Dwight Morrison is sitting on a couch in Tampa, Florida, sandwiched between his wife, Sheera Morrison, and his best friend, Paul Atkinson (fans know him as Lupasan). The trio, known collectively as YaBoyRoshi, is watching an anime series called JuJutsu Kaisen, about a high-school kid who gets magical powers by swallowing an enchanted finger. But they aren’t watching alone — they’re watching the show with about 94 thousand friends.
Why would so many people tune in to watch Morrison and his friends sit on a couch and watch anime? “If it's a show that somebody is really interested in, they want to know if you experienced the same emotions that they experienced,” says Morrison. “They want to know if you're able to pick up on the little easter eggs that they were able to pick up on — if you're enjoying it just as much as they're enjoying it.”Embedded content: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h67SpCFX274
For a YouTuber who has a video with about 9 million views, Morrison is surprisingly easy to get a hold of. “I'm always available,” he says, adding that he considers all of his subscribers to be friends. This isn’t a marketing ploy or a plan to get more subscribers. He’s just one of the biggest anime and video game fans you’ll ever meet. Who but the most devoted of fans would spend over $30 to own a toy version of the shredded finger from JuJutsu Kaisen?: “Didn’t even think twice before purchasing just now — wtf I’m gonna do with this?” he asked his followers in a tweet.
“Going back to my childhood, I had a few friends that shared similar interests to me, but it wasn't a lot. Even as an adult, not many of my friends share the same interest that I do,” says Morrison. “So creating content was a way for me to branch out and to be able to discuss things around anime, manga, and video games.”
But in 2019, that discussion between fans went silent when YouTube terminated their channel because of copyright claims from a manga publisher towards 40 of their review videos. Morrison says the claims were false and that the flagged videos all fell within fair-use guidelines. He hired a lawyer and contested the claims over and over again, but the process dragged on for months: “YouTube refused — with no explanation — to forward our counter-notifications to the publisher for the majority of that time period,” says Morrison.
He finally got the channel back after three months, but the damage was already done. “The channel takedown completely wiped out our income and almost destroyed the community we worked hard to build,” says Morrison. “We lost 20,000 subscribers over the three-month period with no way of letting the majority (of subscribers) know what was going on...When you are dealing with copyright issues, YouTube does not allow you to post videos.”
Reaction videos and reviews are often considered to be fair use as long as YouTubers follow certain rules and guidelines. However, even if the source material that was referenced in the video was used legally, it’s on the YouTuber to dispute the copyright claim, a process that can take months to complete.
When YouTube put the channel back on the air, Morrison started a Patreon: “That way, if anything happened, our closest fans would still be able to connect with us — our closest fans would still be able to see our content. And we wouldn't have to just solely rely on this one platform.”
These days, the team is rebuilding the community that the takedown wiped out. In addition to the reaction videos, they're expanding their creative palettes by producing original comedy skits based on their favorite video games and anime. Whether they’re wearing fake beards to lampoon the PlayStation game, God of War, or strapping toy babies to their chests to spoof Death Stranding, comedy sketches allow him and his creative partner, Atkinson, the space to celebrate the art they love. “The comedy sketches afford us so much creative freedom.” With the support of their patrons, the team is moving to a new studio in a couple of weeks where, in the future, they hope to crank out one or two comedy skits per month.
“I had a videographer friend, he was doing some favors for us,” says Morrison. “But after Patreon, I was actually able to pay him for his time...That's good to anybody that's doing this. Nobody wants to drive out and work for free.”
Video sharing sites allowed them to find an audience for their videos, something he and Atkinson have dreamed about since high school: “A lot of the jokes and ideas we may put in either our reaction videos or concepts for comedy skits are things we thought about when we were really young, and the technology just wasn't there.”
But it’s their patrons who allow them to produce art without boundaries or interruptions: “Now I am able to do that. I have the means to put my ideas out there and share them with a wider audience. It's very important to me for my main, original thought to be out there and not tainted by anything else. I love the freedom to create without any kind of restrictions.”