Last week, our new editor here at Rice Digital asked me if I could write about VTubers. I told him the same thing I will tell all of you: I am 35 years old. (I’m 39, stop making excuses – Ed.) I just figured out what TikTok is. I have no idea who these VTubers are or where they came from. But I’m never one to say no to a challenge, so Pete sat me down and made me watch an inhumane number of hours of VTubers over the weekend. Below is what I came away with.
What are VTubers?
I watched at least six hours of VTubers from all around the world. Sometimes they were playing games. Sometimes they were singing. One appeared to be some sort of adorable but high-pitched shark girl. I didn’t quite understand everything that I was watching but eventually I was able to find a couple of commonalities that I could latch onto to try to make sense of what was happening.
Like every streamer on Twitch or YouTube that I’ve known over the years, these were caricatures of the people playing the games. A performance that they were giving while staying in character the whole time. The difference between VTubers and most people in the streaming community is their distinctive anime-style avatar that stands in place of the usual camera feed.
There is a level of technical wizardry that comes into play to make the avatar move and have a proper personality that I don’t entirely understand, but the performance part is something I can get my head around. It takes an amount of skill and dedication to stay in character for as long as some of these streams are, whatever the character they choose to portray in their streams might be.
Where did they come from?
In my effort to understand what I was seeing, research was necessary. How did we get here and is there any going back?
While the vast majority of VTubers are from Japan, where the trend started (because of course it did), there are a growing number of VTubers in the West who are finding joy in living their best lives as anime girls. That is certainly an instinct I can appreciate. So for the past several years, more and more people have taken the VTuber plunge and invested in the kit needed to bring their anime avatars to life for all the world to see.
The whole VTuber craze seems to have started in in 2016 when Kizuna Ai took to the Internet and used the contrast between her overwhelming cuteness and her profane frustrations at video games to entertain the masses. Since then, there have been thousands of people who have joined her ranks, making it one of the fastest growing trends on YouTube in 2020. With the growing popularity and the technology needed to create these avatars becoming more accessible, I’d expect it to be become even bigger over the next year.
After my intensive but still limited exposure, its tough for me to say who my favourite VTubers are. There is an endearing terror that comes from watching an adorable shark girl shrieking as she plays video games, so Gawr Gura is one that I will likely check again in the future. Similarly, the retro gaming of dog-girl Korone appeals to the part of me that always preferred dog-girls to cat-girls (sorry, Nekopara fans). (You’re on The List – Ed.)
What have I learned?
I feel like my brief exposure to VTubers has given me more questions than answers. Most of the ones I watched seem to be bundles of chaos with a (virtual) camera pointed at them. I think the interest comes from the contrast between the cute figures on the screen and the antics on display. The screaming and overacting is more acceptable and palatable when it comes from an anime avatar because that’s the kind of behaviour we expect from these characters. Big, loud, energetic performances make more sense coming from a cute anime girl, after all.
Will I continue watching VTubers going forward? I don’t really know. Am I richer as a person for the experience? Again, I don’t really know. But it has certainly been an enlightening way to spend the weekend. I definitely feel more in touch with the kids of today.
If you want to find out more about about VTubers, check out our handy guide to get you started!