Digimon Tamers, Konaka, and Cancel Culture

In the latest episode of “Discovering Your Favorite Creators’ Alarming Beliefs,” the writer of Digimon Tamers, Chiaki J. Konaka, recently penned a new script for the show’s 20th anniversary that revealed him to be influenced by right-wing conspiracy theories. In his new entry (read by the original actors themselves), he positions the greatest threat to humanity to be “extreme political correctness” and “cancel culture,” going as far as to use these specific English terms. This naturally created a backlash from those rightly worried and support from those who share similar beliefs. I find myself extremely disappointed by this news, but I also know that right-wing politics and a tendency towards conspiracy theories are both fairly common among anime creators. Thus, I want to share my thoughts on the matter.

First: Yes, cancel culture does exist. No, neither it nor “extreme political correctness” are the greatest threats to humanity. And no, I don’t know if Konaka always held such beliefs, or if this is new.

I think the far right often tries to portray “cancel culture” as attempts to police and censor dissenting opinions, but that’s not the case. Rather, cancel culture—which is basically about calling someone or something out en masse—is a side effect of the need and desire to hold the powerful accountable. It comes from a fear that harmful or abusive behavior and beliefs are not properly kept in check by those with the power and influence to do so easily, so it’s up to regular people online.

Plenty of people have been canceled for the right reasons. You’ll also find people who were unjustly attacked due to a misunderstanding or because someone with that power and influence decided to lean into it—either out of innocence or malice. Cancel culture can be abused by the unscrupulous, but so can the fear of cancel culture. There’s a risk of mob mentality on either side.

But I think the biggest concern is less Konaka’s thoughts on cancel culture and more the notion that extreme political correctness is one of humanity’s greatest obstacles. While the threat of censorship has been a very real issue in Japan (down to book burnings and all), Konaka has seemingly failed to recognize how criticism of political correctness has been used as a Trojan Horse to sneak in more extreme-right beliefs. The right likes to portray their hatred of political correctness as a reaction to a looming threat, when it’s very much the opposite: cancel culture is the reactionary symptom of people who feel powerless.

While Konaka’s past works suggest a proclivity towards conspiracy theories, I think what it might boil down to is that he comes from a generation that fought against Draconian censorship and still has to keep up the battle even in recent times. The Tokyo Metropolitan Ordinance is less than a decade old, and before that, the spectre of Miyazaki Tsutomu cast a dark shadow on otaku culture. To those for whom the battle has always been censorship vs anti-censorship, the sides seem pretty cut-and-dry. But they belie the fact that the far right actively uses this simple dichotomy as camouflage to mask its true intentions: demonizing the other as a means to authoritarianism. Freedom of expression is a valuable concept, and one I personally highly value, but it has many fragile components that are easy to exploit—see the classic “conservative guy goes onto a college campus and demands that liberals debate him” scheme. It’s an ambush disguised as a fair exchange of ideas. Konaka, born in 1961, is also possibly susceptible to the kind of disinformation that has infected us all.

I sometimes feel that people are so eager to right wrongs that they end up jumping the gun and causing more damage than they intended—which is compounded all the more by social media and our current media environment. More needs to be done to keep people from going 0 to 100 on any subject. But the general desire to see the world be a better and more accepting place is central to much of this mess, and it behooves us to remember to be bigger than the immediate, to be the biggest dreamers we can.