Virtual YouTuber

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Nijisanji Liver Tsukino Mito, an example of a virtual YouTuber

A virtual YouTuber (バーチャルユーチューバー, or VTuber) is an online entertainer, typically anime-styled, Japanese speaking, and a YouTuber and/or live streamer, who is represented by a (usually anime-inspired) digital avatar generated by computer graphics.[1]


The first animated, virtual character was Hatsune Miku,[2] a vocaloid developed by Crypton Future Media and released on 31 August 2007.[3][4] Miku was wildly successful, selling 40,000 copies of her software by July 2008,[5] and was further popularized by fan-made content made uploaded to video sharing websites such as YouTube and Niconico.[6] Hatsune Miku's software was obtained by Yamaha Corporation, who encouraged fans to create their own content. This software later led to the development of technology that allowed avatars to track the movements of fans.[6]

On 13 June 2011, British vlogger Ami Yamato uploaded her first video, which featured an animated, virtual avatar speaking to the camera.[7][better source needed] Four years later, in 2015, Mattel began uploading videos of Barbie Doll as a teenage vlogger onto YouTube.[8] Then, in late 2016, Kizuna AI, considered to be the first VTuber,[6][8] made her debut on YouTube. Voice-acted by Nozomi Kasuga,[9] Kizuna AI created a sense of "real intimacy" with fans as she was responsive to their questions. Within ten months, she had over two million subscribers and would later be made a culture ambassador for the Japan National Tourism Organization. AI's sudden popularity sparked a trend of VTubers;[6][8] In two and a half months, the number of active VTubers doubled from 2,000 to 4,000. Of these, Kaguya Luna [jp] and Mirai Akari [jp] followed AI as the second and third most popular VTubers, with 750,000 and 625,000 subscribers respectively. Nekomiya Hinata, another early VTuber, gained a following of 500,000 in six months.[6] In October 2018, Kizuna AI's appearance on an NHK show interviewing Japanese recipients of the Nobel Prize sparked controversy concerning the depiction of women in Japanese culture.[10]

Campaigns involving Virtual YouTubers[edit]

Due to their immense popularity, companies and organisations have used VTubers as a method of advertising or bringing attention to a product or service. When SoftBank announced the release of the iPhone XS and XS Max in 2018, Kizuna AI appeared at the event as well as promoting it on her channel.[11] She is also currently the ambassador of the Japan National Tourism Organization.[12] Another virtual star was debuted by the Ibaraki Prefectural Government called Hiyori Ibara, with aims for the Virtual YouTuber to become a symbol of Ibaraki. Hiyori is the first VTuber to be used by a municipal or prefectural government.[13]

On June 24, Virtual YouTuber Kaguya Luna, in a collaboration with Nissin Foods, held a livestream (noted by Guinness World Records as being the livestream recorded at the highest altitude) by attaching a smartphone with her stream playing to a helium balloon. By the end of the stream, Kaguya Luna reached an altitude of 30 kilometers above sea level, breaking the previous record of 18.42 kilometers above sea level. This was done to advertise Nissin's Yakisoba UFO noodles.[14]

In August 2018, Wright Flyer Live Entertainment, which is owned by Gree Inc., released a mobile application that allows virtual stars to live stream videos while monetising them and connecting with their viewers. In a news conference in Tokyo, the head of Wright Flyer Live Entertainment stated that the firm wanted to help virtual stars, but that “just increasing the number [of virtual star] is not that effective. We want them to keep on doing their activities. (To do that), gaining fans and monetization are essential. So, we are providing a platform to support that.”[15] This follows a ¥10 billion ($89.35 million) investment by parent company Gree into VTubers, as well as a ¥10 billion profit target by 2020.[1]

Notable Virtual YouTubers[edit]




  1. ^ a b Nagata, Kazuaki (17 July 2018). "Japan's latest big thing: 'virtual YouTubers'" (in Korean). The Japan Times. Archived from the original on 14 February 2019. Retrieved 14 February 2019.
  2. ^ Otmazgin & Ben-Ari 2020, p. 76.
  3. ^ "英語に苦心 大人なVOCALOID「巡音ルカ」ができるまで (1/2)". ITmedia ニュース. Retrieved 27 April 2016.
  4. ^ 初音ミクが未来から来ない?来た? [Did Hatsune Miku Come From the Future? Came From?] (in Japanese). P-tina. 9 November 2007. Archived from the original on May 1, 2008. Retrieved 5 October 2010.
  5. ^ 異例の売れ行き「初音ミク」 「ニコ動」で広がる音楽作りのすそ野 [Unprecedented Demand for "Hatsune Miku"; the Music Maker Spread on Nico Nico Douga] (in Japanese). IT Media. 12 September 2007. Retrieved 15 November 2010.
  6. ^ a b c d e Otmazgin & Ben-Ari 2020, p. 77.
  7. ^ Ami Yamato (13 June 2011). Trying this out... YouTube. Retrieved 14 February 2019.
  8. ^ a b c Lufkin, Bryan (2 October 2018). "The virtual vloggers taking over YouTube". BBC. Retrieved 14 February 2018.
  9. ^ Loveridge, Lynzee (25 April 2020). "Nozomi Kasuga Confirms She is Kizuna Ai Voice Actress". Anime News Network. Retrieved 25 May 2020.
  10. ^ "Kizuna AI's NHK appearance sparks debate on social media". The Japan Times. 23 August 2018. Retrieved 19 May 2020.
  11. ^ "【SoftBank】新型iPhone発売セレモニーにお邪魔しました!!【XS / MAX】". YouTube. A.I. Channel. Retrieved 14 February 2019.
  12. ^ "Come to Japan with Kizuna AI". Japan National Tourism Organization. Archived from the original on 14 February 2019. Retrieved 14 February 2019.
  13. ^ "Ibaraki's virtual YouTuber first in Japan used to promote a prefecture". The Japan Times. 13 October 2018. Archived from the original on 14 February 2019. Retrieved 14 February 2019.
  14. ^ Morrissy, Kim. "Virtual YouTuber Kaguya Luna Breaks Guinness World Record By Holding Livestream at Highest Altitude". Anime News Network. Retrieved 19 May 2020.
  15. ^ Nagata, Kazuaki. "Gree-owned firm launches app aimed at boosting Japan's booming world of 'virtual YouTubers'". The Japan Times. Archived from the original on 14 February 2019. Retrieved 14 February 2019.