Anime and Agitation.
Written by Tia McGrew.
The Controversy Surrounding Animeleague.
Vastly popular amongst the cosplay community, London Anime & Gaming Convention is an event aiming to, according to their official website, bring anime fans, gaming fans and general geeks together, through means such as online forums, social media, real-life meetups and recognisably, conventions; running official conventions across the United Kingdom as early as 2015, the organisation known as Animeleague has faced its fair share of controversy throughout the years, which still remains prominent to this day. With the group arranging over fifty events a year ranging from small free community meetups, free mini-cons and full-scale conventions, they also claim to have their own active and lively forums and multiple meet-ups aiming to gather their attendees and fans in general to talk to one another. Furthermore, the site claims that the company has their own “Goals & Values,” which consist of building a home together with their members, standing up to bullying, giving everyone a chance, constructing a family and moving forward together. Judging from this, outgoers can assume that the convention as well as the people behind it are friendly, welcoming and are able to produce a safe and healthy environment for individuals of all ages alike; then, what’s with the allegations that have been held against the event for the past few years?
What are the allegations?
Michael Towers, the Head Organiser & Director of Animeleague, has been the centre of dispute. In 2004, Towers created the group to unite fans across the country – back then, it was limited to an online forum as well as various meets and events. However, things seemingly began to go downhill for the event years after, to which Towers and a well-known, famous cosplayer known as Kenny Chan, who was a regular attendee, fell into a public argument; this surrounded Chan posting a troll comment to an individual who was asking to be a gopher for the event. Due to this fallout, Chan was removed from any following Animeleague events. Overall, this reflected badly on both parties, being a rather small misunderstanding that was gradually blew out of proportion – but more so, this brought Towers to the negative spotlight of the community.
Allegedly, an argument then took place between Towers and another member of Animeleague known as Alex Baker – to which he criticised the way Towers handled the situation. After being let go from the group, Baker went on to make claims that have affected the way people see Towers as well as LAGC since; declaring that a friend of his came to him, and made claims of apparent sexual advances towards herself from Michael Towers. In March 2017, Baker made a public post on Facebook, to which he accused the company of withholding charity money, as well as bringing these allegations to attention. Baker stated that Towers had taken part in conversations both offline and online with a variety of underage individuals in the time that he’d known him, to which screenshots of these assumed conversations were also linked to the post.
Since then, more supposed victims have come forward sharing their own personal experience with Towers. It’s up to debate whether or not the claims as well as any attached photos and screenshots are legitimate; we cannot come to a full conclusion, and all claims have been regarded as ‘here say’. It’s been presumed that further proof of wrongdoing on Towers part was privately shared to Baker during this timeframe. Towers stepped forward and spoke about the charity money, stating that all due amounts had been paid one week prior to the post being made. Following this, Baker claimed that he filed a case with the police on the victims’ behalf, also noting that all provided information had been passed up to the CID. However, we still have yet to hear about any further developments regarding this.
How did Animeleague react?
During this period of time, Animeleague made no attempts to comment publicly on the situation or raise any kind of defence against the rapidly developing claims made against them. Additionally, any mentions of the accusations on Facebook or the website forum were more so deleted as soon as they were posted – so much as posting about the topic resulted in an immediate ban on any of their available platforms. Vendors who were inquiring about refunds for their stalls following the controversy also had their posts removed, and were consequently blocked from making any further posts on the site.
In March of the same year, a public statement was released by Animeleague as follows:
“While we understand that people wish to discuss current events and enjoy the gossip and rumours shared in the community, we feel that our events, events pages and message boards are not the appropriate place for negative and/or unsubstantiated commentary. Ultimately, we want to create a drama-free and stress-free environment for our members and attendees, so such behaviour will not be welcome or accepted.”
No further comments have been made by the situation since; from this point onwards, attendees, cosplayers and vendors alike have prompted Animeleague to be faced with consistent backlash, accusing the company of a cover-up, attempting to sweep the allegations under the rug in order to not affect their group operations and thus for it to not reflect negatively on their name as a result. Moreover, the majority involved believe that there could have possibly been a matter of attempting to silence the situation, due to victims claiming to have faced a great amount of backlash. A video created and published by Squeakeh B on YouTube was taken down, for example, after a certain amount of time for unknown reasons – the comments flooded with people sharing their own particular stories.
Michael O’Connel, an individual who claims to have worked closely with Animeleague in the past, has been spotted on various threads and videos about the subject, giving his own input on the matter.
“Hello. My name is Michael. Online, I am often referred to as No Word Count. I was one of the original administrators on Anime League during its creation in 2004. In the span of 3 months, I was made aware of him making advances towards at least 3 underage girls. As you can probably guess, I was swiftly let go from the staff when I made this information public. I have heard of at least half a dozen cases since, largely from women who have contacted me personally after hearing about my initial run in with Michael Towers.”
Sadly, nobody wants to actually come forward and testify publicly, for fear of reprisal. But at the very least, I can confirm that this is behaviour he has been allowed to get away with for at least 15 years.”
How does the community feel?
With the unfavoured news about Animeleague circulating around the community, its reputation has stuck with the community since; word by mouth passing from person to person. However, taking into account that it’s been a few years since the initial incident, how do cosplayers feel about the convention now? We asked some people for their thoughts on the matter.
All last names will not be mentioned in order to protect the privacy of those interviewed.
Jess, a 20-year-old cosplayer from Brighton, responded to us, saying:
“I haven’t been to LAGC. All I’ve heard are negative things, really. Lots and lots of accusations revolving around paedophilia and SA concerning the owner and other staff members. I would definitely not recommend LAGC as a convention. I say, if you have no choice but to go, I.e., already bought tickets unknowingly, ensure that you’re in a group and stay safe. Of course, I’ve heard about the controversy. Luckily, I was informed about the dodginess of Animeleague very early on. I believe them, with all the people that have come forward with horror stories, hell I even know people personally who have horror stories from LAGC conventions. We have loads of uncontroversial conventions in this country that are so much better and safer to visit.”
Others, who have attended Animeleague conventions themselves, also have their own complaints about the event, with the controversy put to the side; stating that the convention was extremely crowded with poor management, with inauthentic merchandise that went as far as to contain stolen artwork being sold at vendor stalls. In addition, there were no age-restricted areas, meaning that minors were often in the same space as adults. Conventions were also typically held in hotels, with people claiming that this could possibly make it easier for individuals with ill-intentions to prey on the younger demographic, predominantly due to cosplay being a confidence booster for minors, often causing them to feel much older than what they actually are and making them therefore vulnerable to predators. Multiple bars were available at the conventions, with underage drinking being a key issue at the events – attendees noting that there was a lack of staff to keep an eye on the matter. Inappropriate and sexually suggestive content was allegedly on display for minors to see, including merchandise of pornographic nature. Overall, attendees have stated that the convention is not a safe place for young people, vulnerable people and also people with disabilities, with the lack of access.
Stephen, a 21-year-old cosplayer who is a regular convention attendee, said:
“I think I went like twice from memory – the first one was my second or third ever con so at the time, it was like meeting a lot of people who I’m now still friends with. So, it was actually a pretty good experience, like, it must’ve been the only time I ever got loads of pictures at a con as well, I think from memory I was told about it at MCM London, because some people I met there were going, and they invited me. Obviously, at the time, I didn’t know about any of the stuff but I’ve since heard about all the issues with the organisers and how unsafe it is, especially for young people. I think I only went a second time because I had a friend who was going and I wanted to make sure she was safe the whole time, and that was a very different experience. I just couldn’t really enjoy any of it because of how uncomfortable it was. I definitely wouldn’t go back, and I’d advise anyone else against it too, it’s just not a safe con, especially with Mr. Towers about. I’ve heard a load of the shady stuff, and a lot of it from someone who used to work at the con, so I just can’t look past it and support that.”