More Reasons to Hate Anime Matsuri and Shop in Wonderland Part 1

Continuing from the post I made in 2015, here are more reasons why you should not support Anime Matsuri. In case, you needed a refresher course: Anime Matsuri is an anime convention in Houston, TX owned and operated by President Deneice Phan Leigh and Director John Leigh. Running Anime Matsuri is Deneice and John’s full-time job and main source of income. The entirety of Anime Matsuri is built solely around them as individuals. Every business decision is ultimately made by John and Deneice. It is physically impossible to remove them from their positions since they are the sole owners. Staff members of Anime Matsuri have no say in the convention’s financial decisions since every department is micromanaged by John and Deneice. Since everything is micromanaged by John and Deneice, staff members are virtually useless and replaceable at any moment once they decide they have no use for you. Deneice and John will just find another thirsty weeaboo off the street to work for them. Deneice and John are liars, thieves, scammers, and manipulators to industry guests and even their own fans and “friends.” On top of that, there’s the sexual harassment, too, but I’m sure you’ve heard of that.

Shortly after I published my initial post and Chokelate had written her account, John retaliated with a blog post called “A Man in a Woman’s World Pt. 1” hosted on John did not own a blog, so he went out of his way to make one just to write his non-apology. I want to emphasize that I was only an attendee of the con and Chokelate was an official guest of the con and that neither of our accounts should be forgotten. John wrote that he considered me a friend, but if he was really my friend, he would not have manipulated my other friends (at the time) to kick me out of my own community because I disagreed with the community turning into an AM adspace. I was backstabbed by people I trusted. Then he had the gall to try bribing me into silence by offering me a staff position. The nerve of some people. I wish someone had warned me back then, so that’s why I’m warning others now. 

Bye-Bye BABY

After 2015, Anime Matsuri opened a physical clothing shop in Houston called Shop in Wonderland. Shop in Wonderland was not originally supposed to be Shop in Wonderland though. Shop in Wonderland was originally intended to be a Houston storefront for Japanese lolita brand Baby, the Stars Shine Bright and its sister brand Alice and the Pirates. 

It all started when Anime Matsuri invited Baby, the Stars Shine Bright to headline their convention for the 3 consecutive years of 2012-2014. Former AM staff member “Z” shared their experience on how the idea of a lolita store bloomed: 
“Since Baby/Alice had been so successful for three years in a row, AM wanted to open a brick and mortar. The Houston Lolita Community was growing into a huge group, so I suppose AM thought it’d be safe to open with all the potential customers joining HLC steadily. But most importantly, they wanted to open the store while bypassing Baby SF. J&D didn’t know that Baby SF was in charge of business transactions in the entire U.S. Merchandise that wasn’t sold at the con were sent to the Baby SF store after the con and convention booth staff were hired by Baby SF the first two years (2012-2013). During the third year (2014), AM was in charge of “hiring” booth staff. I’m pretty sure they didn’t ask Baby SF about this change.

Former staff member Z messaged John about BtSSB’s question

The manager of Baby SF went to the convention that year (2014) and wasn’t informed of what was happening. Later J&D talked about the brick and mortar store in an AM staff meeting and how Baby SF did not approve of a store in Houston. Afterwards, we heard that Baby Japan wouldn’t work with AM anymore. So then J&D came up with the idea of selling different brands in one store.”When BtSSB attends any convention, the leftover stock and fashion show pieces are supposed to be sent back to the US branch in San Francisco. BtSSB’s fashion show pieces are borrowed items and are only meant to be worn for a few hours. Because Anime Matsuri’s fashion show is a disorganized with delays every year, models end up wearing the clothes for the whole day; remember AM is held in Houston springtime, so it’s very humid. When Anime Matsuri finally returned the 2012-2013 items to BtSSB’s US branch, they were in terrible condition, smelly and damaged. 

During the 2014 pre-convention fashion show rehearsals, Deneice and John repeatedly promised (lied) that models would be able to buy the outfits they were wearing after the fashion show. This was presented as a fact for several months. When the 2014 con happened, several models who were AM staff members approached the BtSSB designer about buying the items. Designer-san, confused, clarified that fashion show items were not for sale under any circumstances. After the 2014 con, Anime Matsuri decided to keep fashion show pieces in Houston instead of sending the clothes back to the SF branch since AM had hopes to open Baby, the Stars Shine Bright Houston. AM stole BtSSB’s fashion show pieces intending to resell them without authorization. AM still has the stolen items in their possession. 

confirmation of stolen Baby, the Stars Shine Bright clothing

Towards the end of the AM x BtSSB era, Alice and the Pirates was down to only one designer. During one the AM business trips in Japan, John took a picture of AatP designer-san without her knowledge nor consent on his phone. Another ex-staff member, Y, remembered that John would pull out his phone during meetings and/or rehearsals and show the AM staff the unsolicited pictures he took of designer-san in her times of distress. Not only is it rude to take photos of another human without their permission, John would also try to brag about hanging out the designers and Skyping them. This isn’t the only time he took unsolicited pictures, but more on that later. Since then, Baby, the Stars Shine Bright has cut ties with Anime Matsuri. Clearly, the plan to open BtSSB Houston failed because it was never approved, so AM had to scramble to find other things to peddle.

Money, Money, Money

Former staff member Z also mentioned that Deneice and John aren’t running an anime convention for the love of anime. They only care about milking niche communities for their money. 
“J&D depended entirely on their staff to come up with other lolita brands because they’re not knowledgeable about the fashion at all. Also, they don’t even like anime, John clearly told me he was not into anime and that his end goal was including more car programming.”AM doesn’t care about the cosplay, gaming, car, or J-fashion communities, but they sure act like they do. The stories go way back to rigging fighting game tournaments and not paying cosplay contest winners their prize money. Anime Matsuri’s moneygrubbing reputation was first recognized by the lolita community when they tried scalping sale items worn in their 2008 fashion show.

egl_comm_sales was the largest international lolita marketplace at the time [VIEW FULL SIZE]

AM still owns these items since their buy from the sales rack and sell for over retail scheme failed.

AM or Bust Mentality

AM also had a hand in meddling in the personal affairs of their attendees and leaders of each community. I’ll briefly mention what happened in the Texas and Louisiana lolita communities. On multiple occasions, John has pulled models aside and told them they couldn’t be friends with certain lolitas. For example, after AM lost support from the Louisiana lolitas, he told a Texas lolita she shouldn’t continue being friends with them since they don’t support AM. Second example, after I wrote my initial blog post, John bullied my friends into thinking they should stop being friends with me group because I was anti-AM. She was a volunteer model at the time. He, a grown man, cornered her, a defenseless minor, and made her cry. She quit after that. Third example, ex-staff member Y describes their experience in these words: 
“I quit working for AM in high school because I was going to move away for college. He said ‘AM is now, college can wait.’ John tried to convince me AM was more important than college. That was crazy. I quit after he told me that and deleted my Facebook. AM was like a cult; wasted my time, wasted my money, and got nothing in return.”Anime Matsuri is very weirdly cult-like pushing the “us vs. them” mentality. I mean just go look at the remaining members of the offical AM facebook group, it’s not pretty. Deneice and John are weirdly charming and good at suckering people to believe that AM is the greatest con ever. They will entice you to join their inner circle of AM aficionados. They tend to target younger people, based on attractiveness and leadership capabilities, so they can groom them into the AM circle.

The elitism AM created and enforced destroyed the Houston Lolita Community and it still has not recovered. Think about it. If AM is claiming to spread kawaii culture around the US, why do you think they have their volunteer models sign a contract where they can’t model at other cons? They don’t care about community; they just want to monopolize the market by sabotaging other events to line their pockets.

Guest Mistreatment

AM’s weapon is starpower. They will drop ridiculous amounts of money on big name guests. And despite their bad reputation, congoers who don’t know better still go because they’re blinded by the stars. Even if AM invites these big names, the guests do not get treated well. Guests are often left without handlers and translators. 

Former attendee CJ commented about their con experience in 2014:
“I can personally verify the lack of translators and handlers for guests. The year we attended was Reika‘s first year, she and all the Japanese fashion guests like Midori and AKIRA weren’t given translators. We had a Japanese friend who went as an attendee and ended up being “recruited” as a translator by Reika, whom she was twitter acquaintances with. From that point on, she became the main translator for all the Japanese guests, including fashion, which shocked me because it showed they didn’t have a translator lined up at all for their main guests.

When we went to the signing with Midori and AKIRA after the fashion show (which ran 2-3 hours late), they didn’t have any handlers or translators and directly told me in Japanese that they were hungry. Usually Japanese guests are pretty reserved about their needs, so they must have been starving. We ended up doing a burger run for them and they were super grateful – AKIRA even wrote about it on their blog.

Also, we witnessed firsthand Jon yelling at VIP badge holders to move it and get into a different line at signings, even though there were ZERO signs about where to line up, or any volunteers or staff who knew how we were supposed to line up. I’ve watched him literally change the rules to signings at the door to the signings and reject kids who had lined up for over an hour to see a guest and tell them that they needed to buy a photobook from an already-closed dealer’s hall in order to get in.

On top of being a conning investors, sexually harassing staff, not paying guests and bands, theft of brand clothing from the fashion show, etc, the guy is just a major piece of shit.”In 2015, one attendee states seeing shironuri artist Minori by herself. 
“She looked lost and stopped me and my friends to ask us where her panel room was. We showed her to the room and we were astounded because she was left at herself with no handler. It was the only year I attended AM. Every panel started super late, the fashion show was 2 hours behind schedule, and all the fashion guest panels were cancelled without any notice.”


仕事に対して誠実な人でありたいと思いました。今回の事でどれ程のことをしたのかを確認するための機会かもしれないです。ジョンさん。解任かどうかどちらにせよ、もうお仕事は一緒に出来ないと思います。知らない所でいろんな事が起こっていた。 …

4:56 AM – Jun 24, 2015

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“I want to work with honest people. There is so much that has happened that I didn’t even know about until now. John, whether you get dismissed or not, I can’t work with you anymore. There’s just so much that has surfaced.”Minori stopped working with AM after the 2015 con. Her merchandise was not returned to her though. Later in the year, AM was selling Minori’s photobooks at San Japan 2015 without her knowledge or consent.

Another #onlyatAM fact is that AM does not inform the guests what their duties actually are. Often times, guests are pressured to perform services that were not stated in their contracts if they had a contract at all. A prime example of this is American voice actor Matt Mercer was told to emcee the opening ceremonies without notice in 2014. He was not paid for it either. In 2015, Atelier Boz representative and AKIRA were posted on the schedule to host a Boystyle fashion Q&A panel. During the panel and after a few questions had been asked, AKIRA commented in Japanese, “Huh, there sure are a lot of questions about boystyle” which means she was not aware of what the Q&A was supposed to be about. Lockshop owner Chokelate was told to create special wig pieces for the fashion show as “requested by Angelic Pretty.” She showed up with the wig pieces and only to figure out Angelic Pretty did not request them at all. 

AM does not respect their guests either. I have heard firsthand John and Deneice call Misako Aoki a “one trick pony,” “emotionless,” and “hard to read.” During one fashion show rehearsal, the models were trying to figure out how to communicate directions to the Japanese models. John stated that the he didn’t need to send Misako instructions in advance because “Misako will do as we tell her.”  They had also made offhand comments on AKIRA’s breasts quite often. They had made comments on my breasts. I wouldn’t be surprised if every guest has gotten breast comments. After all, look at how many harassment stories have come out.

Former fashion show model Meci J. recalls an experience after a fashion show rehearsal. 
“We were having dinner and John pulled out a picture on his phone of lolita model and repeat convention guest Misako Aoki wearing a bikini and holding a drink. He bragged about that he took the photo and how Misako pleaded that he should not show the photo to anyone. When he told us that, I thought ‘if she didn’t want you to show it, why are showing us?’”So not only does John make inappropriate comments, he also takes unsolicited creep pics of many women. He would also pull up the fashion show model applications on his phone and single out applicants to show to the group, usually to garner a negative reaction form the crowd. 

The guest mistreatment is not limited to only the fashion guests. The cosplay guests are treated the same way. Two of the former AM cosplay track coordinators have spoken out about their negative experiences where guests were not paid nor had proper handlers.

former cosplay staff speak out [VIEW FULL SIZE | 2]

Two of the largest anime companies FUNimation and Sentai Filmworks, both local businesses located in Dallas and Houston, Texas respectively, have stopped appearing at Anime Matsuri for at least three years. They have good reasons not to go back.

AM announces many guests without finalizing contracts. In 2014, the inner lolita circle was spreading by word of mouth from John that the lolita brand of the year was going to be Juliette et Justine. Fast forward a few months later and they definitely did not get Juliette et Justine, thankfully. AM tends to get away with this with the Japanese guests because Japanese people are too polite to decline the appearance since they feel obligated not to disappoint their fans. For the 2018 con, the 4 Overwatch voice actors Carolina RavassaJosh PetersdorfElise Zhang, and Feodor Chinors were announced prematurely “due to webmaster error” and have canceled their appearances. Additional voice actors Johnny Yong BoschZach CallisonMichaela Dietz, and Deedee Mango Hall have cancelled their AM 2018 appearances. Note, AM has not officially announced that these guests have canceled, leaving attendees hanging to be disappointed when they discover the promised guests are not at the con. 

When something wrong happens, Deneice and John will often twist their words to blame the other party. For example, after BtSSB cut ties, AM started spreading BtSSB was hard to work with. In 2014, when headlining visual kei band NIGHTMARE was trying to rehearse, the concert was delayed for 2-3 hours. AM claimed that NIGHTMARE was delaying the soundcheck when in reality, AM got the wrong sound equipment. NIGHTMARE had such an awful time, they made it into a song titled SUPER BOOGER MAN released later in 2014.

In 2015, Anime Matsuri hosted a tea party in Hamburg, Germany. Of course, it was disorganized because John kept making changes without telling the European organizers. John, Deneice, their American staff, and the Japanese guests were late to their own event because they didn’t schedule enough time for layovers and missed their connecting flight. On the day before the tea party, John announced the start of the tea party would be delayed by several hours because they wouldn’t be there in time. Only 6 out of the 20 boxes shipped to the event passed through customs. Promised brands such as Atelier Boz‘s and Krad Lanrete‘s merchandise was not at the event because AM had everything shipped last minute. Attendees were furious with the disorganization.

Attendees offered their own food to the featured Japanese guests because there was not enough food. 

negative experience from a tea party attendee

Many attendees fought for refunds. 

Later in 2015, Anime Matsuri decided to go to Hawaii and created Anime Matsuri Hawaii. It was there that renowned cosplayer Yuegene Fay was detained by border patrol because AM messed up her visa.

Yuegene’s horror story in 4 parts

Needless to say, both out of Texas were failed projects to add to AM’s résumé.

Debt, Debt Everywhere

Despite how money hungry AM is, they’re very bad at managing it. Anime Matsuri is notorious for not paying their bills. Anime Matsuri’s operates under two businesses: Emotiongear Entertainment, Inc. and Anime Matsuri Convention, LLC

In 2007, Emotiongear Entertainment was sued by Advent, Inc., a Houston-based marketing firm for an unpaid balance of $610.00 plus $1,461.00 worth of attorney fees. Neither John or Deneice showed up to trial, so Advent won. Advent, Inc. was entitled to collect the $2,071.00 owed. By the time Emotiongear paid a year later, interest was incurred and additional court fees were added on bringing the final amount to be paid to $3,007.25Harris County Clerk Case #909602

In the same year, Deneice was sued by Citibank for debt. Galveston County Case No. CV-0057651

In 2008, just one year later, Deneice was sued by Discover Bank for debt. Harris County Justice Courts Case #CV52C0275261

In 2009, Mario Londono sued John Leigh for indebtedness of $10,990.00 plus interest. Leigh owed Londono for video production services. Harris County Clerk Case #943922

Emotiongear Entertainment’s franchise tax status was involuntarily ended on July 24, 2009. Planet Zero and Anime Matsuri were still being operated under Emotiongear Entertainment up until 2012. In summary, Deneice and John didn’t pay/file their franchise taxes and continued operating illegally. All debts incurred by Emotiongear Entertainment after this period would be incurred personally by Deneice and John Leigh in the name of the corporation. 

In 2011, R.G.G. Services, Inc. sued Emotiongear for refusing to pay the $9,677.77 worth of services rendered. AM hired R.G.G. to provide security for the 2011 convention held at the Crowne Plaza Houston Hotel. AM did not pay the invoice because they did not have the funds to do so. AM was ordered to pay R.G.G. for their services. Harris County Clerk Case #997529

testimony from John Leigh, 2012

Because they were well aware that continuing to operate under Emotiongear Entertainment would eventually get them in trouble. Deneice and John registered a new company, Anime Matsuri Convention, LLC., in mid-2012. The newly registered entity didn’t save them from the following lawsuits. 

In 2012, Baker Nissan North sued Emotiongear Entertainment for fraud, negligent misrepresentation, and breach of contract. The transaction started in 2010. Baker paid John $242,158.00 to act as a middleman to order car parts from the Japanese brand Top Secret. The agreement was that John would sell Baker the parts at wholesale price. However, John charged Baker for more than wholesale price and added on research and development fees. Baker received the first shipment container which they had paid for, but not all of the parts ordered were ready for shipment thus splitting the order was split into two shipments. The second shipment never made it to Baker Nissan. John owed $92,805.00 worth of parts in the second shipment. The second shipment remained in Japan incurring storage fees. John urged Baker to pay for the fees via Planet Zero invoice, but Baker requested to see a third party invoice from the shipping/storage company to ensure that he was not being overcharged again by John. John did not provide third party invoices for verification upon Baker’s request. Baker’s attorneys discovered that the Leighs had a history of breaching contracts. Before John started working with Baker Nissan, Emotiongear Entertainment had been sued by Gillman Nissan for similar problems. On top of that, Emotiongear Entertainment still was not legally supposed to be operating in Texas. Deneice and John were very well aware of that. Harris County District Clerk Case #201202752- 7 

testimony from John Leigh

Let’s not forget that in 2012, AM’s arcade Planet Zero was forcibly shut down by the landlord because John and Deneice owed $85,785.84 in rent.

closing letter attached to the door of Planet Zero

Shortly after the closure of Planet Zero, The Woodlands Waterway Marriott sued Deneice over $14,225.52 plus $4,741.00worth of interest of unpaid hotel rooms, catering, and restaurant charges from AM 2012. Included in the lawsuit was the fact AM was still operating under the revoked tax ID 3 years after it expired. Because Emotiongear Entertainment was no longer a valid entity, Deneice and John were fully liable for the debt incurred. The amount totaled to $18,966.52Harris County Clerk Case #1020040

Mike Udompongsuk gave up on the Leighs ever paying him back in 2012. He is owed at least $96,000.00.

In 2014, JTB USA, Inc. sued Anime Matsuri Convention, LLC. over a small claim. JTB USA is a travel agency specializing in planning trips to Japan. Harris County Justice of the Peace Case #CV51C0155072

After the 2016 convention, several companies sued Anime Matsuri for unpaid services. The first being Andy Frain Services, Inc. A representative from Andy Frain Services testified that his company was contracted to provide security at the George R. Brown Convention Center and the adjacent Hilton Hotel. Andy Frain executed their services, but Anime Matsuri failed to pay the invoices totaling $24,280.18Harris County District Clerk Case #201654371- 7

The next company to sue AM in 2016 was USA Radio, Ltd. who was based in Arizona. Maricopa County Justice Courts Case #CC2016-095793 

Shortly afterwards, another company, Double J Enterprises, Inc., sued. During the 2016 convention, Anime Matsuri rented audio, video, and lighting equipment from Double J Enterprises, Inc. doing business as Creative Production and Design. In the final days leading up to the Anime Matsuri’s 2016 convention, John Leigh, on behalf of Anime Matsuri, also requested that Creative Production and Design should provide extra items of staging equipment, lighting, audio and video components and equipment and associated labor for the convention in order to provide items for which Anime Matsuri did not have sufficient credit or vendor accounts to procure on its own, and/or was to address additional items requested by headliner performers, Morning Musume, hosted by Anime Matsuri for the convention. John Leigh represented that Anime Matsuri would pay for such items and services in addition to the original contractually-agreed compensation. Creative Production and Design furnished the extra items of staging equipment, lighting, audio and video components and equipment and associated labor for the convention, as requested. Creative Production and Design sent Anime Matsuri a total of 4 additional invoices for their incurred labor and rental expenses totaling an additional $23,679.74. Anime Matsuri did not pay, breaching contract, thus leading CPD to sue AM. After two months of legally trying to chase AM down, Anime Matsuri was ordered to pay the owed amount plus an additional $3,100.00 worth of attorney fees incurred by CPD bringing the total amount to be paid to CPD up to $26,779.74Harris County District Clerk Case #201655659- 7

Creative Production and Design’s unpaid invoices

Also at Anime Matsuri 2016, Anime Matsuri rented audio and visual equipment from Wagner Media, Inc. starting February 24, 2016. Anime Matsuri did not pay Wagner Media’s invoice for $19,608.41. On September 14, 2016 Wagner Media sued Anime Matsuri for the owed amount. Wagner Media’s agent mailed and made several attempts to stop by Shop in Wonderland in order to confront Deneice. The first visit to the shop was September 21, one week after the initial petition against AM. A Shop in Wonderland sales associate told the agent Deneice “is in and out, does not come in every day.” The agent made a second visit on September 23 to the store and was told be the manager Dani[ela] that Deneice is “in and out, usually between 2 and 6 P.M. on random days.” It took one month totaling 8 attempts in order for the agent to get in contact with Deneice’s lawyer. Harris County District Clerk Case #201661703- 7 

Most recently, Illumination Fireworks, Inc. sued Anime Matsuri for failure to pay for their services on March 29, 2017. Originally contracted to operate fireworks on the evenings of February 26, 2016 and February 27, 2016, respectively the Friday and Saturday dates of Anime Matsuri 2016. Anime Matsuri was invoiced for $12,669.03. Anime Matsuri’s check bounced resulting in Illumination suing Anime Matsuri for a total of $14,923.48 including a returned check fee. This case is still in progress.  Harris County District Clerk Case #201721446- 7 

We can not forget about the international parties never receiving payment either. It is extremely difficult for parties outside of the U.S. to take legal action against Anime Matsuri because of how expensive international lawsuits can get. Miyavi, AM 2009 headliner guest, was never paid. BESPA KUMAMERO, one AM 2008 headliner guest, was never paid.  

BESPA Kumamero asks for help with contacting AM

J-rock bands FLOW, AM 2012 headlining guest, and NIGHTMARE, AM 2014 headlining guest, both had difficulties collecting their payments. Anime Matsuri continues to rip off their clients to this day. After all, all they have to do is ignore the e-mails.

Money Speaks, So Can You

If you are still an attendee, I urge you not to support this convention anymore. This is where your money is going. These people do not care about your community. John Leigh doesn’t even like anime. They only care about profiting off the community. Anime Matsuri is full of problems: broken promises, tax fraud, unpaid debts, sexual harassment, multiple lawsuits, the list goes on. Now that you know how terrible AM is as a business, what can you do about it? Money speaks, so can you. What can you do from here on out?

  • BOYCOTT ANIME MATSURI & SHOP IN WONDERLAND: Anime Matsuri is a for-profit con. If you claim that you support the con, but not the owners, that’s not how it works. In the end, John and Deneice will still get your money. Shop in Wonderland is owned by Anime Matsuri, so do not shop there either. Do not be blinded by starpower.
  • SHARE: The boycott has been ongoing for years, yet many people still do not know how shady the convention is. Do not get mad at them; inform them. The Leighs are very good at hiding their tracks hence why they’ve gotten away with it for so long. Let the industry guests know. Let attendees know. Use the hasthags #boycottAM and #boycottAnimeMatsuri. Follow Boycott Anime Matsuri and Boycott AM.
  • YOUR VOICE MATTERS: With less than 30 days until AM 2018, it’s crunch time. Guests and attendees are cancelling appearances. Many of the guests, mostly due to the language barrier, still do not know of AM’s shady behavior. Those who do read English are taking action against AM’s unprofessional behaviors. summary

Part 2 is in the works, fam.

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