The incredible impact of VTubers

We are here again to talk about VTubers — the main reason why my ability to watch numerous anime series in a single season has completely plummeted. Since they really began to rise in popularity throughout late 2019 and early 2020 here in the west, I wanted to look back a bit at some of the incredible things that VTubers have achieved and the impact they have had. 

We LOVE VTubers here at Rice Digital, and you can find our ever-growing archive of articles about them HERE!

The Incredible Impact of VTubers
Credit to @walfieee

The beginning

When I think of the “Original VTuber” it’s hard to not summon up the image of Kizuna Ai almost immediately, but as much as she may have opened the door to this incredible world, she isn’t the one I think of when it comes to the huge impact and growth VTubers have had here in the west.

Kizuna Ai is very entertaining and certainly was the start of something totally unique, but her work consisted of edited YouTube videos rather than livestreams, and therefore you couldn’t really get a sense of who Kizuna Ai was as a person; she was seen more like an anime character who just happened to be a YouTuber. 

The biggest two, when it comes to my experience anyways, were Shirakami Fubuki and Kiryu Coco of Hololive. Fubuki was a member of the first full generation of Hololive VTubers, and her contribution to the growth of not just Hololive but VTubers in general cannot be underestimated. It was Fubuki’s understanding of meme-culture that made her videos spread like wildfire.

When I got into Street Fighter, people who got into the game when I did were called “09-ers” as that was the year that Street Fighter 4 was released; I feel like Fubuki had a similar effect on VTuber fans during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, in which a ton of people became interested in this scene through her —  are they “Fubuki-ers” or “19-ers”?

Through Fubuki as an entry point, fans became exposed to the many different talents within Hololive, whether through Fubuki collaborating with other members, YouTube’s notorious algorithm recommending more VTubers, or natural curiosity. From this, we introduce one of the most, if not the most, influential members to ever be a part of Hololive — Kiryu Coco. 

What Coco did was enormous when it came to overseas influence; if Fubuki started the fire, Coco fanned it until it grew into a raging inferno. Not only did she create AsaCoco, a parody-style news show that highlighted other Hololive talents, giving even more exposure to her fellow members, but she also introduced Reddit and the enormous western meme culture to her Japanese audience. 

Being fluent in both Japanese and English, Coco became a bridge between overseas fans and Japanese fans. The work she was doing was basically creating solid proof that there was a huge interest in VTubers here in the West, and I would say that she is a massive reason that Hololive introduced its English branch.

The English branch enjoyed a massive amount of success. Gawr Gura became not only the first Hololive member to hit 1 million subscribers, but also the most popular altogether, and this may have influenced other companies such as Nijisanji to start their own branches of English VTubers. And thank God they did, because Lazulight’s Pomu, Finana, and Elira are three of my absolute favourites. Expect a Waifu Wednesday for my solar sky dragon-girl Elira Pendora soon. 

VTubers and their impact

For most of us in the anime community, certainly in my case anyway, I’m fairly comfortable on my own and I don’t necessarily crave going outside all the time — I’m perfectly content in my own company. (Same. Leave me alone. – Ed.) Not to say I never go out, but you won’t find me rocking back and forth in a corner because I couldn’t go to a club or pub for one weekend. 

Lockdown and isolation were quite the test though, and I think that for a lot of us it was a real test of just how comfortable we were on our own for a long period of time. I remember thinking at the beginning of lockdown “this makes no difference to me, I wasn’t going to go out anyway”. However, when you’re told you’re not allowed to go out, it’s different from you choosing not to go out — and considering that lockdown lasted quite a while here in the UK, we were pushed to our limits. 

I was a key worker throughout the big lockdown here, and all I can remember was being in a really bad place mentally, and being incredibly burnt out all the time. I cannot exaggerate enough how much I credit my mental health and day-to-day positivity improving thanks to having found VTubers, a new form of entertainment that I had fallen completely in love with. 

I still love anime, but when you’ve been watching it for a really long time, you start to notice that some of the newer series feel like things you’ve already seen before. That along with the fact that numerous high-profile, popular series ended up getting delayed in 2020, it’s really no surprise that so many people started to become obsessed with VTubers as an alternative form of entertainment. They felt like a mix of the real world of online entertainers and the fantastic magic of anime. 

Whether it be a member of one of the Japanese agencies like Hololive or Nijisanji, the western groups like VShojo, or the indie VTubers like Bao or Snuffy, VTubers are a wonderful thing that I never want to see disappear — and they have done nothing but bring positivity when we weebs needed it the most.

Header art by Felutiahime. Support them on Pixiv!

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Conor Evans
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