Sophie is delightfully chipper despite it being 9am on a Sunday morning. It’s early by most measures in this city that never sleeps, but for someone who has as much on her plate as she does, perhaps it’s not a surprise that she is busy as a bee in the early hours. Online, Sophie bears another name. She’s known as Peach Milky, a model, cosplayer and streamer who even has her own 2D VTuber (virtual YouTuber) personality.
As anime and gaming culture are now mainstream, it’s faces like Sophie’s that we should all be recognizing and paying attention to as the next generation of content creators. Although Sophie has called Tokyo home for more than five years, she grew up in Northern Ireland where access to all of the things she loved was limited.
“I was born and raised in a small town called Bangor,” she says. “Like most people, I got into anime from a young age but it was really just whatever was on television such as Sailor Moon and Pokémon.”
It wasn’t until Sophie’s parents came home with a computer one day that she suddenly had proper access to anime and gaming culture from around the world thanks to the internet. This, by extension, is also how she started seeing cosplay for the first time.
“There was such a stigma against nerdy hobbies,” she continues. “It wasn’t something you would tell people, especially as you got older as you’d be seen as an adult still watching children’s cartoons.”
Growing in Confidence
Cosplay, the practice of dressing up as a media character, is probably what Sophie is best known for. Her Instagram feed is a multidimensional portal into the worlds of Final Fantasy XIV, Genshin Impact, Chainsaw Man and more. Each photo is visually stunning, from the accuracy and quality of her costumes, her poses and expressions, right down to the style in which they are shot.
While she adopts various faces as these characters, the one commonality across all her photos is a sense of quiet confidence, which is why it might come as a surprise to many that for Sophie, starting to cosplay didn’t come easy.
“I was determined to cosplay at my first anime convention. I even prepared a Hatsune Miku costume and had it ready,” she says. “But I was too shy to wear it. I ended up leaving it in my suitcase because the thought of putting it on made me frightened and anxious. That entire weekend, I was so jealous of everyone who dressed up. I resolved that the next year I was definitely going to do it, which I did in the end and that was the beginning of me cosplaying.”
Moving to Japan
Sophie arrived in Japan on a gap year to travel the country and experience its culture. She planned to produce Japan vlogs on YouTube but a part of her wished to also get into the modeling and cosplay scene here. Thankfully she made friends who introduced her to a reputable agency that was able to secure jobs with J-fashion brands, the type of gig she could have only dreamed of as a teenager.
The popularity of cosplay in Japan meant she also had access to second-hand stores, wig shops and circle lenses, a popular cosplay accessory. Modeling would have been a very difficult career path back in Northern Ireland, Sophie says, especially as she isn’t considered tall by western standards.
The Road to Internet Fame
The leap of faith paid off. Across all her social platforms, Sophie has almost a million followers. She also sells cosplay prints sold on Gumroad which is how she’s able to support herself financially. Behind all the glamour, however, is a lot of hard work and preparation.
“The process begins when I find a character,” she says. “Depending on how much I love them, I’ll either buy one online or commission a costume maker to craft a high-quality version. The latter takes longer and is more expensive. The former usually means making adjustments as it might not look as good or fit as well.”
When it comes to scouting locations, it can range from photo studios to various Japan destinations.
“At a live location, a lot of planning is needed,” she says. “I’ll book a hotel nearby and be up before 4am. I need to be ready by sunrise as that’s when lighting is best and there aren’t many people around. The shoot typically finishes around 8am.”
Sophie admits that her first foray into cosplay was both risky and expensive. The costs continue to add up. If she had a more business-minded approach, she would spend less. Ultimately, it’s her passion for cosplay and a drive to create art that brought her to where she is today. She clearly loves her work, no matter the weather.
“I traveled to Morioka last February because I wanted to take Kamisato Ayaka’s photos in the snow to match [her] element,” recalls Sophie. “It was incredibly cold. My hands went purple and I couldn’t close them. My face was red and my nose wouldn’t stop running. We called it early because it was becoming scary, but I’m happy with how the photos turned out.”
The Truth About Making Content Online
The road to internet fame isn’t without challenges. In August 2021, OnlyFans announced it would no longer be allowing sexually explicit content (though that idea was eventually scrapped). The move garnered heavy criticism regarding how the platform was treating sex workers who’d garnered popularity from the site.
Sophie’s content, while sometimes described as risqué, was not directly affected. However, she notes that had the platform gone ahead with its decision, she would have left OnlyFans in solidarity with her friends whose livelihoods would have been dramatically affected. Changes like this are yet another reminder of why content creators need to have a multi-platform approach lest they become subject to the whims of policy and algorithm changes.
Being in the public eye can also subject one to trolls and bad actors online. Sophie mentions that receiving negativity on a Twitch stream can be different from seeing a nasty comment on Instagram or YouTube because of the expectation to respond to it in real-time. She’s thankful that her Twitch community is, for the most part, positive and she tries to give people chances before banning them from her channel. On top of this, female cosplayers can sometimes be under the scrutiny of moral police who cast judgment on their sexualized content.
“Overall, [the internet] has become a lot more accepting,” says Sophie, on how her life online has changed. “It’s unfortunate that people tend to judge others by how much skin they show but the circles I’m in respect individual choices. I grew a lot in body confidence after moving to Japan which helped me gain the courage to do more revealing cosplay. Now I often do two versions of a character, one that portrays accuracy and another that’s my own version of them where I can be more creative.”
Diversify, Diversify, Diversify
Of the many things Sophie’s done in Peach Milky’s name this year, one interesting event was the debut of 2P, Sophie’s VTuber persona. A Vtuber is an online personality made through the use of virtual avatars generated with computer graphics and real-time motion capture software.
“I started getting into Hololive, a collective of VTubers run by a Japanese talent agency, in 2020,” she says. “The idea to have one of my own started to take shape and I applied for my design to be chosen as a commission by one of my favorite artists. Having a VTuber has really transformed streaming for me and helped me push past my social anxiety even more.”
“When I stream as 2P,” she continues, “I don’t have to think about whether people are looking at me. It’s completely driven by my personality. I find it very freeing as I can be more like myself.”
With so many different moving parts within Peach Milky’s world, Sophie plans to keep focusing on her Vtubing and to also hone her drawing skills, another hobby she’s picked up. She aspires to run art streams on Twitch in the future and create her own line of self-designed merchandise.
Returning to Northern Ireland
As she begins winding up her time in Japan, she’s excited to return back to Northern Ireland and to take advantage of the scenic natural landscapes there for future cosplay location shoots.
“Japan has given me so many opportunities with work, the ability to follow my passions and the friends I’ve made during my time here,” she says. “I love Japan and once travel is open again, I plan to come back here often. But I’m really looking forward to returning home as I miss it a lot and want to spend more time with my family. I’d like to settle down more comfortably in Northern Ireland and hopefully buy a house one day. The dream would be to have it as a base while visiting Japan for cosplay in a 50-50 split throughout the year.”
It’s evident that Sophie is well on her way to achieving her goal of becoming a real-life anime girl – in every sense of the word. So, does she have any advice to give for those wanting to follow in her online footsteps?
“Have a strong sense of who you are and make sure you can handle negative opinions,” she says. “Remind yourself that these people don’t know you and are unfortunately projecting themselves onto you. The best thing you can do is to just start putting content out there. A lot of people make the mistake of waiting to get better equipment or a higher quality camera but everyone has to begin somewhere.”