The Importance Of Black (And Brown) Representation In Anime

carole stanley african anime character

In honor of Black History Month, A.M (Anime Motivation) wants to take a moment to touch on the legacy of black anime and manga characters. 

We had the opportunity to interview the Publisher of the emerging global manga brand, Saturday AM.

Their mission is to create diverse manga-style comics similar to popular traditional Japanese magazines like Weekly Shonen Jump.

Their large roster includes:

  • Whyt Manga from Nigeria (APPLE BLACK).
  • Jey Odin from America (HAMMER).
  • JR De Bard from America (UNDERGROUND).

And their newest artist Venus Bambisa from Senegal (REVOLVER KISS). 

Frederick L. Jones, Founder, and Publisher of the brand took a moment to chat with us regarding black identity in both anime and the impact of representation. 

satamcov130

 

A.M: Reflect on your early experiences with anime. How did you get involved and how did it impact you? 

 

Frederick L. Jones:

I first discovered anime early like most people of my generation thanks to 70’s / 80’s cartoons, Starblazers and Battle Of The Planet.

Of course, I didn’t know what they were (or even what they were called) but still understood that they were fundamentally different from the standard Hanna Barbera shows.

The stories were darker and longer, character designs were shockingly cool, and the villains always seemed more nuance.

In the mid to late 80’s, I was exposed to a few copies of the Weekly Shonen Jump magazine from a Japanese-American Librarian at a private school my parents worked at.

While I couldn’t read them, the pictures revealed a comic reading experience that felt cheaper than the American ones (no color, dingy paper) while somehow maintaining the character designs and energy of the anime I had seen.

Also, at the time they were shocking in the content as I can remember being blown away by the sexy art and thrilling violence of series like Cats Eye and Fist of the North Star.

By the time Robotech began airing I was buying model kits, issues of Animag, and was fully immersed into the hobby (such that it was).

I was creating ‘manga-style’ comics for my friends with the crude imitations of the spikey haired, big eyed heroes of anime and was getting VHS taped seasons of shows like ZETA Gundam from the NC State Anime club members (who would do a semester abroad in Japan).

Ultimately, this led me to go to Japan as an exchange student before college. 

I’ve always seen ANIME like Rock and Roll or Hip Hop.

It’s a rebellious art-form for many young people when they first discover it because it is SO DIFFERENT from the norm.

It’s a bit dangerous and naughty and probably not something your parents would like.

Every young person wants to experience edgy ideas as they come into their own identity.

Anime and Manga WERE my formative years.

So much of my beliefs in storytelling and entertainment came from those shows, comics, and even videogames (I think most of us OLDER anime fans were early Capcom fans as well).

This eventually bled into my creation of Saturday AM nearly 30 years later.

 

A.M: Who do you think were the most influential black characters in anime/manga and why?

 

Frederick L. Jones:

CLAUDIA GRANT from Robotech (Claudia Lasalle from the original Japanese show, Macross) was and still remains one of my most influential black anime characters.

She really stood out at the time for how Unapologetically Black she was with her darker features, short natural afro, and commanding personality.

claudiagrant
Claudia Grant, Robotech.

Oftentimes, anime and manga fall into the ‘colorism’ debate where ‘darker characters have features and names that make you question their ethnicity.

And thus it’s hard to truly embrace and/or be inspired by such characters when you ARE a POC.

She was one of the few that seemed so in tune to my culture and community and the fact that that was nearly 40 years ago makes it even more impressive!

ClockStrikerpanel
ClockStriker

CLOCK STRIKER, which is one of our most popular series, stars shonen manga’s 1st black female lead shonen hero and we hope that she becomes influential for future generations of artists.

 

A.M: Why is the need for more diversity important to the growth of anime and manga?

 

Frederick L. Jones:

A few years ago, I was at a Comicspro show for Saturday AM.

There was conversation, like in any industry, about how the comics business can succeed against so much competition from video games, social media, and the like.

I think anime and manga could experience similar issues if they do not address the lack of diversity. 

The Industry has long had a problem with poor representation for non White and Asian communities.

It has avoided criticism because there were few if any diverse voices in media positions to mention it much less to discuss it.

Furthermore, few black and brown communities were involved in the industry nearly across all other facets considering that even Asian voice roles went to white actors.

Likewise, most of the firms were founded, staffed, and managed by either Asian or White males.

Due to this, I’ve always been surprised that when I talk to figures in the American anime industry, they are largely unaware of the frustration that black mothers have with the industry.

They do not want their children engaging in an industry that seems to dismiss them as characters or downright ignore them.

The world has changed.

After the string of protests in relation to the George Floyd slaying (and many other POC), I think many people are taking a closer look at not just the lack of diversity but the persistence of it in various media.

The excuse that “it’s not meant for a global audience” when anime is SO PERVASIVE on so many streaming platforms is just not going to hold up anymore.

Neither is the idea that diversity “isn’t relevant to the Japanese culture” when many anime feature several characters who are clearly White and European. 

oblivionrougepanel
Oblivion Rouge by Pap Souleye.

Considering some of the most successful and well-known young Japanese celebrities are half-black, the lack of diversity for black and brown people in manga / anime seems even more outdated.

With scanlations a few years back, young people created their own translations rather than wait for the local print publishers in their country to officially license various manga series like NARUTO.

It could take years for a license while the internet was teasing them with Wikipedia pages and anime episodes detailing storylines that people were talking about that day so they took matters into their own hands. 

Today, young people are not just aware of the lack of racial injustice but they actively campaign to change things in their own way regardless of their ethnicity.

Successful artists have become quite popular by drawing BLACK versions of popular anime characters.

Likewise with the advent of web comics and digital platforms, young people from all over the world are creating original content that features characters and situations in the manga-style…

But with cultural and racial representations that are refreshing and unique. 

We were one of the 1st publishers to formally make this a part of our business model.

I believe that great stories can entice fans regardless of the race or location of the hero but certainly believe that stories that reflect the world and ALL of its people can succeed even more.

While the average manga fan will not learn Japanese nor ever move there permanently — they’ll still want to create content they were inspired by (just as I was some 30 years ago).

And thus, I’m happy to have created a home for them with Saturday AM.

Related: Q & A Interview With Saturday AM Magazine (Diverse Manga Publisher)

 

A.M: With the seeming decline of physical comics, the advent of digital distribution platforms and webcomic portals means that people can still find their favorite comics and discover others.

How do you feel about the industry and the future of digital vs physical distribution?

 

Frederick L. Jones:

I don’t think anyone can truly say what’s happening with comics right now other than we are heading towards an inflection point.

Things are changing rapidly due to both technological advancements and cultural shifts.

Let’s look at the evolution of anime.

It went from people trading unsubtitled VHS tapes in Anime Clubs in the ’80s to a commercial dub market with better availability.

When people got tired of paying $25 for just 4 episodes on DVD, they were met with more TV availability from places like TOONAMI, and eventually, that gave way to STREAMING SERVICES.

In every scenario, the FANDOM grew, the price dropped, and ways to access it became ubiquitous. 

COMICS and MANGA are in a similar boat. 

We’re moving to a situation where people are becoming more comfortable with Reading digital due to space and financial constraints.

Young people are NOT ignoring comics because of Trading Cards (like back in the day) but are being distracted by Instagram, Tinder, Spotify, and Netflix.

So, the 1st thing is to meet customers where they are and that is increasingly online and via mobile devices.

Likewise, it’s to recognize that there is something special about holding a magazine or book in your hand

And so where traditional retail may need to go is to improve value and experience for customers who wish to enjoy physical books.

We have our FIRST PRINT MAGAZINE coming out called Super Saturday.

It will have tutorials, games, articles, and ORIGINAL GLOBAL MANGA with series from:

  • USA
  • NIGERIA
  • GREECE
  • SAUDI ARABIA

And more.

We think that this sort of value proposition (it’s nearly as thick as your average tankoban) is the thing that can excite readers who may demur at the idea of buying physical.

Likewise, our mobile apps (Saturday AM – Global Comics and PILOT MANGA by Saturday AM) are either FREE or offer over 150 issues of diverse series for less than $5 a month. 

The comics industry is in a challenging moment but the good thing is that there are more fans of superheroes, anime, and comics than probably ever in history.

The audience is there and is ready — we just need to get them where they are.

Relevant: 12+ Unexplored Ideas For Anime Shows The Industry Hasn’t Done Yet

 

We also conducted a mini interview with some artists at Saturday AM to get their thoughts and perspectives. And other voices in the community.

The following conversation is below.

 

Creator of APPLE BLACK – Nigerian Artist, Odunze Oguguo aka Whyt Manga

whyt manga youtube

A.M: Who are your all time favorite Black Anime Characters? And why are they your favorite?

 

Odunze Oguguo:

Definitely love Riley Freeman from the Boondocks! He is a fresh and authentic character as are the rest of the cast in that show.

I believe the Boondocks is great because it explored modern pop-culture in unique and hilarious ways through a mostly black lens.

 

Creator of HAMMER – American Artist, Jey Odin 

Detective Dan Ocean Hammer Jey Odin e1614551111845

 

A.M: What manga-ka artist(s) do you feel BEST captured Black characters? And Why?

 

Jey Odin:

That’s a tough one! Maybe (Hajime no Ippo creator) Jyoji Morikawa? I mean, it’s not that he is the best at drawing black characters but that is one of the art styles I like to see black characters drawn in.

Hopefully in the future when this question is asked, an artist will mention our names from Saturday AM!”

 

Creator of UNDERGROUND – New York Artist, JR De Bard

underground jr de bard manga

 

A.M: Why do you feel Diversity is an important element to have for a good story? What do you wish people will take away after reading your manga?

 

JR De Bard:

I feel that having diversity present in a story allows it to better reflect our world and gives readers a chance to further relate to the characters.  People enjoy seeing characters that seem familiar in some way.

I’ve always enjoyed it when people tell me that there is a character or aspect to my series, “Underground”, that reminds them of a part of their own lives.

I hope that is something that my manga can continue to bring to its readers.”

 

Creator of REVOLVER KISS – South African Artist, Venus Bambisa

revolverkisspanel

A.M: Do you feel like there is a lack of representation in Japanese Anime and Manga? What made you want to join a company like Saturday AM?

 

Venus Bambisa:

I definitely think so. When there IS black representation, it’s oftentimes just black characters in somewhat African settings or (in fandom) black versions of popular anime characters.

I would love to see more diversity accurately represented within anime and manga.

When I discovered Saturday AM, I knew I wanted to be a part of their mission to promote inclusive original characters because they are creating the kind of content that I want to see.

 

Saturday AM: Considering that there are popular athletes like Naomi Osaka, Rui Hachimura do you think we’ll see more BLACK or Hafu anime characters?

naomiosaka

 

SUUUPER ANIME PODCAST:

Representation carries weight. Seeing is believing!

We would like to think that athletes like Naomi Osaka and Rui Hachimura are inspirations for characters to be modelled in and across anime. However, and this is something we spoke about in our Podcast Black History month series.

Representation in anime is important both on and off the screen. Off screen being the animators, designers etc.

If these people are not working in the industry then we can’t always expect diverse outcomes when it comes to anime. Diversity is key in all forms of life both real and fictional. 

 

Saturday AM: Do you consider BOONDOCKS anime? And what constitutes diverse ‘anime’ if Japanese productions lack respectful representation of POC?

 

SUUUPER ANIME PODCAST:

Yes, we would consider Boondocks an anime. Here is why. Do you consider sushi, sushi even if it’s bought outside Japan?

The place it originated from. The fact that Boondocks was made in the style of Japanese anime makes it an anime in our  opinion.  

Diversity is important and we agree that as a whole POC representation is not as common as we may like it to be in Anime. Diverse anime is anime that celebrates all cultures in respect to the story.

There is certainly work to be done off screen not just in production but in creation. More diverse manga writers for example getting their work showcased and even possibly turned into anime. 

 

Saturday AM: What is your fave black anime character? 

 

BlerdyOtaku:

My favorite Black anime character is Canary from Hunter x Hunter

canaryhxh e1614533194340

 

Saturday AM: Are you hopeful that the Anime/ Manga industry is becoming more diverse?

 

BlerdyOtaku:

Yes I am hopeful.

There seems to be more Black voice actors being granted opportunities to actually voice Black characters in anime shows, as well as shows that accurately and respectively depict Black people’s physical features.

There’s even Black Mangakas so I would definitely say that the industry is starting to become a little more diverse.

 

To find out more about these creators and read their manga for free, you can check out the Official Saturday AM App (https://www.saturday-am.com/app)

Or for more information about Saturday AM itself, you can visit their website at (www.saturday-am.com

 

Recommended:

11 Of The Most Interesting Dark/Light Skinned Characters In Anime

Black Anime Cosplayer QUITS Tiktok After So Much Racist Abuse

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