”It never ends.”

Life moves fast in the otaku media sphere, where anime series air all their episodes in the course of 13 weeks and mobile games get updated with new content on a nearly constant basis. In that world, five years is a virtual eternity, but that’s how long virtual YouTuber Kizuna Ai has been at the top of the V-Tuber crowd.

Billed as the world’s first virtual YouTuber, Kizuna Ai’s high level of energy and low level of pretension set the mold from which hundreds of other virtual YouTubers have since been cast, and she’s remained popular long after many imitators have faded away. But while Kizuna Ai’s presence has been a constant in the virtual YouTuber scene, some fans are convinced that her voice hasn’t, leading to long-running speculation that her voice actress has been changed.

It’s gotten to the point that Kizuna Ai herself felt the need to address the rumors, and so she did just that in a new video.

“I’m mad. It never ends. It’s on every single video,” the virtual star says before launching into a list of popular conspiracy theories that she’s seen show up in her videos’ comment sections.

“I’m sad they replaced Kizuna Ai.”
“Aren’t there four Kizuna Ais?”
“Her voice has changed.”
“Her voice is so different now LOL.”
“Meh, I prefer the OG Ai.”

But all those rumors about Kizuna Ai’s voice being replaced? Completely false she says, her voice filled with exasperation. “My voice has never changed since the beginning,” she insists. She does allow, though, for the possibility that what fans are hearing might be a little different from what they heard earlier in her career, as her performance itself has evolved. “I admit I wasn’t as excitable back then and ‘f*ck you’ wasn’t really part of my character. But don’t you change as well?” she asks, citing how people’s experiences and moods can alter their ordinary inflection and tone.

To prove her point, she then recreates her original self-introduction video from 2016, submitting it as evidence that her voice hasn’t been replaced.

There’s a definite tongue-in-cheek playfulness to how seriously Kizuna Ai refutes the allegations, but it does bring up an interesting aspect of virtual YouTuber culture that we’re about to start seeing for the first time. Obviously, as CG constructs, virtual YouTubers don’t visibly age. If anything, their appearance gets more youthful as advances in graphic technology allow for less clunky models and movement which viewers’ brains interpret as fresh, new, and by association, young.

But on the other hand, the real people providing virtual YouTubers’ voices will get older. Unlike completely virtual projects like, say, virtual idol (and possible airport namesake) Hatsune Miku, Kizuna Ai does have an actual human actress who provides her voice, and eventually, her vocal cords are going to age and her voice is going to change. That same thing happens with flesh-and-blood YouTubers as well, but in their case subtle age-related changes in voice are accompanied by subtle age-related changes in physical appearance, which helps prevent a sense of mental disconnect.

As her original-video recreation shows, Kizuna Ai can still sound exactly like her old self when she wants to. It’s also true that some anime voice actresses, like Mayumi Tanaka and Masako Nozawa (the voices of One Piece’s Luffy and Dragon Ball’s Goku), have continued to voice the same characters for decades. Not every performer’s voice has such long-term consistency, though, and it’ll be interesting to see if any virtual YouTubers’ designs end up being revised so that they look older if and when they start sounding older.

Source: YouTube/A.I. Channel via Jin
Images: YouTube/A.I. Channel
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