So, you know Dante’s Inferno? If not, it basically is the world’s first popular self-insert fan fiction: The Author, Dante, some guy from the 14th century, just really wants to tour hell with his literary hero and 1st century BC all-star poet Virgil. In hell, modeled after the totally christian vision of hell that Aristotle and Cicero had, Dante writes himself into meeting basically anyone he dislikes, from the popes via Odysseus to Cain (y’know, from the bible, son of Adam).
And just so we’re clear at which level of self-insert we’re operating at: in the second part of it, Dante’s Purgatorio, he meets Beatrice, a girl Dante was absolutely obsessed with starting at age 9, despite having only met her twice. So naturally, he ditches Virgil for her later on and they go to Paradise together.
With that out of the way, if I now tell you that the mention of “VTuber hell” got a creative spark lit in me, you can probably figure out which direction this particular short story is headed towards: Leo’s VTuber hell.
In order to prevent this from being a text of any historical significance, I will not do the Dante and write thirty-something cantos for just the first part, and neither will I be exploring VTuber purgatory or VTuber heaven. In the awesome-to-effort graph, we’re maybe halfway up the awesome scale, so anything beyond half-arsing this text would not be worth it.
Anyway, if we’re going to follow Dante’s format we need ourselves a Virgil, ie someone I can talk to. I could go for Virgil as well, or some poet from a thousand years before my time who has a lot of experience with touring hell, but quite frankly, I don’t really know anyone off the top of my head. I’ll just ignore Dante’s frantic hand waving in the back and instead go with my all-time favorite writer, inventor of fantasy as a genre, and language constructor extraordinaire, it’s John Ronald Reuel Tolkien! Round of applause, please!
Tolkien: “Who are you? What am I doing here?”
Leo Wattenberg, the pleasure is all on my side, Mr. Tolkien! And now strap in, we’re in for a wild ride!
To VTuber hell!
Tolkien: “What even is a VTuber?!”
First Circle of Hell: Limbo
“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”, the ominous sign over the gates of hell loomed as we stepped closer.
“You glued a piece of paper to the bezel of your screen”, Tolkien observed.
“Shut up,” I responded, “I’m going for the grandiose here, the reader doesn’t need to know we’re just looking at a laptop”
“What kind of devil are you even? Is this how you’re gonna torture me? Have me look at computer screens? I’ll have you know that…”
Tolkien stopped as the gates of hell opened and a small girl appeared.
“a”, the girl said.
“That’s Gawr Gura, she’s a shark”, I explained.
“That’s a shark? Is putting a vaguely shark-themed hoodie on enough these days to count as being a shark?” Tolkien’s hands went through his hair in disbelief.
“You better watch out for your ankles, old man! ‘Cuz I’ll bite them if you continue talking like that”, Gura flashed her sharp teeth. “Get in here right now, there’s enough room for everyone!”
Limbo was a vast place. Various clippers and translators had set up their booths, with plenty of souls wandering between them. We explored some of them, but it was evident that Tolkien didn’t quite understand what was going on.
“So, that shark girl from earlier, was that this world’s Cerberus? But instead of a dog it’s a shark?”
“Sorta, yeah. She doesn’t always guard the door and welcome new people in, but she has had quite a lot of shifts in recent times.”
“There also is an actual Cerberus VTuber, called Inui Toko.
“That sounds somewhat Japanese.”
“It is! She only has one head though and probably is typically found deeper in hell.”
As we walked towards the gates to the deeper parts of hell, I pointed towards a woman in the distance with a scythe.
“Look, that’s Mori Calliope. She’s Death herself and a rapper”, I said.
“Excuse me? I’ve seen death. I’ve been through it, for heaven’s sake! Why did they slap some massive tits onto Death, what’s the point?”
“Some things, even I cannot explain. It might just be for the better.”
As we passed her, she gave us a wink. “Nice songs you’ve got there, Leo. And Tolkien, your poems definitely were an inspiration for me as well.”
“Finally someone who appreciates the craft it took to make them!”, Tolkien exclaimed. “This dude who’s dragging me around this place apparently is too inept to do any but the laziest rhymes there are.”
“Hey”, I protested, “it’s difficult to do poetry in a foreign language!”
“Yes? Have you ever read the Namárië?”
“… of course, of course, I forgot, you have not only made your own languages but also made poems in them”, I begrudgingly admitted.
“Glad we have that cleared up.”
Be smug while you can, old man, I thought. One circle of hell surely will break you.
Second Circle of Hell: Lust
“Dear God”, Tolkien was shocked as he stumbled upon the hoards of lonely men, all staring at stages on which various girls were talking about various indecencies. Some of them even masturbated in what would be broad daylight, if sunlight ever touched hell. The stages were placed in rings around each other, with the central stage being shaped like a pirate ship.
“That’s Houshou Marine there”, I shouted towards Tolkien, “she is by far the horniest of them all!”
Tolkien looked at me with the eyes of a puppy who, despite having been through two world wars, had never seen quite this level of degeneracy before in his life.
“What is happening here?”, he yelled back through the moan-filled air.
“All of these men are rejecting society to some degree and come to VTubers to get their share of love. Some of them send obscene amounts of money, so these girls dominate the charts for fan donations on YouTube. And, well, some of the girls try to give their love back in this form.”
“Just sharing lewd stories of how they almost but not quite sucked each other’s breasts? Wouldn’t a stripper or a prostitute – or better yet – a wife be more fulfilling?”
“Well, yes, but then they would need to interact with people.”
“I don’t understand”, Tolkien began, but the lewd soup of Matsuri, Umi, Melody, Erofi, Amelia and Eroha noises forbade me from hearing the rest of his words. Between all of them, Mizuryu Kei could be seen, furiously scribbling new scenes away.
The second circle of hell was packed to the brim, and even though VTubers had corrupted me a lot, there was just about enough humanity left to not let Tolkien go insane in here and to take him to the next circle, until the sweet whispers of Choco and seal noises of Nyanners subsided.
Third Circle of Hell: Gluttony
Compared to the madness of the previous circle, Gluttony was nice and quiet. A nice blonde-haired girl lead us to a table and asked us to sit down and then disappeared into the kitchen.
“So, what’s the punishment in this circle”, Tolkien asked. “Food that turns into mud once it touches your mouth? Are we getting masted?”
“It’s much less sophisticated. In this circle, it’s mostly just Haachama trying her best at cooking.”
“So where’s the problem?”
“Well, she’s been to Australia and somehow got confused as to what’s food and what’s vermin.”
Haachama returned with a plate of viper stuffed with tarantula, served to nettles and a refreshing mice blood cocktail.
“Oh, fantastic!”, Tolkien said and started eating.
Confused, I looked at Haachama. She was apparently overwhelmed with joy that she, finally, found someone who didn’t immediately throw up from her cooking.
“I had something similar in the war, though this is better because it’s still warm!”, he explained after a few bites.
I tried some myself, but the combination of the warm, foul, intoxicating stench of viper venom quickly got the better of me and I passed out.
Fourth Circle of Hell: Greed
As I woke up, I found myself in the fourth circle of hell.
“I assume this is where you wanted to go next, anyway?”, Tolkien asked.
“Indeed”, I replied after I had puked out the last remaining spider legs stuck in my mouth.
“I had a look around while you were out. This is Hell’s Casino, is it not?”
“What a fitting punishment. You can gamble all your money, but the machines don’t even have a slot to pay you out in.”
“Well, the reward for these slot machines isn’t money. It’s… how do I put it…”
“Being released from hell would probably have quite a lot of value”
“Yeah, no. So, this entire thing is called ‘gacha’, it’s all about collecting all characters in a specific game, be it Genshin Impact, Azur Lane or whatever else. And the only way to do it is through dice rolls.”
“So is this like a kids gambling game then? With fake currencies and fake rewards?”
“Oh, the currency is very real. That guy over there, Kanae, can easily spend over 3000 USD on just one game in one evening.”
“Three thousand?! For what effectively are trading cards?”
“You also typically cannot trade with other players, you need to roll it all yourself”
“What nonsense! Picture cards which you can’t trade! You could hire a painter to paint your favorite characters over and over again for that amount of money!”
“What did you just say?!” An angry Fubuki came stomping towards us, followed by an army of other gacha addicts.
“Uuh, Mr. Tolkien, I think it’s best we leave now.”
The ring of gacha addicts pulled tighter, threatening to surround us. We hurried to the next gate.
Fifth Circle of Hell: Wrath
“Konrushi~”, the little girl said, her hair shifting from green to pink and back at frequent intervals. “I hope you’ll have a nice stay here.”
“Uh”, Tolkien scratched his head, “isn’t this supposed to be wrath?”
“Wrath? No, no, I’m just an innocent little necromancer, you won’t find any wrath around here.”
“Splendid. What’s your name, necromancer?”
“Uruha Rushia, nice to meet you~ and feel free to look around my library!”
“Well then, here we are”, I said after Rushia had left to take care of something else.
“Is there a mix-up happening? No wrathful fighting for a space to breathe in the mud, no sullen stuck underwater, no furies tormenting us?”, Tolkien responded.
“For now, no. But the moment you hint at her not having big boobs, all hell breaks loose.”
“I see”, Tolkien mumbled as he started sorting through the books.
“Say, Mr. Tolkien, do you think that this would be a good break point for a chapter?”, I asked him after a while.
“Hm? We’re barely 6 pages in, and the following circles of hell probably are gonna follow the same format. Why would you start a new chapter in the middle of the story?”
“Well, I thought that maybe my readers may be tired by now. Attention span seriously has gone down on the internet, where a distraction is one click and 3cm of hand movement or so away.”
“Look, young lad. This story you’re writing here is quite bad, embarrassingly so. You’re introducing figure after figure, all of which get two lines, if any at all, and your descriptions are seriously lacking. This story may be a neat little novelty, but it isn’t fit for the world. If I were you, I’d just not publish this until you get a bit more meat onto this entire thing. Even when judging from the perspective of Dante’s Inferno, it’s Virgil’s purpose to be the explainer, the man who’s seen everything and who knows where and what everything is, who Dante is looking at in awe. Meanwhile, you have summoned me, but for what? To make me ask questions, very simple questions, so you with your year or so of experience can profile yourself as an expert of some sort. Seriously, the figures in your work, me and even you included, are just flat, and…”
The bellowing scream of an angry Rushia interrupted Tolkien’s rant. Books were flying left and right next to us as we entered the next circle.
Sixth Circle of Hell: Heresy
The 6th circle of hell was just a wooden plank saying “closed until we figure out who the god of VTubers is”.
It would’ve been a great place to rest and to put Tolkien’s rant from earlier, which Tolkien himself of course informed me of and continued, both in scolding me and in lamenting the state of the world. “German is such a beautiful language, yet you chose to write this text in English, but why? So that more people can consume it, in a misguided attempt at appeasing both capitalism and globalization. If you were to write these things in German and not publish them, I could see the point of them being for self-improvement, but as it stands, you’re looking for validation. Go make something you’re proud of instead!”
“Well, Mr. Tolkien”, I paused for a moment, “it certainly is true that I want people to read this, and that I may not be the most proud of this story in particular. However: I do think it’s worthwhile exploring wacky ideas just for fun, even if they’re mediocre in execution. It’s all practice, maybe I can even get some feedback out of it, until maybe one day, I can get something properly thought through out. This applies both for my videos, my 3D art and, well, these stories.”
“Fair enough. Let’s exit this train wreck of a circle of hell now.”
Seventh Circle of Hell: Violence
In this circle of hell, a type of violence expected us that even I did not expect. I was ready for a fight club-style thing, where Azura and Botan were fighting over… something. Maybe some battle royale game. Instead, a gloomy, dark red landscape greeted us.
This place was observantly deserted and tensely quiet. Wherever the VTubers and fans were, they were watching and stalking. Tolkien kneeled down and pulled something out of the ground.
“Say, these don’t happen to be sticks of dynamite, do they?”
And just like that, an AH↓HA↑HA↓HA↑HA↓ and a click later, madness began. TNT started exploding, igniting more TNT and exploding it, the air filling with acrid smoke. Animals ran around and shrieked in terror, those too close to the explosions turning into neatly cut slabs of meat of whatever animal they used to be. Tolkien and I ran towards what we thought was the portal to the next circle, but even it turned out to be built from explosives. We jumped through it just as it started to disintegrate.
Eighth Circle of Hell: Fraud
I wasn’t sure if everything worked correctly. For one, I barely could move, as if everything was weighing down heavily on me. For another, in front of me were Okayu and Miyu, two people who I had expected more in heaven than down here.
I looked over to Tolkien, who already had discovered the cause of the weight, the many, many stacks of cobblestone that somehow ended up in our pockets during the explosions. He paused as he pulled a piece of pristine pork out of his pocket.
“After all… Why not? Why shouldn’t I keep it?”, he asked.
“In case you get hungry?”, I said.
“Yeah, I probably can get a real treat out of this going when we pass by the kitchen in the fourth circle on our way back.”
“Good idea! Although…”, I started saying but got interrupted.
“Hey, Leo!” It was Miyu. “Long time no see, wanna play Apex with me?”
“I mean, a short round or two probably couldn’t hurt. We’re almost at the end anyway though”, I naively responded.
The “round or two” definitely were fun, despite me having had no prior experience to the game. Miyu was a good teacher, although she would never admit anything of this sort ever about herself. Only, the round turned into two, turned into seven before she finally started talking about “Last game”. And then, any round that followed she’d have an airtight excuse as to playing longer, like “I only said it was last round as Octane”, or “I said it was last round for today, but we’re past midnight already, so it’s a new day”.
Tolkien watched us, starting with a strong reaction on even thinking about playing something war-like, then growing excited as we started almost winning rounds, and, well, eventually falling asleep on the ground. Okayu, Miyu and I meanwhile continued playing until dawn, where the three of us fell asleep in front of our computers.
I woke up, hungry, to an agitated Tolkien arguing with an Okayu who was radiating smugness with an “it’s too late, do your worst” face.
“… yes, they were uncooked, but I would’ve had it later once we got out of here!”, Tolkien yelled.
“But what if they had gone bad before that?”, Okayu had absolutely no remorse in her face.
“They wouldn’t have! Outside of the nap earlier, we’ve been through this entire thing in, what, 6 hours? Meat doesn’t go bad within a day, especially not since it’s not particularly warm here anyway, is it?”
“But what if it had? It would’ve been such a waste!”
“Don’t worry”, I interjected, “I’ve got some beef on me still.”
“Yeah, about that…”, Okayu said, still smug.
“I would and did, but you could’ve salted it some more.”
I rolled my eyes. “Last circle?”, I asked Tolkien.
Ninth Circle of Hell: Treachery
“Welcome, dear mortals!”, the little devil said. Well, squeaked, really.
“What’s up, Debi?”, I replied.
“I see you found all the way down here! Now cower in fear, as this will be your doom!”
“Mhm. I presume doom is right next door?”
“Correct! Dare enter, and you’ll be lost forever!”
“Didn’t the portal back to the 7th circle blow up anyway?”, Tolkien asked.
“I don’t know anything about portals, I just go wherever I please”, the devil that totally should be part of my plush collection responded.
“Can you get us out of here later?”, Tolkien asked.
Debi mumbled something under his breath. I took it as a definite maybe, and went towards the door.
Behind the door was an ordinary art student’s room. Slightly messy, large parts of the desk occupied by a drawing tablet and a computer, with sun shining through a window.
“Konlulu~”, she greeted us.
“That”, I whispered towards Tolkien, “is Suzuhara Lulu.”
“Huh, so she’s in charge of hell?”, he replied. “I was expecting some sort of eldri—”
Tolkien held his throat and flopped forwards. He was dead, just as he had been before I summoned him.
“Oh no, is it alright?”, Lulu asked, staring at me with a big smile.
“It cannot be helped, can it?”, I replied.
“Is there something I can do for you?”
“Yes. In Dante’s Inferno, Dante and Virgil exit hell by climbing out on Satan’s fur. Is there a similar mechanism for VTuber hell?”
“It’s a shame that Debi is so small and unclimbable, isn’t it?”