Back when I first started actively looking for anime to watch online, I never really paid much attention to the ethnicity of the characters. For some reason when I first started, I explicitly only looked for dubbed anime. I guess this was because I had only seen the dubbed anime they show on television, so when I was exposed to all the anime options online, I started watching everything I possibly could. This eventually led to finding forum sites where they talked about anime conventions with pictures of people cosplaying in Japan and in America. I thought these were all really nice to look at, but I wasn’t really interested in participating in things like that until I was older.
I think in the end of middle school was the first time I expressed interest in wanting to cosplay and from seeing all the pictures, I wanted to look as similar to the characters as possible. I started looking at popular characters at that particular time to see who I would fit best. I immediately disregarded any characters with big breast as I barely had any (still don’t) and any short cute characters because I was pretty tall for my age. The last part was of course the obvious skin tone. I didn’t really think my specifications would be that hard to find, but they were. I eventually just gave up restricting myself to only tall small boobed characters but I didn’t let go of the brown requirement and even with just that one condition, my pickings were very…. limited. The characters I did manage to find, however, were mostly side characters that I barely remembered and had no interest in dressing up as. This was the first time it occurred to me that there weren’t really that many characters with darker skin.
There really isn’t a true reason as to why there aren’t many Black people in anime. I have a theory, and I’ll share with you. These are, of course, my opinions and definitely not the be-all and one-all answer you may be looking for.
Think about where anime comes from. It comes from Japan, right? What types of people are in Japan? Japanese people, of course. From my experience in Japan, there really isn’t a whole lot of diversity, even in Tokyo, which is probably the most diverse city in the country. When I was there, I was constantly stared at because I don’t think they see a lot of people who look like me. You may be asking what this has to do with why there aren’t a lot of Black people in anime. Well, almost everything. If the medium is created by people from Japan, who don’t regularly see people who don’t look like them, of course the works that they come out with will reflect their reality. And their reality doesn’t really have a lot of different ethnic groups. Living in a country where you always see different groups of people every day, there might be a disconnect in what we consider normal.
(A note from The Editor: *cough cough* Japan is hella xenophobic, even to the ethnic groups native to the island *cough cough*)
I also have to take into consideration what people consider anime to be. My personal opinion is that any cartoon produced by a Japanese company is anime. I’m not going to get too deep into defining what anime actually is, because this is highly debated topic that warrants its own post. By my definition, this excludes works such as Avatar: the Last Airbender, Boondocks, Teen Titans, etc. Although they may be heavily influenced by anime, they’re still western cartoons so all their Black characters don’t count.
Off the top of my head right now, I can think of 3 black characters that play significant parts in their anime. Michiko from Michiko to Hatchin, Afro Samurai, and Butch from Black Lagoon. There are almost definitely more characters, I just haven’t seen those anime before. You may have to search hard, but trust me, there are Black characters out there. I’ll probably make another post about anime that contain Black people, though I might just generalize that to brown people. More options.