Virtual YouTubers, or VTubers for short, are a type of online performer that have gained immense popularity on various streaming sites since 2016. The phenomenon originated on YouTube, hence the name; however, a large number of VTubers can be found on Twitch as well, and a few can be found on smaller services such as NicoNicoDouga in Japan and bilibili in China. Regardless of the streaming service used, however, "VTuber" has become the default term for this type of performer.note
Unlike virtual celebrities such as Hatsune Miku, the performer behind the VTuber is a real person, but they utilize an animated avatar to represent the character they are portraying. The avatar is "rigged" to move and react as the performer does, utilizing various forms of motion capture software. Both 2D and 3D avatars are used, depending on performer preference and available resources.note
The major appeal of using an animated avatar is that the performer is not constrained by real-world considerations (such as gender or appearance) and they can design their character to be just about anything, although most avatars are still generally humanoid in shape. Also, considering the first VTubers were Japanese and heavily anime-inspired, most who have followed utilize similar elements in their avatars, to varying degrees. Many VTubers also appreciate the level of anonymity using an avatar provides.
The technology behind this has been around for decadesnote , and some early takes on the concept were seen as early as 2011, such as UK-based 'animated' blogger Ami Yamato. However, most fans consider the first "true" VTuber to be Kizuna AI, who debuted on YouTube in 2016. Ai was the first to coin the term "Virtual YouTuber" as part of her greeting. The early VTubers used 3D avatars, and released pre-recorded videos on a regular basis. Following the lead of Nijisanji and hololive, which were established in 2018, later VTubers moved more toward using 2D avatars, as well as shifting toward a live-streaming model.
The VTuber phenomenon came to the attention of western audiences thanks to individuals and groups on YouTube creating translated videos of the Japanese content, several of which went viral. Western fans started supporting their favorite Japanese streamers, as well as creating their own characters on both YouTube and Twitch. In turn, many Japanese VTubers embraced their overseas fans, some studying English so they could communicate with them more readily. hololive established an English-speaking unit in 2020, with Nijisanji following suit in 2021.note
The conventions of VTuber streamers, including English ones, are strongly based on Japanese streaming culture, and include many distinctive elements from there. These include common streaming topics like karaoke streams (Japanese: 歌枠, utawaku, literally "song stream") and free talk streams (Japanese: 雑談, zatsudan), as well as popular non-stream video topics like song covers (typically Vocaloid songs), a result of the influences of karaoke and utaite culture on Japanese streaming.
Related to the utaite subculture, a distinctive subset of VTubers present themselves as Virtual Singers, or VSingers for short. VSingers are functionally VTuber utaite, and their contents prioritize original/cover songs over video game streaming compared to "standard" VTubers.note
In Japan, Virtual YouTubers, along with E-Sports, have also helped to increase (and revitalize) interest in PC gaming in general, and introduce western gaming genres such as First-Person Shooters and Survival Sandbox to a new audience. Besides the fact that it's easier to play games on the same system being used to stream fromnote , the competitiveness, cooperativeness, and high creativity potential found in these types of games has made for some very entertaining Let's Play content.
Related Pages on TV Tropes include:
- Kizuna AI
- Kaguya Luna
- Natsumi Moe
- FalseEyeD's Things VTubers Say
- Ushio Ebi
- Kson On Air
- BryanCroiDragon, alternates between virtual and regular YouTubing.
- Makoto and Akira Misaki were turned into VTubers in 2021, also as a means to gauge interest toward a GGN sequel. Amusingly, they also made a Let's Play of their own game.
- Amanda Lee, who debuted as a VTuber in December 2021 under the name Multiverse Monarch, though she still answers to AmaLee.
- Alejandro Saab, another English voice actor who has taken on a VTuber identity as CyYu.
- Tonkatsu Sinclair, an Affectionate Parody.
Tropes Common to Virtual YouTubers
- Adoptive Peer Parent: It's common for VTubers to call their character designer "papa" or "mama", even if the designer's own avatar looks roughly the same age as their "children". Some of these pairs play up the parent-child aspect for laughs.
- Alter-Ego Acting: The original generation of VTubers fully leaned into fictional acting, but the rise of Nijisanji and their virtual streamer model resulted in most of the scene gradually phasing out of alter-ego acting. These days, while many VTubers are introduced with fictional backstories behind their avatars, and there are those who stay in-character more frequently (e.g. Kizuna Ai), newer VTubers tend to let their real personalities shine through as opposed to strictly playing a fictional character, working elements of their character in at appropriate times.
- Animesque: There are plenty of VTubers outside of Japan utilize an anime avatar. Though, there are also some aversions, sporting a different style from the common anime type.
- Artifact Title: Plenty of VTubers are primarily based on platforms such as Twitch, and some don't use YouTube altogether.
- As Himself: While the vast majority of VTubers use a character avatar with a fully separate identity from their real selves, some VTubers are existing content creators adopting a character avatar under their established identities. These are often people with an existing fanbase who find being a VTuber is a fun way to interact with their fans, with several being artists since they could just illustrate their own digital avatars. Some of the more active ones in VTuber circles include freelance illustrator Shigure Ui, hentai artist Itou Life, and The Elder Sister-like One mangaka Iida Pochi.
- Badass Adorable: Most VTubers are going for some variation on "cute" with their designs and presentation, but this does nothing to stop them wading into very tough and/or violent games and frequently triumphing.
- Bland-Name Product: Twitch prefers to used the more generic "virtual streamer" to describe these streamers.
- Cross-Dressing Voices:
- Babiniku, short for "Virtual Bishoujo Juniku" (Virtual Girl Incarnation), are Vtubers with a female avatar and a male voice actor. While some, like Tomari Mari, use a voice changer or increase the pitch of their voice to match their avatar, others, like Nojaloli who first popularised the concept, just stick with their normal voice for the full Vocal Dissonance.
- On the Recursive Crossdressing end, there is Inuyama Tamaki, a male cross-dressing as a female who is voiced by Norio Tsukudani, the female mangaka of Himegoto.
- Crossover: VTubers often collaborate with one another, especially for multi-player games such as Minecraft, Among Us, Ark, Apex or Fall Guys.
- Descended Creator: Once in a while, a VTuber character designer can become a VTuber themselves, if they weren't already one before then. This is the case for Ui Shigure, who became a VTuber at Subaru Oozora's request, and Nabi Aoi, who got enough encouragement from her "daughters" Amelia Watson and Uto Amatsuka to start a Youtube herself.
- Digital Avatar: The type and design of these vary.
- Early Installment Weirdness: Often the persona of a vtuber in their debut will be wildly different to that they adopt later, usually as a result of becoming more comfortable streaming and letting other aspects of their personality show. A common activity for vtubers (frequently as an anniversary celebration) is to watch their debut streams back and compare it to how they act now.
- Elite Four: The "Four Heavenly Kings" OGs: Kizuna AI, Kaguya Luna, Mirai Akari, Dennou Shojo Siro and Nojaloli (Siro being added to the group slightly later than the others, hence why the "Four Heavenly Kings" consist of five people). Due to the gap in subscriber counts between Ai and the others, some Japanese fans set her apart from the "Four Heavenly Kings", referring to her as "Oyabun" ("boss"). This has the advantage of keeping the Four Kings at four.
- Fan Sub: A staple for western fans of Japanese VTubers, since most of their streams are not given official translations.
- Fantasy Kitchen Sink: An avatar can be just about any sort of character, as long as it can be rigged to follow the performer's movements. This leads to a wide variety of characters and concepts across the board. How much "lore" each avatar has, and how much the performer keeps to it, varies.
- Gratuitous English: Often used by Japanese VTubers, sometimes to better communicate with overseas fans, sometimes for comedic purposes.
- Gratuitous Japanese: Lots of Japanese lingo, both from Japanese VTuber/general idol culture and particular verbal tics of specific characters, is a mainstay of the fans' vocabulary, such as oshi, DD (short "daredemo daisuki", fan with no dedication to specific stars) and so on.
- Idol Singer: There are some similarities between certain VTubers (especially Japanese performers with a focus on singing) and more traditional idols, and some shared terms (such as "graduation" for when a VTuber discontinues performing), but overall the connection is weak. Over time it has become more of a joke that Vtubers are suppose to be Idol like or seiso(wholesome/pure) then actually being seiso.
- hololive in particular started off advertising itself as a group of "virtual idols" and expected talent to behave accordingly (idol culture in Japan is very restrictive of their behaviour in public), but this stance weakened when they found their talents were attracting more viewers when given freedom to perform, and it is difficult to keep up an immaculate image when talking for hours on end in any event.
- One remnant of idol culture, amongst Japanese VTubers at least, is a reticence by female performers to do collabs with their male counterparts. Most fans couldn't care less, but there have been times where such a collab has resulted in some backlash from certain fans. Hololive no longer bans such collabs, but they still don't occur very often between their Japanese talents. It is also rare for mainstream VTubers to discuss openly any romantic relationships they have even if they are quite open about their real family or friendships.
- There are groups that are explicitly intended to be virtual idols, such as GEMS COMPANY.
- Improbably Female Cast: The majority of VTubers you will likely run across are female. There are a steadily growing number of male VTubers, but they're still vastly outnumbered by the massive assortment of females. It seems as though Hololive was aware of this when establishing their male branch of VTubers.
- Kayfabe: While most VTuber streamers don't perform much Alter-Ego Acting and aren't acting out a fictional persona, the few streamers that actually do so requires the audience's maintenance of their Willing Suspension of Disbelief to believe that fictional characters are performing live streams. Commonly, the streamer's Out Of Character Moments are re-integrated back into the fictional character's lore by both the streamer and the audience, often in ludicrous ways to generate comedy value.
- Let's Play: A popular category of content, especially for VTubers on Twitch.
- Secret Identity: Virtual YouTubers operating under identities separate from their standard online identities typically take great care to prevent possible leaks of their alternate online identities. While reliable speculations on VTubers pre-existing online identities are common, the fandom strongly respects the secret identity and generally avoids discussing these speculations within the fandom. Meanwhile, content producers who adopted VTuber avatars under their pre-existing online identities have no such issues.
- Agencies who own the avatar characters, such as Hololive and Nijisanji, always treat their streamers as their avatars.
- Some VTubers like Inuyama Tamaki parody the concept by "officially" having their VTuber identities separate from their established content creator identities (Norio Tsukudani for Tamaki), but intentionally do a terrible job at keeping the secret while remaining in-character and insist that the two identities are separate people.
- Surprisingly Good English:
- Some Japanese VTubers speak English very well; agency examples include hololive's Kiryu Coco and Akai Haato, Nijisanji's Hoshikawa Sara, Yumeoi Kakeru, and Genzuki Tojiro, and VOMS's Amano Pikamee.
- Outside of Japan, most Indonesian VTubers (Hololive, Nijisanji and otherwise) are fluent in English or close to it, as the language is a very common second language in the country.
- Surprisingly Good Foreign Language:
- After it turned out that Hina Misora was fluent in Spanish, several Spanish-speaking v-tubers have sprung up with the aim of catering to the Spaniard and Latin American fandom, including Hana Yomeguri and Luna Rurine.
- While the VTuber culture took off in Japan, a good number of non-native Japanese VTubers are fairly familiar with the language and can speak fluently. Kiara Takanashi and IRyS, both from Hololive, are two of the few members in the entire organisation who are fully bilingual in English and Japanese, seamlessly transitioning from one language to the other if needed.