Yuki Terai In Virtual Hawaii (Japan 2001)

Rating: **(*)
Review Date: 5/22/06

As fascinating as it is disturbing. This is Yuki Terai's "fluff video," which may have been an attempt to boost the virtual idol's waning popularity. In the video, Yuki visits the Hawaiian islands for a relaxing solo vacation. Volume 1 features the highlights of a single day's journey, including showering, primping, bicycle riding, sunbathing, playing on the beach, eating dinner, and hanging out at a bar after sunset. What makes it so bizarre and uncomfortable to watch is that apart from Yuki, everything is real world video footage. American model Jennifer Bell was used as a reference model for Yuki's actions, and she's arguably more attractive and interesting to watch. What's curious is that they generally don't composite Yuki on top of Jennifer, rather they mimic Jennifer's movements inside of an empty environment (without the aid of motion capture hardware). It's a very unsettling juxtaposition, and while the technical aspects and details are superb, it visually doesn't work. It doesn't help that Yuki's appearance is a bit of a step backwards from her previous incarnations, with noticeable seam lines and an extremely unattractive wardrobe. She's also WAY too thin and her legs don't mesh with her hips very well. From an animation standpoint, it's also a bit cheap, since the video is only thirty minutes long and most of it is just boring travelogue video footage. The highlight is actually a fully CGI rendered short called "Paradise Ocean." Just for visual consistency, CGI characters should be rendered in CGI environments. It makes for a much more soothing viewing experience.

Volume 2 is considerably more enjoyable and features more animation, although it also skimps on content. Day 2 of Yuki's Hawaiian vacation takes on a sci-fi element as Yuki has the ability to teleport to anywhere on the island via some special high tech hardware. She also has more cute outfits to wear than in the first episode. Yuki enjoys some shaved ice, a walk on the beach, para-sailing, and a relaxing rest on a park bench. Her day ends with her walking through a field of illuminated flowers and hurling herself off of a precipice whispering "I'll miss you. Bye, bye." What the hell?!? I certainly wasn't expecting that! The highlight of Volume 2 is a short film called "Project BB-11" which is a superbly animated, but confusing as hell World War II drama featuring Yuki and her American lover on opposite sides of the war. A fantastic sea battle commences, with no happy ending in sight. The disc finishes up with a strange series of TV promo spots (?) for some comedy show, which may or may not be real. A well animated Yuki is on a spacecraft wearing a sexy silver sci-fi siren outfit, and announces the show as a spokesmodel. She's great to watch, although her lip-synching is a bit awkward. The show she's promoting, however, is a completely uninteresting sci-fi comedy about some goofy dog-like police officer and his inability to stand without falling over. Weird.

Serious animation fans will still find plenty of things to enjoy in Yuki Terai's Hawaiian vacation, even if it's just from a technology viewpoint. While it may be a fluff video, it certainly doesn't come off as exploitation, and the tone is more like experimental art. Especially after watching other virtual idols like "Virtual Star 2000", it's clear to see that Yuki Terai is in an entirely different league. She's endearing because her creators respect her, and there's a consistent emotional element to her "persona." I think the key to it is how expressive her mouth is. The animators have incorporated some very subtle, but extremely effective mouth movement that really helps express how Yuki feels about a particular situation. Most animated characters rely on the eyes or a static mouth shape to reflect emotion, but that's not always enough. And when the mouth does start to move, it's often too exagerrated to convey subtle emotions. Very interesting...