VTubing has exploded in the English-speaking anime community over the past year. While it began long ago, the growth seemed to start off with translations of clips from the more popular members of the Japanese agency Hololive. Nowadays not only are there official English Hololive streamers, but a number of other agencies and independent VTubers have popped up, many targetting the English-speaking audience.
While I usually focus on visual novels, a surprising amount of the people involved in VTubing are involved in visual novels too, either as part of the industry or as fans. I went out to speak to some of them, as well as others to try and find out more.
What are these VTubers?
It’s easy to explain VTubers as streamers who use an animated anime avatar instead of showing their face. While correct, it wouldn’t really encompass what a VTuber is. Almost anything I say would be true about streaming too, but there’s certainly a different emphasis and culture around it.
For example, a lot of streamers do art and sing live, as well as playing games or talking. While many streamers don’t openly admit it, many also put on a character while on air, whether an exaggerated version of themselves or someone completely different. The majority of streamers seem to focus almost purely on gaming though, with a side of chatting to the audience.
VTubers are more likely to put on an obvious character, though this isn’t always the case. This can involve a more fantasy-themed backstory, such as being a princess or a vampire, and can involve a voice changer or voice acting. While gaming is still a frequent activity for most, singing and art seem more common than with typical streamers. There are ties to the Japanese idol culture, with several VTubers connecting more to that idea, rather than the idea of being a streamer. It seems that everyone has different thoughts on the topic though.
A quickly growing Japanese VTuber called @osushichan6 described her VTuber persona as like a stand from Jojo’s Bizzare Adventure in her case. @surasaucey said it’s “anyone who creates a virtual persona or character and creates content whether that be media of any form or community engagement”. @ShimigamiEN added that “a VTuber is someone who uses a character of some sort as a stand in in place of themselves on stream or video” without limit on the type of model or image used. She added that the ‘models are excellent for those who want to remain private or help combat body dysphoria’. While each person asked echoed some aspects, they each had at least a slightly different take on it.
Lewd content seems quite frequent in the VTubing world too. This is fairly frequent with regular streamers too, with constant complaints about big streamers on Twitch breaking the rules about it. Anecdotally I’ve found it much more often while looking at VTubers though. Most VTubers I’ve asked about this feel comfortable with it, even if not participating themselves. @osushichan6 advised “If you like to be lewd do it, but don’t do it because you think it will get more followers”, though she did warn of danger for underage people.
Benefits of VTubing
The obvious benefit of being a VTuber is for those with privacy concerns or anxiety about showing their face on stream. This lets those people still express themselves with some of the benefits that a camera feed would provide.
One of the people we spoke to was an upcoming Vtuber called Juniper (@uwudesuuu). They had tried regular streaming but desired to start as a VTuber due to their love of anime, singing, and composing music. They said that the really appealing thing about being a VTuber is that they can play out their true self or an idealized version of themselves and use that to entertain others and have fun while doing it. @osushichan6 said “Being a Vtuber let me express my art and my emotions freely”, which feels along the same lines.
Challenges of VTubing
VTubing comes with its own challenges of course. Juniper (@uwudesuuu) noted that being able to choose any concept for their character was appealing, but a challenge in itself. They also had concerns about having to keep their real identity secret even from their family, as leaks could spell disaster. Considering that some high-profile VTubers have been doxxed, it seems like an understandable concern.
One challenge which seems insurmountable for some is the artwork.
Art and Mechanics
Many VTubers use Live2D models for their avatar, though some use 3D models and some just use an image of their character, particularly when starting out. If you’re from a visual novel background as many of our readers are, Live2D might sound familiar. It’s used to animate characters in some visual novels and games like Azur Lane. It’s similar but not to be confused with the E-Mote engine used in titles like Nekopara and Tokyo School Life.
Many VTubers are artists themselves and it makes sense. Juniper (@uwudesuuu) for example said they use their own art for everything when we interviewed her, though they mentioned paying for a piece of art when I last caught her live on Twitch. They stated that really good models can cost up to $1,000 for the art and rigging – my own research found even more expensive options, but this seemed a fair average. While they were limited to using a picture when we spoke to them instead of a model, they were quite positive about it, seeing it as a chance to hone their own skills.
I asked around for VTubers who weren’t artists. Even then many of the respondents were artists, but not confident in their art or could do certain things, but not full models. Only a few other VTubers who responded genuinely had no art skills. Many of them pay artists for their models and other artwork needs, with many giving feedback about commissioned artists here. I reached out to a few artists working on VTubers to get their perspectives.
@ashusocs is an artist. When we spoke to them some time back, they said outside of their more standard art, they were just getting into Live 2D. When we first spoke to them, they were working on a character called Leaf – their first VTuber model and their introduction to the VTuber community as well as a way to learn the software. They said that “It’s definitely not a type of program that you can hop into right away. I still have to watch tutorials every few steps. But I think once you learn it would be really convenient to make the models there”. While they were still at the beginning of their journey when we interviewed them, they said they were hoping to get to the point of taking commissions in the future.
@osushichan6 is an illustrator and made their own Live2D model. They actually became a VTuber because they were commissioned to make a character for a VTuber who wanted to become a VTuber. Despite their success, her debut as a VTuber was originally for research purposes. They had only streamed a couple of times before.
Talking to someone else in the industry, @Myukuni is a professional in character design, an illustrator, and works with Live2D animation. They’ve worked with games and on VTuber packages too. They said that their first rig took them about a month and had a lot of beginner’s mistakes. They only started to feel proficient after they had a chance to work for four full months on it due to a game project.
Despite @Myukuni being an incredible artist, it seems that the Live2D rigging is very much a separate skill and not one that is easy to learn. It has paid off in their case though as the quality shown in their example videos seems incredibly high and they’re able to take commissions, which can be seen here.
I’ve noticed a number of VTuber agencies and small groups appear recently. These vary in scope, but essentially employ, provide support for or just group together several VTubers. The one that first came to my attention was virtualityproject as it’s connected to Studio Elan/Studio Coattails, who are behind several successful visual novels such as Highway Blossoms.
Speaking to Rayes, the manager of an agency called HimawariLive said this about them: “The benefits of Himawari and other small agencies is that they can offer some kind of structure to the talents they are bringing on. As well as helping them grow and succeed in doing something that they love doing. While meeting new friends along the way”. Nomistar said it was a chance for recognition in the community.
When asking agencies what they look for in Vtubers, Rayes from HimawariLive said “There’s no one thing that makes a VTuber “good” they are all good in their own way”. That said, when looking at their application form, it seemed to emphasize voice acting ability. Virtualityproject said they were looking for a broad range of content, but most importantly how the streamers engage with chat. Nomistar looked at how often the talents could stream and what assets they already had ready. Interestingly they did not take voices into consideration at all, having no part of the application requiring the talents to talk.
VTuber agencies do seem quite competitive. For example, virtualityproject had over 150 applicants in the first wave but only accepted 5. This is not too surprising as they assist heavily from help with character design to finding the illustrator, along with having connections for things like merchandise and promotion. Even some smaller agencies that offered nothing but collaboration had over 100 applicants though.
One topic that often comes up in the community is the lack of male-presenting VTubers. All agencies I spoke to said they would accept male applicants and have had them, but none I spoke to have accepted any with one exception. Nomistar had several male VTubers and specifically took an even mix of genders into consideration when choosing, but have unfortunately since disbanded.
Advice to VTubers
I asked the people I spoke to if they had any advice for upcoming VTubers.
@osushichan6 said “This is what I have learned. Just keep on grinding and have a positive attitude. I see many VTubers posting sad tweets because they have a small community or don’t have many followers. If you work hard the numbers will eventually come, and you need to remember why you became a VTuber. For me, It’s because I wanted to level up my art skills. If I’m accomplishing that, I’m ok. I don’t really worry about followers. Good luck”.
Osushichan6 has kept growing since and has a wonderful community.
@surasaucey said “Interact with everyone! participate in things like png drops and promotions and be sure to comment on others’ tweets! Tag your posts if you can. Do promotions such as png drops and raffles. If you have experience with any creative media, take advantage of it! If you can draw, draw! If you can make music, do it! Finding a way to utilize your skills in a helpful way will greatly help you grow”.
I initially spoke to Sura because I noticed she was brilliant at social media and was growing much quicker on Twitter than most of her fellow VTubers at the time.
On the agency side, Rayes from Himawari gave this advice: “Be prepared to put in the time to grow, you won’t succeed overnight. You might get one viewer and that might discourage you from continuing but don’t let it. 1 can turn into 5 … 5 into 15. Just be yourself, connect and grow with the community”.
To finish off, I’ll add my own small piece of advice. When you tweet on Twitter, use the hashtags #VTuber, #ENVTuber, and #VTuberUprising. Our @VTuberTweeter bot automatically retweets many of these which help to expose new VTubers to an audience. Many people check these hashtags too. You might also be able to glean some tips from this story of a Twitch Partner’s journey or these thoughts on Twitter growth.
I’d just like to add a thank you here to all of the VTubers and agency staff who took the time to talk to me. In addition, thank you to all of the VTuber’s who have images featured here. I asked for the community to send me images for this and they came out in force.
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A gamer since the days of Amstrad and DOS and someone who has dabbled in a variety of professions. He enjoys a wide variety of genres, but has been focusing on visual novels and virtual reality in recent years. Head Editor of NookGaming. Follow him and the website on @NookSite.