The Infinite Zenith

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Controversed: Moyatori’s November Workshop, The Kokoro Connect Incident, Unseen Japan versus the Red Cross and Remarks on Anime Controversies

“When a thing ceases to be a subject of controversy, it ceases to be a subject of interest.” –William Hazlitt

Before delving into the core of this post, I will briefly introduce Controversed, a special workshop fellow blogger Moyatori is hosting for this month. The objective of this programme is simple enough: to consider the matter of controversy, its matters and implications on the anime community, in such a way as to understand controversy. It goes without saying that this programme is not intended for courting flame wars or espousing particularly touchy perspectives, but rather, to understand different perspectives around topics that are polarising. The topic for this first week deals in controversies in our chosen field of interest. Per the prompts Moyatori has defined, I will address two aspects of controversy, specifically my thoughts on controversies surrounding anime, and also explain my preference for steering clear of these topics. In the realm of anime, it should be unsurprising that controversies exist: as a form of entertainment with a large viewer base, it is inevitable that occurrences, either in the industry producing these titles, or within the work themselves, can result in discussion that produces different conclusions. Where these conclusions differ wildly and clash with the individual’s values, disagreements can result. While conflicting values and conclusions are a natural part of human interactions, so is the journey towards understanding another side. The latter is often forgotten, and exacerbated by a persistent, deep-seated belief that one must stick to their guns and defend their position unto death. The end result is inevitable: a flame war lasting weeks, or even months at a time. These are exhausting events to deal with, and rarely yield any meaningful conversations. The fact that emotion, rather than reason, drives controversy means that as a blogger, my initial inclination is to steer clear of active controversies, and only make passing references to them if they are relevant to a topic that a given post discusses.

Of course, I didn’t always have this mindset, and back when my blog was still relatively new, I wrote about the venerable Kokoro Connect Incident, where voice actor Mitsuhiro Ichiki was deceived into auditioning for a non-existent voice role for the anime Kokoro Connect and was humiliated when the recorders were taken into a different context at his expense. While the event disappeared from public eye shortly after, it was referenced during a talk show, and netizens, outraged at how the industry handled things, organised a massive Twitter campaign with the intent of punishing Kokoro Connect‘s producers, going to lengths such as online harassment, issuing threats to the studio and the like. While I found the Kokoro Connect Incident unfortunate, I also felt that the choice of actions netizens took to be more deplorable than the original incident itself. This stance evidently put me at odds with the online community; as I was not espousing extreme actions despite disagreeing with the studio, I was not “on their side” enough. Redditors soon found my thoughts on the Kokoro Connect Incident and began vilifying my blog far and wide; their intention was not to understand or have a conversation, but rather, to bolster their own credibility and reputation online by means of upvotes. To this day, my post on the Kokoro Connect Incident remains the only time where I’ve scrubbed comments from: none of them were conducive to good discussion. The Kokoro Connect Incident was a reminder of the depravity some sections of the online community would go to stand above others, and furthermore, gave me a first-hand demonstration of what wading into a controversial topic is like. While I may be able to coherently, and clearly argue my points about a controversial topic, the same cannot always be said about those who had more time to expend than I did: after the Kokoro Connect Incident, I concluded that discussion of controversial anime topics would, at best, be a challenge, and opted to avoid controversies in order to stave off the necessity of fending off folks disinterested in discussion.

That approach has served me well enough until this year, when Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out! began airing during the summer anime season. While the anime itself is quite unremarkable, a bit of background reading done to gain a measure of the series uncovered one of the most petty, ill-conceived controversies of all time. As it turns out, the Red Cross had used Uzaki’s image during a blood drive event a year earlier, and one Jay Allan of Unseen Japan took personal offense to the advertisement, feeling it to be exploiting “sex appeal” to drive up interest in the blood drive. Allan subsequently wrote a Tweet decrying the practise and sent it to prominent social media activists with the aim of utilising their outrage to increase Unseen Japan’s visibility. This was successful: within a day, the original post had received two thousand likes and a thousand retweets, along with an outpouring of support. However, not all of the reception was rosy, and Allan took advantage of the more adverse responses to “prove” his point that anime fans were immature people lacking any sort of understanding of social issues in Japan. This much is fact, and anything pertaining to Allan’s motivations and objectives reside in the realm of speculation, which I will not delve into. However, I did find it petty to instruct others not to watch a series based purely on controversy, and consequently, I wrote about Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out! with the aim of making it clear that whether or not the anime adaptation was worth watching was to be determined purely based on the series’ merits (or lack thereof), rather than the opinions of someone whose credibility in anime and manga was dubious at best. By writing this post, I ventured again into the realm of a controversial topic, but by focusing purely on the outcomes for the reader, I was able to have a more productive conversation about the issue that mattered to readers: whether or not Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out! is worthwhile, rather than whether Jay Allan’s personal opinions hold any weight.

Additional Remarks

  • The short version of this post is simple: my least favourite anime controversies are the Kokoro Connect incident and the trouble the Red Cross had with Uzaki-chan Wants To Hang Out, primarily because I saw for myself how the anime community handles controversial topics. Honourable mentions include whether or not Miho’s decisions in Girls und Panzer were justified (she’d abandoned her tank to save classmates, costing her the champion ship match). While the community would likely count The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya‘s Endless Eight, Legend of the Shield Hero‘s portrayal of victim-playing and Isshuzoku Reviewers‘ upvote brigading at MyAnimeList as being larger controversies, I never wrote about those as they happened, and so, I never experienced the exhaustion of having to endlessly discuss them.

  • As to my own stance on writing about controversial topic, the rule I follow is that I won’t write about it unless I can do the topic justice, and it is relevant to my readers. I certainly don’t like writing about things just to pull a few extra readers in, and find that this approach is typically counterproductive for a blogger; if I were to rush blindly into a topic, as I did with the Kokoro Connect Incident, the results can be troublesome to deal with in the aftermath. The practise of starting a controversy for views, retweets and upvotes is even more dishonest: while no doubt effective, it brings the sort of attention that typically isn’t wanted, and even where that is avoided, comes across as being a means of begging for attention.

  • The key to dealing with polarising topics is simply to listen, and in this day and age, not pay any respect or attention to those who would respond to controversy with memes. One of the reasons why controversies become viral is because when context is lost, things can become more black and white, and as such, are capable of evoking stronger emotional responses. If one were to then throw a few memes into things because they thought it amusing, they run the risk of giving all of that anger and hatred either a symbol, which conveys a sense of legitimacy, or target. The reason this happens is because memes are inherently context-free, and as such, can miscommunicate intentions.

  • The state of politics and journalism in the world in recent years, then, can be thought of as a consequence of taking memes too seriously and giving them an undue, inordinate amount of attention, giving the incorrect impression that memes are not just a form of reaction, but an acceptable method of responding to someone. The most damaging memes are created by bad faith actors who are aware of the ramifications of their actions, although the amusement-seeking individual can also find there materials misappropriated for memes. Webcomic author Matt Furie found this out the hard way, when his creation became used as a symbol of hatred, intolerance and racism. Today, the symbol is further used to indicate disdain and sarcasm; that people have accepted such symbols as a valid form of communication means that it is impossible to hold a conversation with them.

  • Altogether, I find that while controversial topics can be safely discussed, it demands that all sides of an issue be willing to listen, first and foremost, and that individuals communicating must make an active effort to make themselves clear. I’ve had healthy disagreements with people, and they certainly didn’t see it as a “us or them” deal; we left the conversation with a better appreciation of the issue at hand. Listening and being clear are essential for good communications, and this bit of common sense is how prickly topics can be approached. However, until the world rejects memes as a valid form of response to others, I imagine that polarising issues will be tricky to discuss, simply because individuals holding various perspectives are unwilling to listen to one another.

Both the Kokoro Connect Incident and Unseen Japan’s battle with the Red Cross represent two controversies I am not fond of, and also represent two different approaches I took towards handling things. By the events of the latter, I framed my discussions around the merits of the show itself and reiterated that I was not here to talk about identity politics. Through the post on Uzaki-chan Wants To Hang Out!, I found that there was a means of smartly addressing controversial topics without opening oneself to endless harassment. The key here is to clearly define the impact of a given controversy on one specific area and my specific stance on things. I cared whether or not a work was worth consuming on its own merits, as well as what extent the controversy had on my decisions. Even though I’ve established an approach for discussing controversies, it is not my preference to write posts surrounding polarising topics: there is a sense of being disingenuous and dishonest when one exploits a controversy for views, retweets and upvotes, and similarly, because controversial topics move very quickly, one could find themselves on the receiving end of considerable trouble if they accidentally (or intentionally) offend the wrong people (especially those with the dangerous combination of rudimentary technical knowledge and unlimited leisure time). Building up a readership around polarising topics is always a gamble, and while it can yield a large reader base at best when done properly, it’s also a delicate balancing act where the price of making mistakes can become heavy. I certainly do not like to participate in controversies, and in general, prefer keeping opinions to myself: I am of the mind that, unless one were qualified to fairly, and critically consider a controversy, they should not act as though their opinions hold any more opinion than those of the next individual.

The Kokoro Connect Incident

“We live in a fantasy world, a world of illusion. The great task in life is to find reality.” –Iris Murdoch

Kokoro Connect‘s anime adaptation is now at a pause: the first thirteen episodes have aired, and a remaining four will come out somewhere in December. A series with a lofty premise of four youth subject to supernatural phenomenon and their coping with said phenomenon, Kokoro Connect ended up being an inconsistent series after thirteen episodes – while its body-swapping arc was perhaps the most compelling, the remainder of the series gave viewers antipathy against the antagonist, “Heartseed”. The remaining narrative elements are expected to be resolved in the remaining four episodes, but beyond an otherwise unremarkable anime, Kokoro Connect is likely to be remembered for an incident where voice actor Mitsuhiro Ichiki was falsely enticed into auditioning for a role in the anime for an original character. This audition had been set up by producer Yamanaka Takahiro, who works for King Records. Unlike a conventional audition, the entire setup had been impromptu, and Ichiki did not go through the usual procedures with an audition. At the audition’s end, it turned out that there was no original character, and Ichiki’s recorded dialogue had been remixed into answering questions that, when taken out of context, would appear strange. Instead, Ichiki would take on the role of Public Relations Chief. In spite of this humiliation, Ichiki felt compelled to continue in his role, and the incident disappeared from the public eye until a series of events brought things to light: Kikuchi Hajime of Eufonius made social media posts criticising Momoi Haruko, and in the exchanges, it came to be known that Ichiki’s being deceived was being casually joked about within the industry. Ichiki himself would reference the prank on a talk show, whose host found the turn of events unfortunate.

  • Even in the absence of the power abuse, Kokoro Connect had not been a particularly standout anime, leaving hanging the viewers that did end up finishing the thirteen episodes. I admit that initially, I picked up the series because Iori was voiced by Aki Toyosaki (Yui Hirasawa of K-On!), and the artstyle here resembled that of K-On!‘s, as well: with K-On! The Movie releasing during the summer to wrap up the franchise, I had been seeking a series with a similar aesthetic, although for that, I found myself disappointed.

This prank would come to be known as the Kokoro Connect Incident, illustrating the wretched conditions that those working in the industry faced. The Kokoro Connect Incident indicates that the anime industry is a harsh area, and while a few social media posts have shown one particular instance of the excesses and abuses in the industry, it is probable that such events are of a greater scale than initially apparent. Ichiki had been subjected to similar workplace bullying previously, where lines he had performed during an audition were taken out of context, which could damage his image. That Ichiki himself could not attain recompense for what had happened and merely accepted it also shows how cut-throat things are for voice actors, and it is painful to know that the staff creating the anime, which can inspire and motivate its viewers, do not practise or respect the messages that go into their series. News of the Kokoro Connect Incident subsequently spread throughout the internet, and in the days following, viewers expressing their dissatisfaction with Kokoro Connect planned to boycott the series, its merchandise and anything related to Silver Link, the studio behind Kokoro Connect‘s production.

  • While the general reaction to the Kokoro Connect Incident is understandable, I will note that some otaku, especially those who whiled away their lives on 2ch, have begun uttering threats and slinging insults to the perpetrators by means of social media. Yes, the incident was vile, but wrongs do not beget a right, and this is an overreaction. With the break in Kokoro Connect for now, and my general disinclination to continue, I will note that once the remaining episodes air, I may end up checking them out, although at this time, I am unlikely to write about them in any capacity.

Besides illustrating the extent of abuses in the anime industry, the Kokoro Connect Incident also shows that elaborate pranks and the like have no positive impact on an anime’s performance or quality. While Kokoro Connect had started on a strong footing, unlikeable characters and petty trials rendered the series’ plot weak, difficult to relate to. Cutting the series off here, in conjunction with the fan’s intent to boycott the series, would mean that the remaining four episodes, set to release in December, will unlikely to be watched. This deals the series a double blow: the thirteen episodes already aired are unsatisfying, and if the final four episodes offer a resolution, then the decision to skip these would only leave one’s impression of Kokoro Connect as an unremarkable series – the legacy that Kokoro Connect leaves behind, then, will be one of power abuse resulting in a public relations disaster, and a below-average series that struggles to convey its themes adequately. It’s not a good combination for the series as a whole, and truthfully, even in the absence of the Kokoro Connect Incident, I cannot say that I have a particular inclination to finish this series, and on a broader note, Kokoro Connect shows that studios should not be counting on publicity stunts, least of all those that involve bullying, as a crutch for helping to make an anime series more visible.