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Virtual five-year-old know-it-all Chico innocently poses questions that seem simple enough to veteran comedian Takashi Okamura and the studio guests: Why do we wave when we say goodbye? Why do we clink glasses when we say “Cheers”? Experts then provide the enlightening answers via informative video segments. The costumed Chico is filmed by multiple cameras, and the head portion is later replaced with a 3DCG version at broadcast time. A detailed 3D scan of the costume’s head gives the CG team free reign to animate Chico’s eyes and mouth for realistic expressions. The additional touch of CG also allows for cartoon effects: Chico’s already oversized head may suddenly grow gigantic, or she might make silly faces. The wisecracking Chico has a strong presence, and her clever banter with the studio guests has won her many fans of all ages. When a guest cannot answer a question, Chico’s head gets comically large and her eyes burst into flame as she scolds them with “Don’t sleep through life!” This snappy catchphrase was even nominated for the 2018 U-Can New Words and Buzzword Awards.
This NHK variety show stars Chico, a five-year-old girl full of curiosity and vast knowledge, posing casual questions to guests. Despite the quiz-show setup, there is no competing to be right, but rather a conversation that moves from a puzzled first response of “Huh?” to a satisfied final “Aha!” as the answers are explained. Absurd as it is, this ambitious project has created a new kind of TV entertainment that’s matches Japanese sensibilities well. At its heart is a costumed character, 2.5 heads tall, whose head has been augmented with 3DCG effects. It’s not obvious that her old-fashioned bobbed hair and the retro set are CG composites. Yet Chico’s crazy transformation when she shouts her catchphrase is a powerful accent that probably could only have come out of Japan. Though much of Chico has been upgraded since her 2017 debut, the staff’s almost parental love in making sure her charm shows through is second to none. (ENDO Masanobu)