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 thecosplay 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.
He and his friends would share several group phone calls with Mignogna. Azure said at the time that it "felt validating and cool that he was giving us the time of day and attention." According to his account, the friends and Mignogna mostly discussed voice acting and the teens would request him to repeat lines. Similar to the first time Mignogna approached the friends, Azure said he often pushed for them to join his fanclub to the point that Azure became uncomfortable. He also noticed that Mignogna never brought up the group's parents or whether they had permission to be chatting privately with a 45-year-old man.
Mignogna is in no short supply of fans who believe in him. His fanclub, the Risembool Rangers, is unique among the anime fandom both in its longevity and the lengths its members will go to show their dedication to their favorite voice actor. Founded during the height of Fullmetal Alchemist's popularity in 2005, the Yahoo! Group-turned-Discord channel maintains a full-fledged store run entirely by fanclub volunteers and allegedly "at cost" with inventory, like CDs and signed autographs, provided in part by Mignogna.
Approximately 43% of Risembool Rangers were underage in 2006. The fanclub photos show a pattern of behavior by Mignogna of kissing attendees for photographs. Some of the subjects in the photos below may have agreed to be kissed by Mignogna.
The store's responsibilities have been passed down from fanclub member to fanclub member and run entirely on a volunteer basis. One former store manager described her schedule as working her normal job from 3 a.m. to 7 a.m. and attending college courses for 11 hours while managing the fanclub store for a few hours in between classes. She then would ship all the store's orders each Friday. The former manager was reluctant to discuss the store's operations further, but another former Mignogna store manager stated that orders were taken via PayPal and the money went directly to whomever was managing the store at the time to cover their shipping costs.
Active members in the fanclub would also volunteer as mods in the forums and busy chatroom, organize con meet-ups for members, and occasionally get to have dinner with the man himself along with other club members. These predominantly young, female members were not compensated for their time running the shop, managing the fanclub's official activities, or moderating the forum and chat. On at least one occasion, Mignogna asked panel audiences if any were members of his fanclub to specifically recruit them to manage his autograph line, CD sales, and till at a convention. That's how one 16-year-old Risembool Ranger ended up working during part of Animazement in 2008.
"With the help of my friends, we sold both his anime songs CD and his Christian CD. We also managed the line and cut it off when it got too long. We counted his money and made sure it matched the number of CDs sold even though we were not a part of the convention staff. Afterwards, we gave him a gift we made which was a sketchbook full of fan art of various characters he voiced and some candy and treats. He was super nice and appreciative during the whole thing. Then, he went around and gave everyone hugs. Some people we knew, but weren't a part of the group, joined in and he thanked them as well for just being fans of his. When he got to me, he gave me a hug as normal but thanked me specifically in an oddly seductive voice and kissed my neck before moving onto other people. Afterwards, I felt so shocked and oddly violated. Because it was such a small convention, I saw him multiple times afterwards, including in an elevator I needed to use. I was so frightened, I took the stairs. I avoided him the entire weekend. He recognized me even in different cosplay and tried to come to me. I ran away every time."
The tried and true Risembool Rangers were on hand to come to Mignogna's aid when allegations of his impropriety came to the surface. When the January 16 Twitter thread picked up steam, Mignogna turned to his fanclub's Discord channel on January 19 to assuage fans before issuing his public statement.
In response to a fan's concerns about who to believe, Mignogna writes: "I am SO FAR from perfect. I've made many mistakes and will make many more. And I'm sure you all would agree that you do too. But all I can ask is that you decide for yourself by coming and meeting me in person, and form your own opinion on facts, not rumors ... many people can have many reasons to make up garbage and slander others."
Mignogna responds to a second question by characterizing the allegations as "preposterous lies with no substance" that could potentially damage his career.
Mignogna also assured his fans that the statements being made wouldn't be seriously considered by others in the business. His claim of course, wasn't entirely baseless. Rumors about Mignogna's alleged behavior toward con-goers and supposed outbursts at fellow voice actors and con staff have been shared within insider circles for over a decade. While researching this article, I kept learning of more conventions that supposedly "blacklisted" Mignogna from ever returning. Yet, any attempts to reach out to long-time staff for each event were met with silence. If the rumors were true, no one with any kind of power in the industry was willing to talk about it.
Anime News Network reached out to Mignogna to comment in hopes of gaining more specifics about the allegations. He declined to comment and instead chose to stand by a statement he issued on January 21 where he mentions the allegations from the January 16 Twitter thread in general.
In the statement, Mignogna compares the kissing seen in the above photos to the same kind he shares with family members and says he will no longer engage in such behavior with con-goers. He then apologizes to his fans that he will no longer be able to hug or kiss them if requested. He also denies any allegations of sexual harassment, sexual assault, pedophilia, homophobia, and/or antisemitism.
Regardless of these specific points of contention, discussion of yaoi and yuri was banned outright from the Risembool Rangers chatroom and forums. The Yahoo! Group's page states: "NO posting adult content! This too is self explanatory [sic]. Vic is a Christian and does not approve of yaoi, yuri, hentai, etc...if you were a fan of Vic, you would know that. We're not saying you must clean up your life because of that, just that it has no place here. End of discussion!"
A Jewish fan of Mignogna's work on Persona 3 left his autograph line feeling judged in 2010. The 19-year-old lined up with a replica of Junpei's hat for Mignogna to sign and also grabbed a copy of his fan music CD. When their turn came, Mignogna allegedly asked them why they chose the fan music CD but not any of his Christian music CDs. The fan apologized and stated they were Jewish. According to them, Mignogna stared at them up and down and responded by saying, "Well, we can change that."
"I couldn't believe that he would say something like that to me," they said. "I wasn't trying to be rude by telling him my religion, I was just trying to answer his question. I ended up just grabbing the CD and the hat without his signature and apologized to him and just bolted out of the signing line."
recounted her own experience with Mignogna at Anime Next in 2011 where the voice actor allegedly grabbed her arm to keep her from leaving his side during a convention. Pridemore wrote that fans approached after he allegedly held her arm and they made small talk about a series he had appeared in. During this conversation, Pridemore claims Mignogna slid his hand up her back and through her hair before grabbing and tugging it. In her account, Pridmore wrote that he then insinuated that the reason she enjoyed the series was because of another voice actor's performance in it, a man Pridemore claims raped her and bragged about it to others in the industry.
When a friend approached to help Pridemore, she wrote that she did not respond because she was stunned. She claimed Mignogna pulled on her hair again "with the implication that if the other voice actor had 'had' me, he could too." She said she then left the group in tears.
Prior to Pridemore's post, little of the allegations against Mignogna made their way outside of social media and it's unknown what, if any, ramifications they might have beyond the viral tweet expiration date. He appeared at the premiere of Funimation's Dragon Ball Super: Broly film where he voiced the titular Broly. Individuals have tagged Funimationwhile using the hashtag #KickVic on Twitter to relay stories to the company, but any discussion about the actor himself hasn't stopped ticket purchases in the U.S. His convention booking calendar on the Risembool Rangers' website shows two to three convention appearances per month year round.
Despite the longevity of Mignogna's reputation and numerous first-hand accounts of unwanted physical contact between the voice actor and attendees, any kind of repercussions were left to internal memos and insider discussions. Conversations that the attendees manning their Artist Alley booths, cosplayers practicing their skits, and gaggles of teenage fans waiting in line for a Vic Mignogna autograph would never overhear.
Additional reporting by Bamboo Dong
All the stories included in this article were corroborated by multiple sources with the exception of the Persona 3 fan.
Images were provided by the respective sources, shared via the Risembool Rangers fan club, or from Vic Mignogna's professional website.
Anime News Network reached out to multiple convention staff and industry staff members, former and current, and voice acting talent but did not receive responses by press time.
If you're a victim of sexual assault and need help, please call RAINN at 800.656.HOPE (4673) to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area. Your call will be confidential. You can also visit the RAINN website for other resources and an online chat.
Update: This article is updated for better clarity and to further protect the identities of the individuals in the photos.