Do virtual YouTubers dream of online controversy? Maybe not but they sure are good at courting it.

One of the most buzzed about developments in online culture in Japan over the past 12 months has been a boom in virtual YouTubers, animated characters operating their own channels, upon which they behave much like their human counterparts. They play video games, partake in memes and provide meta commentary on their existence.

It’s still a niche pocket of Japanese pop culture and hardly a new idea — digital characters acting like people stretch back decades, especially if Max Headroom counts. However, the buzz around virtual YouTubers prompted Sanrio to have Hello Kitty take up the occupation, and the BBC recently gave the field the feature treatment. It all comes off as an entry in the slightly weird Japan trend stack. Yet the past couple of weeks showed it’s far more complicated domestically.