Reprinted with permission to which teejay added, months later, "Quite a lot has changed. A lot of animated programs are "emulating" Anime styles and the way Japanese animation has gone mainstream is frightening."
I'm enjoying the responses teejay's essay gets. As time goes by and anime changes and what is available outside the U.S changes, the responses his essay gets also change.
April 25, 2000
On your 4/25 show, one of your Guests (Doc) in discussing the dearth of Afro-American Characters in comics, sorta went off on a tangent in regards to Black people in Japanese Animation.
I believe he was comparing apples and kiwi in that regard.... True, there aren't a whole lot of Black characters in Anime, but then again, there aren't too many black folks over in Japan to start off with.... While that comment may sound smart-ass, I don't mean to. A lot of characters in Anime do not look Japanese at all (with a few exceptions). They come in just about every hue, in every possible hair color and anything else you can imagine.
Doc also referred to the Toppopo (sp?) character on DragonBall Z as a derogatory description of black folks, but he's one of the show's most popular and loved. Also, did you take a look at most of the other guys running around?!!! Compared to them, he looks great.
There are Anime Characters of Color (can't say black cuz they are speaking Japanese) and God knows they have a Serious Following in Japan AND the US.
These are just a few I can run off the top of my head and not a one of them is a stereotype or a negative image or nuthin':
Princess Nadia (Fushigi no Uni no Nadia/Nadia's Mysterious Ocean)
Also, the appeal of Anime to black people is really the basic tenet of plot, action and style....
I like anime cuz it holds nuthing back, and lays it all out for all to see, warts and all.... Try showing GI Joe AND 'ExoSquad' along side ANY Gundam episode and the difference will hit you with the subtley of a cinder block
I hope you will have a Forum on Japanese Anime in the future cuz [3/28/06 -Ken] there's a lot out there that's more than meets the eye.
In October, 2005, I received this e-mailed reply to Teejay's essay. Reprinted with her permission. Teejay's e-mail address has changed since he originally wrote in, so I haven't been able to alert him about the response.
I believe anime can be quite racist. I wouldn't mind it if they wouldn't put Blacks in anime, but when they draw blacks looking all "weird" it's not funny. People come up with excuses like, "There are not many Blacks in Japan" or "We get our perceptions of Blacks from the media." That makes no sense! First of all, if you do not know what Blacks look like, then don't draw them. A Black person has full lips not lips that take up the whole face...not all Blacks are fat (most are skinny) and Blacks are not stupid!!! (Well, some are, like there are some stupid Japanese people). Anime would be the best if they would draw Blacks properly and oh, a Black person will always be black, no matter what language they speak. I can be black and speak Japanese...So saying that a person is not Black due to language is stupid. T.Hardin, you should know facts before you say something.
--- A black girl
In November, 2006, I received this e-mailed reply to the reply above. This subject seems to strike a chord with a lot of people. I invite further comments.
This is in response to A Black Girl.
I don't believe it is the intention of anime writers to "exclude" Blacks any more than they want to exclude Hispanics or Scandinavians. You have to realize that in a culture where you can't get a social security number unless you were born to a japanese parent (No matter how long you've lived there, or how many taxes you pay), they just aren't looking to be all that Multicultural. They don't really care if Blacks aren't portrayed 'cause Blacks aren't their primary audience. Most Everyday cartoons don't look like any human being I've ever seen.
On top of that, in the entire year I spent there I can count on my fingers on one hand (the thumb is not a finger) the number of African-Americans I met or saw. The number of Africans I met or saw would make me a multi-tentacled monster. (I met one Black woman from England who sounded just like Mary Poppins, I swear!) The Majority of the Africans were selling "Sports" Clothing and Nike Shoes. They were business people, not there to spread the Black cultural experience but to make a buck. If every time you saw a type of person they had a football jersey with a number on their back and flashy shoes and a sweat band on, you're not going to go out of your way to think, "maybe that's not how they are?"
Anyway, These animators are not getting a multitude of exposure to "black" lifestyle, hairstyle, facial differences and what not, So if they do decide to depict a character, all you can say is " Well, look at that, that looks nothing like I do" and laugh at their lousy attempts.
Not to mention all the other people in the world who have dark skin, who are NOT of African descent. Who is to say who they are trying to portray? Indian, Portuguese, Native American. They could be anyone really.
I'd love it if an artist who has the fluid skills of anime could combine that with the ability to characterize black americans and put together a good story. I'd watch it. Heck try to find any decent line drawing of a black person and you're lucky.
The real solution isn't to call folks names, ('cause they don't care) but to encourage a new style of art where we are the focus, or at least represented by more than one character.
Six months passed. The world wasn't perfect, but it was still turning
-- Metqa Butane
This response is from July, 2007.
I really disagree. They have enough exposure to black people because of their exposure to America. They never had problems drawing a white person (or ones who look white) in which a lot of their anime characters look white to begin with. Shows such as cowboy bebop and Hip Hop type of anime show this. It's not like they are that ignorant of black folks. It's obvious that they have a certain of black people when most anime's involving blacks are comedic or rather stereotypical value. So no, I don't buy that crap about exposure. As much as they have been exposed Coca Cola Mc donalds, Microsoft, Bill Gates and things in America they have definitely been exposed to Blacks..though in a more negative manner.
Of course there are anime's (especially recent ones now) that are doing better to portray black people. But you can't sit there and tell me they weren't sending a message there with some of the Blacks they portrayed in anime in the past.
-- Nathaniel Young III