LILLY WEBBER WRITES — Virtual YouTubers, or VTubers, are on the rise throughout the international gaming and streaming industry.
Originating in Japan, VTubers are typically Japanese entrepreneurs who primarily stream games online for an audience of viewers. However, unlike some streamers, all VTubers are represented by a 2D or 3D digital avatar and uptake an internet personality. To help bring these characters to life, VTubers typically use various FaceRig software that tracks their expressions and project it onto the character they represent.
The first big popular VTuber was Kizuna Ai, who debuted in 2016 and is managed by the digital production company Activ8. Following her successful debut, the VTuber industry took off — as many other individuals sought to replicate her success. While Kizuna Ai remains popular with 2.85 million followers, many dedicated fans have moved on to support other less commercial VTubers, primarily those contracted by the VTuber talent agency Hololive, a subdivision of Cover Corp.
Considered more authentic than Kizuna Ai by many fans, Hololive boasts some of the most popular VTubers who have taken the internet by storm. Despite the language barrier for many overseas fans, the Hololive Vtuber fanbase has thrived, likely due to unofficial fan translations. In response to the rise of dedicated oversea viewers, Hololive debuted their newest division of VTubers — dubbed Hololive Myth or Hololive En — who unlike past generations, primarily use English.
Their most popular internet personalities include Korone Inugami, Akai Haato, and Kiryu Coco. Out of the top-earning VTubers internationally, seven of them belong to Hololive, with Kiryu Coco ranking first. During a VTuber’s stream, dedicated fans will often send Superchats, paid messages that allow fans to stick out and hopefully gain the attention of their favorite streamer. While Kiryu Coco only recently debuted in December of 2019, Anime News Networks reports that so far she has earned an approximate 85 million yen, which translates to 810,000 dollars in American currency. However, Akai Haato and Kiryu Coco have recently been a subject of controversy, as the two in a now-deleted stream mentioned Taiwan when discussing their Google analytics, who had reported that a percentage of their viewers originated in the country.
Following the streams, both VTubers were banned from the Chinese mainland video steaming app Bilibili and plagued by harassment by alleged Chinese viewers, who posted an estimated 16,00 messages demanding that the two to be fired from their roles. Their harassment even extended to the mass spamming of insults in their YouTube streams. Now, why would mentioning Taiwan be such an issue?
The relationship between the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan has long been strained, especially concerning the subject of Taiwan’s sovereignty. The Chinese government does not recognize Taiwan as an independent nation, whereas the latter believes itself to be its own self-governing state. In response to the issue, both VTubers were placed on a three-week suspension by Hololive, who claimed only to want to protect them from further harassment and protect their careers. Following the notice of their three-week suspension, both individuals and the agency issued apologies for their alleged insensitivity.
But many fans feel their punishment was too extreme: that the girls’ actions were unintentional as they were only using Google’s own provided analytics, and that Hololive was bending to the will of the Chinese government as referenced in the image above. While Akai Haato and Kiryu Coco are to resume their activities on October 19th, how they will be treated by Chinese viewers once they return remains uncertain.
Lilly Webber is a recent graduate of Loyola Marymount University, where she majored in International Relations and Asian and Pacific Studies. During her college experience, she studied US-Japanese diplomatic relations and the exchange of culture between the two nations. She now resides in Santa Cruz, California, where she continues her studies independently and is the proud mother of two cats. Additional articles written by Lilly are accessible on Asia Media International, and she is available to be contacted via LinkedIn.