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…

Hololive English And A Potential Culture Clash

Header Image drawn by the very Ninomae Ina’nis herself!

Fairly recently, a new branch of Hololive, a Vtuber agency, has debuted. Its name is Hololive English (commonly shortened to Hololive EN). The branch consists of 5 members who, as you might expect, are all able to speak English fluently. Some even have an additional language under their sleeve with German and Korean. Although, that isn’t to discount those who speak Shark, Bird, or other such, shall we say, unorthodox languages. 

They themselves aren’t the subject of this article though. Instead, I want to focus more on the community around them and how they could affect the rest of Hololive as a whole. Think of this as a sequel to The Soul of An Online Community. The relevant portion you need to know is where I talked about the transition from past to modern (online) idol culture. Today, I’ll be talking more about culture and in particular culture clash. In this case though, it isn’t what you might expect. 

When you read “culture clash,” you might have made a reasonable assumption that this was about Japanese vs western culture. I thought about that for a while but concluded that wasn’t the case. Instead, the clash I refer to is: 

Contemporary Streaming Culture (CSS) vs Virtual Idol Streaming Culture (VICS)

Before we continue, let me clarify these terms. The former refers to the contemporary Twitch or YouTube livestreams. You can see how this isn’t region specific as there are a number of streamers from a variety of countries. Universally, the attitude of Chat as a collective entity of viewers is, more or less, uniform. That attitude being: casual and “memey.” There will be several off-topic comments, intentionally provocative messages, and repeated jokes amidst the neverending flow of chat. That’s just how it is, especially since CSS is so huge. You’re bound to have a few bad apples. 

VICS is very similar. *The chat has a casual atmosphere too, but I’d posit there are a handful more rules than CSS. The following is taken from Watson Amellia’s description:

To help everyone enjoy the stream more, please follow these rules:

  1. Be nice to other viewers. Don’t spam or troll 
  2. If you see spam or trolling, don’t respond. Just block, report, and ignore those  comments.
  3. Talk about the stream, but please don’t bring up unrelated topics or have personal conversations.
  4. Don’t bring up other streamers or streams unless I mention them.
  5. Similarly, don’t talk about me or my stream in other streamers’ chat.
  6. Please refrain from chatting before the stream starts to prevent any issues

As long as you follow the rules above, you can chat in any language

4-6 in particular are what I find the most unique to VICS. 3 might be considered unique in the fact that it’s explicitly stated, but I find that it’s an unwritten rule in CSS. Although, under that umbrella does fall personal conversation, including replies to other users. 4 would logically seem to be an unwritten rule as well, but I don’t find that to be evident. The mention of other streamers in CSS isn’t usually reprimanded at the very least. 5 is a continuation of 4 and so we can move on to 6: a rule that is undoubtedly unique to VICS. Many people who watch and are a part of VICS don’t even know the rule and that it’s applicable to many Virtual Idol Streams, even outside of Hololive. 

*Different people will have different rules and the extent to which they enforce them is a personal choice. Expect variance.

**Please note that VICS refers only to Virtual Idols in particular, not the umbrella term of Vtubers.

These are all written rules though. Culture clash doesn’t just entail that people don’t read rules: it’s a matter of differential values. This is why I don’t refer to Mori Calliope’s recent Superchat debacle as an example of the possible oncoming culture clash. To summarize what happened with her, individuals who donated had their names read aloud at the end of the livestream. Trouble came in the form of purposefully sensitive names. Now, an intermission between the end of the stream and the reading of superchats occurs to screen what’s read. 

Surprisingly, as unfortunate as that is, I’m not that concerned. Fellow Hololive member, Subaru, has a very funny clip from an older stream where her chat did similar things but with in-game names. Granted, the names in Cali’s cases may have been more off-limits, but unless the wider media preys on those moments, I believe she’ll be safe even if she accidentally does say something bad. Similar to a “Gotcha!” moment more than anything.

No, a closer example to what I think of when I say culture clash is what happened with Amelia’s stream. In CSS, a channel who is currently live can officially raid another livestream. This entails the sending of viewers from one channel to another. It’s not bad in and of itself and there does exist precedent in the recent VICS past. The bad part is the loss in ability to manage your chat once that raid happens. If you’re the raider, you can only communicate through chat which is being flooded. If you’re the raided, there’s a strong chance these new viewers aren’t aware of your rules and customs and from there chaos ensues for a short while. 

Don’t interpret this as a slight towards Amelia. In fact, how she gently reprimanded her chat afterwards was perfect. It wasn’t a scolding, it was a reminder, and that’s exactly what should be done. So long as they can talk with their chat and correct them, the risk of culture clash is greatly minimized. 


I noted CSS before to be “memey.” In Hololive EN, this is okay since it’s expected to a certain extent as well. Furthermore, it can be mitigated quickly and fairly easily, but ONLY within Hololive EN. Once EN’s chat begins to drip into Japanese, Indonesia, or Chinese, streams, it’s very difficult to calm down because of the language barrier. Some will get by with their English and assuage an excess of meme comments while others will have to wait for a fan-translator to convey their feelings. Or, in the worst case, their thoughts will never rise to light if they’re not popular and don’t have viewers who are able to translate. 

The worst case is only a hypothetical and a very exaggerated one at that. Memes create popularity and will drive translations so it’s far-fetched and I acknowledge that. Still, it’s not impossible, especially given the fact that memes don’t need to be streamer specific. Recall Ars Almal, the first Virtual Idol I ever watched. A meme took root in which viewers called her Big Face in reference to her model. From then on, the meme of Big Face can be applied to any other Virtual Idol model that has a Big Face. 

Let’s carry on with that example to see how a language barrier can be so damning. Even if they’re able to assuage it in one instance, that doesn’t stop the meme from spreading. More and more viewers will come and send memes and the Idol would have to address it ad infinitum. This is expounded by how viewers who can’t comment in Japanese [or whichever language the stream is in] will fall back on well-known memes in order to be part of the community or just plain get attention. The Idol, if they don’t have a strong understanding of English, will only be able to read English comments like Big Face which will become extremely old and annoying fast. 


Another obvious difference is in the divulgence of a Virtual Idol’s identity. I’m not talking about doxxing personal information, but revealing past occupations. I’ve noticed some people think it’s not a big deal when information is circulated. Even information that’s more- recent… I won’t say much more on the matter than that, when looking at the past, it’s best if secrets are kept that way, even if they’re public secrets. Unless a person divulges that information themselves and explicitly gives the okay, it’s best to keep quiet. Otherwise, I feel uncomfortable even writing about it. No examples here.

It’s a safe video. Don’t worry.

There’s something to be said about Hololive EN’s portrayal as idols. I’m not entirely sure what they are yet if I’m being honest. Are they idols or are they Vtubers without the idol connotation? It’s best to put that question on the backburner and let them decide. Perhaps the old concept of idols has been left behind and a new one has been embraced in full. Should that be the case, the gap between CSS and VICS will be smaller. We shall see. 


My last reservation shouldn’t be taken as seriously as the rest. Or, perhaps that isn’t the correct wording… Let me say it as simply as possible then. Best not to overcomplicate it:

I’m afraid of VICS branching out too far; of becoming too popular.

I’m afraid of VICS reaching people who don’t like anime.

These, more than anything I’ve said, are opinions. My opinions. I think that VICS is an easy target for people who don’t like anime to prey on and I’m afraid that getting too popular will lead to a toxic environment. At the same time, it’s a selfish fear because I don’t want chat to be overly crowded. I love that viewer interaction and with current viewership, it’s already hard to maintain. I need to get over that though and trust the Virtual Idols I love can maintain a community despite everything. 


Should anything else interesting arise, I’ll be sure to write about it. It’s not everyday you witness an apparently global phenomenon arise and be able to write about culture clash and shock. Otherwise, I’ll keep uploading translations of Sister’s Claire’s videos for the foreseeable future. That’s all from me!


Last edit before releasing. Please Read: There is a lot of drama right now in the Hololive Community. I refer you to Hololive’s official statement about Akai Haato and Kiryu Coco. I will also point out they released an additional statement exclusive to their CN audience whose bullet points can be found here: Reddit. I have nothing to add to this. I can only express how unfortunate it feels, and how my despair is negligible compared to the individuals who are receiving such an excess of hatred and malice. Even more drama comes in the forms of more copyright issues, of which no one in Hololive will likely escape. Please, as I have said many times before, keep supporting who you watch. Be there when they come back.

:^( from Hololive

The Soul of An Online Community ft. Vtubers

Header image by Nishilim!

In Sword Art Online, there was an arc called Mother’s Rosario. It told the story of a girl named Yuuki. Her life was a struggle from beginning to end, filled with sickness and bullying. Eventually, even her presence in the physical world began to flicker out. The only thing that kept her anchored was an experimental Medicuboid: a device created to treat terminally ill patients as well as provide them with virtual reality technology, a doorway to a world of games where they could frolick to their heart’s content.

When the time came for her to pass on, her death could only be described as beautiful. Through Alfheim Online (ALO), the final game she played, she made a permanent mark in two ways: (1) in the literal sense by defeating a Floor Boss and having her name engraved into the Monument of Swordsmen and (2) by inspiring the ALO community with her strength. In her last moments, all the players gathered around Yuuki and knelt down in admiration and prayer. This scene alone evokes such a potent image, but the reason it has stuck with me is because of how surprisingly grounded it is.

The unification of players under the pretense of send-offs and respectful mourning sounds magnificent, but you can’t help but think this is something that only happens in fiction. I’m happy to say it’s not. The first time I learned of a large-scale event was in late 2014 where the Final Fantasy XIV community gathered together to host a vigil for the late player Codex Vahlda. For the full story, please read Mike Fahey’s write-up on Kotaku. It’s a great read and a testament to how strong human empathy can be, linked loosely only by a mutual game.

I doubt this was the first player-held event in memory of someone, but I know for sure it wasn’t the last. In early April of this year, in the same game as before: Final Fantasy XIV, a funeral was held for the late player Ferne Le’roy. She had passed away due to COVID-19. Friends, acquaintances, and complete strangers came together to grieve and support one another online. I’ll leave two videos here and I encourage you to look at the comments on both. Some are from players who had interacted with her previously, giving their account of how kind she was. This Inverse article, written by Danny Paez, contains the full story of how players coordinated the funeral and I push you to go there as this small blurb hardly portrays it properly. 

I bring these examples up because it shows how tight knit a community can be. Even in the face of tragedy, or perhaps due to tragedy, people band together. Before I move on to my next point though, I need to make sure you’re aware of something. In all three examples, SAO and both FFXIV stories, what transpired to cause the death of the individuals was, in some part, unavoidable. It was a matter of sickness for two, and a medical improbability for another. In the subsequent topic I’ll bring up, what brings despair isn’t inevitable. 

I’ll praise what I believe deserves to be praised. At the same time, I’ll critique what I believe deserves to be critiqued. 

Let’s continue with the good and save the bad for a bit later in the article. On August 31, a Vtuber by the name of Mano Aloe graduated. In the context of idols, graduation is synonymous with retirement and is usually by choice as the person behind the avatar then goes on to work elsewhere. [For example, a common occupation taken up is voice acting.] 

A lot of fans showed their respect through an outpour of artwork and kind messages. However, after a graduation, all control of social accounts return to the Vtuber’s company (if applicable). Therefore, sent artwork may not get to her if only, say, tweeted at her. That’s why the community went a step forward. Kind souls over at https://manotomo.tk/ and https://manoaloe.jetri.co/#/ compiled all work in commemoration of her. Additionally, they collected any messages fans had and displayed that as well. They’re fantastic sites which encourage her return, even if not using the same avatar.

Now, you might have connected the dots already. Mano Aloe’s retirement was not by choice. She was pushed to the edge and made to jump. Through a series of rumors and a simple mistake, those who wished ill against her got their wish. Aloe debuted on August 15 of this year. A short 2 days later, on August 17, she received a two week suspension by her company for forgetting to privatize or delete a 2D model test stream. That made the day she was scheduled to come back August 31- the day she retired. 

There’s an argument to be had whether this was a matter of community. I think it was, at least in part. A crucial detail is her early suspension. This suspension doesn’t only entail a no-streaming policy, but a ban on viewing one’s social platforms. Usually, I would say it’s healthier for a person to be away from social media, especially when facing harassment as she was, but it might have had the opposite effect here. Given a brief 2-day window for interaction, her image of the Vtuber community wasn’t a pleasant one. Coupled with the fact that she was doxxed and actively getting phone calls, the two week suspension’s effect was essentially cutting off any positivity that was sent her way. The following video was her apology for leaving the test stream up, uploaded the day before her suspension.

Many people blamed COVER Corporation for their lack of response to this. It’s not the first time they’ve received flack either. Another Vtuber under them, Yozora Mel, was faced with a stalker and COVER’s actions in response were slow to say the least. See Hero Hei’s videos here for that story: 

I do believe this critique of COVER is justified. That’s why I’m very happy to see that they’ve released a way for the community to help them combat these harassers. Key to this though is indeed community. I discussed this previously in my first article about Vtubers, but old idol culture was incredibly toxic and not lenient. It would be unfair to call the current harassers vestiges of that age. Instead, I believe they use the guise of undertaking this old mindset to further undermine the image of the modern community. 

They were able to do this because of the heavy association the modern community still has with idol culture. It isn’t my place to say they should move away from the association. In fact, many of the Vtubers do see themselves as idols. Some were even people who applied for such positions in the past but were rejected. Therefore, it would be wrong to retroactively change them. What I believe should happen is a distinguishment of new idol/Vtuber fans from the old to cement the fact that holding idols to perfection is passe. 

The soul of the Vtuber community is so incredibly bright. That’s why contrast is so visible to me. Please, treat Vtubers as people. Whatever you say, good or bad, will affect them. Thank you for reading. Never forget Mano Aloe. 

Stepping Into VTuber & Idol Culture

*Art by Ui Shig: Twitter, Pixiv

At the beginning of 2020, YouTube’s recommendations led me to discover a girl named Ars Almal. Little did I know that I would be stepping into an entirely new world I was yet unfamiliar with: the world of VTubers and idols. 

I’m sure you’re familiar with the concept of virtual youtubers. Kizuna Ai’s popularity soared years ago and I’d say that her name is pretty well known even now. Since then though, I never thought much of it. When I saw Ars, I just figured that another person was using a virtual avatar. It wasn’t that weird. Many streamers use (or have used)  face tracking software to function identically to facecams without giving away what they themselves actually looked like. So, what’s the difference? What’s this culture I’m talking about? 

Well, she’s not just “another person” using a virtual avatar. She’s part of a company that uses virtual avatars. To be even more specific, the company is actually an idol agency called Nijisanji. Are you keeping track of everything?

Nijisanji 「にじさんじ」consists of quite an extensive amount of idols: male and female. To take a peek at the cast, check out their site or watch their official music video. It’s actually mind boggling. I doubt I’d be able to name even 10%. 

That said, there may be a reason for it. There’s actually another company called Hololive 「ホロライブ」Can you guess what they are? Yep! Another idol agency that uses virtual avatars! You can check out the cast here: link.

Hololive and Nijisanji idols also have crossover streams sometimes. So far as I know, it’s not a business move (Though the companies may have to approve? The idol industry is scary. More on that later). Some people are just friends with each other and happen to be in different companies. There are also a bunch of other idol agencies besides those two that I don’t even know of. My limited knowledge of Japanese hampers me, but I’m learning, and sometimes watching them does help. 

Do I have a preference between either companies? That’s really tough to answer. If forced to choose though, I think I have to say Hololive. There’s a select few that I just love to watch, regardless if I can understand them or not. So, for some recommendations:

Korone

She’s just a ball of excitement. She does in fact have a unique dialect which I adore as well. Whenever I watch her, I fee; that she’s genuinely having fun. Moreover, the viewers aren’t just along for the ride. She interacts with her chat a lot and even tries to communicate with her foreign audience. 

Okayu

She’s always so relaxed that I feel comfy too. Even her outfit matches that comfy vibe she exudes. Moreover, her voice is really pleasant to listen to. Okayu often collaborates with Korone so their dynamic together is amazing. I’m sure you could tell by the previous video, but here’s another that shows how close they are.

Coco

Coco? She’s a bit different. She’s more lewd, vulgar, and satirical. One of her weekly shows is a news program where she goes over some Hololive stream fails and funny moments so that everyone can laugh together. Her grasp of the english language is really good (probably fluent?) and likes to curse. I’ll put two videos below that hopefully captures who she is. 

Nijisanji also has some members I absolutely love too! 

Ange Katrina 

Ugh. I talked about in my Waifu article how I loved deeper voices. Ange’s voice? Nothing more needs to be said. Watch the video. 

Dola, Yashiro, Kuzuha, and Himawari 

I’m gonna talk about all four of them together because their dynamic is amazing too. Since they’re all really close friends in real life, they’ve developed a sort of family structure, parents and children. They have no problem joking around and naturally mesh. I’ll put two videos here for them too because I can’t do them justice with just words.


I mentioned before that the idol industry is a bit scary. That’s not a lie or overblown. At the end of the day, these personalities are treated as idols and they have to follow certain rules: legal and cultural. I forget this a lot as a foreign fan and there’s a dark side to the fanbase. They can be demanding at times or wary of female idols having boyfriends. It sounds absurd even as I write it, but it’s true. That’s why I hope that if you find a VTuber you enjoy, please support them, especially when they’re at their worst. 

[It’s for that reason that Coco is actually really great. When she makes fun of mistakes, she does it so that the community treats it as what it is: a funny accident. That’s the brilliance of her satire.] 


One last thing before I send you off. Very recently, an idol named Chinami Achikita has recently graduated. If you don’t know, graduation in the idol industry means that they’ve moved on from being an idol. To be honest, I don’t know much about her. I don’t believe I’ve ever watched a video with her in it. Nevertheless, I wanted to mention her because I want to wish her good luck in her future endeavors. When she graduated, she opted to delete all her videos and now only one music video remains, swayed last minute on her final stream to keep it up. 

Despite not knowing her, I found this to be really saddening. Maybe it’s just because of my personal values, but the deletion of all that work and having no footprint is tragic. I hope her fans remember her and the entertainment she provided. A prayer that she moves on to bigger and better things. 


Hopefully you’re able to enjoy the world of VTubers and Virtual idols now. It’s a wild ride but a pleasant one nonetheless. Go forth to find a personality you love and report back! I want to hear who your favorite personalities are!