The Rise of VTubers in Japan, and the World?
There is a change happening in the world of entertainment; YouTube and Twitch have replaced TV shows. Online streamers are the new reality TV stars; promoting products and commenting on the latest world news, and you are currently watching a cute animated character play and comment on Nippon Marathon…. Erm what?!
It’s a Virtual Life
Virtual YouTuber, or VTuber are the latest wave of Youtubers hitting your screens from Japan. But what are they?
Similar to how a human Youtuber would react and play games whilst streaming, VTubers instead use software to create a 2D CG persona to be the face of their channel. These personas react in real-time, making it feel like you’re watching a real person on screen rather a static drawing of a 2D character.
The big-bang of VTubers started with Kizuna AI, the self proclaimed “world’s first” VTuber, who since December 2016 has dominated the VTuber world with her two YouTube channels totaling over 271,142,501 views, and even is the ambassador for the Japanese Tourism Board.
But what makes VTubers so popular?
Well the obvious reason for their popularity is their appearance. With Japanese culture, and with Anime/Manga and Idols especially being so ripe in both the West and the East, a 2D animated persona interacting with her audience is an ideal situation, right? As a fan of anime since I was a child, would I like to speak to my favorite idol real time or watch her play my favorite video game? Sure!
There is also a benefit for the “actors” behind the character; it gives a voice to an individual who may otherwise be too shy to appear in front of a camera, adding diversity to the overly saturated YouTuber streaming market.
Plus as the actor has no direct link to the character, there can be no scandal. So you can forget about reading those headlines about a famous VTuber who has acted badly or said something un-forgivable (we’re looking directly at you Logan Paul). These VTubers will remain forever untarnished.
This leads me onto my next point; not only are VTubers appealing to their audience, but marketing campaigns have started using VTubers in their campaigns, and it’s proving to be quite the success. Suntory Nomu (燦鳥ノム）is a VTuber created for the drinks company Suntory, and regularly posts videos on her YouTube channel and has a Twitter account.
Even a Japanese Prefecture has it’s own VTuber; the Ibaraki Prefecture manages its own “IbakiraTV” channel where Hiyori Ibaraki is host. Perhaps the use of VTubers also immortalizes the character; with the same character being animated/voiced by multiple actors, it allows the VTuber to in essence, live forever and always be the recognizable face for the company.
“Wedy are you a VTuber?”
You could even say Onion Soup Interactive is doing the same, with me, Wedy. Although not an official VTuber as I don’t comment on my YouTube channel (yet), the concept is the same, a 2D character being the face of a product.
Although perhaps the west isn’t ready for this style of marketing. Back in March, 2018, Onion Soup Interactive’s choice to use a 2D character for marketing was met with skepticism. In an interview with PC Gamer, the developer, Andy Madin, was asked “why he decided to hide behind a fictional persona to promote the game, rather than using his own name and image”. Andy’s response: "…it would be nice if the whole thing were a universe in and of itself,”. Perhaps there is the general opinion that people are “hiding” behind these personas rather than facing the public themselves, which maybe true. Or perhaps it’s to allow the Nippon Marathon Universe to expand and exist in its own right.
VTubers, meet Nippon Marathon
If you’re still undecided on whether VTubers are a new and novel way in which to interact with an audience, watch two more VTubers play Nippon Marathon.
Virtual YouTubers Are Now My Life
If this has wet your appetite then check out Panora which features weekly rankings for the most popular Vtubers in Japan, and User Local Virtual-Youtuber has a lot of information regarding VTubers, including who’s streaming live, most popular, and newcomer streamers.
There are currently over 4,000 VTubers, and with the interest in this type of streaming gaining more and more popularity everyday, are these the streamers of tomorrow?
So that’s all for now folks,
I’ve been Wedy Jones.
Keep it Real, Keep it Nippon.