Vtuber/Virtual Youtuber: Japan’s New Public Diplomacy Opportunity

  • Dec 5, 2022
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Emerging of New Public Diplomacy Actors
The recent development of today's international community has enabled non-state actors to conduct various diplomatic activities, notably public diplomacy. The complexity of inter-state relations and the globalization impact contribute to the emergence of new actors in public diplomacy activities. For instance, South Korea sent their boy-band BTS as their delegation to the United Nation and stood on the grand stage of the UN. A thing that was not seemingly far-fetched and never been thought of before, talking mainly about the diplomacy of the past ten or twenty years ago. As a result, their impact is beyond impressive and it is proven by the massive spread of both traditional and contemporary Korean culture worldwide.

The global impact brought by the group resulted in two essential issues in public diplomacy, namely new public diplomacy and the involvement of the global communities as actors. Indirectly, BTS provides an opportunity for the entire global communities willingly to promote South Korea cultures. Turning the global communities being the subject of the new public diplomacy, which then formed into a new public diplomacy (Barston, 2013). New public diplomacy itself defined as large extent of public diplomacy and requires different skills, techniques, and attitudes than those found in traditional diplomacy (Melissen, 2005).

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Hence, new public diplomacy could be referred as the new form of public diplomacy, no longer focused on one-way relationship and communication efforts by the state to global communities or the propaganda done to restore their reputation. In contrast to traditional public diplomacy that solely aimed to spread any positive aspects of the state to global communities. The new public diplomacy provides an interactive and intensive process within the engagement of global communities. As Melissen (2005) states, the new public diplomacy more of a process of establishing relationships with global communities, to facilitate non-state activities by non-state bodies. As a result, Korea new public diplomacy started to overshadow Japan, as the soft power’s powerhouse in East Asia. Nevertheless, Japan could retains their prominence with the emergence of global phenomenon, the Vtuber.

Virtual Youtuber: Global Phenomenon
Vtuber or Virtual Youtuber is a currently being discussed global phenomenon in the context of Japanese popular culture. Retrieved from Kotaku.com virtual youtuber is a YouTuber or live streamer that adopts anime character-style virtual avatar while carrying out their broadcasts. Minoru Hirota (2018) defines vtuber as productions that broadcast their content via livestream and videos that utilise motion capture technology to animate 2D/3D figures. By implementing real time motion capture technology, any person could act as the "pilot" behind the anime character, and could do various movements like a regular human being. This is unlike AI (Artificial Intelligence) technology or the Vocaloid application that was also popularized by Japan, without real human controlling it. The popularity of vtuber started with the birth of vtuber pioneer, Kizuna Ai in 2016. Her debut was welcomed enthusiastically and positively by the Japanese. By November 2016, Kizuna Ai had reached almost three million subscribers on the Youtube platform. With numerous followers in countries including Japan, Korea, the US, UK, the Philippines, and China (including one million subscribers on BiliBili).

This results in the introduction of many new vtubers and as per otakusmagazine.com, it is approximated that there are over 16.000 total number of vtubers today and keeps increasing every day. In addition, there are various agencies that cover vtubers, including two major agencies, Hololive productions and Nijisanji. The ongoing success could be shown by the steadily expanding number of subscribers within the two agencies.
Over a dozen talents from both agencies have reached more than one million subscribers on the YouTube. The names like Gawr Gura (4,230,000 subscribers), Houshou Marine (2,180,000 subscribers), and Usada Pekora (2,080,000 subscribers) are no strangers to Japanese popular culture enthusiasts.The presence of Vtuber fame could also be experienced in Indonesia. As the agencies are also expanding in Indonesia through Hololive Indonesia and recent merges of Nijisanji Id. The public's response to this new popular culture is highly positive and enthusiastic.

One example of this could be seen from the recent participation of several famous Vtubers such as Moona Hoshinova (1,220,000 subscribers), Kobo Kanaeru (1,640,000 subscribers), and Mythia Batford (682,000 subscribers) at the Indonesia Comic Con, the largest popular culture event held in Indonesia.

Japan’s New Public Diplomacy Opportunity
Judging from the success of Vtubers in Indonesia, it is fair to conclude that vtubers could be the next well-know Japanese pop-culture in Indonesia. Following the initial success of established pop-culture such as Anime, Manga, Cosplay, and even J-Pop. Yet the remarkable impact of vtubers as a global phenomenon should not remain static. Through vtubers, Japan has found a new opportunity to utilize them as new public diplomacy actors.

As stated before, new public diplomacy itself differ with the old public diplomacy. According to Gurgu and Cociuban (2016), such differences are manifested in the role and participation increasement of non-state actors compared to traditional public diplomacy, mechanism changes regarding information distribution into real-time due to the internet, and the concept shift between traditional public diplomacy refer as propaganda to a communication network in new public diplomacy. Communication network which formed by the involvement of the actors within the internet, centered on non-hierarchical relationships and interdependent relationship connecting various actors with common interest (Hocking, 2005).

In Japan itself, various Vtubers have been appointed as ambassadors in various campaigns carried out by the government. For example, in 2018, Kizuna Ai, who is a Vtuber pioneer, was chosen as an ambassador in a campaign conducted by the New York branch of the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO). In the campaign, Kizuna Ai introduced various Japanese cultures to the people of the United States and one of them is sushi, a Japanese specialty that has gone global. In 2020, a Vtuber named Ayapan who has a fan base from Brazil was invited to meet with the Brazilian ambassador to Japan, Eduardo Saboia. Through this meeting, Ayapan served as a bridge between Japan and Brazil. Also, encouraging Brazilian audiences to learn Japanese.

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Referring to the two examples above, there’s a great potential for vtubers being the new diplomacy actors. Unlike anime or manga, which are solely instruments of Japanese soft power, there’s a real person who communicate and could engange in diplomacy practice just like any other actors in general. Therefore, a two-way communications could be done between vtuber and their viewers in order to establish relationship, and promoting Japanese cultures.

Especially with the advancement of Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) technology, it is certainly not difficult for Japan to materialize vtuber characters into the real world. Since there are already several vtubers perfomed live concerts with real audiences in front of them without computer screen act as a barrier between the two entities.

In conclusion, with the recent popularity of vtubers globally also the recognition of vtubers as one of the new pop-cultures, and the ability to establish non-hierarchical relationships and interdependent relationship between their viewers. It would be a huge waste for Japan to overlook such potential, considering that Japan's era as the leader of pop-culture is currently fading away, surpassed by South Korea's dominance as the new leader. Therefore, Japan has both options to use vtubers as their actors in new public diplomacy, either creating vtuber into life with the AR/VR technology or utilizing popular globally recognized vtubers.

Barston, R. P. (2013). Modern Diplomacy. Routledge.

Gurgu, E., & Cociuban, A. D. (2016). New public diplomacy and its effects on international level. Journal of Economic Development, Environment and People, 5(3), 46. https://doi.org/10.26458/jedep.v5i3.506

Hocking, B. (2005). Rethinking the ‘new’ public diplomacy. The New Public Diplomacy, 28–46.

Melissen, J. (2005). The new public diplomacy: Soft Power in international relations. Palgrave Macmillan.

Minoru, H. (2018). ãƒÂーãƒÂャル化する人の存在 : VTuberの来し方ã€Â行く末. Pp. 45-59

Roll, D. (2018). Popular virtual YouTuber Kizuna AI selected as ambassador for new 'come to Japan' campaign. Japan Today. Retrieved October 12, 2022, from https://japantoday.com/category/features/travel/popular-virtual-youtuber-kizuna-ai-selected-as-ambassador-for-new-%27come-to-japan%27-campaign

Suzuki, K. (2020). ã€Â国際交æµÂ】vtuberとブラジル大使館訪å•Â. 渋谷区議会議員・鈴木けんぽう公å¼Âサイト. Retrieved October 12, 2022, from http://www.s-kenpo.jp/archives/3211

Author: Gustav Gallennius S.Hum (Undergraduate International Relations Student of London School of Public Relations)

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