Chapter 35:

My Girlfriend is Still a VTuber

Sweet like Honey

…and it worked. Not the livestream itself, but in a single night, the views went up to a hundred thousand, and we have over a thousand new subscribers. My jaw dropped when I saw the growth rate.

We weren’t even talking twenty-four hours. It was about eight hours since I had last checked the numbers. I blinked and refreshed the page to ensure that I wasn’t seeing it wrong.

Honestly, I wasn’t interested in views. Views didn’t mean much in the long run – it could have been botted. People could have just watched the first few seconds of the video before closing it. it was the subscriber number that mattered the most, and now we had almost five thousand subscribers.

And it was growing.

The comments too. I was pleasantly surprised by most of them, and Fan Wong was correct when he proposed that Shirley’s “authenticity” behind a virtual avatar would make her a hit. It also helped that in preparation for the livestream last night, I had altered the costume for her anime character, giving her a similar dress to the one Shirley used to wear as an idol.

“She sounds like the real Shirley Li! If I didn’t know, I would swear that it is Shirley Li singing right now!”

“Wow, that was an amazing cover!”

“Take my money!”

“You sound like a professional! Why are you a VTuber? You can become a real idol!”

“I love your singing! This is incredible!”

There were also many comments littered with emojis. As I scanned through them, I couldn’t help but chuckle. If only they knew. It really was the real Shirley singing behind that digital façade of an anime character. However, from the comments, it appeared that most of the audience believed that the costume was a homage to the real Shirley.

Sometimes, the best disguise was simply being yourself. In fact, a comment or two remarked that she was too real to be real. It didn’t make sense to me, but you always had these strange sentiments from a cyberspace as vast as the Internet. Nonetheless, despite some nasty comments or trolls that pasted hateful remarks or even spam bots who somehow made their way into our channel to copy/paste links (and were reported), the overwhelming majority of the reaction was positive. For the first time in a week, I felt optimistic.

“We can do this,” I told Shirley with a grin. She returned the smile, but there was a slight wince.

“You know, I really wanted to pull this off without relying on covers from Sweet Dreams. I thought I could make it with my own self-composed songs. But…”

She sighed. “I guess I can’t be too idealistic and naïve. Well, I’ll focus on building up my channel and getting subscribers before branching out.”

“Yeah. Let’s do a balanced mix of covers and self-composed songs.”

“We’ll go with that.” Shirley nodded and stretched her arms. “We’re just getting started!”

“Yes, we are.”

At least, that was what I thought…even as the next month or so passed with steady growth. We could monetize the channel and receive donations, particularly monthly payments from eager customers. Not a lot individually, but collectively…

Eight thousand subscribers in a month were not bad by any metric, and with an average of twenty cents per subscriber (though most of them didn’t actually donate, a significant number of those did provide a massive amount, ranging from ten dollars to a generous hundred), meant that we would receive somewhere around one thousand and six hundred dollars for just the first month.

That wasn’t bad. It wasn’t sustainable, of course, but our channel was only going to continue growing from here.

“A promising start,” I told Shirley, who was looking nervous. “Most people would be lucky to get a hundred or two for their first month. I think we did well.”

“Yeah.” Shirley finally relaxed, an expression of immense relief crossing her pretty face. “I shouldn’t get impatient. I have to remind myself that I’ve retired…and this VTuber thing is completely different from being an idol. I can’t hold it to the same expectations.”

“No. You’ve to temper your expectations.” I nodded in affirmation. “You’re not going to make as much as you did as an idol, nor are you going to be as famous.”

“Oh, I don’t care about the fame, to be honest.” Shirley giggled. “But even when I was an idol, I didn’t earn a thousand and six hundred a month. I didn’t earn that much…maybe three and a half thousand? Most of it went to paying back my debt to the agency. It took me eight years to pay back the debt, and I think for the final three or four years of my idol career, I was able to earn about five thousand.” She grimaced. “Eighty percent of our earnings go to the company and expenses, and the remaining twenty percent is split among the members. There are about ten members in our agency, and so…you can probably work out the math. And then, for the first few years, we have to pay off our debt to the company, so that gets further deducted from our pay.”


“That’s why they call it a slave contract.” Shirley laughed hollowly. She leaned against her chair and spun around to face me. “I might not earn much as a VTuber, but at least I don’t have to worry about debt or watch most of my earnings go to a company.”

She beamed.

“But I’ll take this freedom over being a slave to the company. And we’ll only going to get better from here on out!”

“Yeah!” I cheered, only to be alerted to a notification on my smartphone. Glancing at the screen, my blood ran cold when I saw the email.

“What’s the matter?” Shirley saw the look on my face and turned concerned. I took a deep breath and swiped at the screen, opening the email app even as my heart pounded thunderously in my chest.

“I…I’ve just received an email from my advisor.”

Steward McOy
John Lee H. Wu