Gorillaz is perhaps the most famous example of a virtual band, at least in the West. Elsewhere, virtual idol Hatsune Miku is ubiquitous, her personality projected onto her by fans. The four-piece OFK band is different: before you hear a note of their music, you’re going to find out exactly who they are. The band itself isn’t real – it’s an invention of the songwriters, composers and game designers working together as part of the LA OFK developer team – but the music is, and it’s a new and intriguing way to discover it.
We Are OFK is a biopic of the group delivered in five animated episodes. Four friends came together by chance, sowing seeds of creativity and opportunity that blossom despite LA’s cutthroat music scene. As catchy as the band’s electro-pop earworms are, the real hook comes from spending time with them: manager/keyboardist Itsumi, vocalist Luca, producer Jey, and VFX artist Carter.
There’s a risk that anyone who isn’t a zoomer will have a hard time identifying with the painfully hip young cast, especially when reading the text chats that are a major part of the game. (At least we We can find comfort in Jey, the oldest member of the group, who punctuates his lyrics correctly.) Yet, in the hands of writers Teddy Dief and Claire Jia, what might have seemed indulgent or irritating makes for an honest reach for the heart. The script oozes with personality and authenticity, delivered naturalistically by its voice cast; Dief, who juggles many hats as the series’ showrunner, also provides Luca’s voice and vocals.
Beneath the peachy backdrops of boba tea cafes, hip clubs and Hollywood parties lurks a painful melancholy, as each member of the group works out their personal issues, whether it’s Itsumi with her recent bad breakup, or the seemingly cool Carter. , who is still haunted by past events that they don’t feel comfortable sharing with their new group of friends. The band’s diverse makeup of different ethnicities, sexual orientations, and gender identities allows the game to portray the unsavory parts of the industry that marginalized musicians must navigate, whether it’s scary dudes at parties or guardian label brothers. But it doesn’t dwell on those barriers either, soon bouncing to upbeat vibes befitting the sunny setting. The songs themselves, whether it’s the dark and mournful beats of Infuriata or the bittersweet closing track Thanks, with its chorus line, “We’re not OK, and that’s alright”, echo to the atmosphere of the generation of this virtual group.
Each episode, paced to mimic your average Netflix series, ends with a playable music video, which seems inconsequential compared to the arcade thrills of musical games such as Sayonara Wild Hearts. Text conversations offer time for introspection and choice, as you can decide how to respond to them – although whichever response you choose, you’ll end up at the same destination, as it’s not a game with different endings and results depending on how you play. If you’re not convinced that text messaging can make for good narrative drama, wait for a revelation to accidentally spill over the group chat, leading to the show’s most tense exchange.
The stakes of trying to release an EP might seem minimal, and it’s a virtual band that seems like they can afford to exist in spacious apartments while they do it (an early conversation about needing to pay rent is forgotten just as quickly). But because we get to know the members of OFK intimately, once you’ve completed their origin story, it’s hard not to be invested in their dreams, their music, and everything that comes next.