Scarlet Chariot has light-coloured hair, turquoise eyes, and a bright red cloak that wraps around a gold-trimmed tunic. Among her most striking features is a crown that sits to the side of her head, an emerald jewel brooch and, of course, her fox-like ears. Scarlet is a chippie-eating deity of death, destruction and chaos, at least as far as her Twitch bio says. She’s also an Australian VTuber, one of many around the world whose animated digital avatars are now a well-established part of the live streaming community.
What exactly is a VTuber?
VTuber, a portmanteau of ‘virtual YouTuber,’ is a genre of online entertainers that use virtual avatars to represent themselves to an audience. While the concept has existed within Japanese entertainment for some time, Kizuna AI, who debuted in 2016 is often regarded as the first breakout VTuber star. A brown-haired anime girl with a pink-and-white aesthetic, she has since gone on an indefinite hiatus but not before captivating millions of followers for the last 6 years.
The trend has only skyrocketed since with tens of thousands of new VTuber channels across video platforms. The tag ‘VTuber’ on Twitch was so popular, that it sparked controversy when non-VTuber streamers began using it as a means to boost their visibility. On Instagram, it’s broken more than 1 million hashtags with posts belonging to a mix of VTuber-owned accounts and fan art.
The space for the Australian Vtuber, individuals like Scarlet, is only growing in number. VTubie, a global VTuber directory, cites about 40-50 active VTubers across Australia and New Zealand. Visiting the respective country tags on Twitch reveals many more, every 3rd or 5th channel is occupied by a VTuber. The content of their streams varies from variety streamers like Cherimu and AiCandii, to art-streamers like Twee and 2wintails. It’s the same formula as any other flesh tuber (a Vtuber inside joke to refer to in-person streamers) would have, only the point of interactivity lies within the model’s range of expression and movement.
Expression and identity
Scarlet began streaming in August 2021 during the Genshin Impact Twitch Streamer Recruitment event. She says she’s naturally shy and can at times, be anxious in front of the camera. The idea of putting her real face on screen for the world to see seemed like an incredibly daunting prospect, which is how Scarlet turned to VTubing.
“Using a VTuber model seemed like the perfect choice for me personally, because having a separate online persona allowed me to feel more comfortable during the streaming experience,” says Scarlet. “I feel I now have the freedom to express myself more confidently and to be more open to engage with my audience in a way I never could before.”
Like many online communities, the streaming world isn’t exempt from bad actors. Cases of inflammatory comments, doxxing and hate raids are a lamentably common occurrence. Having a VTuber persona can provide that extra layer of protection by keeping the streamer a bit further away from the toxicity.
“With a VTuber rig, you are able to maintain a greater control over your anonymity outside of streaming if you wish to,” says Scarlet.
New Zealand-based VTuber Iceryx_ employs the use of emotes as his preferred digital avatar. Often dubbed a ‘PNGTuber’, this subset of VTubing involves the usage of one or multiple PNGs to allow for simple animations such as mouth movements. It seems almost too simple, but even having a moving image that represents oneself lends dynamism to a stream beyond live gameplay footage.
“This can depend on the individual, but [an avatar] can give the viewer something to focus on or feel like they’re actually talking to someone behind the screen,” says Iceryx_.
Similarly to Scarlet, Iceryx_ also prefers streaming this way as it allows him to focus more on his content and interactions with the community.
“Currently, I only stream with a PNG of an emote and that’s plenty for me. I prefer it this way versus showing my real face because as a more timid person, it gives me more comfort and freedom during streams, rather than having to constantly worry about how I look and act at any given moment.”
We have the technology
That Australian Vtuber channels have achieved the critical mass they have lies in accessibility. Where Kizuna AI had a full production team behind her, most VTubers are still the same individuals who would stream from their bedroom. Some opt for the PNG route like Iceryx_ while others go on to build full anime-aesthetic avatars using software like Live2D or VRoid Studio (both of which are free to download). Art skills and an ability to “rig” (an animation technique to create movement) are all that is required to breathe life into a design. Many VTubers are self-made, but the demand for VTuber models has sparked a burgeoning marketplace on peer-to-peer services like Twitter, Fiverr and Etsy, where artists and riggers can offer their services for commission. Prices typically start at around several hundred US dollars but premium services that involve a highly regarded artist or the rigging of multiple appendages, such as animal ears and tails, can see commission rates fluctuate between $US3,000 ($AU4,390) to $US5,000 ($AU7,320).
It’s clear that, even for Australian audiences, there’s an appetite for VTuber content. The guest list at SMASH! Sydney 2022 will include both flesh and 2D guests, with the latter being VTuber royalty Tsukumo Sana and Hakos Baelz. Both are members of HololiveEN’s Council, the second wave of English-based VTubers represented by the agency. With a combined 2 million followers on all of their social channels, Tsukumo Sana and Hakos Baelz’s arrival to the 3D is certainly one many Aussies look forward to with anticipation. As the lines between the real world and the virtual world continue to blur, our deity of death Scarlet looks optimistically at the development of VTubers in her part of the world.
“Every day I am seeing more and more VTubers from the ANZ region making their debuts on Twitch, YouTube and other social media platforms,” she says. “[VTubing] in my experience has been a great way to bring everyone together, make some friends and have a good time!”