From amoeba to whale, Bao has found new purpose through VTubing

Bao feature imageBao

Bao, the “silly jiggly whale” as she puts it, is one of Twitch’s biggest VTubers. The once-utaite on YouTube was almost ready to move on, but the virtual medium reignited her spirit and let her grow from a tiny amoeba into a whale full of life.

At the end of 2019, Hikaru Station was at a fork in her career. She was a successful cover artist in YouTube’s utaite community. The community, built off covering Vocaloid songs and other Japanese music, was as popular as ever. She had a catalog of original works as well as covers that had millions of views on YouTube.

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But she was in school at the time, feeling the pressures of adulthood looming. Her creative energy was sapped after years of doing the same thing ⁠— she still loved it, but a full-time career in content creation didn’t seem viable.

There were some new concepts coming out at the time though in the English space, as the utaite community started gravitating towards VTubing. Hikaru Station, as she was known at the time, dipped her toes into the water, and was quickly sucked in.

“A couple of mutual friends were ‘60 viewer Andys’,” she told Dexerto. “We were close friends because we were all cover artists in the utaite community, and they were getting into streaming. They’d have me come on and play games with them, and I thought that was pretty fun.”

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VTubing presented Hikaru Station an opportunity to not just create the content she wanted to do, but also present herself in a manner unlike before. She could drop the moniker and faux persona to be unabashedly herself, and flesh out a proper personality.

That was the birth of Bao, the “silly jiggly whale” that has graced Twitch for two years now, and exploded into one of the biggest musical talents in the medium. With more than 500,000 YouTube subscribers, and 400,000+ on Twitter and Twitch, many tune in for her wild variety of streams ⁠— not just her music.

Instead of bottling the personality of Hikaru Station behind closed doors to her friends, she could open up and have this new identity. She could play the games she wanted to, and show off the authentic side of herself rather than the one manicured for short YouTube uploads. VTubing afforded her the perfect barrier to immerse herself and become the ideal Bao.

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“I had always had a persona represent me ⁠— Hikaru Station ⁠— but I never really had a chance to flesh out my personality up until VTubing was an option,” she opened up. “I tried to show my face during early Hikaru Station streams, but I just really didn’t like it. I felt like I couldn’t focus on the task at hand because I was so self-conscious about myself.

“I wanted to become my persona and fully immerse my audience and the world Hikaru Station builds . When VTubing became more accessible ⁠— we can just hop on our phones and connect with our avatars through there ⁠— then yeah I definitely jumped at the opportunity.”

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Bao never left Hikaru Station behind. In fact, her past in the utaite space became a core pillar of who she is today. Now she could show off the other sides of her that she didn’t keep online: all the good, all the bad.

VTuber Bao smilingYouTube: Bao
Bao isn’t just a character, but the embodiment of her long journey through content creation.

Gone, but never forgotten

Early on, VTubing was seen as the ‘other’ in the utaite space. There was a firm division between those embracing the new technology, and those wanting the precedent to stay. Bao felt this.

Instead of just working with a small community on covers, she all of a sudden was sharing all of herself, online, to thousands. There was the live aspect of streaming, and all the different platforms to keep up with ⁠— YouTube, Twitch, TikTok, Twitter. It was equal parts exhilarating and daunting, yet all draining. However it gave her a tangible future in content creation.

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Through all of 2020, Bao worked hard towards her new found dream of becoming that anime girl whale. In the back of her mind though, there were some concerns about alienating her past fandom too much.

“A lot of people were nostalgic towards Hikaru Station, so it was hard to explain to them this brand new concept,” she explained. “At the time, VTubing hadn’t exploded yet. It was very novelty.

“It held me back from being fully invested in showing my personality and myself. I was caught up in pleasing people. It was only after the first year of VTubing that I felt truly comfortable with streaming and being who I am on stream opposed to playing up a very ‘seiso’ or pure and marketable persona.

“But now I don’t care.”

If you’ve ever tuned into a Bao stream, especially in the last year, that’s very much the case. She isn’t afraid to fully embody the cringe situations ⁠— in fact, she embraces them. Just ask her about Rick Sanchez (“maybe it’s just my newfound appreciation for a man who knows what he wants… I really love him”) or Blaidd from Elden Ring.

She could be considered a hopeless romantic, before turning away (some) hearts with the “most cursed” questions (her words). As far as out of context clips, she’s right up there with the most ‘sus’. Any stream can be a roller coaster of emotions from the most mundane to the wildly absurd.

But while Bao has given up the Hikaru Station moniker, she never graduated. It’s more like a Version 2.0.

“I absorbed her, and a lot of the themes I used for her visually were absorbed into Bao. I still have blue hair, a lot of ocean thematics, so Bao is sort of an evolution of Hikaru Station. Her legacy lives on in this new evolved form.

“It’s a bit more personable, a lot more approachable ⁠— and Hikaru Station is a mouthful to say. I’d rather just be called Bao.”

And deep down, she has similar angles with her content. As a utaite, you’re relatively limited to the medium of singing. VTubing opened up more ways to express that to her fans.

“I just have always used my space on the internet to vent,” she continued. “I think about ‘My R’ being one of the most viewed videos on my channel ⁠— that’s where a lot of my passion comes from, venting my heart out and getting all those nasty ugly feelings out in a way that’s bittersweet for me.

“I can look back to those times and realize things have gotten better, or sometimes they are yet to get better but I’m sure they will. They’re little bookmarks in my life where I can look back and realize life was very different back then. It’s not necessarily good or bad, it’s just life.

“I tried being as marketable and safe as possible in my early VTubing days, but realized life is so short and I should just be happy as I am, and be happy that the people who choose to stay are those who accept me for who I am ⁠— with all my chips, scratches, and marks. That’s more meaningful than presenting a portion of myself on the internet and hoping it’s received well. I want to put all of my heart into this. This is the most truthful way I can convey myself, by just being open.”

Keeping up with VTubing’s rapid growth

With all that being said, that’s not to say Bao has been doing the same things she was for years. That couldn’t be further from the truth. VTubing has been booming, with the streaming space expanding rapidly in just six short years, and it’s turned into a massive game of catch up.

Every day there’s new debuts, new content to consume. Looking back even just six months ago, the space was vastly different. It’s competitive ⁠— no matter what way you look at it, content creation is commercialized and you have to stick with trends or risk drowning.

Bao is blessed to have had a solid support structure. Unlike most other ‘independent’ talents, she’s part of an agency with a manager by her side. She had a group of friends there to answer her questions from the get-go. Those diving in from the outside don’t have the same luxuries.

“I’ve never seen a community evolve so quickly ⁠— I mean the technology, the art, the prices, everything is going up,” she said. “It’s really crazy, and it’s also really bad for someone who’s just starting out and isn’t used to the realistic expectation of content creation.

“I can’t even tell them to look at VTubing as an example because it’s so niche compared to every other bubble on the internet. This one is exploding and doing all sorts of things. There’s no way to catch up. You play the game or the game plays you, you have to be careful.”

Even with the assistance, Bao has been open in saying it’s impossible to keep up. As VTubing has matured, its top stars have matured and are destigmatizing topics like mental health and burn out ⁠— something many wouldn’t utter at the start for fear of being seen as ungrateful for their successes by cynics out there.

The reason everyone is sticking out though is because of the vast majority of the community. The support in VTubing is unrivaled compared to any other streaming medium, and even though she says she’s not competitive, Bao has been fueled by those around her, growing with her.

“I think everyone I talk to on a daily basis is super burned out and running on fumes at this point,” she admits, “but the strength the community has, especially from a content creator to another, is very strong. I wouldn’t still be doing this if it weren’t for all the people that I met and all the people that are invested in me the same way I’m invested in them.

“When I see someone drop something insanely cool, I can’t help but be really inspired and want to do something equally as cool.”

Bao had early goals in VTubing of joining an agency, but after a couple of failed attempts went at it ‘alone’. But she’s never truly been alone. There’s always been a group around her ⁠— fellow VTubers Numi and Yuzu are the two who come to mind first, but that collection of top solo talents are thicker than blood, and has made staying in streaming worth it.

“When I first started VTubing, I really wanted to be in a space where I had genmates or members,” she said. “The idea of collabing with your friends and making cool content with them and building a brand that encompasses you and all of your friends; you bring a little something to the table, they bring something, that’s really nice.

“I never got to experience that, so having my friends be that is really great. It feels like going to school and seeing all your friends and being like ‘we’ll get through this year together’ and the collabs are the school projects. We bounce off of each other really well, and we’ve got that content brain where we’re thinking of new things to do. It’s really nice being in a sphere where there are other people like me in this.”

Diving from the little pond into the big sea

Bao has grown leaps and bounds, both as a creator and a person, in her two years in VTubing.

Her major goal is to make up for “all the years I spent being wishy-washy on being a content creator.” That means there’s a long road for the jiggly whale, but she’s never felt more enthusiastic about it.

“[Starting VTubing] felt like I was given CPR. My little flame I had left for singing and making stuff was fizzling out. I was so invested in school and being realistic with myself ⁠— ‘this was a teenage hobby, I must now do my taxes, I must now contribute to society’ ⁠— and then all of a sudden my world flipped upside down.

“I knew it had an expiration date, these bursts of internet fame or success online, it’s not forever. Trends come and go. If I don’t take advantage of this, I will regret it. This will never come by again. I had to decide whether I was going to put 100% into school, or 100% into VTubing… and that’s why I dropped school. Everything across the board, it’s been great.”

It’s not been without its ups and downs, but 2022 has made her realize the impact she’s had on others. Seeing friends and fans personally at events like TwitchCon turned those “arbitrary numbers” into something tangible.

“You can look at these numbers, those arbitrary ones that are changing every day, but as a human you can only imagine 100 people in a room. Any more than that, and I don’t know what that number means.

“When you go out in public and meet your fans, see how many people there are looking up at you, telling you all these inside jokes that you wouldn’t know unless you watched my streams, it’s so much more rewarding.”

When I asked Bao to summarize her journey, she pondered a bit. Looking back from the Hikaru Station days to now, it feels like an eternity. But small decisions she made along the way let her flourish into the star she is today, and there’s an even brighter future ahead.

“It does feel like I was a little amoeba in a pond, and I didn’t really know what I was. I was just floating in this pond and really vibing with it. Then as I grew with music, I started forming and became a little tadpole ⁠— I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m just flopping around in this pond, but it’s good.

“I then became a VTuber, started growing limbs like a frog, and decided the pond I was in was a little too small. I dived into the ocean, evolved, and now I’m a whale ⁠— literally.”