Several days ago, Pokemon released a three-minute trailer featuring a trainer named Iono, describing herself as an “influencer, streamer, and Gym Leader”. This was just a week after the company released a trailer for its upcoming Pokémon Scarlet & Violet games, the ninth installment under its game series.
Now, why are we telling you all of this? Mainly because some publications have noted that Iono ‘screams’ VTuber-esque. Kotaku says she has the likeness of a VTuber, while TechCrunch puts in its headline that Iono is a VTuber gym leader.
We observed that most mainstream publications are seemingly confused what an actual VTuber is—and publications are not alone in this confusing mess: most of us in the VTubing community are also confused about what actually consists of being a VTuber. There is also a glaring stereotype that VTubers need to look anime-like.
First, let’s establish this: VTubers are a subset of virtual influencers. Yes, VTubers are part of the larger virtual influencer umbrella. But what makes VTubers special? There’s a human side to it, there’s a person controlling the model itself.
In the words of Devin Mancuso for VirtualHumans.org, “I noticed a defining characteristic of VTubers was that they were typically puppeteered or ‘driven’ by a human actor in some form of real-time capture. This is in contrast to a virtual influence who, in some cases, might only be a 3D model posed and rendered for static image content on Instagram.”
Unlike normal virtual influencers like Lil Miquela, Rae, and Imma that use computer-generated models to create media online, VTubers have rigged models and have real persons behind it that operate.
Whether it is a VRoid model or someone with a US$2000-price tagged model, VTubers have the essence of a ‘human’ touch, unlike typical virtual influencers, mostly controlled by a creative team to conceptualize the social media interaction and brand integration.
So, is Iono a VTuber? Most certainly no, unless Pokemon specifies that there is an actual person controlling the model itself. And while she has dialogues, most likely they are done by a standalone voice actress. For now, she is best labeled as a ‘virtual influencer’.