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Note: This information is accurate to the best of my knowledge; however, I could always be wrong about some of the details. Much thanks to Dov Sherman and the Invisible Phan for their suggestions and contributions. Thanks, guys.
KiSS is an acronym for Kisekae Set System. "Kisekae" is a Japanese word used in reference to changing clothes. "Kisekae ningyo" is the Japanese term for what we call in America a "fashion doll" (such as Barbie).
In 1991, a Japanese computer programmer known as MIO.H released a viewing platform and related image archives, or "kisekae sets", specifically designed to bring the "fashion doll" concept into the digital world. The result is something of a cross between a paper doll and a computer game. With the appropriate viewer for their operating system, a computer user could download various doll "sets" and play with them on their desktop. The Kisekae Set System, or KiSS, was originally inspired by the dress-up games young girls play with fashion dolls. The KiSS computer game found a much broader audience, and today there are KiSS sets for every age, taste and orientation. Some KiSS sets weren't even dolls--there were puzzles, board games, maps, even virtual models like the Space Cruiser Yamato. These came to be called "Aberrant KiSS" to distinguish them from the regular doll sets.
KiSS enjoyed massive popularity in Japan, but was almost unknown elsewhere--a few archives existed outside Japan, such as Ken Stone's in Australia, but many were still unaware that KiSS even existed until Dov Sherman introduced KiSS to the world outside Japan with the Big KiSS Page in late 1994/early 1995. Dov was one of the first non-Asian KiSS artists, and his work inspired others in turn. In 1996, another Japanese programmer-turned-KiSS-artist known as Yav expanded on the basic KiSS coding by introducing codes to implement animation, sound and other special effects. He called these innovations "French KiSS", or FKiSS for short. The term was a play on words and has nothing to do with France. The first officially-released set with FKiSS effects was Dov Sherman's "2 Ranmas" doll, which showed off a lot of what the new programming could do.
As time went on, and KiSS awareness grew, new effects were implemented. These were developed jointly between Chad Randall, John Stiles and Nick Roberts and dubbed FKiSS2. These effects allowed MIDIs to be played as background music and also provided more sophisticated animation and interaction potential. Still to come were the innovations of FKiSS3 and, more recently, FKiSS4. (And don't expect me to explain them, I'm just an artist, not a programmer. ^^;;;)
By the end of the millenium there were hundreds of KiSS artists all over the world. Possibly because of the explosion of interest in Japanese animation, many KiSS sets are based on or inspired by characters from anime--Sailor Moon, Ranma 1/2, Tenchi Muyo!, etc. In recent years, however, KiSS sets have come to include video game characters, celebrities, original characters created by the artists and even self-portraits and depictions of artists' close friends.
There is a predisposition to consider KiSS either exclusively a child's game (because of the "paper doll" aspect) or an adult sex novelty (because of the "undressing" of predominantly anime females). While both types of sets, and many others, do exist, KiSS is not nearly so limited in scope. The vast majority of KiSS sets are not adult in nature, although many of the base dolls are nude when completely undressed and some do have varying degrees of anatomical correctness.
It's interesting to note that while KiSS is not directly related to anime, a lot of the prevalent misconceptions about one can be applied to the other. Also, many anime fans are drawn to KiSS because of its interactive nature; fans get to "play" with the characters they admire (and not necessarily, or even usually, in a sexual fashion). Because of FKiSS, there is a level of interaction that simply can't be achieved with static mediums like paper dolls. The newest innovations in the fashion doll world--dolls that talk and move and recognize what clothes they're wearing--are a reflection of the interactivity FKiSS provides. (And, being a free medium, KiSS is a lot less expensive!)
One of the best things about KiSS is the fact that it is very cross-platform. There are KiSS set viewers for almost every OS out there--Win9x/2K, Win3.1x, OS/2, MAC, Amiga, RISCOS, UNIX/LINUX & BeOS (most recently discovered by Invisible Phan). Additionally, most KiSS sets (though not all) can operate on any viewer. The KiSS set standard .lzh is an archive type used pretty widely in Japan, but rarely found elsewhere (except, of course, for KiSS sets). Although other archive types are in more widespread use outside of Japan (.zip, .sit, etc.), KiSS artists still use .lzh for KiSS set archives because the viewers for varied platforms are set up to handle .lzh, which is not as OS-specific as other types of archive files and because, like KiSS itself, .lzh is a freeware compression system, not proprietary in nature, and can be used without copyright concerns.
KiSS is certainly not just for anime fans, or children, or for titillation either. Because of the wide variety of KiSS sets out there, the best thing for parents to do would be to check each set out for themselves prior to allowing their children to play. Better yet, sit at the computer with your child and play together. I've gotten many letters from parents who discovered the joys of KiSS with their children, and it's a wonderful way to spend time together. Of course, parents should always check a KiSS set out prior to letting their kids see it--that's just common sense.
If you would like to learn more about KiSS, or if you're looking for KiSS sets to download, please visit the following sites:
The Big KiSS Page Still the best place to get viewers for almost any platform and to see what new sets have come out. The BKP is now part of OtakuWorld, the Web's largest and most comprehensive anime site. Downloading the viewers and support software from the BKP is free, but downloading actual KiSS sets requires a subscription.
The PlayFKiSS Page If you're on Windows, PFK is the viewer to get. Chad Randall is a KiSS guru.
Invisible KiSS Links Links to just about everything KiSS on the Web. Originated by the Invisible Phan, and currently maintained by the incomparable tea.
The Kisekae Club Maintained by Dawn Hall, a great gathering place for artists and fans alike.
The Kisekae Message Board Also maintained by Dawn.
kisekae@lonejack A very long-established message board dedicated to KiSS.