Hey, hey all you wonderful Heroes and Travelers out there it’s Monday, and that means another Melanin Monday post!! For those of you just joining us, Melanin Monday is a special weekly post series that I started for Black History Month (I might be persuaded to continue the series, if interest is high enough), where I talk about Black and Brown skinned characters in anime, manga, video games, etc. Last week I did a Top 5 List of My Favorite Black Female Anime Characters and this week, I’m gonna do things a little differently…
As a Black nerd, it’s hard to find strong characters that look like me in the media, more times than not people of color, especially African American people are cast as criminals, villains, or worst of all hurtful stereotypes. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen my people used as the butt of someone else’s joke and quite frankly, it pisses me off! Even my beloved anime, as progressive as it is, has some rather questionable black and brown characters… So, for this week’s post, I wanted to look at the various ways anime portrays people of color, both the negative and the positive portrayals. This post wound up being longer than I originally intended, so I decided to split it into two parts! Part I focuses on the negative stereotypes and Part II which will go up on the last Monday of the Month will focus on the more positive depictions of POC in anime.
*Disclaimer: I realize that this is a touchy subject for some people, but I want to let you all know right now, that while comments are welcome, I will not tolerate any personal attacks or overtly nasty comments. If you can’t discuss this post in a respectful and civilized manner, then keep your hands off the keyboard… I promise you I will not be very forgiving of anyone that uses my comments section as such! 😀
Umm… So are They Black or Just Really Tan?
I think the title pretty much sums up my thoughts on black and brown skinned characters in anime… I don’t know about you guys, but there are times when I’ve had a hard time telling whether or not a character is supposed to be Black or if they’ve been in the oven a little too long. Now, I don’t say this to undermine the relevance of characters with darker complexions in anime, (the more the merrier) I just would like to know for sure whether I’m looking at a Black character or just a very tan Japanese character.
Perfect example being Yoruichi from Bleach, who I included in my previous Melanin Monday post… She’s a brown skinned badass, and one of the coolest female anime characters around, but there has been some debate about whether or not Yoruichi is really a black woman. Now, I can hear you guys sharpening your pitchforks and lighting your torches, but hear me out. Tite Kubo has a very distinctive artistic style that he uses for each of his characters, whether they are POC or not, however, like most artists, he depicts non-Japanese characters with slightly different facial features (ie. fuller lips, more prominent noses, etc.). But when it comes to Yoruichi, there is a distinct lack of traditionally Black features, now I realize people come in all shapes and sizes, regardless of their ethnic backgrounds… but, you have to remember that Kubo went out of his way to depict Kaname Tosen, another POC character in the series with fuller lips and locs!
This isn’t just an isolated case either, the question of whether a character is Black or not comes up just about every time a darker skinned character appears in a series! Personally, I tend to defer on the side of Blackness, but without any definite say so from the author, it can be a bit difficult to figure out…
So Why Do They Look like That?!
So, before I start my mini-tirade, I will say that anime has come a long way in it’s portrayals of non-Japanese characters as a whole, however, some still look a little rough. I can honestly say that animators have toned down some of the more “traditional” (and by traditional, I really mean PROBLEMATIC AS HELL) features common to POC in anime. I’m talking about those big lips, not the reasonably fuller lips some characters like Kaname Tosen from Bleach or Takenori Akagi from Slam Dunk… I mean those unnaturally full, face eating lips, that you used to see in those old racist cartoons…
I know you know what I’m talking about, those exaggerated pink lips that seem to always find there way onto the faces of POC the world over! And before any of you say, that it’s just the artistic style, you can stop right there… I have seen anime where black and brown characters have been drawn with more natural looking full lips (past and present), it can and has been done, so why keep doing it? Is it for comedic effect? Because, let me tell you I’m not laughing. Those “comical” lips are a remnant of the old blackface routines of the early 19th Century, where non-Back performers would paint themselves black in order to perpetuate the ideal of the carefree negro, as a form of comedy! Blackface characters were traditionally portrayed as harmless fools or happy idiots, so, when I see those lips, it’s not funny, it’s a slap in the face, it’s a reminder that to this day we are still seen as the butt of someone else’s joke, whether it was their intention or not.
Is That Really How You Think We Talk?!
Storytime: Now while I may not have been born in the South, I sure as hell was raised there, and as a woman of color in the South… *sigh* you see and hear things that make you want to punch a hole in the wall. But, there is one thing that to this day I will never forget, and that’s the day when a girl in my Sunday school class told me I “talked white”. I was six or seven, and I had no idea there was anything wrong with the way I was talking or that I was supposed to talk any other way but the way my mother taught me to. So when that girl said that I “talked white,” I hadn’t the foggiest idea what she was talking about, however, it was the insulting way she said it that made little me cry, rather than what she had said. Of course I asked my mom what she meant, which only made me cry harder, because why was it so bad to talk proper American English?! To say the least, the incident left a huge impression on me and even now I’m careful about how I speak, all because one ignorant little girl implied that there was something wrong with the way that I talked…
So, why am I telling you this? Because it explains why I absolutely hate it when black characters in anime rap or use excessive amounts of slang! I don’t talk like that and no one that I know speaks like that, so why the hell do the shining examples of diversity in Japanese anime have to talk like that? I get it Black folks have always had a special musical way of speaking, a soulful lilt to our verbal expressions… but, GOD DAMNIT, we aren’t all rappers! So, I’d appreciate it if Black anime characters didn’t talk like they’re ready to spit the sickest rhyme I’d ever heard… can we not do that? Please? I know a part of this trend is thanks to the underground Hip Hop culture in Japan, so, it doesn’t necessarily come from a bad place… but, that doesn’t mean I have to like it!
Yeah, that’s Killer Bee from Naruto… I should clarify that I don’t hate Killer Bee, in fact I love the fact that Kishimoto created a village full of ninjas of color and that their leader is a badass. However, the whole thing is kind of undermined by the fact that homeboy raps all the time… *sigh* Really?! We couldn’t just let well enough alone? This is like two steps forward just to take one step back! And he’s not the only character with some questionable dialogue * takes a deep breath* there’s also Killa from Dragon Ball Z.
I don’t know what they were thinking when they created Killa and his rather unique way of speaking, but, I have some choice words for whoever gave the okay, because this is just unacceptable! HE’S NOT EVEN SAYING REAL WORDS! It’s stuff like this that really get’s my blood boiling, even if it was meant to be a joke or even worse a parody of some kind, this is just disgusting! I don’t know anyone that talks like this, sure there are some older TV shows that have characters that speak this way occasionally, emphasis on OCCASIONALLY, but it seems that this is the only way Killa communicates with other people… Why?! Just Why?!
I have nothing but love for anime, sure, there have been times when I thought I’d out grown it, and yeah, I’m not the best at keeping up with seasonal anime trends, but I still find myself coming back to it. However, my love of anime has not blinded me to some of the more questionable aspects of the genre, namely the portrayal of black and brown skinned characters. Now, I’m no authority on anime, nor do I have this vast knowledge bank to dig through for the arguments I brought up in this post. I’m just a Black nerd that’s tired of seeing the same stereotypes being paraded around as progress… when they’re clearly just reinforcing the same outdated ideals.
A lot of that has to do with Japan’s limited experience with people of color (POC). Most of their knowledge of westerners, particularly people of color come from our own media, which sad to say is full of deep rooted biases, but that’s a discussion for another day… So let’s just say it does a poor job of showing the world what people of color are really like… So, I understand why Japanese animators, writers, directors, etc. portray POC the way that they do, not saying I agree with it, just that I understand it. Now, I will say that there are some positive portrayals of POC in anime, but more times than not that progress is undermined by much more prevalent negative stereotypes.
Sorry you guys, I really intended for this to be less ranty and much more uplifting, but once I started writing, I couldn’t help myself! I promise that Part II will highlight positive POC portrayals in anime, and next week’s post will be another Top 5 list, so look forward to that.
So what do you guys think about the depiction of Black characters in anime? Are there some stereotypes that I left out? Let me know what you think in the comments section. If you like what you see, like this post or follow Nice Job Breaking It, Hero! As always THANK YOU FOR READING!!