James Wicks, the leader of animation studios ConnectVT and Studio Cell, and previously Chief Marketing Officer at Tonari Animation, has addressed numerous fraud allegations leveled by major VTubers like Bao the Whale, Vienna, Saruei, and Onigiri.
Wicks, managing Studio Cell, is alleged to have failed to deliver on numerous VTuber animation projects. Upwards of $70,000 USD was paid by various clients, including $35,000 by Bao and $23,000 by Saruei alone.
The projects varied in complexity, including music videos, lore videos, stream animations, and backgrounds.
All clients referenced in the first part of his response, which tabled 35 pages, complained about Wicks’ professionalism and handling of their projects after engaging with the studio. This includes comments on his “excruciatingly awful” and “abysmal” management, and labeling him a “compulsive liar.”
Wicks created Studio Cell after he was terminated from Tonari, noting an investment of $70,000 to get it all started. He admitted to “a lot of early bumps and headaches”, starting with Onigiri’s lore video.
“There were many things that started too late and were not put in the right order of production that caused a lot of headaches for a lot of people including, most importantly Giri herself,” he mentioned.
“My communication on the delivery date was shit, with the expected delivery by end of February 2023 and the final being delivered March 2023 with even more corrections needed. It took till May to deliver an acceptable final piece.”
Nemu’s project ran similarly overtime, with Wicks approaching her “to extend the deadline with an expansion budget on our behalf to compensate for the late run.” The deadline was set for May.
For smaller projects including girl_dm_, Geega, Vienna, and Captain Hannah’s, deposits of at least half the budget had been paid.
Bao and Studio Cell
With Bao’s project being the center of allegations, Wicks opened by stating “animation production is not easy and if anyone says otherwise they would be lying to you.
“There are schedules, deposits, taxes and much more that goes into every waking second of a production here in the USA.
“Sometimes we cannot find animators for the job, sometimes animators requested by the clients are not available and sometimes you just gotta bear with it and get it done and many times we have hit that snag that has ended up punishing a lot of people.”
He shared screenshots of all his conversations with Bao, not censoring any links in the process. This led to the leak of an upcoming original song yet to be released.
He literally just leaked my song lol.— Bao 🐳☔️ Love Me Not EP (@baovtuber) May 30, 2023
Across December and January, the project was running smoothly according to screenshots from Wicks. The two had spoken at length about the direction of the animation for her music videos. However in February, things started breaking down, with Wicks stating “scheduling conflicts” and a lack of communication from the VTuber about a change in project direction.
While things restarted in mid-March, the Studio Cell head said “he had been at war with the Giri production team… [over] broken NDAs that caused massive client distrust,” and he was blocked out from Bao’s project.
Wicks has threatened legal action against artists and other vendors who spoke out about his management at Studio Cell, claiming these contract violations.
“Studio Cell had fallen apart, a lot of money was spent over the Onigiri production period that did not meet the expectations of the client and was not a show piece for the studio in the state it was,” he mentioned.
“Previous members of my studio reached out to clients expressing they had not been paid which is untrue, violating NDAs and breaching agreements between them and the studio which is currently in legal dispute.”
I can confirm this. He broke NDA contracts, and after he was fired, he had spies in our system. We had secret project information leaking and had to lock down everything and interview people to figure it out. It’s been a very scary few months.— ベル (Bellamy Brooks) (@bythebelle) May 29, 2023
Wicks stated he was ill at the time, and with the burden of the projects taking its toll, revealed he attempted suicide on March 18. He was released from supervision on March 24 and tried to get projects back on track, but failed.
“I was ambushed by legal representation and an accountant I had been directly communicating with for Bao,” he added. “I did not get her funds back to her appropriately within that first week of being out of the hospital there is no excuse for that but in the following weeks I maintained a constant communication directly with Bao.”
He mentioned he has handed over all documentation related to Bao’s project, including all bank transfers and communications, to his lawyer.
Saruei and Studio Cell
The second major project outlined in the dossier relates to Saruei’s lore video.
“Saruei’s project was a living nightmare from beginning to end,” Wicks stated. “Deadlines crushed, and outside help hired by me directly without impacting her.
“There were conflicts between us, conflicts between artists, directors and much more on schedule, and finding people that had the time frame to work when artists repeatedly got cycled in and out of the project.”
With the first payment of $10,000 being made on November 6, the project dissolved five months later on March 23.
Wicks hit back at claims of Saruei spending $23,000 on the project, claiming it was only $20,000. He provided a series of invoices, which totalled $23,050. However, one of the invoices for $3,800 was reportedly canceled on March 12. He also shared the payouts spreadsheet for backgrounds and cell animations.
He did admit Saruei had to take over control of the project, including becoming the director, to ensure it was of an acceptable quality.
However, he did not address further allegations made by the VTuber of him “shamelessly [utilizing her] work to promote his animation studio to other clients,” as well as failing to pay the team working directly on her video.
I paid approximately $23,000 for my 2.0 lore video while he, on the other hand, only allocated $10,000 to the team from the provided funds.— Saruei 💥 (@Saruei_) May 29, 2023
The incompetence and lack of professionalism displayed by this person resulted in the rest of the team not receiving their payments.… https://t.co/KDvuTjDlMa pic.twitter.com/do0U1rPj5T
Studio Cell’s Smaller Projects: Vienna, Hannah, more
Wicks addressed Vienna and Captain Hannah’s projects briefly near the end of the dossier. This included communications with Vienna on March 17 where the VTuber requested a refund.
According to the screenshots, Vienna said she was “genuinely devastated that this happened and I need to focus on my projects.” Wicks added all assets were turned over in time for her debut, and she has “received the full amount and files to date.”
As for Captain Hannah’s project, the project was not progressed enough in March to hand over any assets. She was refunded $2,500 across two days in March.
Wicks added he had reached out to girl_dm_, Geega, and Nemu to turn over art assets “if they were in a stage to be turned over as requested.” All the invoices are being refunded “proactively” too, although it’s unclear if this includes completed work.
However this claim is in disrepute, with Nemu tweeting "he definitely has never contacted me regarding a refund."
Reception and Studio Cell’s Future
Wicks concluded the dossier with hints of a second document. The next update, due May 30, will address “many other statements made by VTubers and studio employees from other companies.
“This is to include the allegation of spies, the network abuse allegations and NDA comments as well as direct statements.”
The reception to the dossier has been overwhelmingly negative. At the time of publication, the tweet had more than 190,000 views with only 22 likes. Affected VTubers Bao and Captain Hannah have condemned Wicks’ story, pushing for everyone’s money to be refunded.
All this effort in typing all this when you could have spent this time cashing out that money you still owe. https://t.co/CVMR6Xnqsr— Captain Hannah 🏴☠️💜 (@hannahvtuber) May 30, 2023
As it stands, Studio Cell is defunct. Although no company information is widely searchable, Wicks’ statement implies all projects are on hold pending full refunds.
For the previous piece on this developing story, read this: