VTuber, Virtual Influencer, Metaverse, VR, Japan
Japanese VTuber Edo LenaImage courtesy of Edo Lena

Virtual Personalities, Real Connections: The Impact of Virtual YouTubers

How are these screen-based entities redefining entertainment? We reached out to the metaverse diva Edo Lena to find out.

Virtual YouTubers, or VTubers, may not be the freshest digital trend, but they have risen to prominence, exciting tech enthusiasts, otaku, and web subculture diggers. These virtual streamers bring computer-generated imagery (CGI) personas to life, forging a deep synergy with fans through live streams and pre-recorded videos. Androids, nekomusume (cat girls), ikemen (attractive men), and magical girls are just a few examples of the eclectic cast within this web-based realm, reminiscent of anime or manga.


With the surge of technology, VTubers have emerged as digital personalities, craftable by individuals or agencies, complete with captivating and imaginative backgrounds. This fusion of tech and entertainment has given rise to a rich online content realm.

Their popularity in Asia can be attributed to the cultural affinity for animated characters, the rise of internet and gaming culture, as seen in the fame of examples like Kizuna AI (on hiatus) from Japan and Moona Hoshinova from Indonesia, and the appeal of anonymity through virtual avatars when they are handled by single individuals. As their popularity soared, they became some of the highest-earning and most popular accounts on streaming platforms.

Japanese VTuber and self-proclaimed Metaverse diva, Edo Lena 江戸レナ, explained to VICE that this cultural phenomenon is not only flourishing in Japan but is also garnering global attention. The appeal of VTubers has transcended language barriers and cultural boundaries, attracting followers from diverse backgrounds worldwide. English-speaking streamers from HoloLive, a Japanese talent agency known for engaging global audiences, contributed to the rise of VTubers.


“I recognized the value of VTubing as a form of unscripted anime back in 2020,” Sally Slade, VTuber enthusiast and chief technology officer of Los Angeles-based real-time studio Voltaku, told VICE. “They brought unscripted reality-TV-like entertainment to Western otaku, defying technical constraints through real-time animation and fostering interactive connections in a ‘safe space.’ This drove their meteoric rise,” she added, pointing out that it has become a global entertainment phenomenon.

For Joanne Paek, a Korean VTuber lover and fan of Edo Lena, they are fascinating and creative tools in the internet era. “It’s interesting how individuals can create content and interact with online communities through a digital identity. Although I do watch VTuber content for entertainment, oftentimes I find that I am unable to suspend my disbelief when watching because I tend to naturally think about the person performing behind the digital characters,” she said.

VTuber, Virtual Influencer, Metaverse, VR, Japan

Edo Lena. Image courtesy of Edo Lena

Recognized as 姫 (hime or princess) by her fans, Edo Lena is an independent VSinger hailing from the Edo period. Her character is inspired by the rich history and culture of that era and combined with imaginative storytelling to conceive the idea of a time-traveling VSinger in the digital era. 

“In the realm of VTubers, there appears to be a concept of a person behind the avatar, but in reality, that doesn’t exist. I am me. I undeniably exist!” Edo Lena said. She highlights the intriguing dynamic of VTubing, where the virtual persona captivates fans while the true identity of the VTuber remains distinct, showcasing how VTubing facilitates a multifaceted expression of self and creativity.


“The most meaningful aspect of our interaction lies in the mutual communication through fan art,” she said, adding that she and her audience treat each other like pals. This dynamic reflects a blend of both friendship and a parasocial connection.

Similar to other prominent fandoms such as K-pop group NewJeans or TWICE’s dedicated supporters, Edo Lena’s fanbase shares encouraging comments and creates fan art that underscores their emotional investment. “The most surprising was a decorated car, an unconventional creation that deeply impressed me. Furthermore, the support from an entire family was equally touching,” she said. Their unwavering backing became evident as they gathered in the comfort of their house, streaming Edo Lena’s metaverse appearance and passionately singing her songs.

The bond between VTubers and their fans, however, is a tenuous one. It is primarily hinged on the consistent portrayal of the virtual character’s personality and interactions. VTubers need to maintain a delicate balance of authenticity and entertainment, ensuring that their avatars remain engaging. To sustain this relationship, VTubers often create regular content, live streams, and interactive sessions, allowing fans to participate directly and fostering a sense of involvement. This engagement, combined with the avatar’s distinct traits, helps cultivate a dedicated following.

VTuber, Virtual Influencer, Metaverse, VR, Japan

Edo Lena performing within the physical space. Image courtesy of Edo Lena

But VTubers also experience a fair share of trolling and harassment because of their strong online presence. “When faced with cyberbullying, I can’t help but feel extremely uncomfortable,” Edo Lena explained. “Despite the immense support from many fans, there have been instances where a single comment weighed on my mind, causing distress.” This vulnerability sheds light on the emotional toll that comes with the online spotlight. Whether it’s hurtful remarks about appearance or harsh criticism of content, an isolated statement can have a profound impact on her well-being, highlighting the challenges she faces.

Since communication methods differ across platforms, the way VTubers manage them also varies. “For YouTube, particularly during live broadcasts, I make sure to outline the rules in the description box or in the streaming comments,” she told VICE. “While I am careful, the nature of live broadcasts and X (Twitter) means that without discretion, accidental disclosures related to privacy can happen.” 

In such situations, where fans’ enthusiasm runs high, there’s a possibility of unintentionally disclosing personal details such as home addresses, private family matters, and friendships, consequently undermining privacy. As a result, prominent agencies have proactively initiated measures to protect the privacy of VTubers. These strategies encompass advocating for the use of pseudonyms, furnishing online safety guidance, and incorporating moderation to thwart potential harassment or intrusive queries.


This balance assumes even greater significance as VTubing breaks the wall between creators and followers, sustaining parasocial relationships where fans develop emotional attachment and familiarity with virtual personalities. Edo Lena highlighted that this relationship is particularly pronounced in Japan, where a strong tradition of idol fandom and fan culture prevails. 

Much like individuals who cultivate internet or social media personas, VTubers grapple with the task of negotiating the boundary between their digital avatars and their authentic selves. This intricate balancing act involves maintaining authenticity and privacy. Edo Lena observed, “I have seen various approaches to navigating the boundary between virtual and real selves,” with some VTubers adopting an actress-like demeanor while others project their real-life personalities onto their avatars.

But constantly managing a dual personality can indeed impact mental well-being. This attempt leads to identity conflicts, authenticity concerns, and emotional fatigue, which can contribute to stress and challenges related to privacy. The ongoing effort to meet audience expectations while safeguarding mental health amplifies pressure, exerting an influence on their overall psychological welfare.


Social media platforms, especially YouTube, offer VTubers a means to engage in real-time interactions and foster bonds with their audiences. At its core, fan culture revolves around supporting and cheering for idols.

Within the VTuber culture, which encompasses platforms like Niconico, admirers express their support in various ways, through art, virtual gifts, and virtual meet-and-greet sessions. Still, parasocial relationships with VTubers need to be approached with awareness of the potential pros and cons. On one hand, fans can experience emotional connection and inspiration, but on the other hand, they may also face risks of developing unrealistic expectations and emotional dependency.

VTuber, Virtual Influencer, Metaverse, VR, Japan

Edo Lena. Image courtesy of Edo Lena

VTubers’ use of virtual avatars and real-time interactions enables them to engage audiences in a more personal and immersive way, transforming traditional passive entertainment into active and participatory experiences. As they continue to evolve, we may see VTubers go beyond the gaming and music genres and get into virtual fitness training and virtual storytelling, moving beyond the otaku fandom and entering real idol and live artist culture. 

“They’re expanding into mainstream media and becoming part of people’s daily lives through metaverses, new devices, and tools,” Edo Lena said. “AI development is going to break down tech barriers and put a spotlight on VTubers’ concepts and messaging.” 

To further delve into the implications of VTubers’ existence, Japanese new media artist Jackson Kaki said, “I see VTubers as a new aspect of existentialism. When we gain a virtual body separate from our physical one, it creates a new existence through media appearances and communication. This happens when our intentions and thoughts from our physical body are conveyed through a different medium,” he said. “Conversely, K-pop or J-pop idols hinge on their physical bodies, and if their physical presence ceases, their existence dissipates.”

With different countries having different expectations for online content and characters, we might see more VTubers embracing cross-cultural perspectives and going local. 

Looking ahead, VTubers are set to become popular intellectual properties (IPs) in Japan, getting even more into mainstream media, and creating demand in niche and emerging forms such as virtual reality concerts, interactive storytelling experiences, and virtual social events.

Their involvement in the metaverse and blockchain technology hints at a future where advertising and entertainment transcend reality. User-friendly devices and cryptocurrencies accelerate this transformation. Meanwhile, development companies offer virtual-related devices, apps, and games that cater to personal expression and interests, providing new experiences and opportunities for all individuals, including virtual enthusiasts and normies alike.

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