Kunihiko Ikuhara Files Defamation Case Against Plagiarism Accuser

Anime director Kunihiko Ikuhara, best known for his work on Sailor Moon and Revolutionary Girl Utena, has filed a defamation lawsuit against an unnamed woman who has repeatedly accused him of plagiarism.

First reported by the Japanese-language site Mainichi Shimbun, Ikuhara alleges that the story began in April 2022, when he received a direct message via X (formerly Twitter) accusing him of being a plagiarist. 

The woman, who claimed to be a voice actor and illustrator, said that an illustration of hers had been used without permission in one of his works. She accused him of “tracing her artwork”, which amounted to plagiarism and copyright infringement.

Ikuhara initially decided that the two works didn’t have any resemblance and simply ignored the request. However, this seemed to only upset the woman even more. 

Taking the silence as an insult, she began sending letters to various companies Ikuhara works with, alleging plagiarism and demanding that they put pressure on him to apologize. 

During this time, security around Ikuhara was increased, with police patrolling his residence twice a day and a performance of his band being cancelled.

Ikuhara filed the lawsuit in June 2022 and now the case is at a trial phase. Ikuhara is seeking 4.4 million yen ($29,000) in damages and a bar against further defamation.

The woman, for her part, has maintained that her claims of plagiarism are accurate and appropriate. 

A decision in the case isn’t expected until December.

While it’s easy to dismiss this case as a relatively minor disagreement between an artist and a famous director, it comes amidst a very grim backdrop in Japan, one where such disputes have, in the recent past, turned deadly.

A Grim Backdrop

On July 18, 2019, a man walked into Kyoto Animation’s Studio 1 in Kyoto Prefecture. He proceeded to douse himself, several employees and the area he was in with gasoline before setting it alight.

The arson attack ultimately killed 36 people who worked at the studio and injured 34, including the arsonist himself, who survived the attack. In September 2023, he would plead guilty to the charges against him.

According to the arsonist, the motivation for the crime was alleged plagiarism by the studio. Specifically, he alleged that plagiarizing his novels in various projects. Kyoto Animation did reveal they had received a draft from the man, but said that it did not pass first-stage assessment. 

Just three months after the Kyoto Animation attack, another man, this one from Okayama City, was arrested for making veiled threats of arson to another video production company. 

These and other incidents of violence and threatened violence still resonate strongly with Japanese creators and fans alike. As such, creators are taking these kinds of threats more seriously than one might expect, even when the claims are without merit.

That, in turn, likely explains Ikuhara filed the lawsuit that he did and why he’s told the court that other creators are watching the case closely.

Fake Plagiarism Stories, Real Problems

Back in September 2018, I wrote an article where I “created” a fake plagiarism story. Basically, I compared an episode of Star Trek to the Rocky Horror Picture Show and, by focusing only on the similarities between them, drew the obviously false conclusion that Rocky Horror was a plagiarism of the episode. 

The point was that we, as humans, tend to look for patterns between things we’re exposed to and things we already know. The problem is that we can see those patterns when they aren’t there, or they are there but are easily explainable without plagiarism or copyright infringement.

Fortunately, most of the time, this is not a serious issue. The worst that regularly happens is a dubious copyright infringement lawsuit that rarely goes anywhere. Other than maybe a few headlines and some legal expenses, very little comes of it.

However, as creators in Japan are acutely aware, these can be emotional issues and, like all emotional issues, can spill over into harassment, threats and even direct violence when someone, for whatever reason, takes things too far.

This puts Ikuhara and other creators in a difficult position. Though they (as well as others) may quickly dismiss the allegations, they still have to take them with some degree of seriousness because of this potential escalation.

In short, Ikuhara isn’t just seeking damages for alleged defamation. He’s trying to protect both himself and his career from inappropriate escalation of these allegations, and has turned to the courts for help.

That why, when he says that other creators will be watching this case, he’s very right. Creators in Japan are, understandably, on edge when it comes to these types of allegations. Reassurance that the courts have their back may help them all breathe a little easier.

Bottom Line

To be clear, I’m not offering any commentary on the allegations against Ikuhara. The details of the allegations have not been made public. What I am saying is that, after tracking hundreds, if not thousands, of these kinds of allegations, if there is any validity, it would be a clear exception to the normal pattern.

Likewise, this is not an attempt to justify any violence or threats against creators. No matter how wronged one feels creatively, violence nor threats of violence is an acceptable solution.

Instead, it’s simply to point out why Japanese creators are particularly on edge when it comes to allegations of plagiarism and why Ikuhara filed a defamation lawsuit in a case where, in most other countries, it would likely have been ignored and forgotten.

Though his response to the accusations may seem extreme, in particular when it comes to security, it makes much more sense in light of recent events.

Ikuhara’s concern is not unfounded, and the court has an opportunity to both evaluate the facts of the case and send a message to creators. 

What that message is will depend on the outcome. But it’s my hope that, when the dust settles, this case helps creators live with less fear in their lives. 

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