The Unique & Sad Dynamic Between VTubers & Translators

Header Image from Flowers -Le volume sur printemps-

VTubers are fascinating. I don’t mean their personality, I’ve already written an article about some of my favorites a while ago, but from a translation standpoint they seem incredibly unique. Specifically, I refer to monolingual Japanese VTubers. There are a variety of them, much more than I can document, and that poses some interesting problems.

There was a VTuber boom during 2020, around the time the Hololive English branch made their debut. People from all over the world started to invest in virtual avatars and rigging. Some conventional YouTubers and livestreamers simply substituted themselves with the avatar while some took it a step further. Instead of a change going forward, they opted to close their channel, erase their virtual footprint, and rebrand as a VTuber. That seems quite risky and it really is, but it’s not as if they were starting from square one. Besides the experience under their belt, some joined pre-existing agencies that had existed before the boom which represented a stable income and guaranteed exposure. Even if others didn’t, taking into consideration the size of their fanbase prior to becoming a VTuber, it was impossible that their old fans wouldn’t eventually find themselves watching their favorite creator again. We can thank the algorithm for that.

Although, for all the VTubers out there, there’s only so much audience to attract. Inevitably, some would get left behind in subscriber count. This problem is exacerbated when you consider the language barriers. English is pretty much a universal language (despite the inconsistencies which make it difficult to learn) and so those who speak it have an advantage over those who don’t. Well, it’s perspective whether you see one side as advantaged or the other as disadvantaged or both, but that’s besides the point. The takeaway is that certain VTubers, such as monolingual Japanese VTubers, couldn’t attract a dedicated audience and couldn’t maintain growth. 

There’s a translator named Yoyuu who I respect a lot for their neutral stance and articulation about the state of VTubers and the community that surrounds them. In an article about the state of Hololive post-EN, they expound on why Hololive originally became popular in the first place. It wasn’t an intentional action taken by the company to cater to the English-speaking audience. Rather, it was due to fan-translators choosing to upload subtitled videos of their talents. This has had a ripple effect on VTubers who want to emulate the success of Hololive. Namely, they believe that by streaming in the same way that Hololive talents do they’ll be able to reach some semblance of success if their personality and quality of stream permits it. Of course, this isn’t the case as the catalyst of fan-translators aren’t there for those upstart VTubers. 

Obligatory music to break up the text.

This is the unique problem I referred to at the start of the article. VTubers are, in my opinion, time-sensitive. If they don’t get exposure within about a year, morale really begins to plummet. That continual loss of motivation to stream is bound to be reflected in the livestreams themselves. Additionally, if met with no reception, one would expect that those VTubers would need to turn to part-time jobs at the least to pay the bills. This lessens their stream schedule and total uptime with the possibility that they’re relegated to work hours which prevent streaming during golden hours. How is this different from the typical streamer? Besides the model and rigging, a significant budget still needs to be allocated to the hardware, software, and fast internet. In one word: translators.

VTubers are massively different from novels or visual novels. A novel or VN can be completely forgotten about by the author but popularity can still arise at any time. Translations can expose an audience previously unable to access the material and generate revenue for the author by buying the product. VTubers aren’t like that. A stream needs to be active, or at least scheduled, to send a donation. Thus, if a VTuber temporarily retires and a clip of them gets massively popular and drives traffic, unless they capitalize on that and come back quickly, it’s all for naught. The sad part is that even if they do come back quick enough, can they retain an audience they don’t speak the language of?

All this is why I think being a VTuber translator is such a rough ride. I won’t touch on the topic of translators monetizing clips, Yoyuu has already done so competently here, but there is such a swath of VTubers to translate you really don’t know where to start. At the same time, there is a perceived pressure to translate everything in a vain attempt to help draw awareness to independent creators. Then, one day, a VTuber you’ve wanted to translate clips of for the longest time retires. While it wasn’t your fault, you can’t help the small voice in the back of your head. That is a translator’s regret.

I wouldn’t say I’m a VTuber translator. I can and have translated some videos in the past as well as translated Sister Claire’s daily series for a bit more than a month, but really I just translate whatever and whenever I want. Those translations never caused a big splash either so I doubt my contributions to a small VTuber would’ve done much, but I still think about it. I wonder if bigger VTuber translators think about it as well? 

I say all this in the wake of Nijisanji IN’s suspension and the graduation of their three livers: Noor, Aadya, and Vihaan. I was particularly quite excited to watch Noor after skimming through a few VODs and listening to her KING cover, but that’s not possible anymore.

My favorite cover of hers.

More pertinently, I say this in the wake of Futamochi Yamai’s retirement. I translated her announcement myself and published it on Twitter, YouTube, and in an article here. The remaining covers on her channel dwindle by the day.

In response to both, I can only say one thing: Good luck. I wish them all the best and hope the future brings them good tidings. Therefore, what other image to pick than cherry blossoms…

3 thoughts on “The Unique & Sad Dynamic Between VTubers & Translators

  1. I hadn’t thought about the importance of translators in the VTuber communities that much, but you raise great points here. If I hadn’t obsessively watched translated clips of Pekora, Korone, Coco and so on last summer I might not have gotten into the VTuber thing quite so much, though I’m sure a lot of brand new fans came for Hololive English. But the less popular and independent VTubers definitely face a major obstacle in that sense, since I’m sure most fans here either don’t know any Japanese or have a very rough working knowledge of it at best like me. Even an agency as large as Nijisanji doesn’t seem to have nearly the same kind of visibility over here as Hololive does, though maybe that will change with their own English-language branch starting soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. At this point, I’m still surprised that Hololive hasn’t invested in any live-translators for their JP talents. To be fair, they don’t need to as its expensive and plugins have already been made for fan-translators, but still… I think they should eventually consolidate that. They’re internationally popular compared to Nijisanji (who has a very strong presence in Japan), but they don’t seem to capitalize on that success for the JP talents.

      On the point of Nijisanji, I’m glad that they have an official Nijisanji English channel for translated clips. I think part of the reason they haven’t become as popular as Hololive is because of the mass amount of livers they have. With Hololive, sooner or later, members are bound to collab which reinforces that sense of community and establishes the talents as having strong relationships with each other even off-stream. With Nijisanji, it’s a touch more difficult to reflect that. If clips of events such as their Summer Festival [linked below] circulated more though, perhaps it would change. I wonder what Nijisanji English will bring to the table.

      [Summer Festival | 6:21]

      Liked by 1 person

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