Every year, hundreds of thousands of anime fans flock to conventions, whether it's their mid-sized local con or planning a trek to Anime Expo. The reasons are just as varied as the attendees: some will spend early morning hours assembling racks and decoration for their artist alley booth, some will perfect their make-up and glue for the cosplay masquerade, and others will hop from fan panel to fan panel to learn about dubs lost to time or obscure appearances of hamburgers in anime.
For many, conventions are a weekend of fandom and freedom. Parents can drop off a small group of friends, assured that they'll get their coveted autographs and UFO catcher plushies. It's a place to laugh loudly, be unabashedly nerdy, and interact with the creators and actors in what's assumed as a safe environment. Adults and kids alike are there to check off their "must-sees" but while everyone is running off to the next panel or cosplay meet-up, who is making sure the star-struck, awkward teens are engaging with guests appropriately and vice versa? Where is the line for appropriate guest and attendee behavior and what should be done when it's crossed?
These questions came to the forefront of social media these last weeks as rumors about convention guests and staff interactions with minors stopped being whispered and instead were shouted. A Twitter thread posted on January 16 accused dub voice actor Vic Mignogna of homophobia, rude behavior, and most concerning, making unwanted physical advances on female con-goers. The thread quickly spread with over 4,000 retweets at the time of this writing and over 400 comments, many relaying their own negative experiences, including unwanted and unsolicited physical affection from the Fullmetal Alchemist voice actor. As with any claims involving a person with a moderate fan following, Mignogna's supporters were quick to attempt to discredit individuals' claims or at the very least dispute the voice actor's intentions behind kissing or hugging attendees unannounced.
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.
Multiple individuals, many with friends present to corroborate, relayed their personal encounters with Mignogna with an increasingly common series of events. A fan would be in Mignogna's autograph line to get a piece of merchandise signed for a friend. Upon approaching Mignogna, they would make typical small talk before he would ask the attendee if they wanted a photo. They would agree and would unexpectedly find the voice actor kissing their cheek or pulling them in for a tight hug for the photo op. Time and again, the individuals in the picture said that the physical affection happened without their consent and made them uncomfortable. The behavior wasn't limited to one con, one person, or even one year, and for all intents and purposes seemed like a common occurrence regardless of whether the other party was a young adult or a minor. It was often done in the wide-open areas of conventions and to the cheers of crowds.
Taylor was 18 when she attended Colossalcon in Sandusky, Ohio in 2013. She was feeling ill when she got up that morning but decided to still tag along with her friend to Mignogna's autograph line. She wasn't an avid fan of Mignogna, but her friend was, so she went so her companion could get a second item signed. When it came to be their turn, Taylor said that Mignogna told her she was "adorable." She didn't think much of the statement and when he asked her if she wanted a photo she thought, "why not?" He embraced her for a photograph and when the moment was over, Taylor said he hugged her and then proceeded to kiss her face. Onlookers cheered. Taylor, who identifies as queer, reiterated that she felt extremely nauseated and that the entire event feels "gross" when she thinks about it.
No one seemed to be asking, Mignogna included, whether the other party was a willing participant or whether a celebrity should be making an intimate display toward an underage con-goer no matter the intention behind it. The line continued to blur as more individuals came forward, including one person who, at the age of 15, was given Mignogna's personal cellphone number after an encounter in his autograph line.
Azure was 15 years old and presenting as female when he met Migogna at Anime Expo in 2006 in Anaheim, California. He was in the autograph line with a friend, also 15 years old, who had prepared a gift for Mignogna. Azure was dressed in cosplay, a cardboard version of Alphonse's armor from Fullmetal Alchemist. The two approached Mignogna and Azure's friend joked that Azure's costume was "sexy." Azure was surprised when Mignogna enthusiastically agreed. The group laughed it off and left the line. Later that day, they got an exclusive visit from Mignogna in the hallway. He chatted with the group, asked them how long they were visiting the con, and then mentioned his fanclub. After making the group swear they wouldn't share it, Mignogna gave them his personal cell phone number. Azure wrote it down in his Paris Hilton diary when he arrived home from Anaheim. A reverse phone records search shows that the number Azure provided belonged to Mignogna until at least 2016.......
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Well, it's been circulating for a few weeks now, and it seems that things gotten out of hand. Regardless of your view of his career, at the very least, these are some boundaries issues that clearly have been crossed.
It seems that this story has been around for some time now and it's seemingly an open secret among conventions. No word from Funimation yet.