September 27, 2020, is an important day for WWE‘s Asuka, not just because she’s defending her Raw Women’s Championship against Zelina Vega at Clash of Champions, but because it’s the one-year anniversary of one of the most vital works of her side-career as a YouTuber. Today, it’s been 365 days since the earth was blessed with KanaChanTV’s Camping Alone Happy my birthday!
As it turns one year old, the 10 minute, 31 second video has over 575,000 views and is the seventh most popular video on Asuka’s YouTube channel. Camping Alone Happy my birthday! shows Asuka in her rock backyard in Nevada setting up a tent, a camp chair, and a charcoal camp stove, cooking delicious-looking meat and vegetables on the stove, and finally singing herself “Happy Birthday” in the tent with a small cake. The charismatic, slightly chaotic power of Asuka’s personality, her happy reactions to every low-stakes achievement, and the mundane weirdness of the setting compel the viewer to see what challenge she takes on next. That’s the element that powers KanaChanTV from this video onward.
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When Camping Alone Happy my birthday! was released, KanaChanTV was just under a month old. Its early videos had featured Asuka playing video games like Super Mario Maker 2 and Taiko no Tatsujin, playing the recorder averagely, and setting up a gaming chair. The camping video and its follow-up, the similarly iconic [Accidents frequent] American Truck [Truck junky], in which Asuka plays American Truck Simulator, saw the channel begin to realize its potential and elevated it from side project curiosity to unironic hit. From this point on, KanaChanTV videos were clearly worth watching as YouTube videos and not just additional Asuka content.
As KanaChanTV got Actually Good, it showed more and more clearly the quality that would make Asuka the MVP of no-fans WWE months later: her power to make absolutely anything entertaining. When she started the channel, Asuka’s WWE career was in a bit of a lull. Her undefeated streak from when she arrived in NXT through WrestleMania 34 cemented her place as one of the best and most dominantly booked women wrestlers in WWE history, but her presentation changed dramatically after her loss to Charlotte Flair.
She feuded with Carmella feat. the returning James Ellsworth in summer 2018, then wrestled in the entertaining but not very high-profile tag teams with Naomi and The Miz. She won the Smackdown Women’s Championship in the main event of TLC that December, but that win and reign saw her play third fiddle to the super-hot Flair vs. Becky Lynch feud. The success of some wrestlers doesn’t have to have detrimental effects on others, but when Asuka dropped her title to Flair days ahead of WrestleMania 35 in service of making Flair vs. Lynch vs. Ronda Rousey a double championship match, that’s what it looked like was happening.
That Asuka fell into three categories not historically respected by WWE— women, Asian people, and people who don’t speak English as a first language— exacerbated fans’ concerns, concerns that seemed to be confirmed when April 2019 saw Paige begin to manage the new team of Asuka and Kairi Sane as the controversially named Kabuki Warriors. The Kabuki Warriors went above and beyond with the material they were given, with both Asuka and Sane’s performances usually highlights of whatever shows they were on. But Asuka’s unique charisma really started shining on its own again not just because she was half of the women’s tag champions, but under even more unique circumstances.
On the March 16 episode of Raw, shortly after WWE moved all its programming to the mostly empty, even more eerie Performance Center during the early-ish days of the coronavirus pandemic, Asuka was on commentary for an Andrade vs. Rey Mysterio match. Her character had zero connection to what was happening in the ring. Her contributions to the announce team were almost entirely in Japanese and almost entirely yelling. It was amazing. The takeaway was clear, and what seven-ish months of KanaChanTV had already proven beyond a shadow of a doubt: to improve anything, just add Asuka.
The pandemic-era of wrestling hasn’t Asuka regain the aura she had during her streak, but she did regain her position as one of the company’s top singles wrestlers, winning the women’s Money In The Bank match and Raw Women’s Championship. These achievements didn’t just feel deserved because of memories her NXT run years earlier or even her Royal Rumble win, but because of how, in the spring and summer of 2020, she stood out as one of the best parts of every WWE show she was on, no matter how not-the-best those shows were. Streak-generated gravitas or no streak-generated gravitas, she was one of WWE’s top-tier entertainers.
A year after Camping Alone Happy my birthday! was posted, the pandemic has also made its solitary, kind of sad-looking happiness of a lot more relatable, maybe even aspirational. As every website noted this May and June, coronavirus-related concerns and restrictions sparked a surge in inflatable pool sales and a trend of backyard beach days this summer. It’s enough that I might be tempted to call this video oddly prescient if I hadn’t seen a tweet about how that’s a hacky thing to do. Because I’m not a hack, I’ll call it oddly prescient ironically.
Sincerely, happy one year of existing on the internet to Camping Alone Happy my birthday! and may KanaChanTV live forever, or for however long Asuka sees fit.