Representation Matters Pt. III: My thoughts on anime (How I got into Japanese animation, what I think about it, and how it could be better in regards to representation)

Welcome back to my Representation Matters series! For those who are new to my blog or only occasionally read my posts, you can check out the first one here and my second one about me creating my own characters here. Now we’re going to get into part three.

This is no secret, but I have an appreciation for Japanese animation. I’ve talked about that subject a few times on this blog and I have a whole separate blog called Iridium Eye Reviews where I critique that form of animation in addition to obscure movies, short films, and documentaries from all over the world. My first exposure to it was when I was very young and saw Teknoman (the English-dubbed edited version of Tekkaman Blade) on UPN. I thought the show looked really cool and wondered what that kind of a cartoon it was. I watched more of the stuff that was on TV back then and when I was in high school, I got into renting and owning various DVDs of certain series. What I liked about some of the anime that didn’t get played on Toonami or the other channels was the uniqueness of the stories, finding pieces of animation with actual artistry, and finding different stories I would never get from Western animation. If you think all anime is just DBZ, Pokemon, Naruto, or god forbid anything that’s hentai, then please slap yourself. There’s so much more than what the mainstream talks about.

One thought that I had during my teens was that some anime was a bit of a consolation prize of sorts for me. Because these series were made by nonwhite animators and featured characters who would be considered POCs in different contexts, I subconsciously settled for this despite not being of Japanese descent let alone Asian. It’s probably no wonder I was a Japanophile during my high school years not just because of some shows I thought (some I still think are) were legitimately good, but it even got to the point where I took Japanese classes at a community college during my last two years of high school. I can still remember numerous words or phrases to this day and would technically be my “2nd best” language next to English. Sure, I didn’t always think “Most of these characters aren’t white, so I can find them to be more relatable!” all the time, but I can’t lie to you that it was something in the corner of my mind at times during that point of my life. That interest faded out later in college and I had a hiatus of sorts until not long before I started Iridium Eye a couple of years ago.

While I still like certain anime series and movies, the Japanese animation industry has been marred with racist aspects, too. As much as I give a ton of crap to Disney and other American media companies for their bigotry and they deserve to be called out on those things, I can’t pretend that even the Japanese companies don’t do anything like that. Sure, they’re not going to do racist things against their compatriots or even other Asian ethnic groups most of the time, but they’ve had very questionable things go on. There’s obvious examples like Mr. Popo from the Dragon Ball franchise, Jynx from Pokemon, or even Pyunma/008 from Cyborg 009. The backlash got so big that the creators eventually changed their character designs by changing skin colors for the first two and for 008 shedding the sambo imagery into a more realistic African man (okay, I think the Call of Justice version looks like an anime version of Childish Gambino/Donald Glover, but I digress). This problem hasn’t gone away. There’s a more recent anime called The Promised Neverland which did look like it had an interesting plot, but I couldn’t bring myself to watch it when I saw pictures of one of the characters called Sister Krone.

Image result for sister krone

I felt legitimately uncomfortable and that’s one of the less offensive images. She’s shown as this unstable psychopath while at the same time being subservient to a white woman who’s one of the villains in the show. Her character design is much worse in the original manga. This anime came out in 2019 and there is no excuse for this. If you don’t see what’s wrong with this kind of imagery, then let me remind you of this.

Those would be mammy figurines from the Jim Crow museum. This is the same kind of garbage that permeated the imagery of black women being servants, stupid, and being undesirable. That imagery has been around since even before the Emancipation Proclamation, and this is the same kind of stuff that people bash a certain Tom & Jerry supporting character or Gone With The Wind for. I know the creators of The Promised Neverland know better than this and they would NEVER write a white or Asian woman that way.

Here’s how anime can do better. They can write characters who aren’t Asian or Caucasian into characters one can take seriously across the board. They need to consult other ethnic groups for making certain characters. Don’t make race their only defining characteristic. They can also ask themselves this question: How would they feel if someone incorporated Japanese stereotypes in a character?

I know there are some anime series that are better at positive representation than others which I do appreciate, but I’d be lying if I said there was no bigotry in Japan. I’m not into anime as much as I used to even though I still review it. I think it can be sad that I do a better job at positive representation of multiple ethnic groups compared to animators on both sides of the Pacific at large.

All photos are under “fair use”.

The photo of Sister Krone is from The Promised Neverland and is property of Aniplex of America.

The photo of the mammy figurines is from Wikipedia.

 

22 thoughts on “Representation Matters Pt. III: My thoughts on anime (How I got into Japanese animation, what I think about it, and how it could be better in regards to representation)

  1. oh man, have you ever read into the Terraformars controversy? there are lots of examples of problems with black character design in anime that are likely due to ignorance (not that that’s an excuse), but wowww there are a few things out there that seem pretty explicitly anti-black.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I haven’t seen that anime, but I’ve heard of that title. Granted, I’m not too familiar with a lot of newer anime, but that definitely raises eyebrows. There are certainly other examples I can name when it comes to offensive character designs or problematic characterization like that one Aborigine character from Shaman King, Bug Nug from Crying Freeman, and Bob from Tenjho Tenge to name a few. There are certainly other cases even in other media. Japan, China, and South Korea have featured blackface with some of their singers and commercials even in the 21st century. I would bet you if anyone tried to pull off yellowface stuff while wearing rice farmer hats or talking in broken English, those communities would freak out, and I know those countries know better. These communities called out Western media whenever they were stereotyped (see any Siamese cat character from Lady & The Tramp, Aristocats, or even some one-shot characters from Chip & Dale: Rescue Rangers to name a few), so they shouldn’t be disrespecting other cultures. I know not all anime series are like this, but it is a problem that still needs to be addresses with this particular fandom.

      With anime, it shows how the Japanese got the concept of owning their own media and never putting their countrymen and women shown in a bad light like how the West stereotyped them. That’s totally understandable, but they need to be more aware of cultures outside of Japan let alone Asia. Thank you, Jenn!

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  2. Forgive me, but I always become a bit confused by the attacks upon Gone with the Wind. While Mammie is a slave and the film is set in the South during the Civil War (as per the novel upon which it is based), it also provided the first IRL instance of an African American winning an Oscar: Hattie McDaniel in her role as Mammie. Doesn’t that warrant some appreciation for creating a new possibility and thus allowing a consideration of less biased or offensive roles? It would seem that Gone with the Wind opened one helluva door for non-white actors. . .

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    • While it was a period piece, the problem is that the Oscar won for Hattie McDaniel still reinforces the racial stereotypes of African-Americans of being subservient and inferior to their white counterparts. Even after Gone With the Wind came out, you still had limited casting in servant roles (butlers, maids, housekeepers, etc.), comic relief, or villains. That door being opened wasn’t as progressive as one would anticipate. This is race buffering on The Academy’s part. Are you insinuating these stereotypes should continue in movies, TV, and other media?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Absolutely not. That said, someone has to go first, and she did. It was a stereotyped role in a period piece of cinema, but it still provided the vehicle for a major accomplishment. I feel that being dismissive of the movie demeans both McDaniel’s craft and her accomplishment.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Okay, I just wanted to be sure. I do tend to get defensive from time to time. It’s good that you realize that the character was a stereotyped role. I don’t dispute the accomplishment of getting an Oscar in isolation of that movie or character, but my main concern is the archetype and foundation of McDaniel receiving that award. It’s the overall symbolism of African-American actors/actresses only being able to win these major awards by playing only certain kinds of characters. Even though you may have more black actors in notable movies, the implicit bigotry and double standards are unfortunately still there in mainstream cinema.

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      • As stereotyped as the role was, at least it was an African American actor playing an African American character. Remember that at this time, neither Native American nor Asian actors were usually utilized to play characters of corresponding ethnicities, those roles usually going to Caucasian actors who then used body paint or taped the corners of their eyes. Remember also that the first Asian actor to win an Oscar came nearly 2 decades later, with both Yul Brynner (half Mongolian) and Miyoshi Umeki (Japanese) winning in 1957. And to date, only one Native American has ever won, Buffy Sainte-Marie in 1982–and her award was for a song used in the movie An Officer and a Gentleman, not for acting. . .

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      • I see where you’re coming from and I know blackface was still a thing even at that time of movies. That goes the same for trying to mimic other ethnic groups or completely whitewashing the cast (just look at any of those old movies based in ancient Egypt). I wasn’t aware that they were the first two Asians to win Oscars. I actually have one of Buffy Sainte-Marie’s albums. Indigenous actors aren’t very common even in modern times. It does bother me how mainstream movies still have issues with casting or making ethnic characters who aren’t problematic.

        Liked by 1 person

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