nicodou is celebrating 17 years of managing to stay alive this month. more of that time has now been spent as a subsidiary of kadokawa than as a japanese division of a multiplayer service, an arrangement that is clearly on borrowed time by every measure. MAUs have dropped, total views have fallen off of a cliff, and the userbase is only growing older every passing year. when we checked in earlier this year, about 1.34 million people were still premium subscribers. the latest report from september doesn’t bring better news, as they’ve again shed a few thousand more, now resting at the halfway point from their peak in 2016 when a user exodus over a site refresh began what is now a slow decline. that number also came ahead of the announcement that subscriptions will be getting more expensive starting in march, which will no doubt remind people that they are paying for the dial-up equivalent of a streaming service.
even if teenagers and twenty-somethings left nico behind, they have almost certainly felt the influence from it on a web now awash in japanese culture ー track where popipo is on its 15th birthday, for one. nico’s status as a cultural nexus may be fading from memory, but the tail of its phenomenon is probably longer than anyone ever envisioned for it. youtube threatened the site’s existence from the beginning, and it was in some ways forced to navigate a stricter copyright regime than what viacom ever threw down in the west. it’s almost a little blasé at this point to recognize the extraordinary number of vocaloid producers who got their start on nico that have now jumped into commercial music performance or production. for certain subcultures, like MADs, there’s still really no appropriate substitute. dwango, per its leadership, chose to enshrine that same remix culture in the site’s philosophy from the start at a rebuff to making any profit, instead preferring to operate with a recklesness that pushed boundaries in grey and advertiser unfriendly areas. from nicoscript comment art to sprawling portal services like blogs and a wiki, there are both relics and experiments here that you will never see committed to or maintained on any other streaming site today, many of them scars from an era of an expanding social web that have long aged out of fashion. in exchange for that clunkiness, it has allowed itself to become a refuge for a chaotic and creative culture that has mostly gone extinct on the web at large. as treasured as an instiution like the MAD is here, the appetite for it is probably most at risk as long as it remains so closely tethered to a sinking platform. should it sink entirely, at least focke can carry the torch forward for a different audience far beyond.
as a last defense of sorts, nico has begun leaning hard into its legacy to claw back users, most notably by holding contests and events including the seasonal vocacolle, mushoku tomeisai (covered here previously), and more recently a static image PV festival. while it’s a strategy that remains yet to be proven fully, and chokaigi is probably a more effective general flare, many of these events thematically harken back to earlier eras of the site’s history where informal user run contests like MMD cups and medley contests were once its lifeblood. those two examples have today sputtered out entirely, but the MAD has proven far more resilient into the post-flash era with organic collaborations. otoMAD dream match tengoku, a competition pairing prominent names in the scene together to collaborate on a brave new frontier for the sound MAD, wrapped up just this fall to healthier participation than I frankly would have expected given the state we’ve outlined for the site. every entry is authentic, beautiful, and horribly unapproachable to outsiders, so one of my favorites has to be the chronicle of all of the fads that emerged in the scene starting with the reiwa era, a poetic contrast to what most would view as a sunsetting era for the site itself. it is, appropriately, too much to soak in even on repeated viewings. watching an otoMAD compilation of this ilk is sort of like being asked to count the number of leaves that blow by in a tornado, yet it is also a chaotic and calculating symphony that is impossible to turn away from. there is so much packed in here that probably only its truest maniacs would ever be able to cite each reference popping out from it in exacting detail, and with it already a snapshot of this particular early moment in reiwa, it is far more likely that many of them will soon be forgotten like the yoyogi seminars of the past. still, whether we choose to label this moment a silver age, a bronze age, or a renaissance, the disciples of inmu are still proselytizing on their turf, and we should all find comfort in that continuity of tradition.
other than an onmyouji shirt, one of the cooler things spawned by this anniversary celebration is that you can have a card generated showing off the first comment your account ever made to the site. true to life, the video on my card has been deleted, though my comment hints at what might have been happening here. a little sleuthing on various scraper sites confirms that it was a trace MAD for, in fact, the best zetsubou-sensei OP. danmaku is a global heritage, superseded only by the fact that we are all always in despair. after realizing I was also punching my fist in the air today upon discovering reisa was doing the pattendorf, I can’t help thinking I am probably destined to repeat the next decade and a half the same way. with any hope, and a sprinkling of free market pixie dust, I’ll be able to keep smiling that far into the future.