Anime Matsuri Controversy: The magical world of anime collides with the reality of sexual-harassment claims at Houston’s Anime Matsuri event in the aftermath of the #MeToo movement.
The 12th annual convention, which takes place at the George R. Brown Event Center from Thursday through Sunday, is being boycotted due to charges that convention organizer John Leigh sexually assaulted women in the anime and cosplay communities. The event incorporates anime, a lively type of Japanese animation, and cosplay, when guests dress up as their favorite anime characters.
The uproar, which was sparked by a group calling itself Boycott Anime Matsuri, caused Leigh, who co-runs the event with his wife, Deniece Leigh, to apologize on the Anime Matsuri website. He has also collaborated with the Houston Area Women’s Center on a “community aid effort” aimed at creating a safe, nonbullying environment during the convention.
Boycott Anime Matsuri is urging guest stars and panelists to reconsider their presence, including actor Doug Jones, who played the aquatic monster in the Oscar-winning “The Shape of Water.” Femm, a female Japanese pop duet, has canceled their performance, however Jones is still listed as attending on the site. Meanwhile, Boycott Boycott Anime Matsuri has arisen in opposition to Leigh and his festival.
All of this coincides with the development of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, which began after movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexual harassment, sparking a wave of allegations against celebrities including Matt Lauer, Kevin Spacey, and Al Franken, among others.
The allegations against Leigh initially arose in 2015, when they were documented in two Houston Press articles. The women, who were frequently models at the conference, accused Leigh of inappropriate touching, slapping buttocks, making sexual jokes, seeking nude images, tugging up clothes, and asking a lady when she last had an orgasm.
While Leigh does not dispute such conduct, he claims it is being interpreted incorrectly. “We were simply kidding around as pals,” he explained on Tuesday. “In the same way that anybody would speak to their pals….” We were close. Everyone was in good spirits. We stopped being pals a year later, and they accused me of sexually abusing them or making improper jokes.”
‘Please accept my sincerest apology.’
“Although my comments were intended to be amusing and not serious, I know that my intentions do not justify the way my words harmed the people I wrote them to,” Leigh stated in an online apology. I didn’t think I was being nasty or harassing at the time, and I was astonished to find that my messages had been so unpleasant to their receivers, who were individuals I considered close friends. I owe it to all of you to do better. I know I can do better, and I genuinely apologize.”
In a statement, the Houston Area Women’s Center stated that it had consented to participate in this year’s convention, but that its attendance is “in no way meant to condone Mr. Leigh’s actions.”
“We agreed to provide information about HAWC, and the services we offer that are confidential, free, and available to all, in order to support the survivors who have come forward, who have not come forward, who are too afraid to come forward, and to support all participants of this year’s Anime Matsuri,” the statement reads. The apology did not appease those who supported the boycott.
“He has a propensity, when a story comes out or anything important happens, he puts out an apology,” claimed one of the boycott’s organizers, who did not want to be identified due to fear of repercussions for coming up. “There was no action plan provided.” It wasn’t him giving up and withdrawing from the conference. He was attempting to safeguard his bottom line.”
Not true, says Leigh, who adds that despite the uproar, the conference is expanding. “I apologized not because I was concerned about losing ticket sales,” he explained. “All I wanted was calm.”
The consequences from YouTube
The boycotters claim they were inspired to act when Leigh issued a cease-and-desist order to Tyler Willis, presenter of the YouTube series “Scarfing Scarves,” who released videos critical of Leigh in 2017. “It made the rest of us think, ‘Well, if you’re going to do these things but quiet people who talk about it, maybe we should give him (Leigh) something to silence,” the organizer explained.
According to the organizer, who has attended cosplay events in Texas for ten years, people organizing the boycott have not been victimized by Leigh. After joining the protest organization, the organizer met some of the accusers.
Boycott Anime Matsuri already has over 2,100 Facebook fans and over 600 Twitter followers. In his apologies, Leigh stated that his legal approach to the Willis recordings had “unintended effects of suffocating talks about sexual harassment.”
He said that his true motivation was to defend his buddy and comrade Cathy Cat, a Japanese-based YouTube cosplay star who was chastised by Willis. “She was assaulted, and others began phoning and contacting her job.” “It was a very, very difficult time for her,” Leigh explained. “We put out a cease-and-desist because we wanted it to stop.”
The boycotters, who have no plans for public protests at the convention this weekend, admit that Leigh’s harassment is not the sole reason they oppose Anime Matsuri. “It’s definitely been a tipping point,” said Helena Gonzalez, an anime lover who attended her first Anime Matsuri eight years ago. According to her, the conference is unorganized and badly conducted.
“I think there’s a widespread understanding among those boycotting that selling the convention to a third party — or John and Deniece stepping down totally — would be the ultimate way to keep this conference going.” … “If the Leighs don’t want to do that, the only other choice is to cancel Anime Matsuri,” Gonzalez explained.
Anime Matsuri panel organizer Thomas Guerra has said that he would no longer be connected with the conference. “I sympathize with the boycott, and the final straw on this camel’s head was this absurdity of how he manages his business,” he remarked. “It’s henchman-level stupidity from a ’80s villain.”
For example, boycott advocates argue that there aren’t enough translators for visiting Japanese participants. Leigh responds that the conference experienced the typical problems of any huge event. According to him, the Anime Matsuri attracts about 36,000 individuals.
“I have people that have attended the event for several years. “They wouldn’t come if any of it were true,” he replied. “It gets bigger every year, and certain things get more difficult.” More translators are required. We require more personnel and volunteers… The main thing is that we do our utmost to fix any concerns as promptly as possible. “These are merely things that are thrown at us,” he continued. “They nitpick at everything.”
Those who support the boycott want the Leighs to leave, but they have no plans to do so. “I’m not sure what they want for us to reach an agreement,” he said. “I’m not sure what the future holds. This is what we do right now, and we like it.”
This isn’t the first time a local comic convention has caused a stir. The now-defunct Space City Comic Con was plagued by issues and disgruntled fans two years ago. Gonzalez is concerned that this may give Houston a bad name in the global anime community.
But, according to Guerra, it is the nature of the pop-culture beast. “It’s not a Houston or Texas thing,” he explained, “but a lot of people know that conventions can be enormous rackets, and they prey on geeks with a lot of spare cash.”