With the recent release of Yasuke, the world is once again abuzz with the concept of people of color in anime. With a lack of representation for black people in the world of anime, Yasuke could be the start of a more inclusive step for the artform. Let’s take a look at how we got here.
Black Characters in Anime
People of color are rarely placed in a starring role in anime. If they are, it is oftentimes to make some kind of statement. Like with the case of Afro Samurai or the recently released Yasuke, their respective protagonists were not black coincidentally, but out of an active need to impact the plot. This isn’t too surprising, of course. Anime is often used to examine or embellish Japanese life or history, with settings usually located in Japan. Of course, a majority of the characters would be lighter-skinned Japanese citizens.
However, now and then, the debate will rise about whether a character is “black enough” regarding their portrayal in a certain anime, or whether a character’s tanned pigment is a form of blackface. Twitter positively had a meltdown upon the announcement of Don’t Toy With Me Miss Nagatoro’s titular character, and it’s clear to see how those not aware of Japanese culture, may have seen this show as a form of racism. Additionally, characters like Mirko were panned by viewers due to her not “sounding black” (whatever that means).
Differentiating Blackface and Gyaru Culture
We at Honey’s have already covered the idea of the Gyaru in several other articles so be sure to check those out when you have the time. To quickly recap, a gyaru is a Japanese woman with tanned skin, usually having a tough-girl or degenerate attitude, that was adopted by those wanting to rebel against the idea of the traditionally timid and fair-skinned form of beauty that has run prominent throughout Japanese history. Returning to Miss Nagatoro, those who watch the show will understand that her character is atypical of a sweet and caring love interest. This goes hand in hand with her outside nature as a rebellious tanned Japanese teenager. Likewise, with Mirko, her aggression also gives off a “mean girl” vibe and it is understandable that she would relate to the outside culture of a gyaru.
So, we have concluded that gyaru characters are not racist but where does that leave us? Forced to wade through countless side-characters with little no impact on the overarching story? Notable supporting characters like Dutch (Black Lagoon), Killer Bee (Naruto), Canary (Hunter x Hunter 2011), and Tosen (Bleach) are just about all people of color can look towards in hopes of cosplay inspiration. This is a far cry from what we would like to see but hopefully, Yasuke makes a difference.
Yasuke’s Impact on the Future
Yasuke, for those yet to see it, laid down some powerful messages about the absurdity of racism. While we have already concluded that anime is not inherently racist despite people’s objections to certain characters' skin pigmentation, it does lack the diversity seen in other forms of animation. With Yasuke making waves among the anime community, and even drawing in non-anime watchers due to its historical accuracy, the desire for more diverse characters is larger than ever.
Inserting a person of color into an anime to make a statement about race is wonderful. However, it would be just as impressive to see a black character take the lead in an anime, without even a mention of his skin tone. Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse is an excellent example of a black character leading an animation, without said protagonist’s race being the selling point. Anime is slightly behind in this regard but, hopefully, Yasuke pushes mangaka in the right direction.
People of color in anime had evolved tremendously over the years from minstrel-like caricatures, into more fleshed-out and realistic people. The advent of Yasuke only cements the anime fanbase’s desire for more diversification and we look forward to seeing the slew of black characters that will assuredly arrive in the future. Who is your favorite person of color in anime? What did you think of Yasuke? Let us know down below!