Eguchi Aimi, whom is dubbed as the face of AKB48 in what they call a "perfect idol". The response from the public, some loved it, while some cried "FAKE!". (presumably...)
But "virtual idols" are not new in Japan entertainment.
Since the beginning of time, mankind seek perfection in whatever subject they find. Idols are no exception. People have a vision of what a perfect "something" in their mind, and in the case of Japanese idols, some have decided to showcase in what they think is a perfect idol.
First Generation - Anime
Way back in the early 1980's, the hit mecha anime Super Dimensional Fortress Macross have shown their version of what they think is a perfect idol - Lynn Minmay.
From the mid 80's onwards other "acts" have tried to emulate the success of Minmay, notably Megazone 23's Tokimatsu Eve and Takanaka Yui. Although not as famous as Minmay, the idea of anime virtual idol stuck and evolved over the years.
Yui Takanaka in Megazone 23
Second Attempt - 3D
Almost 10 years later in year 1996, technology has improved and people began too look for something as close to realism as possible. It is also a time where 3D animation got a big boom. That's where Kyoko Date and Terai Yuki come in.
Kyoko Date was first conceptualized to be a dating simulation game character, but somehow decided to market her as a "real" talent under the agency, even produced a song for her. Unfortunately, Kyoko's popularity lasted only a few months, however all the publicity invested in her has increased HoriPuro's company image. There were future versions created in 2002 and another one in 2007 (active in Second Life).
Terai was well received by the masses, that in between 1999 to 2001 she is seen TV commercials, photobooks, PV, singles (produced with Avex), DVDs, magazines, games, softwares, banners etc. Although her popularity waned after that, I believe it has paved the way for virtual idol-ling in 3D-model characters, such as Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball.
Terai Yuki - Fly away alone
(If you are wondering why both of them have short hair? Because long hair is more difficult to animate in realistic 3D)
Third Wave - Hybrid
Again, fast forward 10 years later round about 2007, another virtual idol craze has emerged from the hometown of the otakus, Akibahara culture, Moe maid cafes and pure kawaii-ness - Hatsune Miku. Hatsune is a female character used as a persona to market Vocaloid speech synthesizer, a software designed to simulate vocal speech and song. One may use Vocaloid to replace back-singers if skilled enough. Apparently someone thought otherwise and decided to animate Hatsune Miku, and with sampling audio from singer/voice actress Fujita Saki, a new virtual star is born.
Unlike her predecessors, Hatsune Miku appeared in both mediums - anime and 3D. Even so far as to create a hologram concert with real live backing bands and all.
Hatsune Miku - Triple Baka
3D & Hologram - Ai Kotoba
So... what next?
So about Eguchi Aimi, fact of the matter that her case could just be a one-off PR project for Glico, because I don't know if it will evolve to ANIMATING Eguchi in a manner that she will be able to sing and dance.
Although Hatsune Miku and the Vocaloids are still quite popular, there seems to be some kind of buzz going on with the emergence of "perfect idol" Eguchi Aimi. A question of morality? Or fear of a possible outcome?
From the pattern there seems to be about a 10-year gap between each virtual idol big break. But it is 2011 after all, and technology has leapt to great heights and there seems to be a possibility that about half a decade later, "real" idols will have to challenge virtual idols on the Oricon charts...
But consider this ->
At a time which where it is possible to "touch" a hologram like Hatsune Miku, and there are people with the notion to marry their digital girlfriends... Will we be seeing idol handshake events in _hologram_ in the future...?
I leave you with ELISA's rendition of Iijima Mari / Lynn Minmay's, the first virtual idol's most memorable song "Do you remember Love?", as we the idol fans continue to seek perfection in song and dance from our favourite idols... be it virtual or otherwise.
Personally, I lean towards "otherwise".
ELISA "Do you remember Love?"