All the Chiba Prefectural Police wanted to do was promote bicycle safety. Instead, they found themselves in the middle of an online culture war.

In an effort to connect with Japan’s youth, Chiba authorities launched a collaboration in July with VTuber (virtual YouTuber) talent agency Vase on a bicycle safety campaign. More specifically, they worked with Linca Tojou, a golden-haired anime-style female character, and local mascot-turned-VTuber Bakegoro. The pair appeared in a three-minute video that was uploaded at the start of September in which they reviewed cycling rules.

In theory, it was a savvy move by the Chiba police. VTubers have become a pop cultural force in Japan and that has brought them considerable followings overseas, which means top creators can pull in big bucks through fan donations and ad campaigns. VTubers are gradually taking over the role of promotional mascots, or yuru-kyara, which proliferated in the 2010s. This has led local governments to launch their own digital ambassadors, such as Iwate Prefecture’s Sachiko Iwate, or transition their yuru-kyara online, as was done with Bakegoro (who has also been branded “the first yuru-kyara to become a VTuber”).