So You Wanna Know What’s a Virtual YouTuber, huh?

Let’s be honest, you’ve probably had at least one or two videos in your YouTube recommendation list, probably titled something wacky or fun. The thumbnail depicts an anime character with perhaps an angry expression and large bright text, but oddly enough the video you clicked on is just some 2D character reacting to video games? Well, most likely you just watched or weirded out to the point where you clicked away, or just couldn’t understand the language they were speaking, a virtual YouTuber. A virtual YouTuber or VTuber, for short, are generally online entertainers. They’re commonly someone who’s a Japanese-speaking live streamer, using a drawn digital avatar to visually represent themselves. Typically the avatar they use is heavily anime-inspired and is animated using Live2D (a technique of generating animated 2D graphics). Think of them like people wearing mascot costumes. In a sense where the person behind the character usually has to conceal themselves, making their identity a secret.

So What do VTubers do?

They aren’t much different from people who regularly record themselves, post videos, and do live streams. After all, like a bunch of other entertainers, VTubers oftentimes like to dance and sing, frequently communicating with their viewers as well. Of course, VTubers are created and managed by real people, setting up motion-captures and cameras so their digital avatars mimic their real-life movement! 

VTubers mainly use YouTube as the platform to express themselves, however not limited to it. There are a few who stream on Twitch, and a large handful has dedicated communities on China’s Bilibili (basically the Chinese equivalent of YouTube). 

All VTubers are unique in terms of design, a lot of them have fictional backgrounds and quirky traits to call their own. After all, the people behind them are playing a role, messing around with their character, and sometimes breaking character entirely due to their dismay. As of now, most popular VTubers are cute female characters, with a handful of them being male.

How Come They’re so Popular?

A reason that isn’t stressed enough is, when it comes to YouTube, the median of entertainment is incredibly saturated by people who aren’t afraid to reveal their face and identity. The idea of watching somebody using a fictional character as their main virtual representation while using motion-capture is fresh. The character they play into is funny and entertaining. And probably the biggest factor, at the end of the day, they’re people just like us. Not to mention there are always “gaps” between them and their character’s appearance, usually creating funny and comedic reactions. Making most incredibly relatable, hence why we can gain an affinity for them. 

However much of their popularity is accredited to Kizuna AI, the pioneer of it all. She isn’t the very first VTuber, but she is the person who started its spread and popularity.

Kizuna AI
Art by En Morikura (森倉円)

So Why Are They so Appealing Again?

When comparing VTubers to actual fictional characters, they simply have more personality. After all, a TV or book character’s actions and intentions are locked behind a script. VTubers are allowed to have Twitter accounts, where they’re able to freely interact with their fans. Even though the person behind a virtual YouTuber is a real-life person, many fans want to see the characters on screen as if they had their own free will. After all, people won’t bat an eye towards a normal person with a facecam on, it’s the virtual moving avatar that makes it great, because this cool character you see moving and talking, is acting almost human. It’s super interesting and a new way to interact with “fictional” characters.

A Bit More Info About the Talents Behind the Character

VTubers tend to have a desire to express themselves to other people but are often too shy to reveal their faces. It’s understandable after all, it’s something we should all be cautious of. But now they’re able to, more or less transforming into or using virtual characters. When it comes to this industry, the talents are well, very talented. “Diamond in the rough” is one way to put it for instance. There are a lot of shy people out there who are afraid of talking face to face but are easily able to express themselves and be very funny by veiling their identity.  

In current times, their playing field is expanding from platforms like YouTube into mass media. There have been multiple real-life events and collaborations with companies. With that amount of sponsorship and investments, one can easily tell how much potential virtual avatars can have in the market.

Kizuna AI – Billboard advert
Photo courtesy of @REVERSALx7