Like it or hate it, there’s absolutely no denial that YouTube is a massive growing medium of entertainment. While its popularity has been the strongest in the west, with a majority of the most watched and most viewed channels on the site being English-speaking creators, early this year someone else from a very odd part of the Internet sprung to popularity not only amongst the community who speaks her native language but from several fans worldwide as well. Kizuna Ai, of the YouTube channel “A.I. Channel,” is growing at an interestingly fast rate and features some of the most interestingly odd content I think I’ve personally ever witnessed. Despite her speaking Japanese in every single video, the comment section is consistently mostly in English, there are several user-submitted subtitles in an interesting variety of languages coming out at a very quick pace, and I’ve seen more fans both through personal association and through her personal retweets on Twitter that are from the west rather than from the Japanese speaking community. Whether this is because she’s genuinely more popular in the west or the Japanese speaking community is just a million times less vocal is something I’ll get into, but for now I’d just like to say that this week’s post will be dedicated entirely to diving into Kizuna Ai and my thoughts on her. Buckle up.
Pretty indisputably, the most interesting thing about Kizuna is her as a character. Kizuna Ai, as a character, is a highly advanced super-AI who has decided to become the very first virtual YouTuber in order to get closer to humans through her curiosity with them. Her ultimate goal in starting a YouTube channel is to get popular and famous enough that she can connect with humans all around the world. She assures that her yearning for popularity and fame isn’t for herself, but rather so she can reach more and more people.
The MMD (MikuMiku Dance) 3D model used to represent Kizuna was designed by illustrator Morikura Yen, modelled by modeller Tomitake, and production was overseen by popular MMD modeller and Project Diva provider Tda (behind the model for Hatsune Miku Append and designer of hooded Hatsune Miku from Project Diva 2nd). However, aside from the small team behind her 3D model, there’s extremely little known about her. Kizuna is incredibly interesting in that she seems both simultaneously scripted and entirely genuine in how she laughs at herself whenever she says something ridiculous, but also how more-or-less faithfully she sticks to her character as an AI.
She refuses to give out information like who edits and makes all of her videos or who voices her, insisting that everything is done by her. With that said, there’s an interesting attraction to all of her videos which I like to describe as charmingly terrible. The animation itself is awful as is certainly all done in MMD through motion capture and facial recognition of some sort (given the fact that her model is a .pmx file, which is only used inside of MMD, and the people who designed her) and all of her videos are incredibly short-form playing on all of the same things popular YouTube stars have been doing for ages. How she acts is almost straight out of an anime, but the type of content she makes is clearly made to fit the YouTube atmosphere a majority of the time.
This to me is what makes her so interesting. I can’t tell if she’s made by a huge collaborative effort of multiple people designing the perfect waifu YouTuber, or if this was an independent project done by someone who figured out how to sync an Xbox Kinnect with MMD and commissioned the most expensive 3D model ever made exclusively for YouTube. While Japan is somewhat sensitive about personal information, it’s still interesting to me that everything that makes up A.I. Channel and Kizuna Ai isn’t even remotely disclosed aside from artist credits. She’s the perfect mix of secretly manufactured and genuine personality that makes her not only perfect for YouTube but fascinating as a character.
The Popularity Spike
Popularity, thanks to how addicted people are with statistics on YouTube (mostly because in a lot of cases it’s their job and their lively hood depends on it), is a lot easier to track. With this said, how exactly she exploded is still somewhat mysterious as I couldn’t find the exact cause for it. According to Social Blade, Kizuna blew up in popularity primarily on February 20th, 2017; at the time she was doing interviews with the Japanese virtual reality company PANORA but even to this day those videos have miserably low view counts. Everywhere I looked attribute her popularity spikes to the anime Facebook account IGON’s sharing of a clip from her Inside playthrough video or Reddit threads or The Anime Man making a video about her, but none of those events correlate with the graphs of her growth in popularity. None of those people did anything to deeply effect Kizuna’s popularity, in some ways what I like to think of it is that those people pushed the conversation around Kizuna.
While number and engagement wise none of the people accredited to Kizuna’s growth really influenced Kizuna’s audience size in any meaningful kind of way, what I think they did instead of show people from all different sides of the anime social network communities that other people (and in two of the aforementioned cases, bigger names) were watching Kizuna and they weren’t alone in enjoying her content or in watching her content regularly. English comments on Kizuna’s videos have corresponded pretty nicely with what the Internet likes to credit Kizuna’s popularity on.
Right after IGON posted about Kizuna on Facebook is when people started noticing the biggest explosion of discussion about her. It wasn’t as if IGON suddenly created a new fad by finding a hidden gem. Kizuna already had a growing following, a very successful one at that, it wasn’t until her western community of fans were prompted (so to speak) to talk about her that people felt it was okay to do so. While I couldn’t tell you exactly what made her popularity itself spike, as the graphs on Social Blade tell a completely different narrative than what everywhere else like Reddit and Know Your Meme have claimed are the purposes, it’s clear what the cause for people talking about her are.
So what do I think about Kizuna-san? To me, she’s incredibly fascinating. Back in February right around when IGON brought her English-speaking fans out of the dark, I was told she exists and a month later I became addicted to her videos. Since then, everyone I’ve told about her have also gotten addicted to her videos. This is interesting to me not because so many people enjoy her, but because she does exactly what everyone else on YouTube is doing. She does video game playthroughs with hyperbolic reactions, she does vlog style videos complete with visual jump cuts (even though she’s animated and she doesn’t need to have jump cuts at all and audio edits would likely get the job done), she does challenge videos, paid promotional content, she does livestreams although those are more in the vein of Japanese NicoNico streams, she tries out random weird apps; she is quintessentially doing everything that PewDiePie is doing but on a much smaller scale and in a very interesting way.
In all honesty, Kizuna feels like the perfect YouTuber to appeal to the western anime community. It’s as if someone sat down and asked “What do English-speaking anime fans like?” and ran with it. Her content feels just western enough to where she fits on YouTube; to the point where a long-running My List on NicoNico wouldn’t garner even remotely the same kind of attention. Her personality when she’s playing the character of Kizuna feels like an anime trope and the few moments where she breaks character and asks herself why she’s doing something and laughs make this whole thing more interesting than it should be.
Even now I feel like I’m looking in too deep about her and I’m chasing loose ends that really should just mean nothing to me. Nonetheless, this was something I wanted to talk about because it’s so interesting to me. Questions like how many people are behind Kizuna’s daily videos, how this started, whose idea it was, how the whole that is A.I. Channel works in general. It’s all so fascinating to me.
Another thing that’s interesting to me is how fast a community built around Kizuna’s videos. While I can’t say for the Chinese, French, or Spanish subtitles that also pretty quickly get added to Kizuna’s videos on YouTube, the English community has banded together in a borderline amazing way. While I might be up-playing how spectacular they actually are since I haven’t engaged with them in the slightest, the English fan community has started an unofficial Discord server, has a team of fan translators ready to work together all on the newest video, and has gotten working so fast that whatever Kizuna video came out at 3:00 am that day, by the time I wake up it already has English subtitles, typically done by a team of four people.
Along with this, by the comment section alone you’d assume Kizuna’s channel was that of an anime YouTuber’s. While YouTube comment sections are still one of the most cancerous places on the planet, right under Chernobyl, there is a genuine and thriving English “community” of fans talking about each video. Every newest comment is either in English or Korean; I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if over half of Kizuna’s viewers were from the Americas. This sudden new trend amongst the western anime community not only exploded in consistent viewership, but also in western fans.
So why does this matter and why is this a topic worth expanding on? Well, aside from the fact that I just find Kizuna’s channel and the phenomenon around it to be extremely interesting, I feel like it’s a beautiful highlight of what the English-speaking anime community is capable of. In a short amount of time, conversation surrounding a new extremely niche type of entertainer started showing up when major figureheads of the community (whether you like them or not) brought attention to her as someone worth talking about. After that, an English community of genuine fans started forming around her and began working together to make sure everyone could enjoy the next video as soon as possible despite the language barrier.
Despite how many questions could be asked about Kizuna, despite how frankly poor quality each of her videos are, despite the language barrier, Kizuna is still (comparatively) incredibly popular in the west. She’s a weird anomaly that I can’t find all of the right words to describe. She’s an enigma and while I’ll likely never be satisfied with any conclusion others come to in how she got massively popular or how her videos are produced, it’s an enigma I love. Watching Kizuna succeed, watching the community around her grow, watching all of this could not be more interesting to me. While I have no major grand overarching point to make, Kizuna is at the least interesting and on top of that a beautiful highlight of what this community can do.
Thank you for reading this week’s editorial! I’ve been at an eternal debate of whether or not I should talk about A.I. Channel for far too long and decided to do it and if I dislike how it starts I’ll toss the idea. Instead I got wrapped up in research and created what I think is one of my new favourite posts even if it’s kinda rambly and uses the word “interesting” a lot. There’s a bunch of sources where I found all my information below the artist credit so check them out if you want to do deeper diving. As always if you’d like to see what I’m up to when I’m not doing you can follow me on Twitter! I’ll see you all next week!
The featured image for this post was drawn by ImN0G00D on DeviantArt.
Social Blade: Top 100 YouTubers
Kizuna Ai Twitter
Kizuna Ai YouTube Channel
Kizuna Ai Introduction Video
Kizuna Ai 3D Model Download Page
Morikura Yen Twitter
Social Blade: Statistics for A.I. Channel
PANORA – Virtual Reality Japan Website