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The idoru (idol) genre is big business in Japan. Posters, manga, lunch boxes, CDs and now DVDs; you name it, it’ll be sold bearing the face or playing the warbly voice of the belle de jour. Going far beyond the bounds of traditional western notions of model, pop star, actor/actress or all round celebrity, the idoru in question doesn’t even have to be real.

Yuki Terai is one such example. Perhaps the biggest thing in briefs to have burst onto the Japanese scene, Yuki is the creation of acclaimed 3D animator Kenichi Kutsugi and rapidly eclipsed virtual opposition CyberVenus Fei Fei and Miharu to ascend to the top of the most wanted list of every self-respecting Otaku (a techno geek interested in virtual women). Ananova eat your heart out.

Despite several short films, a manga, some CD releases and a web log digested daily by innumerable internet worshippers, Yuki hasn’t really made much of an impression outside Japan, but Escapi are trying to change all that with Secrets, the first release in a planned series of such titles under their ‘Virtually Real’ banner.

Yuki Terai - Secrets
The main content of the disc is divided into a showcase of six short stories, each lasting between 4 and 9 minutes.

Fly Away Alone: A former flame reminisces about his previous relationship with Yuki who stars as an incandescent nightclub chanteuse singing their personal anthem ‘Fly Away Alone’.

The Mirror: On a seemingly normal day Yuki wakes to find that mysteriously exact images of herself are able to emerge from mirrors or windows. Multiplying wherever she goes they pursue her through the neon nightmare of downtown Tokyo…

DOS/Chin: When trying to articulate her artistic expression, Yuki’s laughably lovable robotic dog competes for her attention and affection as she attempts to complete her project. Going to ever more extreme measures, DOS/Chin puts himself in mortal danger and Yuki must rescue her computerised companion…

Lazy GUI: Yuki’s life is threatened when her starship accidentally decodes a virus-ridden voice message that sets the craft to self-destruct mode. Yuki must battle radiation leaks and low oxygen levels if she is to make it to the escape pod alive and in one piece.

A Life: A contemplative Yuki is holed up in a sparse hotel room reflecting on the happier times in her life before deciding the course of her future actions.

Comet The Thief: Wearing a luscious leather outfit of which The Avengers’ Emma Peel would be proud, Yuki infiltrates a crime kingpin’s penthouse palace to steal a precious guitar before facing the mighty mobster himself in hand to hand combat.

If this weren’t enough then two bonus animations are also included as extra features although they do not differ from the episodes outlined above.

Project BB-11: A wartime secret agent Yuki masquerades as a simple citizen as her lover leads a Japanese airborne attack on several ships of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific fleet.

My Dearest You: The smash hit single gets a marvellous day-glo music video treatment as Yuki jives and jiggles away in front of, and through, a variety of beautiful backdrops.

A word of warning: unless you fit the Otaku description as outlined above or at least have an overriding interest in 3D animation, it’s unlikely that you’ll extract too much enjoyment from this disc. Sure, Yuki is a fetching enough central character, but the stories are too short and too simple to ensure that the audience will be engrossed. Project BB-11 is a case in point; yes, the animation oozes quality and attention to detail (not to mention the hitherto seldom seen human element of Kamikaze pilots’ suicidal struggle) but this trailer-like offering cries out for a full length feature.

The same goes for Comet The Thief and in particular The Mirror. These are a couple of fascinating concepts that deserve to be fleshed out into a more full-bodied form. Conversely DOS/Chin and A Life fit the format just right; the former’s pixellated poch is enough to have you tearing your hair out after 7 seconds or less with the latter’s music driven melancholia just about fills the gap left by the non-existent narrative.

The standard of animation on show varies wildly too. Reflective surfaces and inanimate objects are, at times, handled superbly well, almost approaching Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within like levels. However, with most of the content of the DVD having been produced in 1999, and possibly before, with no proprietary software having been used, there are some decidedly dodgy moments. With now outdated versions of 3D Studio having to do most of the work, skin textures look waxy and hair still looks like it is stuck together in clumps.

Unfortunately, animation in this vein relies on quantum leap advances with every new release and what I’m sure was cutting edge now appears state of the ark, sure to turn up in a cut scene on your gaming console very soon (the Comet The Thief fight scene wouldn’t look out of place in the Dead Or Alive beat ‘em up series. What is encouraging is that the software shown here is now readily available and should prove an inspiration to those interested in pursuing a career in this field.

Struck straight from a digital source, the transfer is outstanding. Colours are vibrant, blacks are deep and shadow detail is wonderful. What could be misconstrued as edge enhancement is rather a shimmering effect caused by the software employed.

Somewhat misleadingly, some of the stories appear to be in 1.85:1 yet these sections are really 4:3 images matted to present black bars at the top and bottom of the screen in order to presume a widescreen ratio.

Subtitles in English, Swedish and German are provided and, despite being displayed in an easily decipherable white font, they are often not located centrally on the screen, seemingly placed haphazardly which means that more than once vital visual information can be obscured.

All the stories here are presented with a Dolby Digital 5.1 track; four of which have additional DTS audio if you happen to be so equipped. As music makes up most of the emotive focus for each segment there’s actually little room for a really absorbing surround track to get you hooked: audio effects pepper the particular type of music chosen for the sequence not the other way around.

Yuki Terai - Secrets
That said, Lazy GUI manages to balance the elements the best with plenty of channel separation and some fantastic fidelity as Yuki makes a break for her escape pod as the starship disintegrates all around her.

First port of call on the special features slate is Making Of programme. Divided into 10 sections, each snippet, accompanied by a dry female voice over in Japanese (subtitles are provided), lasts less than five minutes and focuses on a particular aspect of the production. Anyone who has used, or is hoping to, 3D Studio will find plenty of inspiration and some nifty ideas as to how to make the process of animating a character less painful, although space on the disc is far too limited to offer a substantive guide. For others, these sections might appear a little uninspired as they won’t really fire the imagination of those with a casual interest in production rather than just plain viewing.

A Yuki Terai Slideshow which, rather unsurprisingly, displays a 5 minute succession of stills of the scantily clad idoru frolicking in various lush locations is denoted by captions like ‘Bedroom’, ‘Pool’, ‘Beach’ and so on. Bikinis and briefs are the order of the day as, on this evidence at least, Yuki doesn’t wear much more than postage stamp size clothing wherever she goes.

Similar to the above is an Artwork gallery which depicts a second 5 minute slideshow of slightly different stills, this time demonstrating the complexity of the computer modelling by illustrating wireframes and partially completed shots, giving you some idea of the amount of effort put into what initially seems even a simple animated movement. Many of the frames in the show are annotated by Japanese text. Rather than simple adornment, much of what is transcribed here relates to the composition of the relative frame and it’s curious that no subtitles are included in this section.

To finish off the extras picking are a series of Trailers. For the three forthcoming titles under the Virtually Real label, CyberVenus Fei Fei, Virtual Stars and Yuki Terai - Virtually Real, these are divided into ‘Theatrical’ and ‘Commercial’ categories; the former with a duration of 45 seconds, the latter lasting almost 3 minutes.

Yuki Terai - Secrets
In such a niche area, the appeal of this disc will always be somewhat limited; it’s a real fan favourite kind of affair. In such a field as this where the technology employed is as much a reason to splash your hard earned cash on this title as is the content of the stories, it’s mildly disappointing that the ‘Making Of’ materials are neither comprehensive enough for those of a production persuasion nor fun enough to significantly enhance the nonchalant viewer’s enjoyment.

If a slight albeit excellently presented disc in which you can observe the advanced animation that can (now) be achieved with the humble home PC given some of the right software (and a lot of patience!) takes your fancy, then you won’t be displeased with the reasonably priced Yuki Terai - Secrets. If you’re a fan of virtual babes, or the perky Ms Terai in particular, then this purchase is a no-brainer.