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!

Listening/reading log #28 (February 2022)

Time for the end-of-month post a bit late again. But what a fucking month it was. The invasion of Ukraine isn’t something I’ve commented on here or elsewhere almost at all until now, because it’s not the sort of subject I write about on a regular basis, and what can I add to this discussion anyway? But I have always used the beginning of these posts to vent on heavy matters, so: to hell with Vladimir Putin, hopefully quite literally, both for this and many other past and present crimes, not least of which is using the threat of nuclear war as a shield while he ravages a smaller neighbor.

I hope he ends up knocked off of his throne at the very least. And if he ends up suffering the same fate as a Ceaușescu, a Mussolini, or a Gaddafi, well, that would be fine too. Ideally, the man should be in the dock in The Hague, but since my country doesn’t recognize the authority of the International Criminal Court (because we have our own war criminals right here in America and God forbid they should be held to account for their own misdeeds) it’s hard for us to make that sort of argument — except right now, when a world leader openly defies international borders, human rights, and common sense.*

I don’t have a personal connection to Ukraine, but a large part of my family were refugees in the past and the effects are felt to this day, so this still feels like a personal matter. And even if I didn’t have that sort of background, I’m sure I’d feel the same, as should anyone who’s not brainwashed or heartless. Anyway, I realize none of what I’m writing here is very brave, especially since unlike many in both Ukraine and Russia I’m in no danger of being arrested or shot in the head for writing such things. But I just felt like expressing these thoughts.

If you also have the luxury to not be worried about your survival right at the moment, let’s check out some music and some excellent writing from around the communities as usual. I took a slightly different approach to my music section this time, however — I didn’t really listen to any full proper albums that I felt like writing about, but I also had some pieces of albums and a lot of single songs that either came from albums I otherwise don’t feel strongly about or that were never on albums to write about, or just a few curiosities I stumbled over, and these never fit into that typical “album review” format I use in these posts. So this is a deviation from the usual, a rough mix of songs all thrown together, but I’ll return to the regular format next month.

Various — 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim Original Soundtrack — (LEUCINE)

Starting with my favorite piece out of part of a soundtrack I’ve been listening to a lot the past week. I played through 13 Sentinels on the PS4 and loved it, but it didn’t get much love over here back when it was released. Hopefully that changes when it comes out for the Switch soon, because more people need to play this game.

Part of that appeal is its soundtrack. “(LEUCINE)” and the other 13 Sentinels battle themes are amazing in how well they build tension, fitting perfectly into the giant mech vs. kaiju battles of the game’s combat sections. The softer pieces that mostly play during the adventure/investigation parts are nice as well — the soundtrack is great as a whole, but these battle themes stand out to me.

Also, if you’re confused by the album cover, I get that. It really doesn’t look like the cover to an OST for a game about giant mechs fighting kaiju monsters. Only the small robot hints at this even being a sci-fi game. But that girl on the cover does have significance to the game’s plot, and if I say any more, I’d have to get into spoilers, which I won’t. So just be sure to check out 13 Sentinels if you haven’t already. If anyone ever tries to excuse Michael Bay’s shitty Transformers movies by saying “they’re just movies about giant robots fighting, of course they’re dumb!” just know that this game fucks that excuse up completely.

Joji — Nectar Like You Do

Now this sort of song I’d normally never feature here. It’s not really my kind of music, this slow, romantic-sounding stuff. “Like You Do” is a nice one for sure, a great choice to sing under some girl’s window if you’re lovesick over her as long as you can hit those high notes. I also like the strange video that goes along with it (are those fish eggs and a chain floating around in red jello? Aside from the chain, I’m probably wrong, but no idea what else those could be.)

But though I think Joji is certainly a talented guy, that’s still not reason enough for me to feature this music. The real reason I know about Joji at all is because he’s the same guy who was making stuff like this six/seven years ago:

If you’re not familiar, this singer/composer Joji aka George Miller used to make both music and bizarre comedy videos with his friends on YouTube playing characters like the above Pink Guy. The main character in this whole thing was a disgusting misanthropic mess of a man called Filthy Frank. Joji got famous making music like the above song and also videos in which he and his buddies acted like idiots in public and baked hair and even worse things into cakes and ate them. It was either absurdist comedy or moronic depending on how you look at it (probably both really, and the people who took part would likely agree based on what I’ve heard.)

The common feeling now is that Joji was smart to retire all these characters back before comedy like this became culturally way less acceptable, and I agree — even a few of the lines in the above song wouldn’t fly today, and that’s apart from its intentionally offensive tone. The fact that he was able to make the transition from this stuff to performing songs people cry over at the bar or sing at their weddings is pretty damn amazing. Now Taylor Swift’s famous transition from country to pop music doesn’t seem so impressive.

Franz Ferdinand — Franz FerdinandThis Fire

This is one of the songs that played a whole lot when I was in high school, about ready to get out of that miserable hellhole. Good song, a lousy time in my life, but the music is still remembered fondly. This stuff brings back memories of studying for those fucking IB exams. If any other readers had to take the IB, let me know so I can send you my best wishes. And thanks to Shoot the Rookie for reminding me about this song/band over on Twitter during her song share event.

Chirinuruwowaka — Atelier Escha & Logy Vocal AlbumMilk-Colored Pass

Speaking of that song share event, one of the songs I posted on Twitter at the time was the OP theme to Atelier Escha & Logy. As much as I like Atelier, its music doesn’t always stand out to me (though it’s always at least pretty good, just not always standout amazing, you know.) But this theme is an exception. It’s just a good catchy as hell song. I also like the kind of rough vocals that match the feel of the music well.

Casiopea — Make Up City Gypsy Wind

I’m going to make a statement here that some might consider criminal: aside from their excellent debut album, I don’t care for a lot of what I’ve heard from Casiopea. I almost completely hate their second album Super Flight with all the cheesy synth tones gooped into it and the horrific vocoder nightmare of “I Love New York”, and I’m pretty cold on most of the rest of what I’ve heard, which feels like it’s sliding too much into generic doctor’s office waiting room music.

But before all the hardcore 80s fusion fans hang me, I want to say that I do like “Gypsy Wind” from their third studio album. It sounds like a tropical breeze feels, which is something I haven’t felt in an extremely long time, but I have enough of a memory of being in Hawaii once when I was a kid to connect the two.

_

Just a few days ago, the group      released this song, titled ”    “. I still don’t know what kind of weird invisible characters they’re using to make those untitled titles. I’m sure there are some typeface experts out there who already know the answer.

I’ve featured this nameless group before, and I’m always happy to see a new song out of them. This is another good one, though my favorite song of theirs is still _. I’m also a big fan of the artist who does their illustrations — just check out this horror, though not if you have a problem with creepy face paintings-within-paintings staring at characters within the larger painting and probably freaking them out as well. I’d hang this in my house if I owned one, but then I’m a fucking weirdo as you know.

xx — イワシがつちからはえてくるんだ / A Sardine Grows from the Soil

Finally, something very different from the rest. “A Sardine Grows from the Soil” is one of several songs created by the same person with the free Vocaloid-style software Utau. This person is talented as hell, or was, at least, since they’ve vanished from the internet. There’s a reason I’m not naming the creator of this song: for whatever reason, they specifically requested that everyone forget about them, while leaving permission to at least keep sharing this and several of their other songs (see also here and here, and also The Bluefin Tuna Comes Flying, which is a kind of companion piece to this one) as long as they’re uncredited.

Not sure what that’s about, but I like their work. I’m not even sure who all the characters are in these videos aside from Teto Kasane, the pink-haired girl in the center singing — she’s a sort of off-brand Vocaloid with some popularity. The lyrics are also interesting; all in Japanese, so I’m sure I’m missing some nuance, but though their meanings seem obscure they all have a pretty dark feel to them. And thanks to this guy for making a piano cover of “Sardine”. It’s pretty damn good and I’d love to learn it myself, but I don’t have four fucking hands to play it with. Feels like a Gershwin-style piano roll for the 21st century.

That’s it for the music. I hope you liked the different format. I’m out of individual songs to talk about, so next time it will be back to the full albums as promised. Now on to the featured articles:

Breath of the Wild Retrospective (Frostilyte Writes) — I’ve never been the biggest fan of Zelda, even if I can appreciate its quality. I know there are plenty of classic games I’ve missed out on. But is Breath of the Wild one of them? Though it was popular, this open-world title seems to have been a bit divisive. No matter what your feeling about it is (or even if you don’t have any, because like me you haven’t played it) you should read Frostilyte’s article on the game.

13 Sentinels Is Damn Good When the Training Wheels Come Off (Adventure Rules) — Speaking of 13 Sentinels again, from Adventure Rules, a series of insightful posts on the game. I’ll be following it, and you should too.

OneShot: Darkness, a Cat Thing, and Story-Driven Puzzles (Professional Moron) — Mr. Wapojif takes a look at OneShot, an excellent indie game that uses fourth-wall-breaking in an innovative way to tell a unique story. If you haven’t taken my word on the game yet, please read his post and then play OneShot; you won’t regret it.

Lake Review (Honest Gamer) — A review of the indie game Lake, one I hadn’t heard about before reading this post. Sounds interesting, although not without some technical problems. I can appreciate these kinds of relaxation games better these days, anyway.

Wordplay and Double Entendre in Bloodborne (Meghan Plays Games) — I haven’t played Bloodborne, but from Meghan’s post, it sounds like there’s a lot there to like — including some clever wordplay! And as someone who plays around with words, though usually with shit results, I’m all about that wordplay, especially when it’s actually done well.

The Portopia Serial Murder Case (Extra Life) — Last month, Red Metal took on an old Japanese text adventure that has had a massive impact on gaming, even though many of us (myself included) haven’t heard of it. The Portopia Serial Murder Case is a fascinating game to read about, so be sure to check out Red Metal’s review.

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (Nintendobound) — Even more games I haven’t played, that’s today’s theme in this section of the post. Matt has a look at the DS GTA title Chinatown Wars. I owned a DS, but apparently I missed out on this one!

Yakuza: Fighting toxicity one punch at a time. (Zanfers Gaming) — Out of the Yakuza series, I’ve still only really played Yakuza 0, but even in that game alone, I could tell that there was something special about its two leads Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima. Kiryu in particular makes for a great role model, and not just because he can pick up a entire fucking motorcycle and beat hooligans over the head with it. This post gets down exactly why Kiryu is a man to emulate (though maybe not that motorcycle part, okay. There are probably better ways to deal with those situations in real life.)

Planetes: Fighting the Cruelty of Space (Mechanical Anime Reviews) — From Scott, a look at Planetes, one of my old favorites, though it’s not without its faults. Older anime series tend to get lost in the mix as the hot new stuff is trending, so it’s good to see classics being written about around here. I hope I’ll be doing some of that myself soon when I dig back into my anime backlog.

Anime Review #75: K-On! (The Traditional Catholic Weeb) — Another older anime review, this time a hard look at K-On!, one of the most iconic “cute girls doing cute things” series. I passed it by when it aired after seeing a couple of episodes, though that was when the seasonal lineups were so full of these “cute girls” series that they suffered a backlash from some fans, something like isekai is getting now. It’s worth reading about K-On! at least considering how much influence it’s had — it’s likely you’ve heard at least one of the songs from the series if you’re anywhere in that weeb sphere like we are.

Top 5 Romantic Anime that End Badly! (I drink and watch anime) — It wouldn’t be an end-of-month post without featuring one of Irina’s articles, so here’s a look at romantic anime series with rough endings. I’m not into tearjerkers, and while I can take plenty of depression in my media, I don’t go for the broken romance type unless it’s incorporated into a larger story with higher stakes than that. But romance is pretty high stakes for a lot of viewers, and if you enjoy personal tragedy and heartbreak, you’ll probably be interested in Irina’s post.

My Break-Up Letter With Last Exile (In Search of Number Nine) — I haven’t seen the anime Last Exile — I only know it from the involvement of character designer/artist Range Murata, but it’s always been on that to-watch list I keep. Iniksbane has an interesting history with the show and gives some insight about what makes a favorite series and how tastes and one’s critical approach to art can change over time.

3 Years of Gaming Omnivore (Gaming Omnivore) — And finally, congrats to Gaming Ominvore on three years of writing! It takes dedication to keep that up. Here’s hoping for many more.

That’s it for the last month. Sorry about the heavy subject matter directly at the top (and in the endnote below) and also sorry for posting a Pink Guy video near the beginning. I hope you could get through whatever the fuck you’d call that to read this. Going forward, assuming humanity isn’t all annihilated or whatever it is all the foreign policy experts on Twitter think is about to happen, I’ll be watching some anime and playing Atelier Sophie 2. Be sure to check out my first look at that game if you have any interest in cute girls doing alchemy. It’s a nice escape.

 

* It’s worth mentioning that people didn’t raise such a fuss when Putin was murdering civilians in Syria in support of fellow blood-soaked tyrant Bashar al-Assad. But what can you expect. Maybe they would have if it had been reported more widely.

And though this hypocrisy absolutely annoys me, it does make sense at least that people would be a lot more nervous about a war in Europe for obvious reasons — the comparisons between Putin and you-know-who are warranted as far as his approach to propaganda goes (denial of nationality leading to the destruction of statehood: that’s straight out of that Austrian-born dictator’s instruction manual, though he wasn’t the first to do it either.)

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.

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.)

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

YouTube channels to watch during the quarantine

Well, it sure as hell doesn’t feel like things are “opening up.” At least not where I live, despite what our leaders are insisting upon. Very likely you’re still stuck inside for much of the day at least, so why not check out some free entertainment on YouTube? The kind you can passively watch from your couch or bed, or from your computer chair when you’re procrastinating at work. Because yeah I’m a writer, and there are other far better writers to read here on WordPress, but sometimes you just don’t want to read anymore. I get that.

If you can bear to read a little more, though, then here are some channels I like broken down by style/subject matter:

1) Technology/computer stuff channels

Even though I write a blog that’s mostly about games and that could possibly fall into the tech category if you’re really stretching it, I barely know a damn thing about coding, programming, or any of that. I still find videos on the subject fascinating, though. LGR has made a lot of interesting videos about 90s computer technology and games. I’m also a fan of danooct1, who records the effects of viruses and worms on virtual machines. And if you were curious about what happens when you install one of those fake antivirus programs, check out rogueamp. It’s a dead channel, but there are plenty of videos in the backlog that are worth watching.

Also, it’s not a tech-exclusive channel, and he sure as hell doesn’t need my help, but I like Ashens. One of the funniest channels on the platform, especially when he reviews weird old obscure electronics and game systems.

2) Documentary channels

In some ways I grew up at the same time as the internet did. Anyone who’s around their late 20s to 30s probably feels the same way. And for that reason, we know all the drama and insanity featured online is nothing new. Internet Historian runs a channel dedicated to various bizarre stories that either directly involve “internet culture” or intersect with it. Some of the guys who cover this area also get weirdly political, but Internet Historian doesn’t as far as I can tell, so no worries there if you don’t want to get mixed up in all that shit, and I don’t blame you if you don’t.

I’m also required to bring up Fredrik Knudsen and his excellent Down the Rabbit Hole documentary series. It covers some similar ground as the above, but also gets into more general unusual history like the Austrian wine-poisoning incidents of the 80s and the Mouse Utopia Experiments. Fascinating stuff, and Knudsen presents it in a professional but still entertaining way.

And if you’re looking for someone who can make quarterly reports and profit and loss statements entertaining, check out Company Man’s case studies on corporate rises and declines. I would not have guessed a video about disposable cup companies could be that interesting.

3) Space/astronomy channels

Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to travel into deep space. However, until a full-scale recreation of the universe is made in VR, my travels are restricted to space sim programs like Universe Sandbox and to astronomy YouTube videos channels like SEA and SpaceRip. These feature nice-looking animations of planets, stars, galaxies, and the like with narrative voice-overs, covering subjects such as newly discovered exoplanets, the life cycles of different kinds of stars, and the possible ultimate fates of the universe (that last subject is good if you’re feeling some existential dread and need to put your place in the universe into perspective. Though it might just make your dread worse too. Be careful.)

I like the feeling of knowing I don’t matter on the grand scale anyway. That’s not why I made this my background on Twitter, though. I just like this photo.

If you’d rather relax with a livestream of the International Space Station orbiting Earth, here’s a link to that. I like to play this on my TV sometimes so I feel like I’m part of mission control or something. Yeah, I could never fully get rid of those childhood dreams, even if they just involve me sitting on Earth and watching other people in space.

If you want a livestream of a recording of a lunar orbit, see here. This one isn’t actually live because the Japanese orbiter SELENE (better known as Kaguya, for reasons you’ll get if you know who Princess Kaguya was and how crazy she drove a bunch of guys in folklore) was driven into the Moon’s surface in a planned impact after its mission was done.

If you want to see what it would be like if the ISS were replaced by the Moon, see this video. If giant looming astronomical bodies freak you out, you might not like it.

And finally, if you want to see what it would be like if the ISS were replaced by a Moon-sized disco ball, watch this video collaboration between Yeti Dynamics, the guy linked above, and that Michael guy from the old popular Vsauce channel. It’s also terrifying.

4) Megami Tensei channels

Did you really think I could go more than a few posts without bringing up Megami Tensei? Of course not. There are a few channels that produce a lot of SMT/Persona/other spinoff content. Fither isn’t exclusively about Megaten, but a lot of his stuff has to do with the series, and he has some good analysis videos. I’d also recommend Nyarly for more exclusively Megaten content, including challenge runs of Persona and SMT games that are way too god damn hard for me to even think about trying (like beating Nocturne on hard mode without buffs or debuffs. Pure insanity.) Strain42 is another good Megaten-based channel that covers some of the more obscure games in the canon. Unlike the channels in sections 1 – 3, these ones don’t have nearly enough subscribers. Maybe because they’re so fandom-centric? But that’s what I like about them.

5) Lo-fi hip hop beats to relax/study to

You might have already seen all the jokes or memes or whatever about the girl in the looping gif above studying forever while listening to lo-fi hip hop beats. But this is really a nice stream that you can relax/study to. I recommend it. If the link to this stream happens to be dead when you come across it, just put “lofi hip hop radio” into YouTube’s search bar and you’ll find it, or check the profile of user Chilledcow — he’s doing God’s work.

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These aren’t the only YouTube channels I follow, but if I got into the rest we’d be here for a while. What are your favorite channels to watch during your downtime? Or do you have more productive things to do?

Anime for people who hate anime: Legend of the Galactic Heroes

More travel stuff is coming soon, I promise. In the meantime…

legend-of-galatic-heroes

Wow. I don’t know why I’m doing this. Not because the 80s-early 90s anime series Legend of the Galactic Heroes isn’t good – it is extremely good. The reason for my apprehension is that it is a massive series, with 110 episodes and several hour/hour and a half-long films, at least two of which are required watching if you want to follow the main story and understand certain characters’ motivations. All of this is based on an original (and also very long) series of comics. LOGH could really have an entire blog dedicated to it alone. Instead, I’m going to try to cram all of that into one post. The reason this review is short and worthless is that it’s near impossible to describe what this behemoth is about in less than 10000 words.

LOGH is not only big in the sense of length, but also in its sheer scope. Here we have a series that deals with a galaxy-wide war between two great powers (well, not galaxy-wide really; that would be way too big. Stellar cluster-wide, maybe?) The two powers are the Galactic Empire and the Free Planets Alliance, a democratic breakaway state. Right off the bat this might sound like anime Star Wars, but it isn’t. It really, really isn’t. If you’re looking for anime Star Wars, stop reading right now.

For one thing, Star Wars didn't feature long discussions between its characters about the merits of various political systems (unless you count Star Wars II, which I like to call Star Wars: C-SPAN in Space.)

For one thing, Star Wars didn’t feature long discussions between its characters about the merits of various political systems (unless you count Star Wars II, which I like to call Star Wars: C-SPAN in Space.)

How isn’t it anime Star Wars, you might be asking. LOGH turns the typical “Evil Empire working to crush Good (and Plucky and Underdog-ish) Democratic Alliance” model on its head. It does so by telling the stories of two characters, one from the Empire and one from the Alliance, and their rise through the ranks to the tops of their respective navies. This rise involves their meeting several times in battle. The trouble (?) for the audience is that there’s really nobody here you can “root against” characterwise among the main lot. Reinhard von Musel, one of the Empire’s greatest admirals, is a principled young man who believes in justice and in social reform of his stagnant homeland. Yang Wen-li, one of the Alliance’s premier tacticians, is a popular naval officer who hates war as wasteful and evil and just wants to go home to study history. Both of these men are likeable and have mutual respect for each other, and they spend a good amount of the series thinking about how to kill each other in battle.

Another relative surprise is how the respective governments act towards their citizens. The Empire early in the series is basically the old German Empire in space (think 1870s-1918 Germany, not the later Nazi one) and it’s pretty much an old ossified piece of crap that Reinhard wants to completely overturn. However, the democratic Alliance government is equally shitty – full of self-interested politicians who use their admirals’ victories to win reelection and who send their citizens off to the front lines just because they can’t look as though they’ve “failed”. The characters’ motivations make Legend of the Galactic Heroes one of the most realistic series I’ve ever seen, actually – despite the fact that it is an anime series set mostly in space. It’s not the setting that’s realistic, but the story, because you can easily imagine these characters as real people, their motives are so understandable and human.

Speaking of, Reinhard and Yang naturally aren’t the only characters in the series. LOGH boasts a massive cast of hundreds. Reinhard gains his own group of dedicated officers who join his fellow naval officer childhood friend/”sworn brother”-style character Siegfried Kircheis. Yang has his own similar circle. Both of them have to deal with the powers that be in the government, who usually have elements trying to plot their downfall (because, after all, popularity is a dangerous thing.)

Kircheis (L) and Reinhard (R).  No, they're not gay, despite how this scene looks.  At least I don't think they are.

Kircheis (L) and Reinhard (R). No, they’re not gay, despite how this scene looks. At least I don’t think they are.

The cast is so huge, in fact, that the various characters and their positions might get very confusing after a while. Fortunately, the series realizes this and often gives the viewer a subtitle with the character’s name and rank/relation to some other character on the screen when they show up for the first time or after several episodes have passed. And as spider web-like as the series’ intertwining plots and intrigues are, it handles them really well – nothing is left unresolved, and it’s generally easy to follow who’s going where or talking to whom and why. Chalk it up to good direction in the ordering of the scenes, I guess.

Those who are put off by the intensely 80s look of the animation shouldn’t worry too much – once you get absorbed in the story, you won’t notice anymore, even if you were, like me, raised on late 90s-early 2000s stuff like Neon Genesis Evangelion that boasted amazing artwork and animation. Because unlike Evangelion, LOGH is a story that isn’t filled with DEEP religious imagery, creepy fanservice of 14 year-old girls and the weird sexual insecurities of its maker (don’t get me wrong; I love Eva, but it’s undoubtedly fucked up, and not in a good way.)

That’s not to say that LOGH doesn’t also have some good action scenes, however.

LOGH really gives you the whole package, because both of these characters are very interesting and have their own backstories in addition to trying to kill each other in a flashy way.

LOGH really gives you the whole package, because both of these characters are very interesting and have their own backstories in addition to trying to kill each other in a flashy way.

So, yeah. If the above sounds good to you and you have about ten free years to spare, why not watch LOGH? It’s never been licensed in the US, so you don’t even have to buy anything: you can freely torrent the series or simply watch it on Youtube (starting with the film My Conquest is the Sea of Stars [Note: there used to be a link to the film here, but there seems to have been a copyright takedown of it. Shouldn’t be too hard to find online, though.]) If you need any extra enticements to watch, here go you: if you’re a fan of Game of Thrones, you’ll probably enjoy Legend of the Galactic Heroes. It shares a lot in common with Thrones, including the complex plot webs and political intrigues, the realistic character motivations and development, and the epic scale. The only differences are that LOGH is set in the “historical” future instead of an alternate reality past and that LOGH lacks all the sex of both the A Song of Ice and Fire novel series and its HBO Game of Thrones adaptation. Romance is a fairly common plot element in LOGH, but any sex that takes place in the series is fully implied. Which is just fine with me – who needs fanservice when you’ve got a good story?

P.S. This article does a great job at trying to narrow down why some people love LOGH and why other people can’t make it through a single episode. Check it out.

P.P.S. After watching most of the Chinese series Three Kingdoms and remembering reading some of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms years ago that it’s based on, I can see a lot of similarities between LoGH and RotTK.  Both have massive casts of characters, political intrigue, and whole episodes in which characters try to use deception in both diplomacy and battle to achieve victory.  I really recommend Three Kingdoms too, even though it’s also a million episodes long – the whole series is subbed in English and posted on Youtube, maybe because nobody can watch Youtube in China anyway (at least not legally.)  The guy who plays Cao Cao is really a great actor.