Nobody is real on YouTube. Everyone is a persona of their true self.Ami Yamato
Last time, we talked about a fad that’s so niche that it died with a whisper in the wind. This time, we’ll talk about something that actually blew up and became popular…within its own niche demographic.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, virtual YouTubers.
Virtual YouTubers, in the words of the r/VirtualYoutubers subreddit, are online entertainers that use a digital avatar generated using computer graphics. You heard that right, 3D graphics unlike regular YouTubers who use noD technology (or 5D technology if you’re that anal retentive about dimensions and shit).
Now before you go ahead and start simping for these virtual youtubers or “vtubers” as weebs would like to call them, let’s take a look back at how this trend even got started and how it blew up to be this big phenomenon we see nowadays.
Act I. The First Virtual YouTubers
Now before we go into how the phenomenon blew up, let’s go back to the past. Like Internet Bloodsports, virtual YouTubing has its own, well, muddied past but not as confusing as IBS’s was. See, typing “first vtuber” on your Google machine would immediately give you Kizuna AI, formerly of Activ8, who came into prominence the same year guys like Tonkasaw exploded (2018), having a virtual avatar on YouTube isn’t that new of a concept.
The first virtual YouTuber (or at least in that sense) is hard to exactly pinpoint out because there are possible candidates as to who really was the first one.
.For one, there’s Ami Yamato, a UK-based Japanese vlogger who started using a 3D avatar as early as 2011 but she’s considered more as a virtual influencer than a virtual YouTuber.
Then there’s Eilene (pronounced as ey-leen) who debuted before AI by at least a year or so (For reference, Eilene debuted on March 3rd, 2014. AI debuted on November 29th, 2016). Some would even say that The Annoying Orange, of all people, was the “first vtuber” but we all know that’s just someone’s rrat (or narrative as per the people at 4chan’s newly established /vt/ board).
For all intents and purposes though, we’ll use Kizuna AI as the jumping point of “virtual YouTubing” as AI was the first one to define what a “virtual YouTuber” is in the modern context, meaning girls (or boys) who play video games on stream and that’s something that Vtuber companies are banking on with the sudden popularity of Kizuna AI with the Japanese plus the already niche audience that compromises the rest of the world.
Time for the Vtuber “Monday Night Wars” to kick into high gear.
Act II. Hololive vs NIJISANJI: The Vtuber Monday Night Wars
Now that the stage has been set, it’s time for the virtual YouTubing fad to explode into the “mainstream” and I am using that term loosely because while at this point, the “outside world” is still lingering from the loss of Filthy Frank during this time period and focusing their attention on the likes of the Paul Brothers and H3H3, and while a small sector still reeling from the death of Internet Bloodsports thanks to Metokur, an even smaller section of YouTube’s user base is witnessing the rise of two companies whose names who will be eternally associated with vtubers.
Enter: Cover Corp. and ANYCOLOR.
Cover Corp. was established by one Motoaki Tanigo, or most known by Hololive fans as “YAGOO”, back in June 13, 2016 as a startup company providing virtual reality and augmented reality services for other companies. The development of a real-time avatar motion capture software around 2017 would change their trajectory (and fortunes) as on September 7, 2017, Tokino Sora was born.
So where did the “hololive” name came from? Well, do you know the hololy app they have on Google Play Store? Hololive was first used as the name of the app itself and somewhere after the release of the first generation of Cover vtubers (Aki Rosenthal, Natsuiro Matsuri, HAACHAMA (aka Akai Haato), Shirakami Fubuki, and Hitomi Chris), they decided to change the name of the app from Hololive to Hololy, and thus the Hololive production company was born.
As of this writing, Cover has spawned:
Six generations of Japanese female vtubers under the Hololive brand (this includes Inugami Korone and Nekomata Okayu of Hololive Gamers as well as AZKi of Inonaka Music).
Three generations of Japanese male vtubers under the Holostars brand.
Two generations of English-speaking vtubers under the sub-brand Hololive English (this also includes the Vsinger IRyS under Project HOPE).
Two generations of multilingual Southeast Asian vtubers under Hololive Indonesia.
Comparing it to its contemporaries, especially with Anycolor’s NIJISANJI brand and VShojo, Cover’s vtubers are producing more “family friendly” content than the rest and this has something to do with YAGOO’s vision of producing “virtual idols”, something that fans, especially from the Hololive contingent, to have mocked and derided over the years as their vtubers, sometimes, have behaviors that are anything but idol-like.
In a way, one can consider Cover, especially the Hololive brand, the New Japan Pro Wrestling of vtubing because outside of some niche circles (and Japan), they’re the most recognized brand internationally due to the successes with the likes of Gawr Gura and Usada Pekora.
Cover has its own share of controversies, and the biggest ones so far involve two entities: Nintendo and the People’s Republic of China when two of its vtubers mentioned that Taiwan is not part of the People’s Republic of China.
All in all, Cover Corp. is the more mainstream brand out of the two, that when people think of vtubers, they think of Hololive.
Now onto the other side of the war, enter Anycolor.
Formerly known as Ichikara and established on May 1st, 2017 when it’s owner, Riku Tazumi, was 21 years old and in university, Anycolor is the force behind the NIJISANJI project which started back in February 2018, a year after Tokino Sora’s birth.
If you want to talk about technicalities, upd8 was the first vtuber agency with Kizuna Ai and pals but out of the two (being Hololive and NIJISANJI), NIJI was the one to market itself not as an idol production group but a virtual youtuber agency from the very start.
The first vtubers under the NIJISANJI brand are Moira, Suzuya Aki, Shibuya Hajime, Higuchi Kaede, Yuki Chihiro, Elu, Shizuka Rin, and the breakout star of the group, Tsukino Mito.
As of this writing, Anycolor’s NIJISANJI so far has produced:
107 virtual youtubers under its Japanese wing (formerly split into groups but merged into one unit back in December of 2018).
42 vtubers under the VirtuaReal brand. VirtualReal is a joint project with the Chinese streaming platform Bilibili to promote Anycolor in China.
19 vtubers under the South Korean wing. The Korean wing of NIJISANJI was announced back in December of 2019.
19 vtubers under the Indonesian wing. It predated Hololive’s Indonesian branch by at least a year.
10 vtubers under the English-speaking wing and the most popular one out of the all the NIJISANJI wings overseas.
Compared to their counterparts at Cover Corp., NIJISANJI vtubers have more freedom, in a sense, when it comes to what can and can’t be said live on stream and that appeals to a lot of people who are already tired of Hololive’s song and dance.
Another factor that contributes to NIJISANJI’s popularity with the vtuber fanbase is that they’re a co-ed company and that would mean male and female vtubers can interact with each other, thereby providing unique work dynamic within its performers.
With that said, it seems that the NIJISANJI project’s biggest source of fandom is in its hometown, Japan while they’re struggling to get popularity everywhere else until the introduction of NIJISANJI’s English wing.
It seems that Cover’s Hololive project had took advantage with their popularity with the Western fanbase with the likes of Inugami Korone starting to interact more with the EOPs (English Only Peasants in /vt/ terms) as well as with the Hololive project’s smaller roster at the time compared to NIJISANJI’s almost bloated roster at the time thereby making it much easier for people outside Japan to latch on to Hololive’s vtubers.
NIJISANJI’s more niche appeal also plays a factor why the Hololive project became more known outside Japan and there are a lot of reasons that can be attributed to that observation. Such is with the way how the two companies handle promotions.
With how Cover Corp. promotes its talents (and I am just talking about Hololive here because it seems that Holostars has its own separate universe), the Hololive girls are spread thinly as not only do their vtubers stream, they also perform in short skits that are being featured on Hololive’s main channel, and they also are tapped by the Cover Corp. promotional machine and with partnerships ranging from Yostar (creators of Arknights, Azur Lane, and Blue Archive) to Nissin, a lot of eyes are tuned in to Hololive’s vtubers more than NIJISANJI’s.
In short, if Cover’s NJPW/Bushiroad, Anycolor is the equivalent of Pro Wrestling NOAH/CyberAgent in this war and the numbers do show that comparison.
These screenshots from Playboard.co and 4chan’s /vt/ board shows how dominant the Hololive brand is but it also shows how much people are opening their eyes into the NIJISANJI brand after the introduction of vtubers like Pomu Rainpuff and Finana Ryugu of the English wing.
Act III. The Indies Come Marching In
With the success of the both Cover and Anycolor with their endeavors, the whole world caught up with the rising trend of virtual anime avatars streaming video games and thus this opened the floodgates for other enterprising individuals to cash in and start their own vtuber production companies.
Let us take a look at some of these companies that decided to follow into the footsteps Cover and Anycolor took.
As of December of 2021, their roster consists of:
Established back in February of this year (according to their Twitter page), KoMETA is an up-and-coming Filipino company that focuses on virtual YouTubers and the first one recognized by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
Not much is known about the company as it has just been established this year, but in my personal opinion, I believe this is the first time a legitimate Filipino company took a stab in to vtubing.
It’s great to see that the already niche audience embraced them with wide open arms and I believe it’s the only one that uses YouTube as their primary streaming platform as other Filipino Vtubers like SaySayVT use Facebook Live as their platform as it is more accessible to the majority of Filipinos, which are not that much into virtual YouTubers in the first place.
As of December of 2021, their roster consists of:
The only American company that is large enough to take on Cover Corp.’s popularity on the Western Hemisphere, it was established by Justin “theGunrun” Ignacio and Phillip “Mowtendoo” Fortunat back in August of 2020.
Unlike other vtuber companies, the first crop of VShojo vtubers are personalities that were already established names in the streaming/YouTube world with the likes of Nyanners and Projekt Melody. In fact, the only new vtuber that came with the VShojo crew was Hime Hajime.
Another thing that differentiates VShojo from the other companies is that it’s a talent-first cooperative wherein the talents have free reign on the design choices of their avatars.
They’re also the only ones we know so far that uses Twitch as their primary platform for streaming instead of YouTube so some semblance of “Twitch thot behavior” might be present and VShojo is not for everybody who wanted to watch vtubers as some of the streams can go into the “YouTube After Dark” territory.
Name: VOMS Project
As of December of 2021, the VOMS roster includes:
You can say that they’re the third largest player within the Japanese vtuber scene or you might say that the one-woman show that is Kson ON AIR has a much larger impact to the vtuber scene as a whole (both as Kiryu Coco of Hololive and herself), there’s no denying that VOMS Project is one of the more popular indie vtuber groups that came out of Japan.
Initially designed to be a one-person project by Hajime Hagiri, also known as GYARI and Cocoa Cigarette-P within the Vocaloid scene, the Vox Monsters Project was announced back on the 9th of September, 2019 on Hagiri’s GYARI Twitter account.
After a series of interviews from September to November however, he decided to make VOMS a trio instead of his initial plan of a one-person show.
Like the America-based VShojo, VOMS Project members are not bound into restrictive contracts but are independent vtubers with no restrictions when it comes to scheduling (they just need to stream at least once a week as per agreement with GYARI) and stream content. GYARI also retains merchandising rights for VOMS so he has the right to create merch around the talent.
As far as popularity goes, VOMS vtubers (especially Pikamee) are most clipped vtubers outside of the Cover/Anycolor circle with Pikamee seeing what Coco/Kson is doing and tried her hand with a little bit of pandering to the English-speaking vtuber fanbase.
Act IV. The One-Person Shows
Not all virtual YouTubers are under some sort of an agency or group, there are these one-person shows that can deliver entertainment as great as those within the vtuber agencies.
Kson ON AIR
Probably the most popular one out of the one-person show vtubers, she is basically June Lovejoy if June had a bit of Japanese blood in her and went full gonzo with online content creation instead of going with JAV.
Kson’s origins started not with streaming but with going the Pewdiepie/DarksydePhil route of doing let’s plays with her first ever video being the first part of a playthough of SIREN: A New Translation for the PlayStation 3 back in 2016 on her Niconico Douga channel.
A year later, she started debuting the character Kson-sensei who taught English slang and swear words to the Japanese. Think of it as June’s “Ecchi na Eikaiwai” series but with less lewd words and more rude stuff. Her vtuber ventures won’t start until November 16, 2018 with the debut of her first 3D model on a video promoting ARK.
Now let’s go to the elephant in the room when it comes to Kson and how Cover Corp is somewhat involved in this. See, in Cover’s Hololive production, there was this vtuber named Kiryu Coco who almost has the same voice, almost has the same gangster based gimmick (Kson’s is based on the bosozoku motif, Coco’s has a more yakuza like approach), and has the same “half-American, half-Japanese” thing going on with them, most of the rrat finders would put two and two together and have the conclusion that Kiryu Coco IS Kson.
With that rrat propelling Coco’s popularity to the mainstream, when Kiryu Coco retired from active vtubing with the Hololive brand, most of Coco’s tatsunokos flocked over to Kson’s channel and thus became one of the most subscribed one-person show vtubers the world has ever seen.
If the rrat is to be believed, Kson bringing in her gimmick shows during her Kiryu Coco days also served to give her independent vtuber revival a jumpstart at popularity starting with the fourth iteration of “The Meme Review Show” wherein she reviews memes submitted by fans. Yes, I said fourth because Anthony Fantano did it first and HAACHAMA’s meme reviews don’t count as a show iteration.
The second one to come into the Kson repertoire from the Kiryu Coco show database is Good Morning Motherf…I mean Good Morning My Fans. A retooling of the sometimes controversial Asacoco News wherein Kiryu Kson re-enacts a Japanese morning news broadcast. If Kson-sensei is “Ecchi na Eikaiwai” without the ecchi, GMMF is “The Soyless Matt Show” in Japanese without the JAJAJAJAs and the more dangerous for YouTube swearwords (if I get another YouTuber reference here, I’ll win a free ice cream).
I’ve already covered a bit of Kaheru earlier this year when she guested Day 2 of FanFes 2021 together with the now deceased (in Vtuber Land) Lyrica.
The Kaheru lore states that she lives in a trashcan a la Oscar the Grouch and she desires to be the very best (meme master) like no one ever was.
She also does drawing, gaming, song covers, as well as voice impressions but has claimed that she only does it as a hobby and if it is a hobby, it’s quite an interesting one and a weird one at the same time.
When we talk about the history of virtual YouTubing here in the Philippines, she, Purin of Tsunderia, and the late Lyrica are the first ones to come in mind in the pre-KoMETA era as they’re the ones who pioneered vtubing in the Philippines.
I would also like to reiterate what I said about Kaheru during her FanFes 2021 appearance: “It seems that she has this image that she’s a plain jane vtuber but when confronted with stupid and insane situations, she turns into this typical Filipino who swears a lot and talks like she grew up in the bad parts of Tondo, Manila and that gives us the laughs.”
I would recommend watching her collaboration stream with NIJISANJI EN’s Millie Parfait if you want the ultimate Kaheru experience in Tagalog.