Macquarie University
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New collaboration in a virtual world: studying Vtubers through identity, gender and fan engagement

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posted on 2023-03-02, 04:05 authored by James Byron

Following the debut of Kizuna Ai, the self-proclaimed first Virtual YouTuber in 2016, a new market and genre of online content creators exploded in popularity. Vtubers are distinguished from their predecessors through livestreaming and performing under the guise of a 2D or 3D virtual avatar. These characters are inspired by Japanese anime and manga, animated using motion-capture and facial tracking software. Through livestreaming and performing a fictional persona, Vtubers create the illusion of interacting with a real-time anime character, blended together with the real human performer.

Since the field of Vtubers is rapidly evolving, there is an unexplored gap in research about this emerging media phenomenon. This gap can be found in the existing literature on YouTubers and Twitch streamers, because Vtubers are situated in livestreaming media. Additionally, how do Vtubers perform and enact aspects of Japanese pop-culture and media for international audiences? My research and thesis focus on Hololive English, an all-female ensemble of Vtubers that performs for English speaking audiences.

Beginning with examining Hololive English as a transnational media project, I draw from the literature of Japanese cultural studies and media studies. This is followed by studies of avatars and persona in relation to Hololive English. This informs my first research question, how Vtubers provide new affordances for identity in online cultures. I then contextualise Hololive English within gender studies and online gender performance, exploring how Vtubers challenge, reproduce or deviate from gender norms. I also challenge the one-sided understanding of parasocial relationships between Vtubers and fans. Utilising audience reception theories, fandom and participatory culture studies, I propose a new term, ‘symbiotic co-creativity’ to examine mutually beneficial collaborations between Hololive English and their fans.

By examining the symbiotic co-creativity that exists between Vtubers and fans, it prompts a re-thinking of how parasocial relationships emerge between online media stars and their creative fans. This new type of collaboration reflects the contemporary field of online fandom cultures, and contributes to the literature of collaborative and co-creative media works in fan culture.


Table of Contents

Introduction: Entering the Vtuber rabbit hole -- Chapter 1: Contextualising the literature of Vtubers -- Chapter 2: Identity in Hololive English -- Chapter 3: Gender performance in Hololive English -- Chapter 4: Parasocial relationships and symbiotic co-creativity in HoloEN page -- Conclusion: "See you next stream!" -- References

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis MRes

Department, Centre or School

Department of Media, Communications, Creative Arts, Languages and Literature

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Yuji Sone

Additional Supervisor 1

Thomas Baudinette


Copyright: The Author Copyright disclaimer:




102 pages

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