Talent agencies in Japan are now poaching ‘VTubers’ – virtual, animated versions of YouTube’s human influencers. In other words, people who’ve nabbed sponsorship deals and record contracts by posting videos of themselves unboxing gifts, eating crab legs or whispering into the mic. “Can everyone hear me?” Japanese VTuber Mirai Akari, a blonde anime girl, asks her 750,000 subscribers on YouTube in a soft, breathy voice in a recent ASMR livestream. Like other VTubers, she’s voiced by a real actress, yet she isn’t human. But her agents very much are.
Like Google’s Alexa and HR chatbots, we’re already treating non-people like real people, whether at home or work. Fans, big studios and even the government are increasingly supporting and hiring virtual stars as though they’re real people. (Japan did bring the world virtual pop star Hatsune Miku, don’t forget.) And if VTuber Mirai is any indication – she’s represented by talent agency Entum, which represents VTubers exclusively – this could become the new normal. Her name does mean ‘future’ in Japanese, after all.