Look my friends, if you ever followed on my Twitter, it's no secret that I have been in this VTuber hell for quite a while. It's kinda odd since I wasn't even that into anime or Japanese-related stuff before, but now I spend most of my waking, non-working hours watching their contents. I am in this hole for more than two years now, it's almost safe to say there is no return.
As I said, I joined in the VTuber scene late 2017, which at the time of writing this, I might be considered veteran? Since I am writing from my memory and perspective instead of citing sources, please take it with a pinch of salt. But hey, it could be useful for future internet archaeologist to piece out a bigger picture of the proper history.
As odd as it might sound, I would say it all started with my slight interest in motorsports activity. Since my early age, I had been fascinated by the idea of this machine that can bring us everywhere called "cars". Perhaps I wasn't so interested in how it works, but I am very interested in what it can do, and where it can bring me to. Up until my late primary school days, I met one of my childhood friend that brought me into Formula 1, and that opens me the door to the motorsport world.
Early weeb contact
It was only natural for two poor kid to transition from interests in F1 into playing racing game online. We mainly played F1C 99-02 and later rfactor where my parents' computer could only hardly take the load. Nothing much changed, until I went into my other friend on high school, which he introduced me to the Initial D Arcade Stage 3 near our school.
Guess what? It's only natural for me to watch the entire Initial D anime to understand the background of the game. At that time, Initial D anime was only up to stage 4, whilst I had moved on and played the arcade stage 6 and 7 extensively when I was in Hong Kong. It forced me to search for the latest manga with translation to keep up with the storyline about the fake Project D team, Fujiwara Zone, Zero theory etc. to fully immerse into the game I was playing.
No, not this Fujiwara Zone
During these years, I had probably burnt enough pocket money in total to buy an arcade cabinet for myself. However, none of these sparked my interest into knowing more about Japanese culture or even remotely thinking about watching another anime. Wangan came close, but watching the gameplay in arcade made me think twice. These guys are just racing on expressway and not having to deal with corners, what's the fun in it? Applying the stereotype as an F1 fan towards Nascar, I dismissed the idea of even touching the Wangan series.
That Weeb Friend
At this point of my life, I had went through depression, quitting and re-entering university. I met this guy in my second university, Ted, who re-introduced me into the world of Japanese anime. He had intensive knowledge on various genre and is a man of culture himself, so in attempt to make me become one of them, he introduced me to watch some titles. Heck he would even tweak the recommendation to suit my taste!
And so, I had become this guy who casually watches anime when the title looks interesting, and through that I have found that I enjoy genres that involves cute girls doing cute things.
An Unexpected Point of Entry
As a guy who only know the Japanese word 速い (pronounced "ha-ya-i", means fast), the only knowledge I gained from watching Initial D, how would I watch any anime without subtitles? At that time, the only place I know that has anime in a subtitle I know the language of is from Bilibili. I knew this site through a Chinese subtitle team for TopGear1 if anyone is interested), which I relied heavily back then to understand the British slang and in-joke context of the trio. Who would have thought a car show would eventually influenced my choice of where I would watch anime?
After some time spent on the platform searching on what anime to watch next, I stumbled across this clip about this character "Kizuna Ai". Apparently, she got banned from Youtube for saying that she is technically naked, as the clothes we see are part of her body. She and her team had finally managed to navigate her way out and got her channel unbanned, and is ready to continue taking over the world.
This sparked my interest, as this character is self-proclaimed an artificial intelligent but you can see clearly see someone is acting behind.
Four-Heavenly King Era
From there, I traced her back in YouTube, and discovered the Four-Heavenly Kings:
At that time, Noja ojisan channel had already lose traction and Hinata had just overtaken him in terms of subscription count with her FPS skill and... cute anime girl being cute. Admittedly I didn't pay much attention to Akari, Siro and Noja ojisan, but I was absolutely a big fan of Luna.
There wasn't much VTuber livestream back then (not much on YouTube that I'm aware of at least), all of the content on their channel are clips of them doing various things. They are just like any other Youtubers, but instead of seeing their face, you see an anime character. They had a stronger sense of being in character themselves, so the VA (or person inside?) would normally react in the way that character should react when confronting with various things, and of course, except Luna.
All these time I still had very little understanding about the Japanese language. I can guess the meaning from the Kanji if I was given the text using my Chinese knowledge, but that isn't useful when I joined Luna's first livestream on an app called Showroom.
Before this, all of the clips uploaded is subbed and caption got approved rather quickly, or at worse, I can still find the translated hard sub if I wait a few days on Bilibili. Watching the stream live in person, I was confronted with an actual Japanese speaking Japanese. And since it was live, there was no subtitle. I do not understand a word of what she saying, and I feel left out as I can't interact as well with both the streamer and viewers. It was that time which I had decided to learn the language.
The Pewdiepie Transition
For the coming year or so I had watched clips after clips of these VTubers doing different stuff. Gaming or skits, I enjoyed both of them. At this time I had learnt the Japanese pronunciations and hiragana, but gave up halfway learning katakana, as subtitles or caption are still readily available. I was aware of the scene where VTubers are doing livestreams under certain settings and participating gameshows, but I wasn't even aware that there are VTubers doing livestream alone.
I mean, look at Siro bullying this poor kitty
These kinds of stream highlights sometimes pop up on my Bilibili recommendation 2, but it didn't make me wonder about the VTubers doing livestream stuff, nor trigger me wanting to watch them live as these normally are not held on a platform that I'm familiar of, or they are just beind a paywall. Things changed when Pewdiepie released this clip on YouTube:
The timestamp marks my total downfall into VTuber hell
VTubers that do livestream
For some context, I might need to backtrack a bit. During that year, I found out Eilene and co. who was behind Akari's channel and left afterwards3. I absolutely enjoyed her content that I searched through everywhere in attempt to watch all of her videos, so I had no problem or discrimination about VTubers using a L2D model even though I joined in when 3D is the norm. Also, my interest in motorsport over the year has grown far and wide. After my childhood friend gifted me his Logitech G25, I was very into ETS2 and absolutely love it when it goes with ProMods.
Watching that Pewdiepie clip having a cute sounding VTuber singing Country Road whilst playing ETS2 just struck me hard.
ShizuRin, JK Gumi, Nijisanji. Got it.
I watched through all of her ETS2 playthorugh in one sitting across a few days (warn you, they are bloody long), and asked for more. I am enjoying it although I had no idea what she was saying, I must be enjoying it more if I had known what she is saying right? Take a guess where did I go.
The "Rainbow Weekly"
It's no surprise that me having knowledge in Chinese will go back to Bilibili for subtitled content. Boy was I in for a surprise. Nijisanji is a VTuber agency that has shit ton of VTubers which name I had never heard of. They do frequent livestream, and promote themselves as virtual live-streamer (virtual liver as they called it? No not liver in your body, but live+er) as opposed to the traditional Virtual Youtubers.
Nijisanji has the nickname "Rainbow Co." in Chinese probably due to niji (虹) means rainbow in Japanese. And to my surprise, on Bilibili, there is a group of people compiling a summary of live streams about Nijisanji streamers weekly, and called it the "Rainbow Weekly". From that weekly article, I can read about which streamer had done something that interest me, and might join in for their next stream. Mugi, Alice and many others were added into my watchlist.
The Bilibili Queen
At this time, I had very limited comprehension of Japanese. Due to translations of stream highlights are basically non-existence in English on YouTube, I had switch my main source of VTuber entertainment fron Youtube back to Bilibili. After watching enough of VTuber translated clip, the Bilibili algorithm finally revealed who is the absolute queen of VTuber on their platform.
Kagura Mea, de facto Queen of VTubers on Bilibili
You see, when you have to rely on subtitles for VTuber content, you will watch every single clip churning out of that translation channel. All of them are interesting. Don't get me wrong, Mea is an absolute blast to watch. It is only amplified by her Bilibili translation group did such an amazing job in making stream highlights, which made her streams the best fucking thing ever happen on earth.
Through Mea, I got to know one of her best friend who had joined her to become a VTuber albeit through different agency.
Minato Aqua, similar, but not the blue thing..
One of their best moment was when Aqua first got her channel monetised, and did the Aqua thing to agitate Mea. I can't find any highlight of said stream on youtube, and she seemed to have removed the legendary PUBG stream, here's the stream in which she did the similar thing in the beginning:
Aqua doing aqua thing since her beginning, also I found this Aqua masterpiece when Shion got monetised before her.
The Rise of Hololive
Through Aqua, I had learnt about this small VTuber agency called Hololive. I knew who Tokino Sora is, but I wasn't following her actively, and didn't know she is from this Hololive agency. They seem like a smaller version of Nijisanji, and doesn't release a new batch of VTuber like every week. They have a smaller number of members, and to me, their member streams in a more predictable schedule.
By the time I learnt and started following Hololive members, they already had quite a big number of followers on Bilibili. If my memory serves right, Fubuki was neck and neck on sub count with Mea, and Matsuri's confession being the most watched VTuber clip on the platform.
I guess it is safe to say that the rise of Hololive starts from Bilibili. I joined a bit late to the party, I went in during rapid rising instead of the beginning. They had hard-subbed stream highlight every day, and for their mirrored stream on Bilibili, there was always several live translators in the comment section translating the stream content. Most of the members had 10-20x the amount of subscriber on Bilibili as compared to Youtube.
On Youtube, there was around 700-1k viewers watching when a Hololive member streams, and whilst on bigger events at most they get 5-6k viewers. On Bilibili, however, by some estimated calculation on their streaming metrics4, their mirror stream would have around 8-20k viewers; and for Bilibili exclusive the number could easily went up to 50k viewers watching. Hololive was nothing as compared to Nijisanji5, but definitely the biggest VTuber group on Bilibili.
TODO: Side track: First time watching Hololive debut on Nekomata Okayu with Shion mirroring the stream on Bilibili, 同時市長
TODO: Azur lane
(Wider) Spread of VTubers amongst weeb
TODO: increased number of translator and translator's content
Where does it go from here?
TODO: no idea really
I had almost ditched Bilibili at that point. I mostly went back as they had community translated tweet for the Chinese people who can't access to Twitter, which offers much more accuracy as compared to Google or Bing translate. ↩
At the time of writing, her existance on the original BitTranslate channel had been wiped out as they caused lots of issue for Akari monetisation. ↩
Bilibili does not show exact viewership for livestreams. ↩
At that time Tsukino Mito could easily pull 10k viewers on a normal Youtube stream. ↩