CONTENT WARNING: Discussion of anti-Semitism.
How do you react when you find out one of the main creative forces behind something you love is, to not mince words, a completely shit person?
I’ve been grappling with this question since finding out the other day that the director of Recovery of an MMO Junkie, Kazuyoshi Yaginuma, is a virulent anti-Semite, anti-Catholic, and Japanese nationalist. This isn’t some sort of “maybe he is, maybe he isn’t” ambiguous situation, nor a case where you can simply shrug it off as basic ignorance or cultural differences. His Twitter likes speak volumes, and translations of some of his own tweets are particularly damning.
At 30, there are fewer and fewer anime where I feel like I’m part of the target demographic, and MMO Junkie was one of the few. Thirty-something, socially anxious, burned-out Moriko’s journey of healing and renewal through friendships formed on the internet and crossing over into real life felt intensely real to me, as someone who is also thirty-something, socially anxious, and fond of socializing on the internet.
While Yaginuma didn’t create the story, the anime version popularized the webmanga, which is unavailable in English. Finding out about the director’s Twitter presence felt like a slap in the face, so much so that I had to try not to cry on the bus.
So, what now?
Luckily, I haven’t seen anyone on my timeline shrug it off or, God forbid, agree with him, although I know there were plenty of fans who did. Many of them swore never to watch MMO Junkie, buy any merchandise of it unless the manga became available, or promote it.
It’s a solid stance to take, and one I was almost prepared to take up. But then, someone pointed out that it’s common for women’s hard work to get torpedoed when their male collaborators are revealed as garbage individuals in some way. For example, Gaby Dunn and Allison Raskin’s already greenlit pilot featuring James Deen died in the water when his ex-girlfriend, the actor Stoya, said he raped her. The popularity of MMO Junkie brings exposure to its female mangaka and the many other women who worked on its production, and Yaginuma is one bad apple in a huge barrel.
I don’t think I can ever bear to purchase anything related to Rurouni Kenshin again since Nobuhiro Watsuki’s arrest for child pornography, but anime and light novel production is still littered with right-wing nationalists. I’ve never watched a Woody Allen movie, and I probably never will. Same goes for Roman Polanski. I haven’t watched Master of None, although I wanted to, but that’s not looking likely anymore. But I still love Parks and Recreation, where Aziz Ansari plays a regular character and Louis CK makes a few appearances as well. It would be difficult to avoid every movie ever produced by Harvey Weinstein. Am I a hypocrite?
While Woody Allen’s neuroses about underage girls are displayed front and center on-screen, Recovery of an MMO Junkie contains no trace of Yaginuma’s anti-Semitism. It is, first and foremost, a woman’s story, something rare and valuable. I can’t help but hesitate to just throw that out. Yaginuma has also worked on other major titles, including key animation for Akira and an episode director for Bokurano and FLIP FLAPPERS. Animation is an intensely collaborative field; so many people work on it that there’s bound to be some abhorrent people in the mix at every level.
There have been anime with naked anti-Semitism before. I’ve seen throwaway references to Zionists in garbage like Guilty Crown, but the most infamous case is the ‘80s manga and OAV Angel Cop, which was so hateful that even the subtitle script was dramatically altered. Angel Cop features a Jewish conspiracy to take over Japan and turn it into a nuclear waste dump.
This appalling bit of racism was worked on by some of anime’s most prominent voices, including character designer Nobuteru Yuuki. Shou Aikawa, who would go on the write several episodes of Martian Successor Nadesico and script most of feminist darling Twelve Kingdoms and the 2003 Fullmetal Alchemist, co-created the original concept!
I wish all of this added up so that I could continue enjoying MMO Junkie without any problems, but it’s not that simple. I grew up in a heavily Jewish area, and many of my best friends then and now are Jewish. Anti-Semitism is on the rise worldwide, and many of those friends feel less safe than ever before. Watching something with the knowledge that one of its primary creative voices considers them evil and a worldwide threat… it’s not something that I can just shrug off. Nor do I feel like I can recommend MMO Junkie anymore (which is one of my major functions as a blogger) knowing this.
Yaginuma will never see another dime from this season of MMO Junkie because of how anime production works; staffers rarely get paid residuals even when a series is successful and profitable. However, directing a successful series benefits him professionally, especially because some of his creative decisions, such as adjusting the animation to fit the voice actors’ performances (rather than the other way around), were an important part of what made the show special. If people continue to watch and recommend MMO Junkie, he’ll likely get plenty more work.
I hate that idea. Yaginuma is a disgusting man full of hate in a way that taints the world around him. He doesn’t deserve the acclaim of directing a successful anime, whether or not he benefits from it monetarily.
But there are so, so few anime that tell authentic women’s stories, and Moriko is a true rarity. I don’t want to lose that.
So, what do you do when you find out one of the main creative forces behind something you love is a completely shit person? I don’t know. I don’t have the answer to that question, and if you were hoping I did, I’m sorry. I’m sorry that this piece is messy and disorganized and emotional, because that’s how I feel about this whole thing.
It just sucks.