The Elegant Design of Suntory’s Virtual Youtuber

There’s a 50/50 chance that saying “the Japanese beverage company Suntory has their own official Virtual Youtuber” would come as a surprise. But the blue-haired “Suntory Nomu” is real (in a sense), and I actually like her design quite a bit. What really stands out about Nomu’s appearance, relative to other VTubers, is how simple and subdued it is. A white dress with blue highlights stands in sharp contrast to the vast majority of Hololive and Nijisanji, who seem to be created with a maximalist philosophy. This latter approach brings to mind broader discussions about character design in media.

(Side note: I’m not sure I need to mention this, but in case it matters, I am not endorsing Suntory products in any way. I generally like their drinks well enough, but that’s about it.)

When looking at Nomu relative to the Hololive members she’s streamed with, the difference is clear. While both have attractive designs, Takane Lui and Aki Rosenthal have all these details, adornments, and colors, resulting in rather complex/complicated appearances. There are practical reasons to make them this way, of course: They need to be immediately distinct and visually appealing to prospective viewers. Rigging/modeling them for animation is a one-time thing, as opposed to needing to be draw them anew every time in the vein of anime or manga. And the expectation is that people will stare at them for extended periods. VTubers need to communicate a good portion of who they are immediately, as viewers can’t be expected to dive into an extensive backstory—and often VTuber backstories are helpful suggestions, at best. 

The decision to go maximalist reminds me of fan discussion surrounding fighting game characters. Fighting games, especially ones not based on an existing property, share a number of similarities with VTubing. There’s no prior context for people to get attached to (as they might in an animation or comic), so having them catch the eye right away while also communicating how they play is important. There’s still quite a bit of range—Compare Ryu or Chun-li from Street Fighter to Sol Badguy or Dizzy from Guilty Gear (especially pre-STRIVE)—but criticizing a fighting game character for being “boring” is typically more about looks and presentation of attacks. That’s actually a big difference with Virtual Youtubers: It does ultimately come down to personality.

But it makes me wonder if significantly simplified designs like Suntory Nomu couldn’t thrive despite the general trends against them. Maybe it’s because so many designs take an “everything but the kitchen sink” approach that Nomu’s aesthetics stand out more. Could there be a trend back down to relatively more minimalist designs in VTubing, fighting games, and other similar areas? It’s something I’d like to see, if only because I’m curious how it would all play out among the fans themselves.

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