When Utano Pandora first moved to Japan some seven years ago now, it was like a fairytale.
She had fallen in love with the culture, dedicating herself to studying it and trying to soak it all in from thousands of miles away. Her career was forged with the hope of making that leap, and the stars aligned fatefully.
Six months ago, she decided to move back home after trying to make it work. The rose-tinted glasses were firmly off when we spoke about those years.
“A lot of love for Japan comes from the media, because from anime I got into idols and you know, I'm a panda idol,” she said on Behind The Model. “A lot of my love for idols started quite young and they also helped me learn the language.
“I was really excited. I would actively push myself to go to places and experience new things and go to lots of concerts. But as time went by, I started to realize, man, they don't give you a lot of time off here.
“When COVID hit, I think that was when I really slowed down exploring Japan and going to all these concerts and events. Work was overwhelming me in a way, so I couldn't really get to experience it.”
From the 12 hour-plus days and minimal time off, to the hustle and bustle, it wore on Pandora. But the one thing she had in her corner was the biggest dream of all: making a career from her music.
Pandora has had many entertainment stints in her life. She was a theater kid growing up, going to singing and dancing classes from just three years old (it was at her own discretion, after finding an activity that resonated with her). She had a stint as a radio DJ even.
Singing was the one true love though, and even though she couldn’t belt out lyrics at home while in Japan, karaoke was around the corner.
“I would always want to use every opportunity I could to sing or get on stage and stuff. And from that I suppose that I just never let go of the singing because I used to post covers on YouTube,” she continued.
“I have always, always, always loved singing and always will, and it's something that makes me very happy. And it also releases a lot of stress.”
VTubing came at a very critical crossroads for Pandora. Burning out from everything in Japan, she had come across the phenomenon just walking by a K-BOOKS store and seeing a cutout of Oozora Subaru. She didn’t make the connection then, but it did eventually click.
The virtual medium didn’t seem accessible, but she didn’t want to give up on her dream.
“I was at a place in my life that was like, ‘ah, what can I do? I want to continue performing, but I don't know.’ The road feels like it's… blocked. It just feels like the path I was on was getting more difficult and I was trying so hard to pursue it.
“But when I found VTubing, I was like, I did more research and I was like, ‘wait, can I do this?’ These people sing. These people dance. This is perfect for me.”
Since then, things have taken off.
There are few steps she’s skipped along the way. Pandora did jump in headfirst, and even with prior entertainment, VTubing had a steep learning curve. After all, a lot of performing is physical, but that’s a bit hard when you can’t move your arms or legs.
But she has performed in concert at conventions like Offkai Expo, and pumped out music like nobody’s business.
And after returning to the UK in early 2023, she took the plunge into full-time content creating. It was tough, but she feels like she “100% made the right decision.”
The same goes for her recent break, which she is taking to try and better herself. Seven years of pedal-to-the-metal work in Japan and little time to herself has pushed a few responsibilities to the wayside.
“In the first year [of VTubing], I pushed out a cover every single month and I was trying to keep that momentum up. But I realized that it's okay to go at my own pace. It's okay to take breaks.
“I felt when I lived in Japan, I felt like I really was pushing myself. I was doing like the early mornings or late nights… because I felt like I was missing out a lot and I felt like I had to work the extra mile because I did have this full-time job that prevented me from doing more hours.”
And while she’s taking this time away from the full-time screen, it’s not going to be time wasted. She’s worked hard to get to Japan, come home, and have built a career for herself in the field she always dreamed of.
She wants to cherish that, and make sure she’s ready for the long run.
“I may be a little bit lazy sometimes, but one thing I refuse to be called is not a hard worker because I think that I've worked so hard in my view in my career. I think that I should be so proud of myself and just not put myself down for the simplest little mistake.
“I was so focused on my goals, a bit too much sometimes… that, I missed all of the small victories and the little things.
“I know the dream is never dead. The dream just, you know, goes at its own pace.”
Learn more about Pandora's story in her Behind The Model episode.