Twitch’s Best Virtual Bartender Wants To Help Viewers With Addiction

Twitch’s Best Virtual Bartender Wants To Help Viewers With Addiction

It’s not every day that you hear about a VTubing bartender whose goal is not to encourage people to get shitfaced but rather to help them avoid overindulging their vices. But, then, Twitch streamer Takahata101 isn’t your average VTuber. Previously a gaming streamer, on New Year’s Eve of 2020 he debuted a new format, one that transformed his Twitch channel into a cosy, jazz-infused bar called The Weary 101. It’s a place where you never know who’s going to drop by, and where the bartender wants you to know that you don’t have to drink a drop to belong.

For the uninitiated, VTubers, originally called virtual YouTubers, are people who use motion-captured virtual avatars while they livestream. In his visual novel-inspired bar, you’ll find Takahata’s avatar dressed in a button-up vest, with a hint of stubble on his chin and his long, Terry Bogard-like hair tied up in a ponytail. If you’re lucky, you might catch him loosening his tie, shaking out his hair so that it drapes over his shoulders, and lighting a cigarette before serving viewers beverages made from Twitch bit donations that he grinds up and turns into virtual libations.

Although he isn’t the first VTuber bartender, the fascinating contradiction behind Takahata101’s decision to become one is that he is a recovering addict himself. Takahata, whose real name is Curtis Arnott, felt like he couldn’t truly move forward with his work as a content creator if he didn’t acknowledge that he had spent years of his life struggling with alcoholism. While streams from The Weary 101 are usually high-spirited, bubbly affairs with virtual hooch on tap and lively conversations with chat, occasionally discussions shift toward the topic of overindulgence, which Takahata doesn’t shy away from engaging in. He also tries to normalize talking about topics like mental health, as in this clip where he discusses his experiences with ADHD.

“Sometimes people will talk about much harder substances or much more long-term addiction issues that they struggle with,” Takahata told Kotaku. “Talking about how our experiences made us feel is a good way of helping other people figure out their feelings.”

With its soft lights, the sound of clinking glasses, and the gentle hum of background music, The Weary 101 is somewhat reminiscent of The Stray Sheep, a memorable bar featured in the game Catherine. However, there’s no pressure to drink yourself into oblivion — or into a sheep-filled existential crisis — at Takahata’s bar. At The Weary 101, he has cultivated an environment where his viewers feel no pressure to drink while watching from home, and sometimes ordering virtual rounds by donating bits that fuel his blender, The Cat Daddy.

Although Takahata won’t harsh on people’s mellow for drinking as a pastime, his issue lies in how alcohol is marketed as a necessity to have a good time.

“I think alcohol is a thing of merriment, like celebrations, birthdays, Christmas or like winning a war. I think everyone’s allowed to get shitfaced after winning a war. But the way it is marketed it’s like, ‘You’ve got to drink six to 12 beers a day, or you’re not cool.’ That’s such horseshit,” he said.

Becoming part of an “in crowd” while being chemically addicted to alcohol isn’t what Takahata wants to promote in his streams. Instead, he wants to provide a safe environment for his viewers to hang out virtually with himself and other VTubers without the social pressure to overindulge.

Of course, the drinks he serves as a VTuber aren’t real, but for Takahata, setting the right tone as a server of virtual beverages is still essential. Good bartenders cut people off when they’ve crossed a threshold of drunkenness. Becoming a VTubing bartender in the wake of his own personal struggles with drinking was “perfect timing” for Takahata, because he felt comfortable talking about what he had gone through with his fans, and he could provide advice to people while placing a barrier up between his real life and his online persona.

And he has some reason to want to be protective of his real life. If the name Takahata sounds familiar to you, it might be because you’ve heard his voice on the immensely successful 2013 abridged anime channel Team Four Star. Takahata not only serves as its co-founder, but also voiced Nappa, Kami Guru, and Cell in Dragon Ball Z Abridged and wrote and voiced Alucard in Hellsing Ultimate Abridged. Since Team Four Star aired its last abridged episode for DBZA in 2018, Takahata kept himself busy by focusing his attention on his Twitch streams, where he amassed 84,600 followers over the years.

“One of the reasons why TFS did so well in my opinion, was we just focused on one thing: we wanted to be proud of this shit,” he said. “But eventually you’re done making that. You don’t want to keep hanging out in front of the place you made already going ‘Welcome, welcome, welcome.’”

While Takahata jokingly worried that the fans he’s garnered over the past eight years of being an internet personality would come to realise most of his comedy stems from Clone High and The Simpsons references, he faced some real pushback from viewers who longed for him to keep making abridged content instead of transitioning to VTubing. Instead of going the route of being a one-trick pony, Takahata desired to create something new all on his own.

“I know a lot of creatives have it where it’s like, ‘OK, what’s next?’ I don’t want to be one of those guys whose only card to play in 15 years was the only card I played. If you get comfortable, you get complacent. If you get complacent, then you lose your edge,” he said.

The impetus for Takahata’s pivot into VTubing came in October of last year. He had burned out on livestreaming after feeling distressed whenever he saw how unhappy he looked on camera. Takahata became so preoccupied with how tired he looked that livestreaming stopped mattering to him.

“I was in a place where I had just moved [and] I was still streaming on cam, but I was not happy. And I could tell I was not happy. I didn’t like that I had to worry about how I looked on camera and it was bugging me because I was seeing myself clearly not in the best place,” Takahata said.

After years of portraying the more eccentric characters from TFS and, by proxy, having those roles associated with him as a person in real life, he wanted to clearly separate his online persona from his personal life.

“I felt like part of me was trying to play into being a character while being on stream with just accentuating certain aspects of my personality. But with a mask so to speak,” he said, referring to his onscreen avatar, “I can now create a perfect separation of myself and the character. There’s a clear line between the two now and for that reason my mental health has been much better.”

The opportunity to use his own experiences with alcohol abuse to talk with his audience about overindulgence was one more reason why shifting into VTubing felt like the right move at this point in his life.

“Not everyone has the chutzpah for it, but I am fortunate enough to have a platform and I am fortunate enough to have an audience despite everything I have done. So, it would be foolish of me and I think it would be very arrogant of me not to acknowledge my past and use that as a way to prevent other people from going down that direction,” he said.

Prior to becoming a VTuber himself, he hadn’t seen it much at all, outside of some Grand Theft Auto V compilation clips that made the rounds on the internet in which Japanese VTubers said certain words they didn’t know they really shouldn’t be saying. But through a fan of his who watched the VTuber Ironmouse, who happens to be a big fan of Team Four Star’s Hellsing Ultimate Abridged, he was put in touch with her, and though he didn’t know it at the time, this started him down the road to becoming a VTuber.

After chatting with Ironmouse on stream, he was invited by Twitch co-founder Justin “theGunrun” Ignacio to be a guest on the weekly variety VTuber podcast Lewdcast. During the hour he spent waiting in the video call wings — in his ordinary, human form — to appear on the podcast, he watched VTubers Silvervail, Ironmouse, and Project Melody interact with one another onscreen in a way that resembled a fully interactive visual novel. It was then that his desire to get into VTubing fully crystallised.

“I felt the itch immediately,” he said. The appeal of VTubing for Takahata was in how it allowed introverted content creators like himself to visibly interact with and build an audience at their own level of comfortability.

But he also knew he wanted to do something a little more elaborate and involved than much of what he’d seen VTubers do in the past. Rather than just having his model occupy the bottom corners of the screen, he wanted to create an immersive environment for his avatar to inhabit, a place that he could move around in, while making his audience feel like they were a part of the setting as well.

His VTuber persona and swanky bar lean heavily into the visual novel style of presentation. A manga panel appears onscreen once a drink is ready, or when the doorbell rings as guests arrive. Aside from these stylistic touchess, Takahata aims to give his streams the ambience of a real-life bar, injecting storylines and improv with his guests, inviting his viewers into a shared, fictional reality much like professional wrestling does with its fans. In fact, pro wrestling was part of the inspiration for making The Weary 101 a place where viewers participate in a shared reality and where elaborate storylines play out.

When he isn’t being a responsible (virtual) bartender or doing gaming streams, Takahata creates ongoing narratives with other VTubers that pop into The Weary 101, stories in which the crowd — his viewers — serve as both active characters and an audience. As in professional wrestling, collaborations for Takahata are like cross-promotion matches, live streams are like main event pay-per-views, and every VTuber is like an independent wrestler trying to get their gimmicks over with the crowd.

And just as professional wrestling viewers enter into a kind of pact with the wrestlers to uphold the “reality” of the situations that play out despite their obvious fiction, so do Takahata’s viewers when they step into The Weary 101. Takahata injects what’s sometimes called kayfabe — the maintaining of a kind of agreed-upon “reality” despite its clear artifice, and the understanding that viewers are willingly suspending their disbelief — into his streams. To this end, he requests that his virtual guests start offscreen rather than just materialising in The Weary 101, so he can maintain the illusion of his bar being a premier destination where any VTuber can swing by.

Despite VTubing, at its bare essentials, being nothing more than people rigged up behind separate camp cameras while sending signals to one another, viewers of The Weary 101, much like a wrestling crowd, act as if they’re all at the bar with him. You never know what kind of event will happen when you pop in. Sometimes Takahata is chatting it up with fellow anime abridger and VTuber LittleKuriboh. On another night, you might find him being tricked into servitude to the demon VTuber named Cimrai.

Although his streams have had a revolving door of VTuber guest appearances, Takahata doesn’t gauge the success of his streams by the notoriety of his guests or the metric of his views and subscriptions. He gauges his success by the metric of himself enjoying what he’s creating.

“Not everyone’s OK with being seen, but many people want to be perceived. And VTubing allows you to be perceived while still being able to not be seen, which for a lot of people is incredibly appealing because not everyone is comfortable with that. I, myself, after many years of working online, was becoming very uncomfortable with that. I didn’t really want to be seen. I just want to be kind of perceived with my character,” he said.

“When I am streaming, I can be Takahata. And when I go home, when I turn off the stream, I’m back to being myself. And I truly felt that separation finally, after nearly seven years of not feeling the separation of self and character,” he said.

Like wrestling, Takahata thinks there is no wrong way to do VTubing. “Although there’s lots of good ways to do it, there’s no technical wrong way,” he said. Through VTubing, Takahata has found happiness in collaborating with others and creating a space for viewers to feel safe and welcome in a bar setting. “Happiness is when you’re solving problems that make you feel satisfied.”

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