Seems like a new bunch of YouTube talents are taking over the platform by storm. What sets them apart from the rest? Well… They’re not exactly humans.
Known as virtual YouTubers (VTubers), these personalities are represented by 2D or 3D digital avatars that are heavily influenced by anime characters.
Though the phenomenon was exclusively successful in Japan, the trend has reached the Western community in no time. Some big-shot streamers such as Pokimane have even tapped into the trend somehow.
With a common equation of having the appearance of a cute anime girl, a high-level of social interactivity (energy), and consistent online presence— these virtual celebrities may soon shake up the influence of the real ones.
Before the VTuber hype became widespread in the Western community, it was first celebrated in Japan where it found an initial, booming success. Of course, Japan is to thank for a number of cutesy stuff we enjoy today— aside from the rising influence of the Ahegao.
Cute facial expressions? Anime sing-song voice? These motion-tracked avatars have everything a typical YouTuber or livestreamer portrays, without exactly revealing their real faces.
The concept of recording a vlog through the use of virtual avatars isn’t anything new. The trend was earlier observed back in 2011, where a UK-based Japanese vlogger named Ami Yamato used a virtual avatar. She was one of the first relatively well-known online personalities using virtual avatars for their content.
It wasn’t until the end of 2016 when the trend entered the mainstream, all thanks to Kizuna AI. She is considered as the most popular Vtuber on the platform and rightfully so, the trailblazer of this bizarre online trend.
Kizuna AI pretty much came up with the term “VTuber,” as she dubbed herself as the first ever Virtual YouTuber. As a testament to her success, her follower count and YT channel grew at a much more rapid pace compared to other human YouTubers.
She has garnered over 2.8 million subscribers on her main channel, with her content mostly revolving around singing, gameplays and fan interaction. What’s interesting to note is that all of this content is done within her virtual space.
The popularity behind
It seems like the next generation of live streamers is VTubers. We might see more of these anime-inspired 2D and 3D models among many internet personalities in the coming years.
These virtual avatars commonly take on the appearance of an adorable anime girl providing high-quality content without even venturing into IRL spaces.
Even YouTube sensation Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg is a fan of Kizuna Ai, wherein the duo had a memorable interaction back in 2018. This just goes to show there’s a thin line between IRL YouTubers and VTubers— and a crossover between the two worlds is fully feasible.
After Kizuna Ai’s interaction with “PewDiePie-san,” as she calls him, her brand reputation and popularity took the internet by storm.
She was even appointed as a culture ambassador for the Japan National Tourism Organisation— how cool is that?
Hololive Production (hololive)
The VTuber trend won’t get to great lengths without various productions to help keep the trend alive.
In particular, Hololive Production is known to manage several Virtual Youtubers in the same management procedure as any other company in the talent industry.
Having a VTuber-focused talent agency gives the trend a much-deserved publicity, with the influence now foreseen to go worldwide.
Since it acts as a talent agency, Vtuber talents are promoted in a unique and special way— much like idol groups. In case you missed it, most idols have to undergo interviews and auditions to make sure only the cream of the crop (S+ tier personalities, voices, and art style) would make it under the cut.
A high level of fan interaction and a crossover with the real world are only two reasons why the phenomenon became popular not only in Japan but in the Western community as well.
In particular, Hololive English caters to English-speaking fans who are interested in Japanese culture with little exposure to Vtubers. The English-speaking Vtubers do live streams on YouTube as well as interact with fans on Twitter, just like a regular online personality.
Even Western streamers are jumping into the VTuber hype, such as when popular Twitch personality Pokimane debuted a virtual anime avatar in September 2020. She believes it will take her no-cam streams to the next level.
However, the internet didn’t seem to be completely happy at the news, though.
Some went to praise Poki for her fresh new approach at content, while others called her out for attempting to cash in on the trend of digital personalities, which might steal the attention away from the original Vtubers.
She was quick to address all the “clout chasing” backlash after her VTuber stream made headlines across various online communities, explaining:
“I tried to repeatedly mention on stream that I don’t want to encroach on the vtuber community… Imo this sort of this is the future + I think it’s so cool and a great alternative for anyone that doesn’t wanna use a cam for whatever reason.”
Though her VTuber debut was rather met with mixed responses, Pokimane assures the community that she’ll be actively listening to people’s feedback and doing her best to be considerate.
Another popular Twitch personality, Lily Ki or commonly known as LilyPichu, also previously announced her own anime-inspired virtual avatar which she’ll use on her off-cam days.
Although this was similar to Pokimane’s announcement, it received a wide online backlash. This just goes to prove how hardcore and often volatile Vtuber fans can be on the internet.
Ki is known to produce her own hand-drawn avatars, given she’s an artist — but the online flak forced her to stray away from the Vtuber title initially.
A harsh industry?
With the growing popularity of VTubers in the western community, it does seem to be a harsh industry at a closer look.
There’s the tendency to “Gatekeep” the trend among its pioneer stars, but there’s absolutely nothing to be done to stop more streamers venture into the virtual avatar hype.
Regardless of the backlash, there are still fans who are supportive of the future of Vtubers in the Western community. It’s their responsibility to break past a number of cultural and language barriers.
After all, VTubing is the new age of online content. Virtual avatars might just be the future!
Top VTubers to check out
Looking for some promising and entertaining VTubers to check out? We’ve got you covered.
Gawr Gura is a part of Hololive’s English (EN) branch first generation of VTubers. Upon her debut stream, she quickly garnered over 100,000 views- cementing her status as one of the rising VTuber stars on the platform.
As to her backstory, it says that she is a shark a little over 9,000 year old who came to the human world mainly because of boredom. With this lore, she regularly claims she has never seen Atlantis— which appears to be her home.
Gawr Gura is downright adorable. Though she has trouble with math, her gaming skills are impressive.
Kiryu Coco is most notably known for her signature outgoing, boisterous personality. Her lore says she is a 3,500 year old dragon who simply enjoys interacting with humans.
Her comedy skit “AsaCoco Live News” features comedic parodies of real news, or updates about her and the other members of the Hololive crew.
Since she has a full-scale model, she has made an appearance on Japanese television and Western talk shows since her entire body can be seen rather than most VTubers where it’s like you’re looking at someone across a desk.
Kiryu Coco has some dance moves to boast too, considering she has danced on television before.
A VTuber who debuted back in 2017, Kaguya Luna once dominated the YouTube charts back when the virtual YouTuber trend was still fresh.
Regardless, she’s still considered as a fun online personality on the platform with her free spirit and mischief. She’s also branded as 30-FPS chan since her video is locked on 30 FPS.
Kaguya Luna has collaborated with VTuber superstar Kizuna Ai many times before, even playfully calling her Oyabun (which translates to Boss).
Mirai Akari is an extroverted and energetic time traveler who arrived in our world under unknown circumstances.
As she arrived into the present, she lost all her memories of her previous life. She tries her best to form a connection with humans through her YouTube channel.
Mirai Akari is known for her expressive gestures and facial expressions as she does game walkthroughs and livestreams about trendy or humorous subjects. She was also one of the first VTubers to interact with fans on the platform VRChat and talk with other VTubers on Superchat.
Siro became one of the “big four” VTuber pioneers along with Kaguya Luna, Mirai Akari and Nojaloli after Kizuna AI was promoted to a higher category of her own.
She is remarkably good at playing PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) and sometimes gets carried away by saying terrible comments in-game.
Siro is also good at English, since she studied it. Her dream is to have a concert at Budokan as an idol.
It seems like these Virtual YouTubers will only skyrocket to fame and success in the next coming years. We all better brace ourselves for the rise of virtual Celebrities!