Mika Akatsuka is still wearing in his boots as his new self.
The vampire florist VTuber from Down Under underwent one of the most significant rebrands you’ll see in the virtual world recently.
When he started back in 2020, he streamed as Jezabel Belladonna, an original character from his fantasy world of many years.
It was a safe option for him when he had a little trepidation at first. Always wanting to stream but never really wanting to show his face, it was an easy barrier to put up that would be ‘socially acceptable’ — at least he thought.
“I already knew her personality,” he explained. “I knew her lore. I felt it was something that I was familiar with so I went with her as a character versus someone that was more aligned to myself, like creating something from scratch that I could build upon.
“I felt more comfortable going with that also because my voice isn't as masculine, it felt like a safer option to avoid people kind of being jerks.”
As time went on though, he became less and less agreeable with presenting himself with a feminine form online. He found it constricting to interact with other VTubers and truly express himself. The dysphoria nearly pushed him out of the field entirely.
And for Mika, that would have been devastating, given just how important streaming and this medium was to him.
Which is why, as soon as he debuted as Jezebel and got the feeling of the community, he immediately turned towards finding that new, more affirming identity. It took some time — more than a year — but you could very much see the weight lift off his shoulders during his re-debut in June 2023.
“I was struggling with that sense of being trapped as her and having to do things in her way, which kind of limited the kind of content that I wanted to do. I didn't feel comfortable talking to people a lot.
“I actually contemplated quitting VTubing, like it was weighing on me that heavily.
“I'm still not super comfortable with it. I'm working on that just from previous things that have happened in my life. But it's getting better. And it makes me feel happy knowing that I can actually be perceived and enjoy interacting with people and not feeling like I want to get swallowed up.”
The medium scratched an itch for the artist and writer of many years. And he’s taken all that it can offer and ran with it with some unique content you’ll struggle to find anywhere else.
With years of convention experience under his belt, he’s plied his trade on panels at conventions like AnimeFest. He landed quite the big break when in 2022 he MC’d a panel with NIJISANJI EN’s hit group Luxiem — struggling not to fanboy his way through it all.
“The boys were lovely,” he exclaimed. “All of them were fantastic and I was very stressed because they were very, very big and very, very famous VTubers. And I was this little dude trying to help make sure that they didn't have see-through eyes while on the screen.
“It's one thing to see people in a chat, right? It's another thing to watch 500 people physically walk into a room and sit down in front of you. I was shitting bricks to put it mildly.
“I was like half expecting a Twitlonger to be like ‘oh my God, this person sucks.’ Thankfully, that didn't happen. Everyone was very kind, very impressed, and the reaction was wild.”
But it’s not just the regular meet and greets at conventions or panels he’s interested in. He’s tested the limits of what VTubers can do in real life with immersive experiences like escape rooms.
Partnering with long-time friend Zane Dase, the two have tested con goers with tricky puzzles and riddles. They are there alongside the escapees as they go through the challenge, dropping hints in-character the whole way.
To say it was a roaring success might be an understatement.
“The first year we did it, it was very much paper based. This year was a little bit more physical, so we had actual specific things they had to go find things in different corners of the room, put things up together to overlap them so that they would spell things, and things like that.
“It was the most popular panel; apparently we had like 160 people all together. And it was free, but they had like tickets you had to get so that you would show up to it and it was basically all gone within like a like within like half an hour of the convention being open.
“I'm very glad that the convention did let us do crazy things. It's a smaller convention, so they kind of had the ability to bank on those weird panels. And there's only so many times I could talk about what a VTuber is.”
All of this was only really possible though thanks to the support of a select few people: the Magical Literature Club. With Zane, as well as Ren Amaglilim, the trio have more than three decades of art, writing, animation, and graphic design experience between them.
It makes them a formidable creative group, helping each other with immersive projects — whether they be visual novels or other storytelling medium.
But more importantly is the personal connection. The two helped Mika through rough patches before VTubing — at times they were the only rock by his side. And now they get to share in the joy of this medium together.
“They are just people that I admire a lot and people that inspire me and make me want to do more things and look at how I do my content and how I want to push my own content in other ways.
“It was nice to have people that I already knew just as friends, that helped it feel a little bit less lonely. And like we always make time to actually do a group night together for streaming… just so we can spend that extra time together as adults.
“It's hard to explain how deep that friendship goes. It's very core to me. I wouldn't be the same person without either of them. And I think they wouldn't be the same person without me.”
It’s through all these little stories — whether it be the worlds he once fantasized coming to life in the virtual medium, or the real-world opportunities he’s gotten through his art and streaming — that you get to piece together a picture of just how much Mika has done.
Bigger than the content story is the personal one though. With his new persona, he has taken some time to reflect on the journey. And now he can’t help but smile and feel happy about where it’s taken him, and where the path now leads.
“Coming to where I am now and being able to go forward this way and be a little bit more open about it is nice for me,” he said.
“It's hard to see yourself sometimes, and I'm really happy that I can do this as a better me… saying silly things without feeling like I am being untrue to myself, and being open, and experiencing life in a way that is making me happier.
“I like being happy. It's hard to achieve, funnily enough. But [VTubing is] one thing that gives me a little bit of happiness.”
Learn more about Mika's story in his Behind The Model episode.