The Sodafunk Swindle

Hey, you wanna talk about some year old dumb-as-hell vtuber drama that nonetheless ties into toxic conversations about monetisation, ownership of labour, body shaming, gender transition and capitalism?

No?

Oh okay, that’s reasonable, feel free to move on.

Wait you’re still here?

Okay, so I’m going to need to give you a crash course on some terms for this:

  • A Vtuber is a term used for a streamer using a form of virtualised avatar to represent themselves. These days, they’re often on the platform Youtube, and commonly use an expressive avatar through a number of typical software packages. How isn’t super important – the important thing is it’s someone using an animated avatar that does a real-time representation of who they are. These avatars allow for a lot of expressive, animated behaviour, and tend to let people behave in ways that’s more ‘animated’ than just what you can do with a normal camera setup. Vtubers are amongst the most successful people on Youtube right now, with people sending them money for their work. Think like busking.
  • A Clipper is a term for someone who maintains and cultivates small sections, ‘clips’, from a long stream. In the case of Vtubers, sometimes a stream can be four, five, nine hours long, and sometimes small individual moments, often ones with memetic potential, make for funny moments when cut out of that context, or supercut together for an audience who can’t watch or attend that kind of longer video. Clippers can maintain entire youtube channels of their own, often with their own particular characterisation that Vtubers can notice and reference.
  • A Union is a collaborative worker’s collective made up of all the workers in a job who can negotiate with the employer with their collective interests at heart; things like their share of the profits, their working conditions, and whether or not they should be able to be fired without meaningful recourse or cause.

Alright, then.

Sodafunk is a clipper. Their channel used an avatar of a little catgirl version of the character Nozomi Kasaki from the anime movie Liz and the Blue Bird. This was done using fanart from an artist @Lyytoaoitori, who I understand is Chinese and therefore, I’m very limited in what I can glean about them. Anyway, so it’s a youtube channel showing you cute Vtuber girls doing funny things, and obviously, people got into it, and that led to:

  • Ads
  • Attention from the Vtubers

Sodafunk had an ending theme song for their videos (that helped them reach a minimum timer for ads, but can’t confirm that), that was an anime remix of Temmy’s theme from Undertale and Hail Mary Mallons’ Whales:

Sharing it here because Whales is a banger and also, cool puppetry. Hell, these are probably technically muppets. Anyway, that song then got evolved into a version with lyrics sung by, well, a voice that matched the cute catgirl.

Sodafunk then released this video, in 2021:

The ‘hi honey’ voice clip is a meme, it’s… a housewife thing, a flirty thing and it can be a sort of jokey meme to get Vtubers (or just cute girl streamers in general) to say on stream.

Now, you might not think much of this, but this… shocked people to consider: Their Clipper they were following that used a cute anime girl avatar was a girl. On the internet!

Then, about a month later, we got this where Sodafunk released a video playing with an existing Hololive vtuber meme:

So hey, this is cool. Look, at this point, I deadass think this is just a very simple, cool thing. An existing part of a fandom is a girl, and is comfortable letting people know that, and that helps to build a point that fandoms have always had women in them and the idea that women are there to be observed and don’t have cultural capital within these spaces is one of those misogynist ideas that is best eroded by just letting women do their thing and acknowledging their place.

Then, Sodafunk, without much fanfare, announced a premiere, in which she showed up, and talked with chat for a bit, providing some details about herself, some commentary about things like liking wearing crocs, and her favourite Vtubers. This was a monetised stream: people could pay money into it, and give her superchats. Then, shortly after this, an OC Avatar reveal, and a talk about streaming, and collaborating with other Vtubers!

Okay, happy story, right? A clipper builds connections in the space, tries out the thing she clearly loves, and then gets involved in the scene! Sounds good, right?

Aaaaaand it’s more complicated than that.

Around this time last year, Rizulix, another clipper who had worked with Sodafunk made statements about how Sodafunk was a guy. That the voice on the channel wasn’t his voice, because they had spoken to him, at length, on voice chats, over a long period of time. This was brought up as a matter of public honesty and record – that ‘Sodafunk,’ the clipper who built the channel and attention and who had definitely benefited from subsequently being seen as a cute girl. Very importantly, Sodafunk had once credited the singing of the song to a voice actress on Fiverr, and after the stream, removed that credit.

Firestorm in a teacup ensues.

People get mad, people feel betrayed, people think it’s fine, people think it’s not fine, people take their positions on all sorts of different levels on this particular conversation and it’s all very complicated and there was very little in the way of true, verifiable information beyond what I’ve presented.

Some people were very upset about Sodafunk monetising work that was not ‘his.’ Some were upset about the way it felt deceitful. Some people, including me, were extremely curious about how the voice actress and streamer doing the streaming was being compensated for the work she was doing, when that wasn’t the ‘pure’ income of the channel. Some people felt catfished – that rather than being an actual individual following their hobby and being herself, this was a guy creating a media entity for people to pay money for as part of a parasocial relationship.

About a week later it wasn’t important any more.

It’s been a year and it seems that largely nothing has happened. Sodafunk has continued to clip and interspersed with monetised streams, and the ‘controversy’ around the character and the channel has seemingly just stopped. Nobody’s talking about it, and that seems to be it. They’re still popular, with over 250k subscribers and about 15-80 of them tune in for each clip, which is a pretty reasonable conversion rate for this kind of thing.

Now, I kept my mouth shut on this at first, as a matter of general interest, because there was a dimension to this that might have been missing. That is, Sodafunk might be the girl on the voice tracks, and any prior experience people had with a ‘male’ voice could be a situation with someone having The Genders. The Genders is difficult after all, and I don’t have any intention to out anyone. Plus, if she had done that, jesus christ, great work on that voice training and I’d like recommendations I can share with friends.

Personally, I don’t have a problem with any of the actions taken, but I have problems with the presentation. If Sodafunk was a clipper, who made a catgirl avatar for the channel, and then wanted to hire a streamer to play that avatar, that sounds cool, that’s just running a channel. Me, I had two problems. One of them is the serious concern, which is credit the woman in question. The way that Vtubers are currently run is a system where these performers are deliberately separated from the products of their labour, and the big Vtuber studios that exist are able to make their entire studio system opaque to outsiders, creating problems like the Rushia firing earlier this year, which is its own thing.

The thing about it that stands out to me is how it’s buck wild that we’re presented with yet another instance of a reasonably new-ish workplace where, without existing controls and transparency and the sorts of things you get from having a union, we’re given to a brave new world where anyone can be the newest form of landlord or pit boss.

But you gotta know I’m not just talking about this because it’s an interesting random story about someone on the internet e-catfishing shrimps, right?

I had to get involved here because of something that annoyed me, personally, right?

When Sodafunk made the change to the OC for the channel avatar, a fan bemoaned the situation in the reaction video, because, tragically, it was sad for them, to lose the old avatar, shown here, because she had…

Sigh.

‘Thicc Anime Thighs.’

I was so mad at this description of totally ordinary anime legs that I went and got meaningful context, and left a note in my draft folder saying follow up on this next year.

Back to top