Chapter 31:

A New Beginning

Sweet like Honey

“VTubers?” Shirley asked, her brow furrowed. I nodded and raised my smartphone, swiping at the screen until I could display an example of an anime character wearing a shark hoodie. She claimed to be a shark girl and a descendant of Atlantis, but she really resembled a cute girl with silver hair in a blue dress.

“Well, basically a Me Tube user or a streamer who uses a virtual avatar, normally that resembling an anime character or based off anime aesthetics. They don’t show their real faces and can remain anonymous.”

“…I see…which is perfect for someone like me, who wants to keep my identity hidden after my retirement.” Shirley nodded slowly. She smiled. “That’s perfect.”

“Oh! What are you guys discussing?” As it was still early and there weren’t many customers, Honey took the chance to hop into the conversation. She peered at the screen of my smartphone and grinned. “A VTuber, huh? I know! Junior, you can draw anime characters, right? You showed me several of your manga characters when you were sketching concepts for the Honey Café mascots and all that.”

“Now that you’ve mentioned it, I’ve seen his sketches on his social media account.” Shirley was growing excited. “This might work!”

“Yeah, it’s related to what I do. Sort of.” As a Japanese literature major, I had dabbled heavily into Japanese popular culture, such as manga and anime. My interest had led me to invest a lot of time and effort into the hobby, which was probably why Helen looked down on me as a boring nerd. Not that I cared. In any case, I had some data to share.

Taking my smartphone back, I swiped away the picture of the anime shark-girl VTuber and went to a light novel/manga-based writing website.

“For example, this anime-based writing website holds a story contest every year. Last year, there were like only one or two submissions about VTubers, with one of them being about a childhood friend being a VTuber. The other one, where the protagonist fell in love with a VTuber, simply got dropped after a couple of chapters. This year, there’s a massive increase in VTuber story submissions, including one where the VTuber is the girl next door, another where the protagonist doesn’t want to know the VTuber’s real identity, and even one where the protagonist finds out that his VTuber waifu is his sister. And some guy whose 2D idol is his 3D girlfriend. That’s seven entries compared to two, which is a 350% increase.”

“…and this is relevant, how?” Honey asked impatiently. “Why should we care about VTuber stories on a writing website? Provide us some appropriate data.”

I cleared my throat. “The top-ranking VTubers have anywhere between 2 and 4 million subscribers, and its market size was valued at approximately 2.2 billion USD in 2022, and is expected to grow further, especially with the increasing demand for anime content. The top five alone earn over 5.7 million USD in 2021, and the average for the top VTubers is anywhere between 700,000 and 1 million USD a year. Of course, we’re not going to immediately get that much, and it’s probably a better idea to be realistic about our own earnings, which will probably be…I don’t know. But if we work hard, it’s not impossible to earn at least a few thousand, more than enough to make a living.”

“VTubers are on the rise and are trendy right now,” I continued. “It might be a good idea to capitalize on their popularity now, and there’s huge commercial potential, as I mentioned earlier, even if we aren’t going to make it to the top at first. At the very least, you should be able to build a solid fanbase and establish a platform for your singing without having to worry about your idol past. A fresh start, so to speak.”

Shirley looked up at that, her lips curling upward. “Just like you coming to the city to have a new beginning. I like that.”

“So how are you planning to do this?” Honey asked curiously. She flexed her arm jokingly. “If you need help from me and Bernard, don’t hesitate to ask!”

“Thanks. But we’ll probably be able to make do with a studio and a computer.” I thought for a bit. “Also, we should set a schedule for Shirley. When is the prime time to stream your singing, and how to attract viewers to a completely new and unknown VTuber.”

“At night,” Shirley said immediately. “That’s when most of my fans are active. According to my social media activities, anyway. I get the most comments and reactions during that time…after ten.”

“It’s settled then.” I nodded. “All right, think about what songs you want to sing. Are you going to compose your own songs? Or are you doing covers of existing songs? Do you need instrument accompaniment, or are you going to use a software to create it?”

“I…will compose my own songs. I don’t know about software to create music, though…”

“I’ll handle that. I’ll have to look up how to use electronic music software, but we’ll worry about it when I get there.”

“Sounds good to me.” Shirley placed a hand on her chest and beamed. “I’ll write the lyrics! Please leave the composition to me! I already have a song in mind.”

“Excellent. I can’t wait to hear it! I’ll leave the songs to you then!” I found myself infected by her enthusiasm, though to be fair, she was in turned motivated by my passion in the first place. “I’ve been searching for appropriate sites, and I think I found a studio apartment that is perfect for our needs. It’s located nearby – about a few blocks away from Honey Café – and has its own shower and kitchen. It also has soundproofed walls, which means we don’t have to worry about noise disruption or disturbing the neighbors.”

“But aren’t such studio apartments expensive, though?” Honey asked with a furrowed brow. “How are you going to afford it?”

“Oh, we have my very good friend to thank for that.” I exchanged a knowing smile with Shirley. “Let’s just say his dad is paying me a huge sum to keep me quiet.”

“Some of my fans doxed him and through their connections, they found out that he’s been fired from the city hospital.”

“Oh yeah, Travis told me that a few days ago.”

“It gets better. Even though your high school classmate was supposed to run back to the countryside and work in his father’s hospital, his employees protested so hotly and reported him for nepotism and abuse of authority that both father and son are now out. The board has taken over the running of the Tang hospital, and now they are selling assets off to pay compensation to employees for sexual harassment and power abuse.”

“It just gets better and better,” I muttered, incredibly amused.

Speak of the devil, and he shall appear. My amusement increased in magnitudes when who but the devil himself stomped into Honey Café right that very moment. That was one hell of a coincidence, but I supposed life worked in mysterious ways.

“Junior Yuan! Get your ass out here!” He bellowed, smashing the glass door open and stalking in. His nostrils flared and he glared around, his monstrous visage fixed on me. “It’s all your fault! You ruined my life, you bastard! You still have the fucking face to take money from my dad? You creepy stalker! Loser! How dare you even think you can ask us for compensation…how dare you even entertain the idea of suing me?! I lost everything because of you, you fucking four-eyed nerd! My career, my reputation, and even my position back home! You destroyed my family and sucked our wealth dry! I’ll make you pay for this!”

“You have done that yourself,” I replied in my best Ewan McGregor impression. That only resulted in Victor howling incoherently and lunging at me.

He hadn’t covered more than a few steps when Bernard emerged from the kitchen, crossed the distance in a single bound, and seized him by the scruff of his neck.

“I told you I will kick you out if you ever show your face here again,” he snarled. Striding toward the entrance, he bodily tossed the screaming Victor out onto the streets. The former doctor spun around on the ground, heaving furiously, but froze in fear when he caught sight of Bernard’s imposing bulk. The café owner crossed his muscular arms in front of his broad chest and glowered down on Victor’s sprawled figure.

“Honey, if you could call the police.”

“Yes, dear. Already did so.” Honey already had her phone pressed to her ear.

Victor was all but hyperventilating. His eyes darted toward the pavement, where a crowd of curious onlookers had gathered and were pointing. Cursing under his breath, he sprinted off.

“I have all that on video.” Shirley raised her smartphone and smirked. “Looks like you’ll be able to ask for more compensation, Junior.”

“Nah…” I shook my head. “This guy really needs to be locked up in jail.”

John Lee H. Wu
Steward McOy