It’s the End of the Cons As We Know It (but do we feel fine?)
Things are changing.
Back in 1995, I started working with a fine group of folks that were on a 3-year journey to create a new Japanese Anime and Manga convention in the Chicago area. From 1995 until the end of that journey in October of 1998, we planned. We prepped. We had a lot of sleepless nights. Tons of meetings. And finally, the time arrived. Anime Central. You may have heard of it. The very first ACen happened at the Holiday Inn O’Hare International hotel, just outside Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. We were all pretty young and many of us had no real idea what we were getting ourselves into. For me, it was the beginning of 5 years of interesting times. But nothing back then would have ever prepared us for the landscape today.
As the social landscape around us changes by the minute, fueled by social media and crazy 24-hour news cycles, the world of anime conventions was impacted by the world of social justice, and specifically the #MeToo movement.
The impact of sexual harassment allegations began to appear in all sorts of place. And no one seemed to be safe. We all watched as high profile individuals began dropping left and right. The most visible were some of the most popular actors which got caught in allegations, and, as tends to happen, the court of public opinion became the judge, jury and executioner, destroying careers and lives in the wake. Not to say that if anyone that got caught in the #MeToo movement was guilty of abuse that they shouldn’t be punished. They definitely should. But all of us in the anime community probably figured that this could never happen in our special world.
But, as life tends to go, we got hit as well. And it directly connected with the world that I have been a large part of for well over 10 years.
That brings us to the case of anime voice actor, Vic Mignogna. Any anime fan that’s been paying attention over the last few months will know of the situation that has occurred with relation to Vic.
Broly Loses His Voice
Our tale of change begins following the English release of “Dragon Ball Super: Broly” in December 2018. After the dub premiere of “Broly,” which prominently features Mignogna as the title character, accusations of sexual harassment by convention attendees began to surface against him on Twitter, with some allegations dating as far back as 1989. Multiple accounts alleged that Mignogna kissed, groped and made unwanted comments to fans without their consent, some of whom were underage at the time. Soon after, voice actresses Monica Rial and Jamie Marchi tweeted their support for those speaking out, and openly alleged being sexually harassed by Mignogna.
On January 22, 2019, Tammi Denbrow, the executive director of employee relations at Funimation’s parent company, Sony Pictures, officially opened an investigation based on reports made by Rial, two female fans and a former Funimation employee. The investigation lasted seven days and resulted in the termination of Mignogna’s contract with Funimation. On February 5, 2019, Rooster Teeth Productions followed suit and severed their business relationship with Mignogna. Funimation immediately recast Mignogna’s role of The Executive in the upcoming series The Morose Mononokean. Then on February 11th, Funimation publicly confirmed they had ended professional ties with Mignogna. In response to the controversy, Mignogna has categorically denied any accusations of sexual harassment.
As the story developed, the anime community online began to take sides. Either you supported Vic or you were against him. Hashtags began to fly. #KickVic versus #IStandWithVic. And both sides are very passionate when it comes to the defense of their chosen champions.
Then, it started… Multiple anime conventions around the country began pulling Mignogna from their guest lists.
The End of the Cons as We Know It?
There’s much more to the legal side of the Vic Saga that is still moving forward, even as I write this, so I’m going to refrain from commenting on that aspect of the situation. But, despite all the #KickVic and the #IStandWithVic declarations flying around the Internet, this is something that should scare every convention organizer in the country. Having seen the dynamics of convention attendees and guests of honor at many conventions over the years, this is a situation that convention organizers should be looking at very carefully.
If this had been a case of voice actors having a workplace-related incident, the companies would have dealt with the situation and we’d be done. But with the allegations by fans at conventions having started the scenario, anime cons have to pay attention.
As a result, anime conventions can become a legal target of anyone that claims harassment if something happens between a fan and a guest of honor. As the fan allegations surfaced, ultimately the conventions could be found partially liable if the incidents happen during a conventions’ activities. Before this, fans could get as close to their favorite voice actors, artists and creators as the guest would allow. I’ve seen both ends of the spectrum, from very little contact to an overabundance of glomps and kisses. At ACen, we were one of the first anime cons (if not the originator) where the attendee “FREE HUGS!” movement began, all starting with one attendee that carried a sign advertising it. It was innocent at first, but soon started getting out of hand as individuals that didn’t want the invasion of their personal space. Shortly after that, official convention rules had to be put in place to prevent unwanted glomping from taking over the convention floor.