Kizuna Ai’s spectacular LA performance shows the appeal and value of virtual concerts — and VTubers

I haven’t been to a live show for a very long time — even before the whole global pandemic thing started. So when presented with the prospect of seeing Kizuna Ai and friends in concert, supposedly in Los Angeles as part of her “Virtual US Tour“, I was both intrigued — and a little skeptical.

I was intrigued because I have always liked Kizuna Ai since the days when she had to buy friends from the Unity asset store, and I like the friends she was set to share the stage with — Japanese DJ TeddyLoid and western VShojo VTuber Nyanners. And I was skeptical for a few reasons.

Kizuna Ai concert

Firstly, I wondered if a virtual concert would provide sufficient suspension of disbelief to ensure that I felt like I was actually attending an event rather than just watching a streaming video on my TV. Would the show feature obviously fake audience noise, or would there be awkward silences between tracks? Would I need to delve into the chaotic mess that is the official chat for a popular online stream in order to get a feel for the “atmosphere”? Because I kind of wanted to avoid that if at all possible; excessive emojis make me break out in a rash.

Secondly, I wasn’t sure how convincing the “live” part of the equation would be. Again, would it feel like an actual event that was taking place right now? Or would it simply feel like watching Kizuna Ai’s model play back someone’s obviously prerecorded animations while listening to an equally obviously prerecorded song?

Kizuna Ai concert

Within moments of the world’s top virtual YouTuber (desu) taking the stage, all of these doubts flew right out of the window. I was there. I was engrossed. I was immersed. And I was in love with our one and only Ai-chan.

Not only that, I came away with the distinct sense that what I had just spent an hour of my life (and twelve English pounds) on was actually a far more enjoyable experience than any real live show I’d ever been to. Aside from that one Super Furry Animals gig where I… wait, no, no-one needs to know about that.

Kizuna Ai concert

Kizuna Ai took the virtual stage accompanied by TeddyLoid, who was a constant “live” presence in the background. Although there were a few brief occasions when you could tell TeddyLoid was obviously greenscreened, for the most part he was integrated extremely well into the performance as a whole — he had his own virtual DJ booth at the back of the stage, he moved absolutely seamlessly along with the virtual camera, and he even responded to and interacted with what Kizuna Ai was doing. He was clearly having the time of his life, and that energy was a big part of what made the event as a whole so appealing.

It will not be a surprise for anyone to hear that Kizuna Ai herself was also a source of seemingly boundless energy, gleefully bouncing around the stage, showing off the physics of her delightfully modelled ponytail and dangly belt, and even encouraging the audience to clap and sing along for the more “anthemic” parts of her songs. Whether or not she was simply running through canned animations didn’t matter one bit; the effect was completely convincing, and that was all that mattered. Kizuna Ai was dancing on stage for everyone, and she was having just as lovely a time as TeddyLoid was behind her.

Kizuna Ai concert

The various songs that Kizuna Ai performed were complemented by a spectacular virtual light show that incorporated a number of elements that simply would have been impossible — or at least very difficult — to achieve in reality. In one song, Kizuna Ai’s brown hair turned blonde, for example; at another point of the show, she instantly teleported off the stage. And throughout most of the concert, she was surrounded by spectacular, responsive holographic imagery that complemented each song perfectly.

The only slight downside to this was the fact that the video stream’s limitation to 1080p meant that a certain amount of detail was lost due to compression artifacting, particularly during times with bright lights or a lot of movement in the effects. This would have been less of an issue to anyone watching on a small screen such as a mobile device — I suspect watching on a tablet with a good pair of headphones would have been a great way to experience this show — but when played back on a large TV, it was hard not to wish for a slightly higher quality stream at times.

Kizuna Ai concert Nyanners appearance

This was especially apparent when special guest Nyanners showed up to perform her new song Foolish Heart, followed by a duet with Kizuna Ai, and backing dancer duties on the show’s grand finale: Kizuna Ai’s most well-known hit, “AIAIAI“. Nyanners looked and sounded great aside from one aspect: the lighting on her face was so blown out by the video quality it was difficult to see any detail other than her eyes at times, which was a bit of a shame.

It would have been nice to see the broad smile I suspect was on her face for the entire performance — since both before and after the show the poor girl was a bundle of nerves, adulation and excitement judging by her social media presence!

Kizuna Ai concert with Nyanners

This is ultimately a relatively minor quibble in the grand scheme of things, though; the virtual nature of the concert meant that there were plenty of opportunities to get far more up close and personal with the performers than you would if you were sitting in the cheap seats at the back of whatever venue your favourite band was playing. And being able to enjoy the whole thing in the comfort of your own home, of course, gives you the added bonus that any stench of vomit and/or piss that might be present is entirely your own doing, rather than being of unknown origin as it sometimes is at real live gigs.

All in all, the concert was a great experience. Kizuna Ai’s repertoire of songs covers a variety of different musical styles, so the whole thing was consistently interesting and enjoyable to both watch and listen to — and it was hard not to feel a sense of pride at some “home-grown” talent in the form of Nyanners sharing the stage with such an iconic presence as Kizuna Ai. It was an hour of pure joy and excitement; a welcome distraction from the troubles of today’s world, and a reminder that just because something isn’t “real” doesn’t mean that it can’t touch your heart and soul.

Kizuna Ai and Nyanners

But then, you all knew that already, didn’t you? Otherwise you wouldn’t be here.

Kizuna Ai’s next live performance is on May 30, 2021. You can buy tickets — or buy access to the LA show’s video-on-demand — at the official website of the event.

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Pete Davison
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