May 25, is the birthday of VTuber La+ Darknesss, and that means a variety of ways to mark the occasion, as per usual. There are the special streams, the general well wishes from fans and peers alike, and of course, the merch. As La+ is one of my absolute favorites (and her group holoX just a generally great Hololive generation), I (and my wallet) will also be partaking in the celebration. But one thing I find so funny about VTuber birthdays is that they’re the ultimate kayfabe—a crucial area where everyone suspends their disbelief.
Nearly all virtual youtubers have two important dates to celebrate every year: their debut anniversaries and their birthdays. The former are near-immutable facts; they did their first YouTube streams on X Day, and that remains into perpetuity (unless a re-debut is somehow given precedent). The latter are completely arbitrary.
VTuber birthdays aren’t based on when their designs are first created or when they’re first hired—that’s an unknown and (presumably) long process. It’s clearly never the same as the actual person’s birthday—that’d just invite trouble by accidentally leaking personal info. Instead, the VTuber birthday is this made-up thing that gives an excuse to put the spotlight on an individual streamer while they get to promote their projects and new goods for fans to purchase. Everyone plays along as if this is the real deal.
It’s actually great.
I feel like everyone is on the same page in this situation, because what it really does is focus all the love and attention onto a particular period of time, giving meaning to the actions of the VTubers and their followers alike. It’s also the only part of a VTuber’s lore that holds firm no matter what. Character personalities can change. VTubers can play into their original lore or abandon most of it to be something closer to who they are behind the screen. Fans can popularize theories, and the performers themselves can choose whether to incorporate aspects of it. Entire designs can even change significantly. However, the birthday remains.
So Happy Birthday, La+ Darknesss! It’s going to be great getting to see you get all the attention you’ve earned. It’s good to see you bounce back from COVID as well (ironic that I say this while just getting my own first bout of COVID.)
An important final note: La+ has mentioned that she’s recovering from a stress fracture due to COVID-19, so there might not be a concert stream. In the meantime, two different delayed birthday concerts are happening this week: One is for the original Hololive, Tokino Sora, on May 26 (her birthday is May 15). The other is for 1st-Generation member Aki Rosenthal on May 27 (whose original concert in February had to be postponed due to some unknown difficulties). So while we might not get to see the Founder’s sweet dance moves again, we do get to see two of the best performers around.
The 3D debut of La+ Darknesss forever changed her image as a Virtual Youtuber. This Hololive member initially presented herself as a brattychuunibyou with legit singing and rapping skills, but seeing her with a full range of motion revealed that La+ is actually one of Hololive‘s best dancers. Since then, she’s had a handful of performances in her own streams and as a guest in others, and they’re consistently top-notch. Numerous clips and comments in multiple languages make note about how her routines just look different from most everyone else’s, with one Japanese viewer summing it up well: While many others (like Subaru and Matsuri) are great at idol dancing, La+ comes across as a great dancer.
Indeed, La+’s dancing has made such an impact on me that I’ve previously discussed her talent in two separate posts. And now here’s a third one.
Writing another essay might seem superfluous; I’d actually thought as such myself. I’m also such an absolute dance novice that I’m completely unqualified to comment on La+’s with any authority. But as I’ve waited for more expert analysis of her skills, none have really appeared—even reaction videos are exceedingly rare. So, I’ve found myself watching her concerts over and over, trying to figure out why her abilities shine through even to someone as ignorant of the art as myself.
Thus, I present my attempt to explain what I literally don’t have the proper vocabulary or understanding for, in the hopes that someone better than me can do a more proper job of it.
Crisp, Full-Body Expression
I think the first dance that really caught my attention was from La+’s 3D debut stream: her performance of her first original song, “Aien Jihen.” She actually came up with the choreography herself, and it is likely her most difficult dance to date—La+ even prefaced by saying she was only dancing to her pre-recorded vocal track.
The introduction starts off, and she strikes poses if every part of her is in perfect sync with the rest. Then the blow horns sound off, and La+ goes into the first verse with the most confident arm movements I’ve ever seen from a VTuber. As she pumps her body, there’s a combination of elegance and forcefulness (along with some solid camera work) that just leaves a lasting impression—and that’s before La+ gets into the more difficult parts of her choreo! She looks as if she’s able to carry movements all the way from beginning to end with a level of precision that makes everything feel both important and impactful.
That crispness can be seen across literally everything she does. Case in point, one place where it really stands out to me is in her duet cover of Ayase’s “Cynical Night Plan” with Amane Kanata, from her first-anniversary concert. At times, La+ performs more complicated moves than Kanata, but there are moments when they’re doing the same steps, and she just seems to have something extra. In the above clip, the duo spread their arms in and flick upwards in steps of three; while Kanata seems to move wrist-first, La+ looks as if she’s moving from the shoulders and elbows, creating a sharp ratcheting that matches the song well. I find my eyes being drawn to her as a result.
Control and Stability
The 3D debuts of every member of holoX culminated with a group stream in which they performed a cover of the song “Roki” by MikitoP. This is actually the moment that multiple VTuber clippers drew attention to La+’s dancing, and for good reason: she somehow manages to steal the spotlight without diminishing her genmates. There are just multiple moments where she dips or moves like an undulating wave, and it highlights just how much more control and stability she seems to have over her body—especially her core—compared to the rest of holoX and by extension nearly all of Hololive.
Her first-anniversary stream is also full of moments that demonstrate her incredible smoothness, but where that talent really comes to the fore is in “Dark Breath”: her second original song, and one that clearly draws inspiration from K-Pop in the vein of Blackpink. Not only does she demonstrate the aforementioned crisp movement when she turns in place like the hands of a clock, but the way she leans back as if about to fall over—only to then snake right back up—seems to speak to an impressive amount of training.
Idols and Dancing
With the impressive expressiveness and control of La+ on display, I’d like to return to that previously mentioned distinction between “idol dancing” and “dance dancing.” To that end, it’s important to describe what idol-style dance is in the first place with a brief and highly generalized history lesson.
Japanese idol culture emerged in the 1980s with singers such as Matsuda Seiko being presented as platonic ideals of what girls could be—this is the foundation of the seiso (pure and clean) idol concept that is the butt of so many jokes.
As dancing has become a bigger part of idol culture—such as with the famous AKB48—performances follow a similar trend, being less about making you go “wow” and more about making you go “aww” or “ooh.” In anime terms, this is the progression from Macrossand Creamy Mamito Love Live!
Idol dance is the angle most Hololive members take, and it allows for those with and without dance experience to look fairly good and to utilize their strengths. For example, Inugami Korone is known as one of the most physically fit members of Hololive. She doesn’t have the cleanest moves, but she makes up for it with sheer athleticism and stamina, famously pulling off a front walkover flip while also nursing a broken finger. In turn, Oozora Subaru may not be as athletic as Korone, but she brings a similar amount of boundless energy, a kind of joyful expressiveness that’s really endearing, and visible improvements over time that play into the narrative of watching idols as “works in progress.”
Two members who actually have significant backgrounds in idol performances are Natsuiro Matsuri and Takahashi Kiara (Hololive Myth’s best dancer), and it shows in how stable they look while in motion.
In the above clip, Matsuri’s “Hare Hare Yukai” dance from Suzumiya Haruhi stands in sharp contrast to Houshou Marine’s memorized but somewhat uncoordinated motions. Below, Kiara’s performance during her original song “Hinotori” straddles the line of idol dancing with a choreography that feels more daring, but she still has a certain staticness that is expected of idol fare, despite showing off a great deal of balance and flexibility.
In comparison, it’s clear that La+ doesn’t follow the same template as most others. Certainly, she’s not alone in that regard, with Kiara diversifying her style further with her later songs, and Moona Hoshinova giving a more diva-like performance for her original song “High Tide.” But I think what La+ seems to have an astounding level of consistency, which leads me to the third reason I think she’s such a mesmerizing dancer.
On the subject of idol dance, there is something important to note: Just because it’s not La+’s typical style doesn’t mean she’s bad at it. In fact, she’s one of the best:
This clip is taken from the most-rewatched moment in her first-year anniversary concert: her idol outfit reveal, which leads into “Daishikyuu Daisuki,” a poppy and bubbly tune by the Japanese group Femme Fatale. It’s by far the most idol-esque number La+ has ever done, and she manages to bring her crispness and control to the performance in a way that elevates the whole thing. From how she twists and bends to the subtle positioning of her legs, she looks as impressive here as her other dances. For comparison, below is a video showing other Hololive members covering the same song. The difference is noticeable.
La+ is amazingly versatile, and nowhere is that more apparent than the fact that the very same first-anniversary concert also features La+ with Aki Rosenthal, who is indisputably one of Hololive’s best dancers. With a partner who is similarly skilled, La+ is able to pull off something that looks closer to a Broadway number or a dance recital at a major concert hall. The song, “One Room All That Jazz,” also has a completely different feel from everything else she’s done (quiet and jazzy, naturally). The number consists of nonstop highlights, but I think what really shows her (and Aki’s) power is the level of elegance displayed during the instrumental section that then transitions into a wildly contrasting tap dance. Aside from possibly Kiara and Moona, as well as potentially certain members who have yet to receive their 3D models, I’m doubtful there are many who could manage this so effectively.
Dark Lord of the Dance
When La+ Darknesss dances, she displays artistry and a plethora of skills that I think put her near, if not at the top of the list of best dancers in Hololive and Virtual Youtubers as a whole. She actually outdoes Miku Miku Dance models from the best 3D animators when it’s far more common for the opposite to be true.
La+ has the crisp, full-body expression that makes every movement feel razor-sharp. She has such stability and control that her moves seem somehow effortful and effortless at the same time. She has the versatility to apply her talents to different songs and genres of dance, and make all of them look good. It’s as if she combines the strengths of the most notable performers in Hololive, with the possible exception of Korone-level endurance and athletic prowess (though she might merely be lacking relative to the intensity of her choreographies). And all this isn’t even factoring her strong singing ability—something that makes her concerts that much more powerful. Truly, she’s my favorite dancer in Hololive and there is no close second.
Which is all to say, if you haven’t watched La+’s 3D concerts, you should really check them out.
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.
I’ve watched the recent anniversary streams of holoX, and in light of the announcement of the Hololive 4th Fes, I’ve been thinking about how holding 3D concerts can carry different types of significance depending on the individual member and what their fans are looking for. Hololive seems to celebrate their stars in a manner inclusive to every Hololive member’s diverse fanbase, and I’m all for it.
It’s no secret that Hololive members can vary tremendously in terms of where their talents lie. Some clearly establish themselves as great performers as soon as they have the chance, like Hoshimachi Suisei. Others don’t necessarily have the background but have worked hard and come into their own, such as Oozora Subaru. And then there are those who don’t reach the level of their fellow VTubers in terms of singing and dancing, but they might have engaging personalities that just make for a special experience.
However, when there are 3D concerts or other major events that bring Hololive members together, they potentially become places where all respective fans can come together and appreciate their favorites for their own particular reasons. Take the Hololive 3rd Fes concert, which was the 3D debut of Hololive English’s first generation. Gawr Gura showcased the singing talent that brought so many fans to her, along with a cute dance. Takanashi Kiara brought a more polished idol flair. Ina came with a soothing voice in a subdued performance. Amelia Watson is definitely not a strong singer, but her choice of music (a weird fictitious anime opening from the show Welcome to the NHK!) put her personality on full display. And, of course, Calliope Mori put her well-established rap skills (that have since led to a contract with Universal Music Group) to good use. Hololive Indonesia’s first generation also made their 3D concert appearances, with Moona’s diva-like poise, Iofi’s adorableness, and Risu’s ridiculous vocal range all on full display.
With holoX, there is a similar range of strengths and quirks on display in their anniversary concerts. La+ Darknesss (see above) is a ridiculous total package whose impressive vocals and unmatched dance skills both support and defy her “bratty alien demon lord” concept. Takane Lui doesn’t fit the typical image of an idol, but she’s very good at singing while also staying “in-character,” and her choice of songs conveys a sense of maturity. Hakui Koyori is a jack of all trades who also leans into her character the most by adding in puzzles and brain teasers to her concert. Sakamata Chloe is arguably the best singer in the group, with a voice that can seem unreal; she was also the only one to do exclusively solo performances, as if to prove a point. Kazama Iroha’s cuteness shines through in her energetic performances, and it’s clear that she put in a lot of effort to improve her dancing.
It all reminds me of an essay I once read about the differences in presentation between Japanese idols and Korean pop stars: part of the appeal of J-idols is seeing them grow into the role, whereas K-pop stars appear before fans already fully formed. In the context of Hololive, it’s like there’s a purposeful and perhaps even inevitable contrast. While you might have your “J-idol fan” types who want to see their favorites grow and your “K-pop fan” types who love to see perfection in action, a single banner like Hololive allows these groups (and many more) to all thrive in the same general space.
The power that comes from the variety Hololive has to offer is the way it encourages respect for diversity of talent. People can be fans of different members for different reasons. There are certainly talents whose appeal lies in their sheer skill, and the fans want to see their favorites put their abilities and/or progress on full display. However, there are also Hololive members who aren’t necessarily the greatest performers in one way or another, but their presence on stage makes for a kind of “we made it” moment for their fans. No matter the reason, it emphasizes the idea that there’s no one “right” way for a performance to be, and it encourages the different fanbases to coexist.
Since her debut, Hololive’s La+ (pronounced Laplus) Darknesss has become one of my favorite Virtual Youtubers. Her premise states that she’s both a mighty alien (?) demon (?) whose power has been sealed off—as well as the founder of Secret Society HoloX, an organization with designs for world domination. In practice, however, La+ comes across as a cheeky and overconfident brat. It’s within this context that the biggest surprise about her characters was revealed: the fact that she’s actually a fantastic dancer. I find myself re-watching her dancing clips, even though I normally don’t do that—not with VTubers, not with flesh-and-blood performers, and not even with the many anime dances over the years.
To those who are unfamiliar with Hololive and specifically the process by which its Vtubers go from “2D” to “3D,” most start off as flatly animated characters. In this “2DLive” format (named after the program used to rig their animations), La+ and others like her are able to move and tilt their bodies and heads to some degree, but it’s generally not meant to track the entirety of the performer’s physical movements. Over time, a Hololive member receives a 3D polygonal model, and can use more robust motion capturing to match the movement of their entire bodies. In other words, you generally can’t tell how comfortable a VTuber is with physical activity like dancing before they make their so-called 3D debut.
La+ was the last of HoloX to become 3D. Prior to that, she was primarily defined by two things. First, despite being the leader of her clandestine group, she’s actually the smallest; her oversized horns further emphasizing La+ as a relative pipsqueak. Second, she has an extreme amount of ego that swings wildly between being justified and unjustified. So when she started busting a move, I felt a degree of cognitive dissonance. “Wasn’t she supposed to be bad at this sort of thing?” In a later collaborative stream with the rest of HoloX, the sheer contrast in dancing ability between La+ and her subordinates (who are usually her betters in a variety of ways) hammered home that she’s a cut above the rest.
I think the reason this aspect of La+ works so well is that it ends up making her feel even more like a being of contrasts. She has that aforementioned “shortest but most important” quality, but in terms of competence, it’s like you never know if she’ll be a Hellmaster Fibrizo (Slayers) or a Katyusha (Girls und Panzer). If this really were an anime or something, La+’s dance reveal would be that moment where Yoda or Shifu from Kung Fu Panda gets serious. It’s a winning trope, generally speaking.
La+ Darknesss is neither fully an anime character or a fully flesh-and-blood performer, which is why the combination of her character background plus her strength as a dancer shine through. Like other VTubers, she lives in that transitional space between the real and fictional worlds. The fact that she’s so physically talented is inevitably to the credit of the performer, but it’s the surrounding setting that gives La+ the stark contrast to render her moves to be even more unforgettable.