I remember a time when it would take me three hours to learn Step 4 of How To Solve A Rubix Cube from a 12-minute YouTube clip which buffered for a lifetime.
Streaming was in its infancy, and Annoying Orange was the most hilarious entertainment to my unrefined, 10-year-old taste. Remember that?
(My 20-year-old colleague, Claudia, who sits beside me doesn’t.)
Now, here I am, 25 years old and trying to comprehend the absurdity of the latest fad taking over the world:
Two weeks ago, a confused me tried to decode the term. “Vlogger-YouTubers?”, I meekly threw out. No, virtual YouTubers, my colleagues corrected.
These entertainers use animated avatars in their videos, rather than their physical likeness. Like most vloggers, they talk to the camera and share their thoughts on a wide range of topics, from gaming streams to reaction videos and product reviews.
Characters are generated using computer graphics, often controlled anonymously using motion capture and other VR and AR technologies.
Vtubers adopt mannerisms to fit the backstory of their character, and just when you’ve thought you’ve seen it all, you’d see one claiming to be a dragon and another calling themselves Satan.
In 2016, the Japanese-developed Kizuna AI debuted on YouTube and coined the term Vtuber. Within 10 months, she amassed over two million subscribers.
It paved the way for what has since exploded in popularity with over 10,000 Vtubers across the globe, amassing over 1.5 billion views per month by the tail end of 2020.
Top content creators even earn millions for what they do. Take Vtuber Kiryu Coco, for example, who earns up to US$134,000 per month.
Even in Malaysia, we have our own Vtuber agency in the form of Projek Hikayat and MyHolo TV which seemingly have intentions of working with advertising and events companies to drive traffic and engagement.
Vtubers are not inherently bad. In fact, so many of them are extremely skilled with natural-born talents that can captivate audiences.
They can sing, play instruments, and are genuinely high-performing gamers which makes them famous for a reason. But, I don’t get the appeal on a personal level.
Are they trying to sound like mice?
Something I could not tolerate about Vtubers is how many of them were likened to anime-style avatars with large eyes, small mouths, brilliant hair colours, and not to mention, large… bossoms (see above).
Let’s not forget the squeaky, high-pitched baby voice that made me want to rip my ears out. It’s the main reason I avoid watching anime in the first place.
These waifu-like character traits have been deemed by many online as “cute” or “sexy”. To each their own I guess, but it makes me uncomfortable, and I can’t help but feel disgusted with the content. (Plus, they scream a lot for some reason. Why?)
Of course, there are more digestible Vtubers out there. Mainly those that actually use their own human voice.
Along my quest of researching and consuming Vtuber content, it dawned on me that I’ve actually been following and enjoying videos from one of them for a while now.
Described as a pyramid against pyramid schemes, this Vtuber takes on the likeness of an Illuminati symbol and discusses how bad businesses go to die, amongst other things.
It goes to show that there’s something out there for everyone on the internet, and you can’t throw a blanket statement on Vtubers.
Anything can be a Vtuber, a gun, a lamp, heck, one can argue that Annoying Orange was the OG virtual YouTuber on the interwebs.
Why do they do this?
Ultimately, Vtubers are content creators expressing themselves on the internet using an avatar with the help of motion capture tech, and speech-to-text-to-speech voice-altering software (sometimes).
They may hide behind a different persona for various reasons, but the bigger one most Vtubers cite is the security and privacy this form of vlogging facilitates.
Vtubing is a unique creative outlet these individuals may otherwise not be exposed to due to anxiety, disabilities, or other reasons.
One Vtuber even spoke out about her personal health condition from a compromised immune system. Her sickness led to a point where human interactions were limited, and she was lonely while stuck in isolation.
“Since I started Vtubing, it brought meaning back to my life again, and I felt human for the first time,” said Ironmouse in an interview with Anthony Padilla. “I feel like I’m finally allowing myself to feel happy and be excited about life because it was really rough.”
For audiences, they’re presented with a form of escapism, and looking at the state of the world right now, it’s no wonder people are appealed to by these characters.
Vtubing in itself provides immense control, freedom, and income stream to creators, and allows them to produce content in whatever way they want (as long as it’s within their agency’s regulations, for those who are part of a group).
The fact that they have a following any up-and-coming creator would be envious of is telling of their success in capturing their own set of fans.
So, maybe, just maybe, I need to be the one who embraces this form of content delivery and keeps up with the times. But my god, I’m still terrified.
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Featured Image Credit: Kizuna AI / Zentreya / Ironmouse / kuzuha blood pack / Inugami Korone