Animegate, an all-American story.
Any fan of manga, anime and, more generally, of Japanese entertainment had the opportunity, both as a direct spectator and from distant dreamy observers, to get to know the world of fairs dedicated to them.
These events allow countless people, of all ages and social backgrounds, to gather occasionally, united only by a common passion, to spend a few days between merchandise, juicy news and, sometimes, the heroes of their childhood, those who gave voice to those characters so loved and that have inspired many generations: a few photos, an autograph, maybe a chat, and at the end of that short idyllic period we return to everyday life with a few more memories.
Normally, this scenario would describe the common experience of an ordinary trade show, but the last few years have shown us that a single person in the right place and with the right words is enough to provoke a spark capable of rapidly evolving into a huge fire.
This is precisely what has happened in the last month, through the famous social network Twitter on which a simple but precise tweet has quickly and inexorably triggered a chain reaction culminating in what today, in imitating events of more recent memory , took the name of AnimeGate.
A signed girl HanLeia on Twitter he approached a well-known US voice actor, Vic Mignogna, requesting an autograph on a yaoi fan art about a character to whom he lent his voice.
The voice actor has, however, refused, invoking his own personal policy to autograph material in which he is not directly involved, including any fanmade and non-canonical material of the works in which he had a dubbing role.
On January 16, 2019 HanLeia writes a tweet accusing Mignogna of homophobia.
Threats emerged by the end of February lawsuits, tens of thousands of dollars in crowdfounding for legal fees, inflamed geek blogs, thousands of hours of YouTube videos, and the United States Government's Counter-Terrorism Unit on the phone to ask what's going on.
But how did we get to this point?
The protagonists of the Animegate
Like any self-respecting story, it too has numerous individuals playing their roles.
At the heart of the matter, of course, is the aforementioned voice actor Vic Mignona, known for extremely popular roles such as Edward Elric in the animated adaptations of Fullmetal Alchemist and, due to the recent focus on himself, Broly in the Dragonball Z and Super films.
Secondly we have the main trigger of the controversy, Kaylyn Saucedo, aka Marzgurl, influencer known primarily for his previous contribution to collaborating with the YouTube Channel Awesome network.
Together with Kaylyn we find Monica Rial, voice actress under the Funimation label, known for having lent her voice to Bulma's character in Dragonball and, also from Dragonball, Sean Schemmel, Monica's colleague and Goku's most famous English voice actor.
Outside the world of dubbing and animation, but directly involved in the anime theme convention we have Mike Ensley, CEO of PensaCon, intervened directly in the story on Twitter.
Another important figure in this story is identified in Samantha
Inoue Harte, previously a member of the Funimation staff, interpreter and animator at his animation studio, Saiko Studios.
A critical role will be played by Lynzee Loveridge, editor in the editorial staff of Anime News Network, which will cover the affair concerning Vic Mignogna through one of the most controversial articles on the incident.
Finally, returning to Funimation, the voice actress Jamie Marchi it deserves a separate mention because of its active role in what can be called a real cultural war on social networks.
For HanLeiaironically, the girl had no direct involvement with what happened except for igniting the first flame of the outbreak and, to date, has remained on hers, continuing to live her daily life serenely without intervening in any issue triggered by her.
Behind the scenes of the Animegate
As you might expect, nothing happens overnight without a support base and the AnimeGate is no exception, with precedents rather frowned upon the dubbing studio of Funimation.
At the center of the controversy was in fact the idea that the study was politicizing some dialogues.
The translation of any work from one foreign language to another is far from being an exact science, and falls more in the field of the arts: many words and concepts, in one language, do not have a direct translation in the target language, therefore it is natural that translators need to take creative licenses in order to get the message across.
This led to the suspicion that the companies that deal with dubbing and subtitling the souls delighted in translate freely some Japanese works to better represent one's political and ideological position.
One of the reasons why this suspicion took an increasingly decisive form was the translation of the Anime "Prison School" in 2015, where mention is made of the phenomenon GamerGate.
The problem behind this translation is that GamerGate was a phenomenon strictly and exclusively western, which was not followed up or known in Japan, making the idea of its inclusion in a Japanese animation product rather absurd.
And it is indeed confirmed that its inclusion in the product in English is the work of Tyson Reinhard, "Kill Nazis" on Twitter, known for being vocally active in the US political debate.
But what could be seen as an isolated and exceptional case was, in the same period, found in the dubbing of "Haimete No Gal", where a pompous and authoritarian employer is transformed into an unhappy caricature of a stereotypical figure of America modern, to the point that the words "Part Timer", in reference to the working position of the character to which the man is addressed, become in the dubbing phase "toothless cuck", which with the professionalism of the character has nothing to do.
These recurrences in the works of Funimation have led to an underlying suspicion that began to boil, gradually, without ever emerging to the surface until the censorships (which we talked about in the respective episodes) within some scenes in the recent Sword Art Online Alicization (whose last episode we talked about Thu!).
But how does this Animegate relate to Vic Mignogna?
The characteristics of man represent the perfect profile to use as a subject for burst the pressure already accumulated from the above: a controversially attractive Caucasian man with a fair popularity, especially linked to Edward Elric, whose similarity to the voice actor has guaranteed him a peculiarly female fan club known as "Risembool Rangers". Furthermore, Mignogna is admittedly a devout Christian that he always requested at conventions where he attended an outdoor space to discuss the Bible civilly with anyone interested.
Given how harsh and extreme the political and ideological cultural wars have become, it would be natural to think that a multimillion-dollar corporation like Funimation manages internal frictions and disagreements with tact, avoiding damage to the company's public image and signs of lack of professionalism.
If you are one of those who think so, unfortunately, you are wrong.
The story Animegate
HanLeia's first tweet
On January 16th, as previously mentioned, HanLeia has published the following tweet:
"Vic Mignogna is a homophobic s ***** or rude who acts like a maniac in the presence of female fans under the age of ten and I've been screaming since 2010 but nothing changes every year"
The tweet itself does not say anything unusual, it is quite normal today to find some disappointed fans or particularly aggressive people on the internet who use certain tones or words towards a certain character, so nothing in this post seemed to indicate the impending storm. Until someone started to notice that some "big shots" of the anime dubbing, in particular Monica Rial, were staying supporting the tweet through likes, starting to give the tweet some virality.
The post then went on to its current state, with hundreds of replies, retweets and likes.
Kaylyn Saucedo's Funimation tweet
On January 17, 2019, after only 24 hours from HanLeia's tweet, Kaylyn "Marzgurl" Saucedo send a tweet to the official Funimation page to draw their attention to the allegations of HanLeia made on the day of release of Dragon Ball Super: Broly.
In the same thread Kaylyn also tries to give the story a more structured name which will then be the flag of the future crowd that will cause Mignogna's dismissal, marking the first appearance of the hashtag #kickvic.
Lynzee Loveridge's controversial article and Mignogna's dismissal
Two weeks later, on January 30, Anime News Network publishes an article written by Lynzee Loveridge, which summarizes what has already been said on Twitter, relying on anonymous sources and photos of Mignogna while hugging fans at fairs to show that the voice actor was a serial offender of minors.
The most significant of the examples is the following:
J was approximately 14 years old when she attended New York Comic-Con in 2014 and met Mignogna. She described the encounter as "really, really uncomfortable." She discussed how the voice actor put his hand underneath her zip-up sweatshirt and on her waist for the initial photo. Then, thinking that the photo-taking portion was done, she was surprised when he asked her to look toward the camera again. That's when he put his face close to hers and then kissed her.
“J was around 14 when he visited New York Comic-Con in 2014 and met Mignogna. He described the meeting as "very, very unpleasant." He described how the voice actor moved his hand under his sweatshirt and on his waist for the photo. Then, thinking that the photo was taken, she was surprised when he asked her to look in the car again. It was then that he approached his vow and kissed her. "
Attached to the testimony, the article also contains a photo of what happened.
In response to the allegations on Anime News Network and Twitter, Rooster Teeth has ceased all collaboration with Mignogna and Funimation (Sony property) has, through an official statement on the page, fired Mignogna a week later, on February 5th.
The answer of the Risembool Rangers
This kind of story would be over at this point. Like any internet war, however, the recurring theme of this kind of situation is that the people involved make a critical mistake from the beginning and that, once discovered, they tend to worsen the situation.
The first mistake was thinking that the rest of the world worked like Twitter and that using the hashtag #believeallwomen was enough to discourage anyone from asking any more questions.
This was a mistake for the aforementioned group "Risembool Rangers", the female fan club of Vic Mignogna. It was in fact inevitable that, in the face of what happened, the girls in the group mobilized to defend their paladin, which makes it difficult to accept the "#believeallwomen" when they begin to disagree with each other and one has to choose which ones to believe.
Mignogna's ex-colleagues attack his fans and make new accusations
To make matters worse, the now ex-colleagues of Mignogna, instead of responding to general indignation with tact or, as one would expect from a public figure, silence or public statements of a pacifying nature, have decided to actively attacking fans for daring to question the harassment reports against countless young and defenseless girls.
Leading the charge we find Monica Rial, which not only confirmed the veracity of the allegations, but has established to be a victim of Mignogna's harassment herself.
The discovery of the false "evidence"
This tidal wave of discussion led to the second mistake: the lack of evidence that support what has been declared or the security that what is presented can probably be used as evidence.
The photo previously shown, presented by the Anime News Network article, was in fact publicly reported by the girl involved and portrayed in the photo. This not only stated that she was not, at the time, a minor, as the article stated attributing her the age of 14, but also specified the place and the occasion in which this photo was taken, confirming not only your consent to any contact with Mignogna, but also the presence and consent of both his parents.
Regarding Rial's statement about Mignogna's rape, fans of the latter asked for some form of proof that proves the veracity of the declaration, that they are testimonies, police reports, investigations any publicly available data about your case.
This request caused a real explosion, unleashing the wrath of Monica Rial. The impulsive response of the woman, in a few days, she became a meme on the internet, becoming the default and sarcastically presented response to any form of criticism or conjecture that could minimally question Mignogna's guilt.
Jamie Marchi's aggressive and defamatory tweet
It has therefore added to the chorus of aggression Jamie Marchi, who in response to the idea that the dismissal had been a sufficient punishment (given the failure to report any form of public authority, with everything confined to social networks), she wished for a series of corporal punishment on Mignogna in this tweet.
This tweet will later become a much more important factor. In a libel suit.
In the US legislature for a lawsuit for defamation, especially with a public figure like Mignogna, one of the things that needs to be demonstrated is the premeditation and partisanship of defamation, and that it did not happen simply because of the incompetence of who made the claim.
This specific tweet will prove to be particularly emblematic of what happened behind the scenes in Funimation. The aggressiveness of Brands' move against Twitter was also the definitive confirmation in the mind of the anime public that something was wrong.
Jamie Marchi: an unclear figure
Previously, in fact, Jamie Marchi had been framed for one particularly politicized translation and received negatively within "Kobayashi-san Chi no Meidoragon" (also known as Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid).
Brands then continued accusing publicly Mignogna of sexual abuse.
And even in his case, just like with Monica Rial, every test question or tangible confirmation was aggressively avoided and metas seen from these tweets.
What the fandom hasn't failed to keep in mind is the high-ranking position of Brands within Funimation, with his highly probable involvement in the investigation that led to the dismissal of Mignogna. It is at this point that the woman stated that an accusation is sufficient to hold someone guilty until proven guilty, because doing the opposite would be a form of support for the rape culture.
The debate exits Twitter and becomes wider
In response to what was happening and the attacks of his colleagues in Funimation, Vic has publicly apologized during a fair through a speech that was promptly recorded and posted online.
Given the chaos caused by the Funimation staff in conjunction with the crowd behind the #kickvic, it was inevitable that the story would also begin to transpire outside of Twitter, quickly reaching YouTube and, in particular, the people behind the recent ComicsGate.
The 13 February YellowFlash publishes a report on the situation, now nicknamed AnimeGate. The story was quickly covered by other characters from the YouTube geek scene, notably Jeremy Hambly (The Quartering), Jeremy Griggs (Geeks and Gamers) and Ethan Van Sciver (ComicArtistPro secrets). What caught the attention of the last two mentioned was PensaCon's position towards the #kickvic situation.
The threats from PensaCon to Mignogna fans, this is Animegate too!
Part of the Vic Mignogna job crash was indeed the cancellation of numerous extras scheduled in various conventions. PensaCon was no exception, but what made this convention picturesque above the others was how aggressive their organizers were to the situation, with particularly combative fan interaction. Although it is impossible to confirm this with certainty, the suspicion is that the answers coming from the PensaCon Twitter page are by the CEO from the convention itself, Mike Ensley.
What follows is a verbal battle waged on the convention's official Twitter. The account threatened the arrest of anyone discovered inside the convention to support Mignogna, even sending threats to those who asked why they had become a target despite not having been tagged in the conversation, responding with a curt “We have eyes everywhere”, a bad turn of the Animegate.
Are Mignogna fans attacking his accusers in the Animagete? The false swatting in the house of Inoue-Harte
At this point the #kickvic bubble began to show its first leaks and things started to become particularly ambiguous, with the situation constantly falling.
Samantha Inoue-Harte, involved in the Funimation investigation against Mignogna said that fans supporting the voice actor had caused one Swatting to your home. As a demonstration of the statement, he attached photos showing damage to his front door.
Soon, however, the internet didn't hesitate to prove that that same photo was published in 2016, in which the damage had been caused by a robbery. Supporters of the hashtag #Istandwithvic immediately reported and disseminated the news through various videos and, in response to the sudden revelation, Samantha was called by Anime News Network to clarify the situation, resulting in the doubtful declaration that the photo had been reused to keep the house number hidden.
Inoue-Harte is therefore definitively denied by the police documents which effectively confirm the non-existence of the hypothetical swatting that took place against it.
More excuses: no proof needed for Inoue-Harte
Furthermore, digging into the maze of the internet has been brought to light post on Facebook, which helped bring down an already embarrassing situation.
To this was added a long explanation by the woman about how cruel it is to ask accusers to demonstrate through evidence that supports the prosecution.
So, literally one day after Mignogna's dismissal, one of the individuals involved in the investigation against him publicly stated when he disliked the subject and believed that no charges needed evidence to be held true. Then, this person pretended to be a victim of swatting by Mignogna supporters a week later.
Needless to say, this has inevitably led to very negative results for #kickvic and Funimation and, following the uproar resulting from his actions, Samantha Inoue-Harte has decided to eliminate all her social media.
Before doing this, however, Inoue-Harte managed to engage Sean Schemmel, Goku's voice, who has publicly declared his support for her colleague in the face of the situation and the people who were hostile to her. Obviously Schemmel's bad timing led the voice actor to be dragged into the storm, once the above has been demonstrated.
The incriminating screenshots: Mignogna was wanted to be fired
As for Inoue-Harte, the hope he had was that by deleting all his accounts, the posts were lost forever. Unfortunately for her, what ends up on the internet never really disappears completely ..
With the mass interest in the story (witnessed by Google Trends), ended up under the lenses of more and more people outside the anime world, the credibility of #kickvic supporters is definitively annihilated by screenshots captured in a private Facebook group dedicated to bringing Mignogna to firing.
With the unquestionable evidence that #kickvic was really considering the production of false evidence to discredit Mignogna, the situation has further degenerated and the climate has become increasingly hot between the two sides of the discussion.
Jeremy Griggs writes a report and receives threats from Mike Ensley
It is at this point that Mike Ensley decided to ignite the spark that completely detonated the excess tensions. After a report on the situation by Jeremy Griggs (Geeks and Gamers), his press passes for PensaCon have been revoked. In addition to the damage, PensaCon has decided to play the "Toxic Fandom" card to further rage the story.
This event brought Jeremy's friend Ethan Van Sciver to publish a report of the situation even starting from the previous posts in which the PensaCon page threatened to arrest those present. As answer, Ensley sent an email to Van Sciver threatening to report him for defamation.
Mike Ensley raises the stakes: terrorist threats are coming!
As part of the counterattack to Van Sciver, Ensley included in his email a comment on how he received it terrorist threats from explosive device attacks as a result of Ethan and Jeremy's reports.
In response to this news, Van Sciver asked to see the threatening letters so that they can be shown to the public by explaining the situation in detail. In response to the proposal, Ethan obtains a copy of the aforementioned letters with the recommendation not to show them to third parties because they are criminal evidence in the hands of law enforcement. However, Van Sciver decides to publish them anyway, bringing several users on Tweeter to share the reportage and tagging the @fbi page for clarity on the situation.
The following morning, Ethan is contacted by a special FBI agent member of the anti-terrorism task force (body coordinated between the Department of Internal Security, the Department of Defense and the FBI) asking for information on the matter. In fact, it seems that the special corps had not received any information on possible threats of terrorist attacks on PensaCon, which is why they immediately mobilized once they learned of what Van Sciver posted because of the fact that the structure that would host the convention is owned by the US government.
That escalated quickly! From the tweet to the FBI intervention: let's recap
A fan disappointed a Mid January accuses Vic Mignogna of being a homophobic rapist on Twitter.
By end of January, Mignogna is attacked by his colleagues, who apparently hated him on a personal level to the point of pretending a Swatting accident in order to discredit him and, for the mid-February, with a horde of furious fans, their supporters began to threaten arrests left and right to the point of pretending threats of terrorist attacks attracting the attention of the feds.
Finally Animegate arrives in court
So here comes into play Nick Rekieta, defense attorney. Under his advice, Vic Mignogna has relied on Beard-Harris services, a law firm in the state of Texas that, among its ranks, counts the Senator of State of the first district of Texas. Until now, one of the main arguments that #kickvic advocates have been waving was that "Innocent until proven guilty" is applicable only in a court of law.
This dangerous idea prompted Rekieta to explain the various possibilities of how this could be done in a court of law, extensively explaining the dynamics and possible charges in this matter on their YouTube channel.
In short, thanks to the various posts of the people involved there is a manifest premeditation, malice, defamation, interference in working relationships, as well as damage to the image of the countless people involved who discredited themselves with their own hands during the month.
All this is made worse by the fact that once the layoff of Mignogna occurred, many of the people who made their appearance in this affair have professionally and economically benefited from his absence, getting his roles and positions in society.
Rekieta has also opened a GoFundMe which in 48 hours raised over $ 50.000, causing disdain for #kickvic supporters.
To increase the nervousness of the group is the discovery that the jurisdiction under which the case will be managed is that of Texas, where the headquarters of Funimation is located, since in this State the interference in working relationships is not defensible even if what is referred to the company is the truth. This means that Marzgurl in this case is indefensible, because it was she who submitted the Mignogna case to Funimation, and she did it publicly and manifestly, causing the dismissal of Mignogna.
Of course no one believes that things will stop with Kaylyn, and when the trial is put in place it will be up to all the people mentioned so far and to Funimation explain this situation to a Texas jury.
But even this is not good: we try to discredit Rekieta
In an effort to stop the development of these events, #kickvic supporters began trying to discredit Rekieta, initially presenting him as a scammer.
In response Vic Mignogna made his first official statement from his apologetic speech, stating that GoFundMe is legitimate, real, denying the hypothesis of fraud.
After the fall of the fake lawyer story, #kickvic then attempted to discredit Rekieta with the racism charter using a photo which, apparently, dates back to over ten years ago.
At this point the group of hashtag supporters decide to try a to have the Rekieta removed from the register, with no solid reason to base this request, and by turning to the wrong agency.
Still unhappy, a #kickvic supporter calling himself a big shot at the convention organization questioned Rekieta's legal knowledge, causing him to invite him in his livestream for a debate. Contrary to his expectations, the lawyer accepted and what resulted is a discussion of about an hour and a half difficult to define otherwise than embarrassing.
What about this Animagate?
It is difficult to find the right words to say about what happened in the world of American animation dubbing in the last month, but one thing is certain: this story brought out the worst in a community now extremely divided. Whether it is #kickvic or #Istandwithvic, things and actions have been said that no person, in respect of others, should ever say or do.
What happened with this "AnimeGate" says a lot about how entertainment is experienced by the western world today, and somehow seeing a refused autograph turn into a court trial shows us how necessary control their actions and words to prevent any post from degenerating into something out of control.
As for Vic Mignogna and the people who were part of what happened to him, it is not for us to decide whether he is truly guilty of his actions or if it was simply a person who found himself in the eye of the hurricane that for some time had been finding ways to let off steam, acting only as a pretext for past tensions, as well as it is not for the people of the #kickvic, or for the people of the #Istandwithvic to decide their fate.
The Texas court will decideand the fate of the people involved in a legitimate trial, something that perhaps should have taken place from the beginning instead of ending up being the result of an infantile ideological quarrel.
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