by voice synthesis software VOICEROID and singing voice and synthetic software VOCALOID™. The hitherto-unheard-of idea to use a virtual idol as the public face of a community revitalization project is attracting a lot of attention.

She was chosen because she fit the strict criteria which excluded the use of costumed mascot characters – which have been all the rage in recent years – and demanded that she fit in with the public image of the airport. A spokesperson for the Memanbetsu Airport building explains, “She’s just been appointed, but more and more people are having their pictures taken with a life-sized panel of her and her popularity is on the rise.”

“In the future, we’ll organize events involving Yuzuki Yukari, such as a music contest that takes the theme of Memanbetsu Airport and exhibitions of works associated with her,” says the spokesperson. These days, idols active in Japan don’t only sing and dance on TV. They occupy a unique place as entertainers that embrace a diverse range of activities. From now on more and more idols will be active in a variety of fields.

Text: NAKAGOMI Koichi


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