For quite some time, I have successfully lived in my own mystical internet cocoon, wrapped in my own digital silk, only barely aware of the fluttering shapes and sounds of the content engagement farms now far outside the reception of my willingly atrophied eyes. But every so often, I inadvertently focus my vision just enough that I manage to stare deep into the blood-curdling manifestation of a new beast, one that beckons to me, shambles close to my frail body with its unspeakable form. And for the crime of gazing upon its abhorrent visage, I am punished with an insatiable curiosity for all that is contained within its monstrous face.
So, it was with much reluctance that I threw myself down the endless rabbit hole of the VTuber, the phenomenon sweeping the streaming landscape. You may have heard of them, either out of context or seeing a reaction video of some bimbofied doe-eyed 12 year old being taught to say FUCK! by the Twitch chat. To sum up ‘VTuber’ in a sentence, it is a computer-generated overlay, created using motion-capture software and predictive algorithms to create what is near-uniformly a high school-aged Big Tittied Anime Girl to serve as the streamer’s avatar, even affecting a high-pitched voice in real-time. In short, Disney’s 2004 hit Pixel Perfect, except if their star figure was (usually) designed by DeviantArt fetish artists, though probably not those behind the inflation porn. With this persona, they go on streaming platforms and simply ‘be.’ They react, they chat to viewers, and they hope to elicit some enjoyment from the process.
The title of Virtual Youtuber is somewhat of a misnomer, and I should be clear, not explicitly fetish-related. They are not explicitly ‘fake,’ for there are many people behind the process—editors, coders, designers, voice artists, and more are creating the persona’s look, and in many cases, the base personalities of the streamer themselves are still there. They have just chosen, for reasons ranging from aesthetic tastes, anonymity preservation or settling into their gender identity and more, to become an Asuka Langley clone who plays Fortnite, and they’re happy.
Enter Hololive Production, a Japanese company dedicated to the creation and promotion of hologram starlets not dissimilar in style and mannerisms of the Korean girl groups promoted by companies like YG, JYP, SM, and more. They are one of the major companies involved in the rapidly—to the tune of billions of dollars in just a few years—growing VTuber industry. Though in practice, their goal echoes the Hollywood studio system of old, and in particular, the MGM practice of plucking nobodies from the aether and spinning gods out of them. Making Marilyn out of Norma Jean. Hololive does not deal in real people, however. There is nothing to pluck, just polygons to animate. There is no person at the heart of things, other than what the creative team puts together, and who is hired to draw the character and occasionally voice them. Even Marilyn Monroe was a person, no matter all the allure the studio put upon her. With the VTuber, there is nothing but the product—but who is the audience, and what is it trying to sell?
The key audience is, quite simply, the lonely. People who just can’t ‘make it.’ Those who have little time for anything more than their job, or don’t quite have the tools for engaging with people, all they want is to just hear people talk. It is such a broken buzzword these days, but this is one form of parasocial entertainment. We all have the need to be comforted, to be acknowledged, told that we matter and are desirable and can be a special little part of someone’s world. The key appeal of streaming culture is to deny a small part of the crushing feeling of isolation we increasingly feel nowadays, to feel as if you are directly viewing and talking to someone you believe you truly know, and perhaps, even belong to. These people are your friends, and with an increasing lack of inhibition and self-delusion, perhaps even one of certain intimate closeness. Consume, and perhaps you will find love. None of this is remotely an original observation, obviously! I’m just trying to lay out an idea for how things currently are.
Many streamers fake ignorance to this issue as a profitable model, or decry the obsession people can develop with them. This is mainly so the money train doesn’t get derailed, as acknowledging the central tenet of their profit model would be fucking stupid. But perhaps the most novel thing about VTubers, rather than the technology that brings them to life, is that they don’t need to deny this reality. They make their own. They ‘exist’ as the perfect crossroads between streaming culture, stan culture and the idol culture it derives from, surpassing its composite parts. All with a healthy dollop of plausibly deniable fetish culture to keep the juices flowing.
More people are coming to realise just how much content they initially are confused by are simply just fetish content with the serial codes filed off—you know those insane videos of that woman making food in her toilet, for example? Mashing potatoes with her feet? Content farms for fetish porn, all of them. All roads lead back to cum. And many VTubers exist for this same purpose, except since they lack a physical form, they are subjected to less scrutiny than their human counterparts. Kiryu Coco, the most successful Hololive product of the current era, is a great example of this—her backstory is that she is a 3000 year old dragon that prefers to live in the body of a human, a teenager who keeps a reminder of her original form by wearing a dragon tail buttplug. She also has tits that would break the spine of an Olympic bodybuilder. And she is one of the tamer examples.
The idol factory method it bases its production scheme on still has to deal with real flesh and blood, and all the problems that come from trying to sell sex with a human that is inversely supposed to be inherently sexless, and all the efforts that go into keeping the normal desires of their idols suppressed entirely. In this way, it has surpassed the idol and the Disney starlet entirely. It can sidestep all the issues of exploitation of the artist, since after all, it’s just a computer program.
No, the exploited one is the viewer. It’s so tacky to use the word parasocial now, but really. The VTuber as envisioned by groups like Hololive is perfectly tailored for this concept—each creative figure is only a small part of the process, and the product itself has no desires, no issues like a secret boyfriend or that great mark of evil in the eyes of fans, a sex drive. It only exists for you, and perhaps certain segments of the Mt. Eden Correctional Facility. The great success of VTubers is that they can satisfy every need of the fan, with all their desperate needs to feel noticed, without ever being subjected to the punishment of having a body to weigh them down. They can connect, without ever being connected. Watch this space, it’s only the beginning.