Games for broke people: HoloCure

Well here’s a nice surprise from itch.io, though not a surprise that I’m covering it. HoloCure is a Hololive fan game, what else, about a set of VTubers affiliated with the agency.

These multi-talented girls are usually only tasked with entertaining their fans on stream by playing games or singing or whatever, but one day a mysterious evil force makes said fans into drooling zombies who love their favorite VTubers blindly and go mad (is this some subtle commentary?) forming mobs that their favorites have to subdue. It’s a story worthy of the Beatles back when they made movies like A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, or maybe the Spice Girls’ Spice World. When was the last time you thought of that movie, if you’re even old enough to have been alive when it came out?

Gawr Gura fighting enemies in HoloCure.

Which Spice Girl would Gura be, tell me in the comments after you smash like and subscribe and ring that bell

HoloCure is a takeoff of Vampire Survivors from what I hear. I haven’t played that one, so I don’t know how this game stacks up to it, but even if you’re new to this sort of game like I was, the mechanics are simple: just aim your automatic attacks at the enemies running towards you, collect the powerups and other drops they leave, and use them to upgrade existing skills and learn new ones.

Ina (Ninomae Ina'nis) in HoloCure

Ina is somewhere in this mess. The tentacle is her main method of attack, which can be powered up as you defeat enemies/subdue fans. See also the huge miniboss at the bottom right — these guys will show up in fixed intervals to challenge you.

The current version of HoloCure has four sets of characters to play with, coming out to 20: all 11 ladies in the English-language branch (not counting the recently recruited guys in Tempus) and 9 in the Japanese branch — nowhere close to the total, so if like me you were hoping to play as Pekora, you’ll have to wait for a future potential update. But even so, there’s nice variety in the available characters’ styles, with some being slow and tanky and others being quick and agile, and still others I have no idea how to use because I’m terrible at them since their attacks require precision to pull off well.

Nekomata Okayu in HoloCure, fighting walls of Deadbeats

Like Okayu, who chooses to throw rice balls at enemies that annoyingly arc in the air. The onigiri won’t help her against these shield walls of Mori fans.

I hadn’t played this game before the update just yesterday, but from the several hours I’ve played of it now (yes, this is what I’ve been doing since stopping work on Friday evening, no grass-touching for me) I could already tell a couple of things about independent developer Kay Yu, the first being that they’re clearly huge fans of Hololive and its streamers/characters/personalities, with a ton of references in the powerups and descriptions especially that all check out.

Upgrade menu in HoloCure

Like Plug Type Asacoco, which is exactly what it looks like. It’s not just the game being crass, this is a “real” product from a parody morning show created a year or two ago; here it’s just another weapon.

The second is that these creators care about making a quality game. The gameplay is smooth and the sprites look great (both VTuber and fan, and there are many fan/enemy types that correspond with the “fan names” and art depicting them. The music is catchy, and I’m pretty sure the few tracks in the game are based on a few of the girls’ original songs, though I couldn’t tell you which they were. (The opening/menu theme sounds a little like “Hare Hare Yukai” from Haruhi Suzumiya — hopefully a better fan can help me out here.)

All that leads me to a different question — can you enjoy HoloCure if you’re not a fan and know nothing about any of this Hololive or even VTuber bullshit? Obviously, you won’t get as much out of the game if you don’t pick up on or care about the references, and you certainly won’t get the inside jokes that come from well-known stream incidents like the Plug Type Asacoco above or Miko’s Elite Lava Bucket. HoloCure was made by fans, for fans, and also for the VTubers themselves, who have naturally been playing this on stream as well.

Takanashi Kiara in the Hololive offices, HoloCure

Kiara in the newly added Hololive HQ/office setting. This one feels a lot more challenging than the first stage’s open field since you can easily become trapped by enemies in here if you’re not careful.

Even so, I think a non-fan can still enjoy this game. It’s not just running around and killing/dodging enemies; there is a little skill involved at least mixed in with the RNG element of whether you’ll get good weapon and skill upgrades as you level up. I didn’t think I’d have that much fun with the game for its gameplay, but I have, and all the better that you can actually upgrade the characters as you progress by collecting coins and rolling to unlock new characters. In fact, the gacha element might make the game a little easier for non-fans, since they won’t be obsessively rolling to unlock best fox/cat friend Fubuki (who I still don’t have… damn. Soon, though.)

A-chan doesn't care about what you want. HoloCure

Pleading with the talent director A-chan won’t help. She won’t even look up from her screen; she’s just here to work.

So I’d say even if you know don’t or care a damn for Hololive or anything like it, you still might want to check this game out. It’s a free fan work and extremely high quality for that. And hell — I love itch.io, and I think indie gaming is the true future of the medium, but the fact is itch.io is filled with no/low-effort tossed-off crap that you have to dig through before finding the worthwhile games. The gems are there, but they can be hard to dig up, so any time I have one I’m likely to highlight it here.

And I barely even watch Hololive anymore, honestly. I am still waiting for an update that includes Pekora, but even more than that, I’d love to see a NijiCure. Maybe that’s just a dream. I certainly don’t have any of the skills necessary to putting a game like this together, but that’s a benefit to being the biggest: you generally get the most and best fan works (see also Touhou.) Though Nijisanji is huge in Japan too, and they’re catching up here as well, so maybe it’s just a matter of time.

YAGOO statute in HoloCure

Look out YAGOO, Anycolor is coming for Cover! Maybe this is why we keep getting denied that Pomu/Kiara collab, anyway — is HoloEN management afraid of attracting attention to the competition? The nice thing about smaller agencies is that they don’t seem to have such hangups with each other assuming that’s what’s going on here.

A lot of the above is probably gibberish to anyone who’s not deep in the rabbit hole like me, so I’ll shut up right now and just say that I had a good time with HoloCure and that you might too, even if you’re not in that hole. Just try not to get dragged into it yourself.

Tales from the rabbit hole: Two years in VTuber Hell

What a disaster. The last two years locked down, what do I have to show for them? A lot of working, yeah. A lot of hours billed, hours of my life lost to some of the dullest legal work imaginable, work that only a select few are detached and disassociated enough to be able to put up with.

However, not all my hours have been spent pouring through documents. Some have been spent playing video games and watching anime. And yes, some have been spent actually outside recently, sometimes even touching grass as the kids say. But some have been spent in exactly the opposite way as going outside and being social: watching VTubers. Since I first wrote about the VTuber craze a year and a half ago, it’s become a little less of a “craze” and more of an established part of the landscape of entertainment in the West. Though certainly still a niche part — I’m not going to argue that VTubers have broken into general public consciousness into the same field as network TV or popular streaming series, and very likely they never will aside from that one second Gawr Gura got in the background of a Taco Bell ad last year.

Thankfully, we’re not concerned with the mainstream here on the site. So much the better that VTubing occupies a niche, even if it is a pretty damn large one now with the aforementioned Gura having nearly four million subscribers as of this writing. By contrast, there are videos on YouTube with over a billion views, and I’m willing to bet many more people know about The Big Bang Theory or some shitty laugh-tracked TV show like that than about Gura or any of the other most-watched livers out there. No, VTuber fandom goes far deeper and at times gets far darker than that. People call this hobby “the rabbit hole” for more than one reason, and again not just because of Usada Pekora’s insidious influence on our minds.

For a normal, well-adjusted person, it would be enough to just accept this as a part of their life and move on, or better still to quit and do something productive instead. But of course I’m anything but normal and well-adjusted. And so just as with my year in Azur Lane, I had to over-analyze and write a collegiate thesis on the time I’ve spent and in this case continue to spend in a hobby that would make most people look at me sideways. This time I’m asking myself a simple question, though one I’m not sure I can entirely answer:

Why do I watch VTubers (i.e. what do I get out of this time sink?)

To at least start answering this question, I’d like to take a look at three of my favorite VTubers — three who I’d always watch live, assuming I had the time (which I usually don’t. Again, winning the lottery would help out with my god damn hobbies.)

Usada Pekora

I wrote about her back in that first post in 2020, and I’ve stuck with Pekora since. Unlike the two talents following, she’s not known for her singing, and she doesn’t have any of the other “traditional idol” talents that I know of. Some might consider that a weakness — Hololive’s connection with the Japanese idol tradition is a bit of a joke, though not a total joke considering how traditionally talented some of their streamers are.

But VTubers don’t really need such talents as long as they’re entertaining, and Pekora is so entertaining to me that I can watch a full stream of hers easily even though she barely speaks English and I know about one-fifth of the Japanese language judging by how much I can understand. Full fluency isn’t necessary to pick up on context when you’re watching someone play Portal, anyway, especially when that someone has such excellent comedic timing. Sorry to call you a comedian, Pekora, but that’s what you are and you’re one of the best in my book. Right up there with George Carlin and Mitch Hedberg, sure. And Lewis Black, who I think she can match in sheer anger and salt when she feels like it (and headphones/sound warning on that last clip, related.)

Nekomata Okayu

As much as I love Pekora’s antics, sometimes cute rabbit girl freaking out isn’t quite the vibe I’m going for. For relaxation, I’ll go instead to another one of my favorites, Okayu. This catgirl is usually calm, laidback, and has a voice like silk. She puts out a lot of great cover songs like this take on Gehenna, a nice jazzy one that suits her voice and style (and speaking of, I’d love to hear her take on Shiina Ringo someday.) But she’s perhaps best known for her approach to ASMR, which I can understand: in fact hers is the only sort I’ve ever heard that works on me in the way I’ve heard real ASMR fans talk about.

However, Okayu’s also nice to watch playing a game — though she takes on action games, I’ve really liked her streams like the above, where she tries out Universe Sandbox and proceeds to destroy the Earth several times over (and there’s a clip with subs linked if that helps.) Like Pekora, Okayu doesn’t speak much English, but it hardly matters to me — I can understand enough now to get by on context well enough at least in a game playthrough, and I haven’t seen any other VTuber who can quite create the atmosphere she does.

Pomu Rainpuff

The VTuber landscape has changed a lot since 2020, in part because Hololive no longer has a corner on English-speaking VTubers. Rival agency Nijisanji has made a lot of progress in the overseas market since, especially with its introduction of male VTubers (who I admit I didn’t think there was much of a market for, until I was proven extremely wrong by the success of its fourth EN wave.)

Nijisanji is home to a lot of excellent talents, along with my now confirmed favorite Pomu — my oshi in the Japanese idol lingo that’s been picked up by VTuber watchers. Pomu passed me by for a few months when she started streaming last year, but eventually I noticed her and found she’s a fine singer with a love of Touhou and a lot of the similar weirdo niche anime/game-related stuff I also like (doubly related: hear her cover of Eiko Shimamiya’s cover/adaptation of ZUN’s original “Septette for the Dead Princess”, The Heat of My Fingertips, featured in Touhou Lost Word. Great stuff, and certainly a dream for any Touhou fan to achieve.)

None of that would matter if she weren’t entertaining to watch, but she’s got that down as well — Pomu is probably one of the only people on Earth I’d actually watch play Minecraft, which would normally bore me to tears. She also has a bit of a sharp edge that’s fun to see when it comes out. (And it also helps that I can understand 100% of what she says.)

In addition to the above VTubers, there are some I’m happy to drop in on if I have the time free, most of them also in Nijisanji EN (have I shilled enough for them now? This is practically an unpaid sponsorship at this point. But who else has given us anything close to Enna Alouette’s Higurashi concert?) But I think Pekora, Okayu, and Pomu collectively have pretty much all the qualities I find entertaining.

And regarding that entertainment value, that variety show comparison I made in my first post still holds true, now even more than it did when I first made it since the lineup of visible English-speaking VTubers has increased so much since. In addition to Hololive, VShojo, and Nijisanji, there are at least a dozen and probably more other agencies with far smaller subscriber and viewer bases but with no less talented and entertaining streamers. I’ve dropped in on some Prism Project streams, and the difference in feel because of this smaller fanbase is really interesting. Watching someone like Gura with tens of thousands of viewers feels like watching a show in a stadium, while watching a typical Nijisanji EN stream with several hundred to a few thousand might feel more like being in a large theater — if so, then being in a smaller agency stream is like being in a small underground club with dozens or maybe a hundred or two other spectators, with a much more intimate and personal feeling among fans and even between fans and the talent. Maybe too intimate in some cases.

The variety show/stage performance comparison doesn’t fit perfectly, though, because unlike such shows, these streams aren’t scripted. A streamer might generally know what she wants to talk about, but both the elements of chance occurrences especially during gameplay and interaction with chat members make streams far more dynamic and interesting than most skit-based productions. Combine this with the length of some of these streams at three, four, even five hours and longer — the fact that these virtual streamers can maintain energy and be entertaining for that long is extremely impressive.

You can say the same about plenty of normal streamers, but there’s another aspect of VTubing that might seem superficial at first but that I think is actually extremely important: the avatar. Aside from the obvious appeal of being able to watch and in some sense interact with a cute anime girl or guy, the VTuber rig adds that fantastic element, especially when the character on the other side of the screen is a rabbit or catgirl or fairy, or any number of other more otherworldly beings. I’ve already written about this element of VTubing a bit, along with the related question of where the VTuber’s “character” ends and where the actual performer behind the rig begins. But I think it’s become clear over the last few years that viewers really fall in love with these characters, and usually without regard for how said characters might relate to their performers.

Pekora’s original character sheet by designer Yuuki Hagure. Note her dual set of human and rabbit ears. Artists who design animal-eared girls seem to have given up on caring about this, which is honestly fine with me.

In general, I’ve seen a lot of positivity and common sense, for lack of a better term, out of VTuber fan groups. But I don’t want to paint an entirely rosy picture for you, because that would be dishonest. Plenty of drama has been stirred up in these circles, some of it pretty harmless but some of which has resulted in serious consequences including harassment, doxxing, and even termination. For a famous example, see Mano Aloe, a demon girl Vtuber who ended up driven out of Hololive after barely a week on the job. Depending on the situation, tenure doesn’t matter, as in the case of Uruha Rushia, an extremely successful Hololive talent who ended up not just “graduated” (i.e. moving on to a different group or a different field of work, another borrowing from idol language) but outright terminated for an alleged contract violation following a complete mess of drama and agony around a potential relationship. Other streamers who have held onto their jobs still suffered through harassment, sometimes driven by weird infighting between factions, one of the most famous of these involving international politics and a supposed implicit recognition of Taiwanese sovereignty. If you’re new to this sphere you might think that’s just a joke, and I wish I were.

I’ve seen it argued over just how much the VTubing/idol connection influences some of this sort of drama-stirring, especially in cases of fanbase infighting and relationship drama. I don’t know anything about and honestly have no interest in idols, so I leave that debate to those are qualified to get into it. Some fans seem to have gotten a distaste for Hololive in general, which I can understand especially following the Rushia incident and its fallout — I don’t know about its main branch, but the EN branch of Nijisanji by contrast (and presumably the western agency VShojo, maybe even more so) seems more permissive with its talents, not even going for that sort of half-joking “we’re idols” theme you get with Hololive. But then Nijisanji’s not immune from this sort of drama either.

So you see, my reference to VTuber Hell wasn’t entirely meant to apply to my own experience as a fan. While some people envy these streamers, especially those who rake in a lot of love from fans and donation money, VTubing also seems like a potentially extremely stressful job to hold, especially if you’re part of a large agency. The pressure to perform and to constantly be “on” has to be massive. The parasocial relationships that sometimes form in these fanbases can also be dangerous, driving some of this sort of harassment from both primarily male and female fanbases in the cases of Rushia and Vox respectively.1 This hobby isn’t especially conducive to getting out of the house, even if some VTubers do encourage their fans to get out there and lead healthy and happy lives away from their computer screens.

Approaching this drama from the fan perspective (and maybe I should say “casual fan”, since I can’t be anything else) this sort of fervor can scare newcomers away and even potentially put off viewers who have been around for a while. I still believe at least 90 or 95% of fans are positive, supportive, and have healthy senses of perspective towards their hobby and their oshis and all that from reading comments and seeing chats, but we’ve seen over and over how an unreasonable and extremely vocal minority can spoil a good thing. It’s good that they seem to be in such a minority, anyway, since you can’t exactly “ignore the fanbase” in the same way you might with notoriously weird ones surrounding otherwise good games and franchises (say Undertale or Sonic the Hedgehog, and at this point I’d better throw Persona in there.) Fan interaction is part of what makes VTubing a unique form of entertainment, for better or worse — far more often I think for better, but not always, as we’ve seen.

I’m not going to pretend that I don’t understand the whole parasocial relationship thing, because I really do. In addition to the extra social isolation we’ve gone through over the last two years, some VTubers just seem to attract fans who aren’t the most social types anyway. Like me, I’ll admit. Well, it’s not exactly admitting it now if I’ve been saying it on this blog for almost nine years. Listening to certain streams I enjoy like Okayu’s ASMR work for example, where she’s right up in your ear — combine that with the video thumbnails she uses and the intended effect is pretty obvious, and even more so in the case of an almost explicitly spicy streamer like Yuzuki Choco. It feels to me like taking a soothing sort of drug: probably fine in a certain dose, but it’s entirely possible to take too much of it and end up dealing with some problems.2

The scenario in Needy Streamer Overload was purposely a little exaggerated, but not as much as you might think.

Despite these problems, I still think the massive VTuber wave we’ve seen over the last two years has been on balance a positive. I naturally can’t speak for other people’s experiences, but I’m sure it helped me out while I was in isolation in those early periods of COVID when I started binging on those translated clips of Korone and Miko, not realizing the rabbit hole I was being dragged into. It might have even had a greater impact on my health and lifestyle in general. I’ve been stressed over the last two years, but a lot of that stress has come from my attempts to improve my life despite my desire to just give up, dig an actual hole, and jump into it. This seems like an old cliché, and some people might even consider it embarrassing to admit, but fuck that: watching these girls do their absolute best might have motivated me to do my best in life as well. It’s impossible for me to say whether or how much of an effect it’s had on me, but the fact that I’ve been able to quit drinking for the last two and a half years now might be related, at least partly.

Maybe it’s weird to say strangers on the internet, people who don’t even know who I am and who I also don’t know and never will know on a personal level, motivated me in that way. No doubt my own family and friends, and even fellow bloggers here on WordPress I talk with sometimes, have a more immediate impact on my life. But I can’t rule out the possibility that this hobby helped out with my efforts, even if that was never really the intention. Yeah, these agencies are formed to make money and sell products, but if that were all there was to the VTuber phenomenon, I believe it would have died off pretty quickly. There’s plenty of bullshit trash mass media out there, but without true passion and hard work, I don’t think you’ll find fanbases that drill down quite as deep as the VTuber ones do.

Again, for better or worse — it’s easy to get lost in this rabbit hole. But like I wrote back in 2020, there’s still plenty of room in here, and even more now than there used to be. At the very least, go check out Hyakumantenbara Salome and see why she’s so great. You won’t regret it. Probably.

 

1 I should probably say minorities in both cases, because once again the majority of fans always seems to be reasonable and supportive.

2 This is admittedly a complex issue, and one that I’m not qualified to talk about in too much depth because I’m not an expert in psychology or sociology. Then again, neither are a few of the prominent “influencers” who back in 2020 showed up to criticize VTubing on grounds that were shaky at best, and without any support other than “well, I think it’s weird and the fans are weird and I don’t like this”, with some truly piss-poor attempts to dress up these complaints in more legitimate clothing. These drama-stirring types moved on pretty quickly after getting their undeserved attention, however. Not a bad business model if you’re just going for clicks, I guess, without regard to impartiality or integrity or anything silly like that. I won’t link any of that trash, but it’s easy enough to find through a YouTube search if you’re really curious about it.

To be fair, however, there are also sensationalist “pro-VTuber” types on YouTube who feed off of usually bullshit nothing sorts of “drama” for clicks. You can sometimes tell these types by their thumbnails. One video maker who doesn’t fall into that pit is Depressed Nousagi: I linked a couple of his videos above because he’s an actually impartial guy who does research and puts together interesting and informative videos on VTuber history, as far back as that goes, anyway. And I have to support a fellow depressed nousagi, don’t I?

If you’re interested in VTubers, be sure to also follow The Unlit Cigarette here on WordPress. She has a fascinating and indepth ongoing series on VTubers with a special focus on Nijisanji EN, which I naturally appreciate. And she’s a fellow Pomu fan too. Please check her work out if that grabs your interest!

A review of Needy Streamer Overload (PC)

Not the game I’d planned to review next, or even the post I’d planned to write next, but life has a way of fucking up your plans, doesn’t it? And that’s a lesson that’s very relevant to the game I’m reviewing today.

Despite its sugary sweet look, this one deals with adult subjects like sex and drug use and heavy, serious subjects mostly related to mental health and various kinds of psychological and physical self-harm up to and including suicide, so the usual warning here for kids and those who prefer not to touch such games. The game has its own covering our ass “this is all fiction and please don’t do any of this” message every time you start it up, and the message is warranted.

Needy Streamer Overload, put out by Japanese developer Why so serious, Inc. (with the original title Needy Girl Overdose, changed apparently when it was put up on Steam, though both titles fit it pretty well) is an ADV game depicting a month in the life of Ame, a girl who’s into some of the usual hobbies like gaming, watching anime, and cosplay. At the start of the game, Ame’s decided that she’s going to take advantage of her cuteness and on-screen charisma to become a streamer on MeTube (of course) and to rake in love, attention, and superchat money from shut-ins and nerds across Japan.

And you the player are her boyfriend (edit: or girlfriend if you prefer; as commenter phoenix below pointed out to me there’s no explicit reference to the player character’s gender, so keep this in mind going forward since I’m not taking the minimal effort to edit the rest of this post. But thanks for the catch!) known only as “P-chan”, as she claims above because you’re perfect for her, but also because you’re basically her producer. As Ame promises on day 1, she’s placing her life in your hands: she’ll do whatever you ask of her, and her only demand is that you drive her channel to a million subs in a month. Sounds difficult, but not impossible, because when she’s on camera Ame uses makeup, a wig, and a flashy costume to transform from her dour regular self into the peppy OMGkawaiiAngel-chan or KAngel for short.

The contrast between her persona and her real self is most obvious through the tweets Ame makes on the in-game Twitter equivalent through her public KAngel account and the private one only you can read.

Each day is divided into three time periods called day, dusk, and night, and as Ame’s live-in boyfriend/producer your responsibility is to direct her entire life. Throughout the day, Ame has various activities she can take part in, including using the internet/social media to get new ideas and pump up her subscriber/viewer counts, going out to neighborhoods around Tokyo with P-chan to take in the sights, and staying inside to play a game or spend some one-on-one time with P-chan (including an option labeled *** with a bed icon — I wonder what that could be? Well, the game doesn’t actually try to hide it.)

Daytime, with the available options on the left side and the text screen on the right. An exclamation point on an activity option means Ame will get an idea for a new stream if you choose it for her. Also man what the hell, don’t say that.

While the first two parts of the day are dedicated to letting Ame get new ideas, shill her own channel online, or rest, the night is for streaming. It is possible and sometimes advisable to skip a day and put the stream off to the next evening, but night is the only time Ame will stream since it’s peak viewing hours. After picking one of several available stream idea options for her, your job is to watch Ame’s stream and monitor chat for shitty comments to delete (not necessary, but deleting the right ones will reduce her stress slightly) and colored superchat comments with donations attached for Ame to read at the end of the stream (though only two of them, because KAngel doesn’t give her love out to her adoring fans that freely, and this also isn’t strictly necessary.)

Most comments are nice and positive, but you always have a few assholes in chat. Sometimes they’ll even pay money to try to get Ame to read their asshole comments. What a use of money that is.

Finally, note the Task Manager at the top right of the screen. This is an extremely important window to keep track of, as it measures both Ame’s all-important follower count and three aspects of her mental/emotional state: her stress level, her “mental darkness” which sounds related to but is distinct from her stress, and her affection towards P-chan. Every action you choose for Ame has effects on one or more of these stats: streaming almost always dramatically increases her stress along with her follower count, spending time with P-chan lets Ame de-stress and also increases her affection towards him, and while sleeping is a safe way to prepare Ame for her next stream stress-wise, it also takes up time that could have been used to find new stream ideas.

You can also tell Ame to take her meds at the recommended dose, or you can make her load herself up to the gills with drugs if you feel like being an asshole to her. But of course, there are consequences.

If Ame’s stress or mental darkness get too high, she may start acting strangely and refuse to listen to your commands, making decisions for herself that usually turn out poorly for her. You also don’t want Ame’s affection level to get too low (or too high!) since this will have consequences for P-chan’s relationship with her. And since P-chan is the (mostly) silent player character, if you fuck things up for him, your game is over and you’ll be kicked to the title screen to try to be a better boyfriend/producer in a new playthrough.

Texting Ame back and not ignoring her or telling her to go on dates with other guys on “Dinder” as the app is titled here is another important part of keeping her happy, but if you pick the third option here you obviously deserve to lose her. The second is also a dick response in my opinion, though less of an aggressive one than the third.

Needy Streamer Overload feels like a timely game. People who normally would have been going out over the last two years have been largely shut inside because of COVID (aside from those who act like it doesn’t exist, but again, a subject for a different blog than mine.) This seems to have driven online traffic a lot — I’ve seen the rise in my own site’s stats that track exactly with the beginning of the global virus in March 2020. I’ve seen theories that it also had to do specifically with the rise in popularity of livestreaming and especially of VTubers, who first became widely known in the US in that same year with a flood of translated Hololive clips on YouTube and then the development of English-language branches of Japanese streaming projects like Hololive and Nijisanji.

Ame isn’t a VTuber, but a lot of what I saw in Needy Streamer Overload made me think of the small amount of time I’ve been able to scrape up watching VTuber streams and seeing fan interactions on Twitter and other sites. This game does present an extreme case of a streamer who really shouldn’t be streaming at all, who belongs in school or a regular job and definitely in some kind of therapy considering her mental/emotional state. However, it also partly addresses the unusual and not always entirely healthy relationship between the streamer and her fans on social media and in chat during her streams, and that’s not particular to Ame or her KAngel persona.

Not even Doom streams are immune

From what I’ve seen, the vast majority of viewers are just dropping in to be entertained and have a pretty casual attitude. Fans seem to be pretty accepting of most any subject a streamer might want to bring up or an idea she might want to try out, even if the stream ends up crashing and burning (as happens a few times in Needy Streamer Overload, though KAngel’s reactions to these failures end up getting her more viewers than she would have had otherwise.)

Despite this casual and accepting atmosphere, there’s still a pretty common expectation, at least as far as I understand, that a streamer like KAngel or a VTuber who presents herself in a similar way shouldn’t be romantically involved, much less sexually active. Or if she is, as a lot of fans realize is at least possible, she should never even suggest or hint at that possibility that she might have a boyfriend.1 I’ve even heard about a couple of “incidents” in which viewers heard a male voice during a stream and the streamer had to explain the situation later (probably by saying “don’t worry that was just my brother” or something similar.)

Or “it was a ghost”, that might work too

That might sound like a silly or harsh standard to you, but there seems to be a practical reason behind it. A streamer who creates a persona as Ame does has to maintain that persona in front of the camera and on her social media accounts. Talking about personal issues isn’t necessarily discouraged, and in fact it can help viewers feel more closely connected to the streamer. However, part of the appeal of this sort of streamer, whether she uses a VTuber model or not, is her cuteness and weirdly enough her romantic availability — even though, practically speaking, she’s not romantically available to any of her viewers. Again, this is not true of all such streamers, but it certainly is of KAngel/Ame, who’s pretty open about using her looks and her cute persona to attract a probably primarily male fanbase.2

KAngel is pure, but luckily for P-chan, Ame sure isn’t.

This approach to the division between the streamer’s persona on one hand and her private life on the other seems to have been carried over from the idol scene, a subject I got into when I had a look at the film Perfect Blue. In both works, many fans express their adoration and/or love for the main character, and some express envy for the attention she receives.

But of course, that attention has a double edge. Ame looks to be suffering from a mix of depression and anxiety and maybe a severe personality disorder or two thrown in, and while taking medication helps her out a bit, it’s only a temporary fix in the game. Higher viewer counts get her excited for a while, but she soon becomes dissatisfied and wants more, and then it’s clear that she’s looking for something streaming alone won’t help her with.

At the same time, a lot of Ame’s viewers also seem to be depressive shut-ins or otherwise living on the margins of society. As someone with those tendencies (at least as far as I feel, since I disguise myself pretty well in public and society as a basic normal guy more or less — no time to mope around over here) I can completely understand why such people would seek an escape like watching streamers, especially since you can spend quite literally all day every day watching them live now. And that’s not even mentioning the nearly endless stock of VODs that I’m sure fans are obsessively archiving just in case a nuclear war or solar flare destroys the internet.

The definition of nerd: if you’re watching this, it’s you

I don’t want to overstate this point. The vast majority of interactions and talk in general I’ve seen around VTubers and fans has been positive. But the term “parasocial relationship” has been thrown around a lot lately for good reason. As much as it pains me to say it, while following one of these personalities can be fun, it’s not a substitute for having a social life of your own. Not even if the cute fox girl on the screen reads your superchat.

And no surprise, with all these strong emotions running and especially with five or six day-per-week streaming schedules, there’s always potential with this arrangement for things to get out of hand, with minor and even unintentional slips or incidents being blown well out of proportion. I’m not sure how much of this translates over from VTuber/liver work to “real 3D” or in-person livestreaming or whatever you’d call it, but I recognized a lot of what I saw in this game.

Avoiding textboards and imageboards is also a good policy, though /st/ seems like it’s mostly all right surprisingly enough. I miss ASCII art.

All that said, Needy Streamer Overload, despite its often dark tone and its dozens of bad endings to achieve, isn’t entirely negative. Ame does have serious problems she needs help with, perhaps even beyond the ability of you as P-chan to fix (and her extreme dependence on her P-chan is likely a serious problem in itself.) But she also seems to genuinely enjoy streaming sometimes, even if she likes to put down her viewers a bit as her “little nerds” in her private account, and most of her fans reciprocate that positivity.

If this game went full-on 100% dark all the time, I’d criticize it for that — despite how negative I can be, I find that sort of approach in any medium of art way too boring and simplistic, and it wouldn’t reflect reality all that much. Needy Streamer Overload already presents what seems like a purposely exaggerated situation, but it’s exaggerated in the right way and mostly has the right effect. A few of the bad endings do feel pretty weird and abrupt, but there are plenty of endings in the game. Almost all of them bad, but I get that too — I guess the game’s makers didn’t want to make it so easy for us.

Keep working towards that good ending

So reading all that back, I just bullshitted a lot about subjects I probably don’t have too much understanding of and read far too deeply into everything. But that’s the usual way for me. As for the game itself — I liked it. I’m a big fan of the art style and general look of it, it has some catchy and fitting background music, and I had fun watching Ame stream as KAngel when she wasn’t an out-of-control train five seconds from derailing, which I always felt responsible for because I was the one directing her life. Needy Streamer Overload is still another one of those works that’s not meant for everyone, or perhaps even for most, but if the style grabs you and you can deal with the subject matter, I’d recommend it.

 

1 Or a girlfriend, I guess, but that possibility doesn’t seem to come up as much, and I get the impression more fans would be generally okay with their favorite having that sort of relationship (though certainly still not all of them.) I’m also not sure how much any of this might apply to male streamers — that’s a totally different world as far as I can tell, and if anyone reading this is deep into male VTubers, I’d be interested to know if there are similar hangups among those fan groups.

2 To be sure, not all fans feel this way, and that difference in opinion is also depicted in Needy Streamer Overload. However, it seems like a common enough issue that it’s still worth bringing up. I’m also not trying to justify this feeling on the part of the more obsessive fans, since I do think it’s pretty unreasonable, but it’s worth trying to understand at least. For what it’s worth, the few VTubers I follow seem to have a healthy and practical attitude towards all this, though of course it’s impossible for me to say that for sure since I don’t actually know who they are behind the curtain. Not my business anyway.

Listening/reading log #25 (November 2021)

Turns out 2021 was a fucked year too. How about that. Just as we get to the end of it, we’re beaten down by yet another virus variant. So thank God Mark Zuckerberg is here to save us with his complete dogshit watered down VR platform! Also, people are buying NFTs. Apparently this is the utopian future we were promised. Is it too late to go back and try all this shit over again?

As you can see, I’m not happy. But that’s usually the case anyway, so it’s okay. And maybe my mood will improve now, since December is one of my favorite months thanks to the holiday season. Despite my hating some Christmas music that gets way too much play this month (if I never hear those particular songs by Mariah Carey, Wham!, or Paul McCartney again I’ll be happier for sure. And no, Paul doesn’t get off the hook because he was in the Beatles and did some decent-to-good solo stuff in the 70s either. You know what you’ve done, Paul.)

So let’s start by looking at some albums that have no Christmas music on them whatsoever:

Time Out (The Dave Brubeck Quartet, 1959)

Highlights: Blue Rondo à la Turk, Strange Meadow Lark, Take Five

Yeah, more jazz. I know I lean hard on the typically snobby/nerdy stuff like jazz and prog in these posts, but hey I don’t care, so here’s more. Maybe I’ll put up a punk album or something for once to balance the rest out.

But that day hasn’t come yet, so here’s Time Out by Dave Brubeck and his Quartet. This is a landmark jazz album, one of those that has music you definitely know even if you don’t know its title. Namely “Take Five”, a cool piece with an uneven rhythm that gives it a unique character — I guess the “five” in the title refers to the 5/4 time, but despite that unusual time signature (and despite a drum solo that I’m not a big fan of — never was a fan of drum solos honestly) it flows along nicely. “Blue Rondo à la Turk” is almost as well-known, another complex piece with great flow. Speaking of prog, I think ELP covered this one, nice piece for them to show off their skills. Shoved up in the front along with them is my other favorite on here, “Strange Meadow Lark”, a slow, relaxed piece.

The whole album is nice, though. Time Out makes for an excellent mood-setter, especially if you need something classy to play at a dinner party or something. But then, it’s also not boring like a lot of other “mood-setting” music tends to be — there’s a lot here to actively enjoy too. In that sense, I’d put it in a similar category with the bossa nova I’ve also looked at here like Wave and Getz/Gilberto. And the latter had a piece of modern art on the cover too. Not sure what that’s about, but at least it’s more creative than the band photo covers albums in the late 50s usually got.

The Faust Tapes (Faust, 1973)

Highlights: ???????

Warning: still more weird shit here. Faust was a German band in roughly the same artsy rock category as Can and Amon Düül II. But this band is a lot less listener-friendly than Can, and maybe even less so than Amon Düül II? I haven’t heard their whole catalog, so I can’t say that for a certainty, but I have heard The Faust Tapes, which consists of one track with a bunch of seemingly disconnected weird percussion and sounds stitched together with a few pieces that sound almost like normal songs but not quite. From what I understand, Faust was in this real hardcore avantgarde territory throughout their career, which would explain why they might not be better known today — nothing here makes sense exactly.

But does it have to make sense? I don’t think it does, as long as the end result is interesting. It’s easy to dismiss all this avantgarde stuff as pretentious, meaningless bullshit, but I don’t get that feeling from Faust here. Firstly, because they actually can and do play their instruments properly and put together some catchy songs, like the nice folk one starting around 1:20 and the stretch of almost funk-sounding music transitioning to more acoustic folky French poetry recitation (or maybe he’s reading out of a user manual for a vacuum cleaner, not like I’d know the difference) around minute 35 to the end.

And secondly, because even the more nonsensical parts of the album do work if you’re in the right mindset. I don’t know if this is what the band was going for, but The Faust Tapes sounds to me like a normal album filtered through a dream; everything sounds sort of off and strange. It reminds me of Yume Nikki in that way, maybe because that game is literally about dreams and consists of a lot of disconnected pieces that run into each other in a similar way. Like Yume Nikki, it’s not always pleasant, more like a nightmare than a nice dream in parts, but it still works for me somehow.

So not exactly a broad recommendation this time, but if you’re into the really weird artsy side of rock music, Faust was at the core of all that. And The Faust Tapes even reportedly sold well, hitting the charts in the UK in 1973. Though that definitely had to do with it being sold for the price of a single to get their sales numbers up. A nice marketing trick, but how many people do you think regretted that purchase right away?

Adventure (Momoko Kikuchi, 1986)

Highlights: Adventure, Night Cruising, Mystical Composer

Since I had a look at something as bizarre as The Faust Tapes just now, let’s go to the opposite end of that spectrum again with something ultra-commercial: more city pop! On top of that, Adventure might be the most aggressively 80s-sounding album I’ve featured in these posts until now. Lots of those very 80s-sounding synths and drum machines and all the other musical trappings of that decade.

Normally I don’t go for that stuff too much, but I like a lot of this album anyway. Adventure is another album with a perfectly fitting cover: singer Momoko Kikuchi wading in what looks like the ocean under a pink sky, with the water lit up like the whole ocean is a massive swimming pool. The album itself is just as relaxed and luxurious-sounding as that, and Momoko’s nice soft voice fits and adds to that vibe as well. The title track sums up that feeling nicely, as does “Night Cruising” (even the title reminds me of Kingo Hamada’s “Midnight Cruisin'” — they were doing a lot of cruising in Japan in the 80s I guess.)

But the real standout on Adventure is “Mystical Composer”, a song that I’d bet did a lot on its own to inspire the vaporwave movement. Both because of its general sound and because I’d heard it quite a few times remixed before finding it in its original form here. Makes sense, because that chorus is catchy as hell.

As an aside, and since I’ve looked at a few city pop albums on the site, it’s interesting to see how this musical movement that died off at the end of the 80s, when Japan’s real estate bubble popped and its economy fell into shambles, has come back in such a big way on the internet — and now, when the whole fucking world seems to be on fire. Maybe it’s all driven by a desire for escape from reality, the same one that I theorized gave a boost to VTubers (and that might partly explain how one in particular exploded, as a VTuber known for singing city pop?)

But I’ll leave that to the people actually qualified to talk about it, or at least until I write another dedicated bullshit post of my own on the subject.

And now as usual for the featured posts:

Shoot from the Hip – Gravity Rush (Shoot the Rookie) — pix1001 gives Gravity Rush some well-deserved attention in this look back at the game. I maintain the series didn’t get nearly enough of the praise it should have, so I’m always happy to see it getting more.

Wrapping up 13 Sentinels Aegis Rim – waffling about a game I love (Video Games And Things I Write About Them) — From skyraftwanderer, a piece on another game that got far too little attention. I loved 13 Sentinels, and this post and the other posts on this blog about the game sum up everything I loved about it.

Mega Man 7 (Extra Life) — Red Metal examines Mega Man 7, Capcom’s first throwback to its original Mega Man series on the NES (or Rockman on the Famicom if you want to be more of a weeb about it, sure.) I was always lousy at those old NES titles, though I liked them for the most part, but I never had the chance to play 7. Find out above whether it’s worth a try.

The Power of Two: Princess Jellyfish (Confessions of an Overage Otaku) — I’ve heard a bit about the anime Princess Jellyfish, and the more I read, the more I’m interested in seeing it for myself — and this post might have tipped the scales finally.

Chihayafuru: An Objective Review (Mechanical Anime Reviews) — From Scott, an “objective” review of Chihayafuru, an anime about students who compete at karuta games, or Japanese card games. Scott also shows here just how hard it is to write an objective review. Please check it out (and maybe Chihayafuru as well? I haven’t seen it, but it sounds interesting.)

Return of the Destined Battle! Aether vs. Yandere Simulator, Round 2 (Lost to the Aether) — Yandere Simulator has become the prime example of an indie game in development hell, with its developer known for putting off work on the project. Shockingly, a new playable beta or something recently came out, and Aether in this post saves us the trouble of having to play it by enjoying/suffering through it himself and giving his thoughts on it. Thanks, Aether.

Give Ever Oasis another chance on the Switch (Nepiki Gaming) — From Nepiki, a look at Ever Oasis, an action-adventure RPG now on the Switch. Nepiki gives plenty of great reasons to take notice if you’re a Switch-owner (which sadly I’m still not, but hopefully soon!)

Shin Megami Tensei V First Impressions (The Gamer with Glasses) — Speaking of not owning a Switch, here’s a first look at SMT V from someone who does. A great post to check out if you’re interested in the game. I hope I can join in the fun soon enough.

Moonglow Bay – A cute, cosy and flawed game about Fish (but not necessarily always chips) (A Richard Wood Text Adventure) — A review of an inviting-looking but seemingly flawed indie game. Too bad, but hopefully the makers will improve on their mistakes next time — and you might still find something to like here, so be sure to check out Wooderon’s post.

The Best Games I Didn’t Play This Year (Frostilyte Writes) — Frostilyte writes a post that I should probably try out myself, considering I’ve only played a single game released this year. Some interesting-looking stuff, though God knows if I’ll find the time for any of it myself with my damn schedule.

Uniformity With God’s Will In Anime #4: Yuuta Togashi (The Traditional Catholic Weeb) — Our fellow Weeb highlights an anime high school romantic comedy protagonist with more depth than usual through a religious lens. An interesting angle, and one I hadn’t considered, but it sheds more light on why I liked Yuuta from Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions (and my shared confusion at why he ended up being so into Rikka, but who knows about the mysteries of the heart I suppose.)

Asterisk War vs Chivalry of a Failed Knight: Showdown! (Crow’s World of Anime) — This is a joint project, a comparative look at two anime series with similar story setups. I haven’t seen either of these and I’m not sure I have any interest in either — these sorts of stories aren’t really my thing. But I like the idea of putting two similar series head-to-head like this. Might be something to try in the future!

1000th Post. 10 Quick Tips for Anime Bloggers. (Otaku Orbit) — Congrats to Jiraiyan on one thousand posts (and shit, that’s a whole lot — not a landmark I expect to reach anytime soon!) To mark the occasion, he’s posted some excellent advice for those looking to get into anime blogging.

A Look Back On ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’ – 20 Years Later (Jon Spencer Reviews) — I was born about a year too late to care that much about Harry Potter, at least as a kid — I have seen some of the films since, and my thought was that they were pretty good adventures (and anything that included the late Alan Rickman will be naturally elevated by his presence anyway — my favorite character for sure, especially when he was acting like a dick.) Author J. K. Rowling has fallen out of favor among a lot of fans, but her work seems to have kept its popularity. Jacob over on Jon Spencer Reviews has a look back at the first film in the series 20 years on.

Why You Should Pay Attention to EDs and OPs (I drink and watch anime) — Irina gives us some good reasons to care about anime openings and endings. While they can’t make or break a series, good openings and endings can add a lot to their entertainment value (and also possibly prevent me from skipping intros/endings, which I admit I sometimes do.) And I’ve found a few really good bands through them as well.

Exploring Anime Fictophilia (I drink and watch anime) — The rare double feature this post, but for good reason: I couldn’t go without highlighting this insightful piece also from Irina about the strange love some fans have for fictional characters, bordering on and sometimes even crossing the border into romantic sentiment. Strange, but is it unnatural? Maybe not. Be sure to read Irina’s post for her thoughts on the matter.

You’re Missing Out – if You’re Not Watching Enna Alouette, the Songbird of Nijisanji EN (The Unlit Cigarette) — I can’t end this post without fulfilling my self-imposed VTuber mention quota. Thankfully I have some help from @valsisms, who here takes a well-deserved look at Enna Alouette. Enna is part of Nijisanji’s third wave of English-language streamers with a special talent at singing, but that’s not all she does.

These days, in the very rare moments I have the chance to watch a stream, it’s almost always a Nijisanji one. These girls have stolen my heart completely, though I still have a lot of respect for the talent over at the rival Hololive group. But despite their great chemistry, they haven’t caught on quite as much in the West as Hololive has (and don’t forget the stiff competition from the western-based agency VShojo — mostly not my thing, but they’re formidable as well, and I admit I do appreciate the talents of Projekt Melody that… well, go beyond the usual VTuber skill set, to put it mildly.) But if you have the spare time and the inclination to do so, I’d highly recommend giving Enna and her friends a shot.

That’s all for this month. I don’t have anything special planned for Christmas or any of the other stuff going on, just the usual possible reviews and features coming up. I haven’t even drafted anything yet, so I know exactly as much as you do at this point. Until next post, then!

More YouTube channels to watch during the quarantine (part 2)

When I wrote the first part of this post series 16 months ago, I didn’t imagine we’d still be in this shitpile by September 2021. Yet here we are, still in the midst of it. Everything is technically open where I live, but fuck that shit. I have the good fortune to be able to work from home anyway, which not everyone does obviously. (And here’s another reminder that America doesn’t give its teachers nearly enough credit or compensation. They’ll have to hope for that in the afterlife, because hell if they’ll find it on Earth.)

So here’s another post about good YouTube channels to check out if you need extra time to pass while at home. I hope this is helpful, and not just another excuse for me to write a fairly low-effort post because every day after work this week I only had the energy to watch a screen with flashing colors on it.

I’ll break these channels down into four categories again, though different ones this time, starting with:

1) Informative/documentary/etc.

First, a few channels I somehow missed last time that I want to add to this category:

CGP Grey — This guy has been around YouTube for a long time, and I’d say he’s a must-watch if you’re into history or political science at all. CGP Grey’s videos somehow manage to be both in-depth and concise, a trick I could never pull off myself. I’d recommend anything he’s put out, but his discussions of efficiency in voting systems are great (and not at all dry like they might sound — Grey also manages to always be entertaining.) They’re not all about history and politics, however: I found this one informative, though I’ve been following its instructions for about 20 years now without realizing it.

Periodic Videos — I got a lousy grade in chemistry class in high school, partly because I was being a complete no-effort shit at the time (and as a result getting a figurative but still massive ass-kicking and sorting myself out just in time to get a respectable four-year average and to get into a respectable university, but that’s another story.) I found actually studying that stuff from the textbooks and doing labs miserable, but I’ve come around, and now I follow Periodic Videos, a channel run by a group at the University of Nottingham. This channel mostly contains videos focusing on specific elements from the periodic table as their name suggests, featuring interesting background and experiments that sometimes include explosions or super-frozen objects.

Really, I get the impression this group might just like exploding, freezing, and melting objects, which I can understand. It does make the videos a little more exciting wondering how large a mess they can create with these chemicals in a safe and controlled environment.

I’ll also throw Solar Sands in this category. This guy creates interesting videos on art criticism and related subjects.

His “Let’s Build an Anime Girl” video is also pretty thought-provoking. Though I don’t agree with his conclusion that drowning in theoretical immersive fictional worlds at the expense of “real life” is a bad thing, because it’s honestly all I’m looking forward to in my own life. If anything really, I’m sad that I’ll probably be dead before we have that kind of technology. Fuck you, theoretical future people.

2) Music

I’d like to tell you the name of the first channel I’m featuring in this category, but it doesn’t have one. I’d also like to tell you the names of the songs the artist releases on this channel, but the songs don’t have names either, and neither does the artist really (though they go by x0o0x_ on Twitter.) So I’ll just post one of their recent songs:

So ”     ” is really good. But be sure to check out ”     ” as well:

These and the rest of their songs are just god damn good, not much else to say about them. I like the dark feel of them combined with their energy, and the illustrations by stdio_nameraka match the songs perfectly. Not sure why the maker(s), including the singer, have decided to remain anonymous otherwise, but that’s their deal.

If you like solo piano as much as I do, you might also be interested in Pan Piano. This channel features another anonymous musician who plays covers, largely of anime and game music.

Her playing is obviously the only reason I’m subscribed to this channel. Why else would I be?

Well, yeah, Pan’s cosplay is obviously part of the appeal of her videos, and I suspect she wouldn’t have quite so many fans without it. But she is a fine pianist on top of that — I’d like to be this good one day, or at least close to it once I brush up again. Also, she recently put out what I consider the best video on YouTube so far:

And if you’re looking for a guy who talks about music theory, why some music might sound good to your ear while other music doesn’t, and how good or shitty various music-making software is, check out Tantacrul. This channel might fit just as well in the first category above, but it’s all about music, so I’m putting it here. I especially liked this video about how modern TV producers use stock music to try to manipulate viewers’ feelings as opposed to letting the viewers’ feelings result naturally from what they’re watching.

3) Bizarre/unsettling horror

I’m generally not a fan of horror. When it’s done well, it can be a good time (though certainly taxing, but I guess that’s part of the point) but most of what I’ve seen is more of the eye-rolling sort, if it doesn’t manage to go all the way over to that “so bad it’s funny” territory. Some filmmakers seem to think it’s enough to just have a spooky ghost haunting, an alien invasion, or a demon possession in their story for me to give a shit about it.

But no. I don’t have any problem with ghosts or aliens or demons, but I need a little more than just these elements to care about horror. Thankfully, there are a few interesting and creative independent projects on YouTube that I think get the genre down pretty well, certainly better than most Hollywood films today do. And the best channel I’ve seen so far in this regard is Gemini Home Entertainment.

Gemini is a running project by one Remy Abode, who creates these 80s/90s instructional VHS-style videos that start pretty normal and pleasant but always end up running off the rails into bizarre and uncanny horror. Though it’s not clear at first, all of the videos up until the most recent as of this writing tell a cohesive story, and one that’s pretty damn terrifying once you really understand it. If you’re a fan of slow-building psychological horror, I’d recommend Gemini. No dumb jumpscares here, but what it offers is way more effective in my opinion. I especially found the video “DEEP ROOT DISEASE” genuinely upsetting in exactly the way I think it was going for.

And if that was too taxing for you, try taking some Thalasin! It’s a new drug that’s supposed to improve your emotions. Or turn you into a character from a Junji Ito manga. I didn’t know what to expect watching this one and might have pissed myself as a result. I didn’t, just to be clear, but I can understand why someone would.

And if you’re not familiar with Junji Ito, look him up before watching the Thalasin video, and if you don’t like what you see of his work, probably don’t click that link. Without giving the twist away, it’s really not to be taken lightly — and now you can’t complain that I didn’t warn you beforehand. That Gooseworx is a creative one in any case.

4) VTubers

And finally, of course here’s an update on those virtual YouTubers we all love so much. Since first writing about them back in December, the world of English-language VTubers has expanded quite a bit. Hololive English has recently had additions to its lineup, including “Hololive Council” or EN Gen 2 as I’ve heard most people call it, even though apparently we’re not supposed to call it that. It’s good stuff, with plenty of interesting and varied personalities to suit just about anyone’s tastes.

My personal favorite in the bunch is Ouro Kronii, the “Warden of Time” who wears a giant floating clock over her head that resembles a helicopter’s blades. And of course that’s the only remarkable thing about her design. Always looking respectfully, of course.

She also provides good life advice:

Kronii’s streams have a nice chilled-out feel that I like. Even though I can’t really catch much of any of them because holy shit, I have too damn much work to do and how am I supposed to follow all these VTubers? I really hope that afterlife I was talking about has all these VODs in stock so I’ll have something to pass eternity with.

On top of all that, the other major VTuber agency Nijisanji started its own English-language branch this year, with two generations already pretty well established. I’ve already talked them up a bit in end-of-month posts, but all six VTubers in the group so far are a good time to watch, and they have great chemistry together. I’m partial to Pomu Rainpuff — she’s a strange one, very entertaining and certainly dedicated, practicing one song for nine hours straight. Her Google Earth tour of Akihabara was also interesting. Pomu really likes maid cafés I guess, can’t blame her.

But my favorite in this particular group is probably Finana Ryugu. She’s streamed both Nekopara and VA-11 Hall-A — truly a mermaid of culture. Her “safe for work” narrations of the 18+ scenes in the Nekopara games alone are enough to put her in the eternal hall of fame.

Also, credit to Rosemi for playing Age of Empires II. Still a great game worth the attention after 20 years, though she earned her reputation as ruiner of all France in that stream.

That’s it for now. If we spend still another 16 months in this hell, I’ll be sure to write a part 3 in this series. Until then (but hopefully not.)

Listening/reading log #21 (July 2021)

Another month has passed. Two months in this case, since I skipped June. But I guess I picked a good time to return. Since many of us are once again confined to quarters thanks to this shitty mutation of the coronavirus that’s ravaging the Earth, you might have time to listen to all this music and read all these excellent posts from around our communities.

First to the music, as usual. Next month, I plan to cover some very modern music, but this time around I’ll be going way back and listening to two old classics that I remember hearing in my childhood and high school years — but they’re not from my childhood, rather from my parents’. I’d actually quit listening to all of these guys years ago because I’d heard their music so much, but lately I’ve been going back, and it’s been an interesting experience. On to it:

Rubber Soul (The Beatles, 1965)

Highlights: Drive My Car, Norwegian Wood, Nowhere Man, Girl, In My Life

Yeah, these guys really don’t need me talking them up, do they? Everyone knows about the Beatles already. But that doesn’t mean their music isn’t still worth talking about. These four dudes from Liverpool, England were massively influential and changed popular music with their work, which spread throughout the decade of the 60s, moving from somewhat sugary pop/rock in the early part of that decade to artsy and even experimental pop/rock by the end.

I like both of these well-known early and late periods of the Beatles’ music, but what happened between them? These guys started shifting their tone in 1965, most noticeably with Rubber Soul, widely known as their “transitional album” and sometimes as their first “serious” album. At first, it might be hard to spot the difference, since the album is still full of short catchy songs that are mostly about love and relationships and all that old stuff. However, the tone is very different and often darker here than you’ll find on something like A Hard Day’s Night. You still have peppy upbeat songs like the opener “Drive My Car”, which I’ll forever remember from my childhood as the song the local morning news played over the traffic report. And there are still fairly straightforward love songs like Paul McCartney’s Michelle, just the thing for playing under some girl’s window to win her affections (you know, as long as she’s named Michelle — if she’s not, you might just piss her off even more than you have already.)

But then there are songs about disappointment and wrecked and even toxic relationships, starting with John Lennon’s “Norwegian Wood”, maybe the most famous song about blue balls ever recorded, and ending with a pretty big overreaction from the protagonist (at least according to the popular reading of the lyrics.) Lennon’s “Girl” is even darker in a way, describing a bad relationship that’s hard to escape, and Run For Your Life goes so far as to have the singer promising his girl won’t escape their relationship alive. What the fuck, guys. It’s hard to imagine all those girls screaming over the Beatles playing that song, isn’t it? And now there’s even a non-love song with “Nowhere Man”, which is just kind of depressing as shit, but still excellent of course.

Rubber Soul is an interesting look at how the Beatles changed their sound and approach, capturing that sound right in the middle of its shift — with Revolver in 1966 they’d be almost completely in that later “art” period. But aside from the historical interest it holds, it’s also just a really good album in its own right. Also yeah, George Harrison plays a sitar for the first time on “Norwegian Wood”; there’s your bar trivia fact for this post.

Live at Leeds (The Who, 1970)

Highlights: the whole thing really, but listen to Heaven and HellAmazing Journey/Sparks, Young Man Blues

Another band that doesn’t need a lot of talking up. But I listened to this thing so much in high school that I damn near wore the CD out (yeah, dating myself here once again.) The Who were another one of the British Invasion groups back in the 60s along with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones — like the Stones, they had a harder edge, playing their take on old American RnB and blues, but like the Beatles they also delved into some more artsy/ambitious work later on, writing the famous rock operas Tommy and Quadrophenia.

The Who were also by all accounts an amazing live band, one that I regret I was never around to actually see play. But at least we have great live albums like Live at Leeds. This album captures these guys at a high point, just coming off of the success of Tommy, and it gives us a listen to the wide range of their work — from short singles from their earlier days like Substitute to medleys of their then-recent work with “Amazing Journey/Sparks”. Most of these are originals, but they also cover a few old classics; see “Young Man Blues” and Summertime Blues, which most people probably know better in its original Eddie Cochran version.

It’s easy to tell from this album alone why this band was and still is so revered. All four of these guys were excellent performers: Roger Daltrey’s vocals, Pete Townshend’s guitar (and writing, since he did write most of their music/lyrics), John Entwistle’s bass, and Keith Moon’s drumming, all of it. Moon famously used to go nuts on his drumkit (and in his life generally speaking) but it fits well with the band’s style — it’s easier if you actually see them in action as you can here, playing “Heaven and Hell” live one year later.

But even without the visuals, there’s a lot of energy and talent on this album and it all comes through. The Who also recorded some great studio albums that I might get around to looking at later on.

And now on to the featured posts:

Catherine: Full Body Review (WCRobinson) — Catherine is a PS3 puzzle game classic that started a few debates back in the day over its frank depiction of relationships and both their emotional and sexual aspects. The PS4 remake Full Body adds a new character to the story along with some other interesting features. Be sure to read WCRobinson’s review for an in-depth look at the game.

The Awesome Combo Trainer of Them’s Fightin’ Herds (Frostilyte Writes) — I am absolute trash at fighting games, but I still like reading Frostilyte’s thoughts on them. The animal-themed fighting game Them’s Fightin’ Herds certainly seems like an interesting one to check out if you’re into the genre.

Visual Novel Theatre: Idol Magical Girl Chiru Chiru Michiru (Lost to the Aether) — Dipping back into June for this one, but it’s well worth the trip back for another of Aether’s visual novel reviews. Idol Magical Girl Chiru Chiru Michiru might sound like it’s not made for manly men, but Aether absolutely destroys that misguided idea in his review of the game. Also, the art on that title screen is familiar — I’m positive I know that artist, but I can’t place the name and it’s driving me a bit crazy.

Donkey Kong Country (Extra Life) — Red Metal gives his thoughts on the classic SNES platformer Donkey Kong Country in this extremely in-depth review. How does it hold up after all these years? Check his post out to find out.

AILBHTAY: Kino’s Journey (2003) (Mechanical Anime Reviews) — Scott reviews the classic Kino’s Journey, one that I somehow haven’t watched yet. Now I have yet another old series to add to my backlog, because Kino seems to be well worth a look.

3 Episode Rule – The Aquatope on White Sand (A Richard Wood Text Adventure) — I’m watching the currently airing anime The Aquatope on White Sand, and it’s promising so far, with very high production values and an interesting premise. See this post for more on why you might want to pick it up as well.

Full Dive: This Ultimate Next-Gen Full Dive RPG Is Even Shittier than Real Life! – Well this name is quite the mouth full. (Natural Degeneracy) — Normally I’m down for a good ecchi/fanservice-filled series; you know me. This one doesn’t sound like it quite lives up to its potential, but you might find something to like — see this review for more. Also, one of the characters looks a lot like Etna from Disgaea.

Hyouka – Review (KSBlogs) — Hyouka is an anime I’ve been thinking of picking up just because of how damn good it looks, and this detailed review of the series has gotten me even more interested in it.

Trying Out My New “Positivity” – Pomu’roll at the End (The Unlit Cigarette) — From Valsisms, an account of trying to be positive even in the face of absurdity. If you’ve ever had a bad or bizarre job interview, and who hasn’t, you will likely be able to relate. (I also want to second her plug of Nijisanji EN at the end — I’ve already admitted to falling down the VTuber hole long ago, and since writing that post back in December mostly about Hololive talents, rival agency Nijisanji has introduced two sets of new English-language VTubers. And they’re all entertaining, so be sure to check them out if you’re into that. (I 100% simp for Rosemi Lovelock and I’m not ashamed to say it. But God, what’s happened to my life.))

The VTuber Bachelorette: Mori Calliope (Pinkie’s Paradise) — Speaking of VTubers, Pinkie is putting a select few in the spotlight on her blog, including everyone’s favorite rapping grim reaper Mori Calliope. I like Mori’s down to Earth attitude, and while I’m not much for rap she’s obviously a talented singer/musician as well. But how would she make for a girlfriend? An interesting question, but there are some serious complications involved that Pinkie gets into (and it’s not just the fact that she’s a 2D anime girl — not that that stops some people!)

MY TAKE ON MOST FAMOUS ANIME WAIFUS – Thiccness Alert (FreakSenpai) — And speaking of waifus, FreakSenpai gives us some personal thoughts on a few popular anime characters that many fans pine for. All I have to say is: good taste!

How Square Enix Ripped Out My Heart & Then Stomped On It: Final Fantasy XV (Eating Soup with Trailing Sleeves) — I lost track of Final Fantasy many years ago, so I can’t comment personally on the subject, but Trailing Sleeves gives a personal account of the Final Fantasy XV experience here, along with some thoughts about how effectively (or ineffectively) it tells its story.

Summoning Salt: Ode to Speedrunning Docu Excellence (Professional Moron) — Summoning Salt runs an interesting YouTube channel, producing documentary-style pieces about the history of speedrunning. His videos usually focus on one game each, or even on an aspect of a particular game, and how their challenges are taken on by the most skilled speedrunners in the world. Mr. Wapojif highly recommends this channel, and so do I!

Having a Tea Party at the Umineko Manor (Kyu-Furukawa Gardens) (Resurface to Reality) — I love the visual novel series Umineko no Naku Koro ni. But what I didn’t know for a long time was that the Ushiromiya mansion featured in the game is based on a real place, and apparently you can have a tea party there, just like Beatrice the Golden Witch sometimes did while she was tormenting Battler in the meta-world or however that went (it’s complicated.) A good idea if you can make it when things open up a bit once again.

What’s (In My Opinion) the Worst Parts About Anime (Side of Fiction) — Our friendly overlord Jacob loves anime, but he also has a few problems with the medium as it stands today. I’m partly but not totally on board with him, though I do get his reasoning, and he raises some issues that are worth talking about.

I’m Having Trouble Adapting to the Anime Community off WordPress (I drink and watch anime) — Irina brings up a new trend among anime bloggers of shifting off of WordPress and onto other platforms, talking about what she sees as the pros and cons of this shift. I do use Twitter sometimes, but I’m more or less of the same mind — WordPress is where I’ll stay, even if/when Automattic forces us to use their new extra-shitty text editor. I’m just waiting for that axe to fall.

Anonymity on the Internet is Slowly Dying (Umai Yomu Anime Blog) — Anonymity on the internet is indeed dying, and Yomu gets into detail in this post about how that’s happening and how we might fight against this trend and protect our own privacy online.

Nestle and Cargill financing child slavery for their chocolate industries, yet SCOTUS rejects a lawsuit to stop them from getting sued by those formally enslaved. (Ospreyshire’s Realm) — Finally, apologies for getting heavy here at the very end, but this is an important subject that hasn’t gotten much talk. Nestle is well known for being one of the evilest companies on Earth, even worse than Activision-Blizzard (which yes, I am following that case, and possibly more on it later.) So it’s not a great surprise that major food-producing corporations Nestle and Cargill were sued in the US over allegations of using child labor and essentially promoting slavery in Cote D’Ivoire for the purpose of chocolate production. The lawsuit was thrown out by the US Supreme Court on jurisdictional grounds, which basically means that the case might have merit but still can’t be heard for technical reasons. Ospreyshire here writes about how this was a bad ruling and why these companies should be held to account for their actions.

And that’s all for this month. I hope I’ve acquitted myself for skipping the last one. As for what you can expect from me moving forward — more anime reviews are certainly on their way, and I have a couple of other features I’m planning, including the next deep read post (probably up next unless I decide to revise it a whole lot.) Until then, all the best.

The shark says a: Exploring the appeal of VTubers

VTubers. These 2D streamers have been all over the place the last few months. If you don’t know what any of this is about that you’ve been seeing on Twitter and in your recommended YouTube videos, you were exactly where I was in the middle of this year. Back then, I wondered a bit about the whole VTuber thing — I was familiar with the original self-proclaimed “virtual YouTuber” Kizuna Ai, a peppy sort of virtual idol who started making short scripted comedy videos a few years back using what looked like a MikuMikuDance model. But 2017 may as well be ancient history as far as the internet is concerned, and I didn’t know a thing about this new VTuber movement that seemed to have exploded from 2019 on.

And look at me now: still falling down that infamous rabbit hole. People joke about it, but it’s a real thing: I peered into this hole out of curiosity back around July, thinking I’d just make a study of it. And it fucking pulled me in.

And it was the rabbit herself who was most responsible.

But what is the appeal of VTubers, exactly? I get why someone wouldn’t understand it. When popular Japanese VTuber agency Hololive’s English-language branch debuted on YouTube back in September, I saw some very confused people on Twitter asking why these streams and video clips featuring anime girl puppets were suddenly being recommended to them, and wondering who this shark girl was people wouldn’t shut up about.

Firstly, what is a VTuber? To put it very briefly, it’s a person controlling and speaking through an animated model. These models take all sorts of forms — they’re usually cute anime girls of some variety, though there are male VTubers out there as well. It’s apparently not really that difficult to become a VTuber yourself; just rig up a model however that works (I admit I have no idea about the technical side of this, except that Live2D seems to be a popular program to use) and stream with it, and hot damn now you’re a VTuber, congratulations.

However, there does seem to be more to it than that. I was never very big on following streamers myself aside from a few people I know personally, but VTubers seem to have a particular appeal. But what could that appeal be? Instead of trying to describe it first in a general sense, I want to take a look at a few of my favorite VTubers and see what sets them apart. Starting with the primary culprit:

Usada Pekora

Pekora goes first because she was the one who got me into this whole mess. A 111 year-old rabbit from a country called Pekoland, Pekora decided to emigrate to Japan to become a streamer. At first, she presented the figure of a cute, demure girl, but that soon gave way to the Pekora people know today:

Pekora says she’s an idol, but most of her fans insist she’s a “comedian” to her great distress. It’s not hard to see why they think of her that way, though. Pekora is fast-talking and very smug but a bit of a buffoon; she’ll often be bragging about how great she is just before getting killed in a game or defeated by one of her VTuber friends. This leads to a weird sort of streamer-chat relationship in which chat members laugh at her many misfortunes. This clip from one of Pekora’s talk streams shows some of that relationship, in which Pekora tries to act like a proper cutesy idol much to the dismay of her fans.

But it’s all in good fun, and Pekora is a highly entertaining streamer. Even though I can’t understand most of what she says since it’s almost all in Japanese. Bless those clippers and translators. (I do love when she speaks English, though.)

Kiryu Coco

If any VTuber was responsible for getting a ton of English-speaking viewers into the whole VTuber thing before Hololive EN came about, it was Kiryu Coco. This Yakuza-loving dragon girl (apparently she took part of her name from Kiryu Kazuma) is fluent in both Japanese and English and for a long time acted as a sort of bridge between Japanese and overseas fans because of it. She also has an understanding of American culture in particular that a lot of her colleagues don’t, making for some interesting videos like her “Reddit meme reviews” where she reviews overseas fans’ many shitposts with her friends.

Coco, more than most of her Hololive colleagues, just doesn’t seem to give a damn and will push the boundaries sometimes, which in itself has become a bit of a joke. But that’s part of why fans love her as well. I suspect that’s also part of her appeal to western fans, since many of us don’t get a lot of idol culture standards that somewhat restrict what idols (and even these streamers) can talk about. Here, for example, is Coco delivering some wisdom to a fan who wrote in. Or maybe this is Coco corrupting the youth. Maybe it’s both?

I find Coco’s approach refreshing and a lot of fun to watch. And she speaks English sometimes in her streams as well, so if you don’t know any Japanese you might still be able to follow occasionally.

Amano Pikamee

Hololive contains many of the best-known and most popular VTubers, but they’re not the only game in town. There are other agencies like Nijisanji and the newly created US-based VShojo. There are also plenty of independent VTubers out there doing their thing, and Pikamee is one of them. A VTuber connected to the independent project VOMS, Pikamee describes herself as a five trillion and one year-old electric-type monster. This might make her sound like a terrifying entity, but she’s really just a nice girl who likes playing games on stream and talking to fans. Her streams are also supposedly “family-friendly”, though that standard doesn’t always get maintained:

Like Coco, Pikamee is fluent in both Japanese and English, but she uses both languages almost equally in her streams, switching between them fluidly and basically translating herself for her audience most of the time. This also makes for some interesting situations with her colleagues Hikasa and Monoe, who aren’t quite as fluent in English:

Pikamee is pretty much a ray of sunshine, that’s all. And her tea kettle laugh is infectious.

Gawr Gura

Well shit, yeah of course Gura. This shark girl is currently the most subscribed among the VTubers, at least as far as I understand. But that’s not why I’m talking about her — it’s because her streams are pretty damn entertaining.

Even before her debut back in September as part of the Hololive EN English-language crew, Gura was attracting attention. During her first livestream (which yes I was watching, I was there live I admit) viewers were piling in, and when she announced that she was going to close out with a song, a lot of people were expecting her to sing that irritating “Baby Shark” meme song, Gura herself being a small shark and all. But instead she busted out with this Tatsuro Yamashita surprising everyone with both that pick and with her voice. I’ll also submit her jazz lounge take on Renai Circulation, along with this performance of “Plastic Love”:

Good stuff. Gura is also just pretty fun in general; she has an easygoing and comfortable style in her streams that I like. She seems to have a special understanding of internet culture as well. I don’t know if Gura’s first tweet, simply the letter “a”, was an accident or intentional, but she instantly turned it into one of her signatures. I don’t know how the hell something like that catches on, but it worked for her.

I could go on talking about the tomboy duck Subaru, best dog Korone, rapping grim reaper and fellow Persona fan Calliope, dirty-minded pirate captain and fellow Touhou fan Marine, or the complete mystery that is Haachama. But I think I might be able to make a case based on what we have here, at least from an American perspective. More than anything, I think this VTuber movement resembles a massive, constantly ongoing variety show. These used to be very popular in the US, with series like The Carol Burnett Show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and The Muppet Show running comedy skits and musical acts. Today, the only TV shows I know of here that do anything like that are Saturday Night Live and the various late night shows, which don’t hold much appeal for younger audiences (or they downright suck for the most part, as with SNL from what I’ve seen of it the last several years.)

I think Hololive and other networks, along with independent VTubers, offer something like that, only far fresher than today’s stale TV fare. One reason for this might be the sheer variety of streams on offer: there are the expected game streams, but also art streams, singing and music streams, talk streams, ASMR streams (which I still don’t really get, but a lot of people seem to like them) and even a morning show (Coco’s “Asacoco”, which includes comedy skits and parody advertisements.) The variety of character types available is also an important aspect; there are all kinds of VTubers out there to suit just about anyone’s tastes.

However, I think the biggest draw to the whole VTuber phenomenon, what really sets it apart, is the interaction with the audience. Chat moves at light speed in the more popular streams, but even there a weird sort of culture seems to develop in each VTuber channel, and there’s quite a lot of streamer-chat interaction that sometimes makes for comedy in itself. And maybe even for more than that. It’s understood that most VTubers play a character. We obviously know Gura isn’t really an ancient shark girl from Atlantis, and we never actually see the real-life three-dimensional streamer behind that character, but that’s all an accepted part of the act. Even so, sometimes the VTuber breaks character and talks pretty openly about themselves. Some VTubers even start out with a character that seems to slowly turn into something more natural, probably much more closely resembling their real selves, leading to some interesting and surprisingly intimate moments.

After all that, though, maybe you still don’t see the appeal of VTubers. Or maybe you have a more cynical take on the whole setup than I do: that these are just some cute anime girl models with cute personalities and voices designed to eat up superchat money, and that I’ve become a brainwashed shill. I understand why someone would feel that way. I also acknowledge that this business isn’t all fun and games — the agency-based VTubers’ connection with idol culture in Japan seems to have brought along some of the strange hang-ups some idol fans carry around with them (though again, I can’t talk too much about the idol thing. I haven’t even played an Idolmaster game so what do I know.)

But I still see much more of a positive than a negative effect here. It goes without saying that this year has been rough for just about everyone on Earth and that a distraction was sorely needed, and it’s possible that the rise in VTuber popularity this year had something to do with that (and also the whole being stuck at home thing.) But after seeing both the size and sheer dedication of these fanbases and the actual quality of the talents and their programs, I don’t believe this is just a passing fad. I would put money on it: the craze will probably die down a bit, especially after life gets back to something like normal, but VTubers are here to stay. And there’s always room in the rabbit hole for one more. 𒀭