Monthly Archives: April 2023

THE IDOLM@STER Million Live 10th Tour Act 1 Saitama Super Arena

Trying a new format to better condense? I say this every time but had I? I guess this is the product review format of event review, because, “producer” is just a “T” short from “product”? It’s just the usual ranting, though.

Million Live, after all the ups and downs, is now entering its 10th year and they decided to have a 4-stop tour, spanning from April this year until February 2024. Act 1 (or the first stop) was at the SSA on the 22nd and 23rd. Act 2 will be at Port Messe Nagoya Exhibition Hall on July 29-30th. Act 3 will be at the West Japan General Exhibition Center in Kitakyushu on November 4-5th. The final act, Act 4, will be at K Arena Yokohama on February 24-25th. K Arena opens for business in September this year so that would be interesting to see. I’ll try to go to another stop, but no promises.

Here’s the crux of Act 1. They wanted to drop “first” to “fourth” with the 37-color promotional material and outfits. They wanted us to remember first, second, third and fourth. But they didn’t do Welcome this entire weekend… It’s a mixed bag as an old-timer. Heart full, eyes clear, mind on fire–just like what 4th did to me.

But, has everything worked out in time?

Continue reading

IDOLM@STER vα-liv, Launch, Famitsu Interview

Simps know where to find the “goods” so instead I’ll dive right in to the meta. For starters, despite all the funny things they may have mentioned in the launch stream, the project is relatively orthodox (can anything vtuber be “orthodox”?) as far as vtuber agencies go. That is, if you’re a corpo and not some mushroom-after-the-rain start-up. Who knew how all the vtuber research for Kurocon would come in handy?

So officially, the IDOLM@STER 3rd Vision Vtuber project has launched. From now (or April 13th) until the first stream on May 2 (Japan time), it’s going to just be a trickle of content from the initial three vtuber trainees (as they refer to themselves as kenkyuusei or kouhousei anyways). A much more nuts-and-bolts Q&A session can be found here. Well, first watch the launch stream if you haven’t yet. And just to note, the va-live content lives on its on YT channel (which you can’t use the beautified link because it’s broken lmao)! I guess the main IM@S YT channel is already very busy…?

The person in charge of the brand is Haruki Katsumata, who has worked on IM@S for over 10 years (seems to be relegated to live content side such as IM@S MR and Million Live concerts). To summarize the Famitsu article:

  • Superchat may or may not be available? I’m guessing because Bannam has their own platform already and they don’t wanna pay the 30% Google tax, so they need to figure out how to square this with having to exist on YouTube.
    • You cannot be a big time Vtuber and not have a Youtube presence, and frankly anything less is too jank for Bandai Namco in my opinion. Sorry, Twitch, you wouldn’t want this corpo nonsense on your platform anyway.
    • The 3 vtubers’ respective YT channels here: Red, Blue, Yellow
  • The va-liv project was born out of the ‘rona (of course) disruption, especially after the successful Miki Hoshii showroom stunt. Very “wakaru” moment for me.
  • Of course, va-liv will likely “add” although for the first year it’s just these 3.
  • I had worried about the “moat” effect of va-liv, but fundamentally this is just yet another vtuber agency so IM@S and these talents will (continue to) collaborate with other vtubers outside of the brand. Well, I guess this wasn’t the aspect I was worried about–more like from a “revenue loss” POV.
  • I had discussed with others, and of course the interview basically confirms our assumption that eventually voting will be more complicated in the future and involve the fans to “produce stuff.” This is the core business of IM@S after all, and where the revenue is.
  • On monetization, the spiel from Katsumata is that as with other brands in Vision 3.0, it will become a “360” media mix strategy where different modes of monetization is enabled. With streamers and vtubers, there are new revenues being unlocked through va-liv. Of course, there will be more tie-ins and the like to be announced in the future, such as music and the like.
  • The loudest and biggest hand wringing from fans in reaction to va-liv announcement is that this is an elimination system, or audition where elimination is possible at the end of the year. The answer from Katsumata is that they want to set a clear goal post or standard to what the content is? It’s not an open-ended engagement. They also want to incorporate this particular element from the various games (arcade, console, Shiny Colors).

The interview also talked to the 3 talents. Now, stuff for the simps:

  • Senpai they admire:
    • Red: Kyoko Igarashi
    • Blue: l’Antica
    • Yellow: YuNi
  • Impressions of the other two. They only met the day before (the interview was taken right after the launch stream).
    • Red: She was nervous but the other two seem calm and reliable.
    • Blue: Manaka seems like a nervous hamster; Letora has a sunny vibe.
    • Yellow: Both are so cute, Manaka is like cotton candy. Asked if she needed a ride home because I can’t leave her by herself. Cosmo is a cool beauty that I gawk at from top to bottom.
  • Why do you want to become an idol? What kind of idol do you want to be?
    • Yellow: I had to choose between getting a job or continue to pursuit music. This is my one last try so I will give it my best. I want to deliver my song to all of Japan and share my heart with them.
    • Blue: I wanted to be a magical girl and sparkle. Even though I had been working as an entertainer for the longest time among us, it was not going well. I couldn’t give it up, and this project is my last chance. I want to be an idol who sparkles and shines brighter than anyone else.
    • Red: Once I was a volunteer to read to children. I was so happy that I can do things for them and make them happy. Maybe I have the ability to make other smile, and I would like to make people smile with me. Since as a child I was not forward and timid. I wanted to change, I had to change, and I join in this project in order to have the courage to take the first step forward.
  • The interviewer then goes “You said “last chance” so why this project, real or virtual?” (Sort of abridged TL):
    • Yellow: It’s hard to put it into words.
    • Katsumata: It’s hard to put it into words, but to me that’s how it feels to participate in this project?
    • Yellow: Feeling…?
    • Katsumata: I guess it’s hard.
    • Blue: As said earlier, it’s almost 10 years since I have been in show business. Whether I continue or quit performing as an idol comes down to this project. But that’s just as being an idol, I am not sure what will happen in the future for my career afterwards.
    • Red: I am as old as Cosmo but we have the opposite situation. I just finished my second year in Tokyo and also 2 years since I started training to be an idol. I am 16 years old now which is a bit late to start becoming an idol, so I have a complex about it. My shyness was a barrier to becoming an idol, so I said to myself “This is my last chance, I’m going to do my best” as a way to push myself. I think I need to push myself to the limit or else I will never be able to do it.

That’s more or less it. My take is basically that this is going to be your average business vtuber content mill, with curve balls thrown in for idol producers now playing in this space. For the first year, at least, we will continue to see these three vtubers trying to justify this project to BN brass. If people accept and come to adopt these three, I think we will see this project grow in various ways. As it stands, we don’t know what elimination really means, but as with the axing of Saisute in the background, we know nothing lasts forever, and even good(?) things can come to an end. Shiny Color builds this eventuality as part of its vibe, so it is easy to see where this comes from for va-liv.

At the same time I think they deserve a lot of the criticism, both in terms of how to communicate better to the fans and from a business point of view, not put in place where they can assuage our concerns. But I think this is likely a standard operating procedure for any company stepping their toes in this pool, and having to “imas” it may be one layer too thick on top. At the same time, they are asking Ps to be the test or incubating audience, so to speak, so I guess we’ll see if it works or not.

Re: Generative AI

If we strip the buzz, the latest hubbub and media attention on generative AI are large scale data models used to generate youtube video scripts and images that are approximately human-made in quality. But this is not really new or novel. Anyone who have seen computer graphics evolve the last 20-30 years would know we have came a long way from 8-bit Mario, PS2 Cloud Strife, to whatever the hell Final Fantasy movies they stopped making because people are no longer interested in feature films with hyper-realistic computer visuals.

The really interesting or attention-grabbing aspect about ChatGPT or whatever is that now a larger group of people have easy access to these tools in order to further achieve our self-actualization of desires, to put it crudely. It doesn’t take millions of dollars, just tens, to thousands now. The average above-average gaming rig can make more ero content faster than one whole Comiket in the same half-year span, to use a random, cherry-picked benchmark, in voice, words and images. Not that it would be as good, although it wouldn’t be something we can completely ignore.

And I think this is where it stands. Proliferation of computer 3D modeling tools gave us dancing Miku, but also a lot of 3D ero content. Those are just some examples, and it’s really everything in between and more. But as they say this is old hat. It’s not that we can’t create life-like visuals, enough to fool people. Unreal Engine 5 is a compelling example, even if it leaves much to be desired still. But these gaps will be there for the foreseeable future–it’s a feature of the uncanny valley. And arguably we are only at the early stages of discovering these types of features in these other forms and modes of expression.

I asked Google Bard about this topic in general, and it seems that there are companies, productions and animation shops that use generative AI in their work, of course besides the examples I listed of the older technology that effectively does the same thing. It is actually not a huge surprise that Bing and Google Search are in the mix of this, because a search engine, or Google Assistant, is effectively the same sort of mode in which a chatbot that gives you some answers largely based in search results can provide.

Just like this person who made a Miki Hoshii bot to send him emails (AI mimicking games mimicking life), I expect these creative uses to actually be in the products I consume. It’s all there already, just missing the LLM part.

Bard also gave me some pitfalls or dangers, mostly having to do with creating unwanted content in more authentic forms than ever–fake, spoofed stuff mostly. So, sure, authenticity is the real issue at core, but the expression is likely slightly different. It’s not deepfake trying to manipulate humans, it’s deepfake targeted at bots. The bigger risk is just what’s problematic today: plain, garden variety spam. It would be easy (as it already is done) to create a whole web of sites for SEO purposes. You can GPT4 your way into this automatically, and it wouldn’t cost a lot. Does Google Search know how authentic the content is? Because if we rely on tools today, built yesterday, with yesterday’s assumptions engineered into the way it works, will it still work tomorrow when these generative systems are pervasive and better than ever?

We need the strongest antispam features these large data models can provide, right?

There are also the legal aspects of it, which are mirky at best. I think it’s a fair callout for all the artists worried about their prospective customers can GAN their way out of commissioning jobs. But that is not reason enough to throw shade at the tech and its advancement. This is very much a horse buggy moment for those folks, so they can use our support in ways to move out of that job or work in a way where it’s more resistant of being automated out of their jobs. Writers and other creatives already had to live with other tech eating their lunch for decades as more of the world become code. Not that it’s “okay” but I guess in 2023 we should not be surprised about any of this, as there are more and more people who are organized to deal with the fallout and changes these disruptions can bring.

Frankly, the less we can say about copyright the better. Yes it’s broken. People like myself have been saying this for decades. But there is no will to go fix this once and for all, just small amount of people all over being aggrieved about some aspect of it, even if in collective, that’s a lot of people. It is not really the right mechanism to regulate the way internet has transformed the lives of individuals, for starters. [Nobody cares about Mickey Mouse, really, so what is Disney worried about?] It’s hard to understand, hard to rally around, it has too many stake holders, and it’s really important–too big to change without having some fallout possibly. It’s not that we should talk loudly about copyright, but it’s not in this space I think. Marching up to Congress with a million protestors is the right thing to do perhaps, to use an extreme, but it’s gonna happen because of furry artists are getting paid less.

Anyways, it’s a great time to actually learn more about the nuts and bolts of what these systems really are, to cut through the hype marketing that surrounds any next-gen tech deals with when it finally goes from the lab and ivory towers of academia to the hands of everyday folk. It can give amazing results, but it’s also not that crazy! As they say, something is indistinguishable from magic is only because people are incapable to learn how to, but this is not the case with this tech. Plain old human beings came up with these, it really is not rocket science.