The first time I saw Chester, I was captivated. The internet has seen a torrent of different types of “VTubers” over the last year, and while some models are fusions of humans and creatures, few have broken through as straight-up animals. And here was a cartoon otter getting his nose booped live by an enthusiastic Twitch chat. Even the most hardened cynic would crumble while watching Chester show off his fangs to his excited audience.
Chester is the creation of Kris Yim, an animator who told Polygon over email that they are working on a virtual reality movie starring the very same character. They came up with the concept back in 2016 as a part of a school project, but it took years for them to find a good venue to tell Chester’s story.
When Yim graduated from school, they figured why not use some of that free time streaming on Twitch? Over the course of two weeks, Yim constructed Chester’s model using Live2D Cubism — the process, they say, is similar to rigging a character for TV animation. They were never expecting people to latch on so quickly to Chester, which was mostly being used as a test of their animating capabilities. Alongside the actual model, Chester sometimes also has props like a guitar, or outfits, like a maid apron, which make periodic appearances on the stream.
Given this attention to detail, it wasn’t long before fan art of Chester started flying around. Yim even had viewers saying that they were watching Chester’s streams with family members. Chester was a hit, so Yim stuck with it.
Chester isn’t the only non-human virtual entertainer out there, nor is he the first. But part of what sets Chester apart is that he’s got that Saturday morning cartoon appeal. I can picture Chester on a kid’s show, even if the actual content of Yim’s streams may not be rated “E for Everyone.” For example, when Chester’s chat chants “maid Chester,” the otter dutifully obliges and puts on the outfit. The chat can also do things like pet Chester’s head. It’s all in good fun and not at all sexualized, but it also highlights a curious dichotomy for the character. Chester is adorable and has a high-pitched voice, in the way Muppets do, but his backstory is a little more grown-up. In Yim’s upcoming film, Chester is a frat bro trying to fit in at college.
“I’m a big fan of stories about non-human characters trying to integrate into human society,” Yim said. “I think animation excels at telling these kinds of stories. I’m inspired by Daniel Chong’s series We Bare Bears and Kristen Lester’s short film Purl. In them, the lead characters are accepted as participants within a society without actually being assimilated into it. Chester is an otter because he’s fundamentally trying to fit himself where he doesn’t belong.”
The Chester that actually comes to life for Twitch, though, is slightly divorced from that context. Yim reminds their viewers that the film is happening, and Chester’s social media hashtag always includes “VR” in it, but what you see on stream isn’t necessarily the nervous college student that will be in the eventual movie.
“A lot of VTubers will make an effort to stay in character, but I’m not sure if I’m capable of performing like that,” Yim said. “Even though Chester the Otter has a backstory, I’m just me when I’m on stream.”
Because Yim fell into streaming like this somewhat by accident, they feel uncertain if they can really call themself a genuine VTuber — especially after watching personalities like Pokimane stir controversy by stepping into the space. Yim doesn’t identify as a furry; it’s just easier for Yim to call Chester their fursona, because the internet understands that concept.
“I can’t say whether or not people are right to react this way,” Yim said, in regard to people feeling defensive about who does or does not qualify as a Vtuber. But Yim also knows that bringing Chester to life has brought their viewers joy, and has inspired others to pick up streaming as a hobby, too.
i uhhhhhh messed up a lot when i actually started singing instead of humming so maybe ill save that for youtube pic.twitter.com/X8UFQ9HPnc— kris vtuber (@imkrisyim) February 15, 2021
“It must be a good thing when a relatively new form of media becomes more mainstream,” Yim said. “It’s given so many people a new way to express themselves and connect with others.”
Chester streams on Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays on Twitch.