Mizuzu Neo cannot remember a time where she was able to speak.
Physically mute due to an acquired injury very early on in life, the 23-year-old has spent her entire life trying to find ways to express herself.
“I didn't have much of a time to remember what having a voice was like or the transition that much,” she told NewsDrop. “It didn't really affect me until I actually knew that having a voice was something pretty necessary or essential in life—you know, until I was like ‘why can’t I talk like dad and mom’ sort of thing.”
Learning to communicate was the start. She learned to write as quickly as possible, carrying around a whiteboard to write down phrases and get involved in conversation.
For some in the anime fandom, this would invoke visions of Shoko Nishimiya from A Silent Voice—but this was a very real reality for Mizuzu, not some fanciful film.
There was a big emphasis in her childhood on learning sign language with regular ASL (American Sign Language) tutoring. Her family also took part. While proper two-way communication was limited to those who could sign back, it at least was less clunky in conversation than having to quickly scribe.
“People have asked me why I didn't just write everything? That's so much harder when you're just a kid growing up and you want to talk to someone at a moment's notice.”
When words couldn’t fully express her emotions, she turned to art. A self-described “super big weeb” growing up, she went to art school during her teenage years—before dropping out once her younger brother started improving well beyond her skill (it being an ego hit is debatable).
“At that point in my life, I was like ‘art is how I’ll express myself!’ If I can't express it through words, I can express it through my writing and art.”
Throughout this all though has been a keen interest in gaming and online culture. She was enamored with the likes of PointCrow, Alpharad, and Smallant, taking on game challenges and pushing her skills to the limit.
The idea of someone mute becoming a video content creator—let alone a streamer—was practically unheard of. But Mizuzu saw it as a challenge.
“I'm actually not sure how I got the confidence to start up, it took a lot but I was very much on this train of confidence and momentum because when I started, all I knew was that I needed a way to communicate.
“But when I started, I literally just pulled up Notepad, shared screen, and boom!”
And as cliche as it sounds, VTubing has finally afforded her the voice she’s been looking for. The hardships she had to overcome too? That only pushed her to work harder, and get creative with how she could actually pull it off.
Finding that VTubing spark
The Mizuzu Neo you watch on Twitch isn’t so different from the one in real life. She’s just as high-energy off stream as she is on, and she thrives in the pure chaos. Her streams are not just an act.
She doesn’t have a ‘lore’ per se, although she didn’t write off exploring some weaving narrative down the line. Mizuzu Neo is just a recipe of her IRL self, with an extra dash of delinquency and a tanuki model.
“Half of what I do on streams is exactly my attitude IRL and I don't really think I could make lore,” she laughed. “The ‘immersion breaks’ you see a lot of VTubers do, don't really matter to me and I just say whatever I want about myself.”
Her start isn’t so different from many others. She was inspired by a handful of YouTubers, and then stumbled upon the VTuber rabbit hole. But she was from a time before Hololive English launched—she debuted in early 2020 without knowing there was a wider community in the anglosphere.
“I entered the VTubing community pretty much entirely blind. I was practically alone for almost an entire year sifting through VTubing and learning how to do it, almost entirely on my own. I basically went in and learned everything myself the hard way.”
While she was vaguely aware of the space’s potential before Myth’s debut, it was that debut that planted the seeds in Mizuzu’s head about her future.
“Two to three years ago, before I went all in, it was a lot of Hololive—Mori Calliope mainly, I love her so much and genuinely got me into the idea of like ‘maybe I can do this myself?’
“I think what inspired me about Calli is that she kind of presented herself in any way she wanted, especially with the content she did. She does singing, plays games, collaborates a lot with the others in Hololive, all that. I realized that I could present myself in any way I wanted, without any judgment, and just do this as a hobby to be accepted as well.
“[However] a physically mute streamer to me sounded crazy, back then.”
She did some research, and then found Zentreya three months into her journey—the VShojo star who started in a similar way to Mizuzu.
While not mute, Zentreya has never used her real voice. At the start, she just used an on-screen text box to chat. Then she made speech-to-text-to-speech technology to make it a bit easier to interact while maintaining privacy.
The reasoning was entirely different, but the general approach was the same as what Mizuzu wanted. It was the spark of “loads of ideas” to work towards making a long-term streaming future a reality.
“Every time I talked, they were actually seeing me type in real time—along with me backspacing the entire message every time I wanted to start a new sentence,” she reflected.
There was always going to be a delineation in the path though. Mizuzu couldn’t just start speaking. That had a drastic effect on the content she could and couldn’t do. And while it’s easy to draw the comparison between her and Zentreya—which many new viewers do, including myself—they’re very much in different situations.
“I love Zentreya 100%—it's just that I'm not exactly like her, me being mute is out of my control. I don't really like being compared, cause I feel like it's just like she's like Zentreya, that's all.
“My content I try to make it different and unique to myself! You know, like content you can't get anywhere else. But I don't mind it in terms of it being natural!
“I get that Zentreya's a huge influence. [She’s an] amazing content creator, [and] I love her very much. It's only natural I'd be compared to her, regardless of what I do.”
The challenges of growing up mute
Mizuzu Neo wasn’t born mute, but it is all she has known. That came with its own set of challenges for simple tasks otherwise taken for granted.
Armed with a whiteboard (and eventually other technology), it became easy enough for her to communicate. But what was harder to overcome were the social barriers and misconceptions about her condition.
“When I was growing up, I think it's without saying that I was obviously made fun of for not being able to talk. Naturally in school there's always going to be that bullying somehow.
“It was hard, really hard, knowing that I didn't have a ‘voice’, that [it] was the main attraction to everyone—that's what I thought, because having a voice meant that much to me—kind of threw me down.
“I think it hurt more knowing that there weren't many people who took this path before me, so I was alone for the most part. Every person, every show, almost every song—it was everywhere and I was the only person who had no choice whether I get to have one or not.
“I don't often judge people for [having misconceptions], cause I'm sure if I was in their situation I'd be asking lots of questions. Sometimes people thought I was deaf, or something was genuinely wrong with me. I also got asked a lot of stupid questions like ‘can you breathe?’—I’ll never forget that one.”
But there was a surprising amount of acceptance online when she started, Mizuzu reflected. She grew up around games and anime, but never really used much social media before taking to streaming.
Instead of facing the harassment and closed doors she was used to, there were countless opportunities for Mizuzu to interact without the one barrier that stopped her in a face-to-face conversation. People didn’t really care that she couldn’t speak when it was all over instant messaging.
“It's definitely shocking to me that when I took the leap to push myself to the internet to be accepted, I was accepted in super open arms ever since.
“People have been incredibly understanding and I don't know how or even why. I'm genuinely just shocked about how many people genuinely fully express their understanding.
“My parents were very wary of me being on the internet when I was young. So it kinda carried into being an adult I was like’ but they can steal all my information with one click, and they know my address and my face if I look into this camera!’”
There are still the times where the constant reminders and bombardments of questions get under her skin: “Practically every new chatter not from Twitter or TikTok would ask [why don’t you talk?], which is why I also had a command, and still do,” she stated.
But there’s two key points she forced herself to remember. One was her muteness didn’t define her. There were other ways for her personality to shine, and it wasn’t her entire being.
“I feel like [my muteness] doesn't matter and I care more about myself and what's on the inside. My actions mean more than anything I could ‘say’. My personality is definitely what makes me human cause I'd be pretty boring without it.”
And while it was hard to come to terms with that, she did what she has always done in life—worked her way through it and found solutions time and time again.
“At a certain point I decided I'm just gonna do things my way and I can be accepted by those who want to accept me! I stopped caring and started thinking about what I could do without a voice and what I still can do. Then that kind of left me in the mindset of just working and doing my best in any way that I can.
“I'd contribute that as well to me being a workaholic, wanting to always improve and be better gives me a lot of meaning. I accepted myself and what I cannot control, so I decided to do everything my own way! Doing what I want, wearing what I want, all that jazz.”
All that hasn’t stopped her thinking from what life would be like with a voice though: “I would probably stream, then scream at everyone. I've thought of this before. If I could talk, I'd be an actual menace. I’d be really loud, actually unhinged.
“I'd be super loud for like the first 6 months, and then chill off—I'd be getting off a high of being able to talk. If I could talk I could express myself more, but then again I have zero idea what I'd do.”
How does streaming work when you can’t speak?
Mizuzu Neo can’t just go live on Twitch and do anything. There’s plenty of restrictions that come with being mute.
First of all, any game that requires full attention on playing is basically out. That rules out a lot of top games on the platform: Valorant, Apex Legends, most of the online competitive things. With her hands needed for typing, there’s little room for actually playing.
But she hasn’t let that stop her completely. Instead, she leveraged coding skills gained growing up working for the family business to let Twitch chat do the playing for her. Inspired by the likes of “Twitch Plays Pokemon,” Mizuzu tried to push games to their limits and make her own wacky challenges.
“I went off and decided to go crazy with it and see how far I could really push what Twitch Chat controls with my streams. Honestly, being able to work code into my streams has been incredibly fun for challenges.
“I've always done at least somewhat of a stream challenge when I stream. Either forcing my Twitch chat to beat itself in a tournament, me playing a randomizer, playing a game with punishments, modifying the game to make it harder. Adding that extra element of coding gives a lot of variety and makes things super unique!”
It takes some of the legwork out of streaming for her too. Yes, it’s still more taxing having to set up intricate code to map buttons and allow her Twitch chat to play games for her versus just being able to go live. But it gives her the chance to spend stream time entertaining.
The best example of that for her was a stream where she coded key mapping for fighting games. Twitch chat would take over from her controls every 30 seconds, and just absolutely bottle every single game. Mizuzu labeled it a “disaster” in the best way possible.
“For some reason, during that stream, I named the down command ‘duck’. [The] reason why that's important is because chat really wanted ducks after they saw that. So we renamed all the movement commands to some form of a duck. To move left was ‘quack’, or to move right was ‘mallard’.
“Then one person suggested ‘Risky Ricky Rumble’s Dad's Weird Garage Sale 4’ as one of the movement options—out of nowhere, some random chatter. Now, every time we wanted to do that specific movement option, chat had to type that entire thing. To this day, I don't even know what it means.
“We won 1-2 games in like four hours, but two hours was spent deciding the duck commands. That's honestly my favorite thing with my streams. I want to start shifting to that form of content with my streams moving forward this year, that whole crazy random going off-topic with Twitch chat, but still staying on the rails.”
That’s not to say Mizuzu loves the limitations. She’s had more ideas scrapped because of her muteness than opportunities ever afforded to her: “There's been so much that I've had to stay away from, regardless of how fun or awesome I thought it'd be.
“The main thing holding me back from all that is being mute—voice commands, collaborations, a lot of things. I've had countless ideas just thrown in the bucket cause I cannot speak. So finding content that works for me is somewhat difficult, [and] it has certainly forced me to think smarter about how I'm going to entertain Twitch chat—especially since my Twitch chat is like a thousand monkeys wanting things to do.
“That's why I've settled on a style that allows me to still do really unique things, just easier for me and my content: game challenges, letting Twitch chat control, hosting Twitch chat tournaments that makes them fight each other. All that is perfect for me!”
The collab point is especially prudent in the VTuber space. Mizuzu didn’t use any form of TTS until recently (and when she used it, she noticed a near 40% increase in viewership). And that poses a special challenge when you’re inviting people onto your stream, or going onto someone else’s, and trying to interact. But there’s ways of getting around that.
Mizuzu now has a way of streaming her ‘chat bubble’ to collab partners in Discord, and she usually keeps the activity to the lower difficulty side—just playing games and whatnot. Picking up TTS would make things easier again, but there is still going to be a ceiling.
“I just did a full Elden Ring randomizer playthrough and I decided to force myself to brute force learn it. It took seven streams and roughly eight-hour streams every time. But I beat it and found a decently-fitting TTS, although a bit different and a weird change of pace.
“It changes the approach entirely, but also adds some weird elements! It’s delayed by like two seconds every time I send the message, then the TTS reads it out. I made my model somewhat lip-sync it, but then it’s mostly left to me to fill in the gaps which is tough because I don’t even know how some of these words are meant to be moved with the mouth.
The future for Mizuzu Neo
Mizuzu Neo never would have gotten this far if it wasn’t for her love of streaming. The medium has let her express herself in ways unimaginable just a few years ago. It’s been a powerful tool to finally have that proper interaction she missed earlier on in life.
“I think free-form content creation is the most amazing thing about streaming. You can do whatever you want! I'm a very creative person. I love writing, I love planning, I love thinking of new ideas, so getting to put all that into this ‘box’ of stream content is something incredible.
“But it's not only that one thing because I wouldn't be inspired to do all this if it weren't for my community loving whatever I do, or wanting to see more of it.
“I feel like I figure out something new about myself in every stream, like making jokes about monkeys. That's something that's new or just learning more about myself in terms of my boundaries, how I want to be seen, all that.”
That creativity does stem from her unique background into streaming, and while it’s not really a ‘blessing in disguise’ to be mute, it has set her apart from other streamers.
“I probably wouldn't have my unique style or flavor if I wasn't mute, I'd probably be streaming Valorant. I don't think I see it as a blessing, it's a nerf—I think I’m just so good, so cool, so sexy, that the world had to nerf me!
“I would not be me in any shape or form of what I am now, if I wasn't mute. I don't see it as a blessing, more so something that made me pave my own path due to it which inevitably does lead me to be more creative and sets me apart.”
And from where she started? She’s an “entirely different person,” and it’s all for the better in her eyes.
“[I’m] the happiest I've ever been in my life. I'm like ‘how did I get to be that? From zero?’ I've never been happier in my life the moment I started doing all this, being a VTuber. It's only been uphill.
“There's moments when I'm stressed, I've obviously had ups and downs internally but even my lows don't compare to the lows before streaming. My low before streaming was 1/100, and my ‘best’ was 20/100. Now my lows are 50/100 and my best is 1000/100.”
That motivation to keep pushing forward with her creativity and feel fulfilled has Mizuzu Neo prepping a big third year of streaming. Celebrating her anniversary on February 20, she’s kicking off the next year of content with a big subathon. Beyond that though, who knows what’ll happen.
“I want to keep working and making bigger streams! Bigger projects, more community related things, and collaborations. I want to start focusing on bigger series and projects that I might’ve not been able to do.
“This next year I want to try even experimenting with bigger things like lore, model changes, some crazy stuff that might be insane to do. I’ve decided it's the year of Mizuzu.”
Mizuzu Neo is a lot of things. Being physically mute is only a small part of her story and personality, and it has never defined her. She’s boisterous, hypercompetitive, and a self-described “gremlin”. She has insane technical skills, and an admirable drive and work ethic to make her presence known.
But one thing she isn’t is cute—and that’s the only moniker she’ll shut down into the ground.
“I'm not cute that’s all! I will defend that to the grave.
“I don't think I've ever gone on a stream without my own chat calling me cute, much less my collaboration partners, and even sponsorships or partnerships. It's the worst bit of all time, I've never been cute.”