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.

 

Representation Matters Pt. II: “But why don’t you make your own characters?!”

Here we go, everybody. I’m thankful that there were bloggers who liked the first blog post in my Representation Matters series on the Ospreyshire blog. I wasn’t sure how people would take to my thoughts and personal experiences, but I’m glad there are those willing to read about them.

Let’s get to part 2 of this series.

I mentioned this in passing, but I remember seeing/hearing this quote which I see as a retort for those who have legitimate gripes with either the lack of (positive) representation or racial stereotypes: “Make your own characters!”. Those same people who say that are those who don’t have to deal with being derogated by their complexion en masse, let’s be honest here. It really shows an entitlement which inadvertently proved that study about TV watching in that previous post right if you really think about it.

Oh, I decided to heed those words, but not for the reasons that they would expect.

Some of you know this, but I have written multiple books. I have covered multiple genres and book formats such as novels, novellas, novelettes, and cell phone novels. One of my goals when I started writing the first Revezia book back in 2014 was to come up with multi-ethnic casts. With that particular series, it deconstructs and inverts so many tropes and cliches associated with fantasy, fairy tales, and one might argue a certain “canon” of sorts. The main character of the first book Terminal Rescue is Shamakani. He’s a black prince who leads a search/rescue operation for various healers in the area, is a talented swordsman, and he has a serious attitude even though he can be too serious at times to his detriment (I’m not going to write a Marty Stu character). In that series alone, I have protagonists of all ethnic groups and walks of life and that’s also the same with Hollandus Landing which is the first part of my cell phone novel series (It’s also free if you want. Just saying.). It was exhilarating creating these characters, but even then, I still had to be respectful. I’m thankful to have grown up in a multiracial city and I’ve talked with my friends to see if something was okay or not when it came to writing characters outside of my ethnic persuasion. This may sound cheesy, but I wanted to have that sense of humanity by having dynamic characters who are a certain ethnicity instead of just having their race define them. Trust me, there’s a difference.

Recently, the character I created who really helped increase my self-esteem a bit is Kasamba from Revezia: Sika Uvira Chronicle and the Revezia Electrum trilogy (Sika Uvira Chronicle is also free). Kasamba is a DIY inventor who can create various gadgets. He’s very intelligent, but also self-loathing and underestimates his own genius. Instead of being some muscle-bound freak, he is on the thinner side and uses his smarts and inventions whenever he is in a bad situation. I gave Kasamba some quirks like being really into indie movies while giving internalized snarky commentary on the state of mainstream films in a wink wink nudge nudge kind of way. His name is actually Tshiluba (a Congolese language) for “To Console” because writing him was a consolation to me and he’s able to do so for others in ways he doesn’t realize. After finding out I was of part Congolese descent, I thought I would incorporate that into this character and even his environment. He’s from a modern city on planet Revezia, has lots of decent technology equivalent to what we have on earth currently, and there’s not an ounce of poverty porn in his hometown! Not everything in Africa looks like mud huts, war zones, jungles, or the Pride Lands, GOT IT?! I’ve never even been to the continent and even I know that.

I guess by me creating my own characters, stories, or even art, this was therapy of sorts for me. I felt empowered by making some wonderful characters that I hope others could appreciate. If one person tells me that they really liked this hero or that hero especially if it’s someone like them, then I’d be beyond blessed. I would encourage you to give it a try even if it’s just a short story or drawing your own original characters if you ever felt that way. Mainstream media wasn’t going to placate me, so I have to take things in my own hands through my fiction, music, poetry, etc.

Hope you enjoyed reading this. What are your thoughts on representation? Have you felt like you had trouble relating to so many fictional characters? How do you discuss the concept of positive representation to others?

Representation Matters Pt. I

I thought I would make a multi-part post series about representation. Some of you know that it’s an issue that is dear to my heart. Recently, I’ve been having some revelations from likely and unlikely places when it comes to this particular situation.

Let me tell you a personal story and how things correlated to a study I found out about with a video and a separate site.

I’ve always struggled with low self-esteem even to this day. When I was a child, I have to admit that I watched more TV than I should. Sure, I read a lot which certainly helped, but when I wasn’t in school or reading, I’d check out the TV. I watched a lot of cartoons and live action shows. One thing I wondered was that there weren’t many heroes who looked like me. There were a few token characters here and there, but none were really compelling. They were either the token best friend or comic relief. Some characters that I did find very interesting would only be there were only in a few episodes. One I can remember was Bishop from the X-Men cartoon back in the 90s. He was the first black male superhero I ever saw and I thought he was cool with his time traveling ability while also being legitimately tough. I’m sure I had an action figure of him amongst other heroes of different races. Even though I didn’t have cable until I was in high school when my family moved, I still watched the basic TV shows and I saw the cable stuff when I was at my grandparent’s house or at a friend’s place. As someone who would be considered an ethnic minority in America, it was tough finding positive representation in mainstream media. Sure, I have a white dad, but someone like me is obviously not considered Caucasian and I’m not just talking about my skin tone, but I digress. Some idiots have said online “Why don’t you make your own characters?” years ago. Oh wait, I’m a freaking indie author and I’ve made multiethnic casts in my stories. Just saying.

What really caught my eye was a video I saw that had a slideshow as part of it. The featured image is a screenshot from said video that featured statistics from different ethnic groups of children watching TV. I wasn’t surprised about some of the statistics when it came to the ratios despite not thinking about the numbers or hours. What really floored me was the last stat as shown in the picture: “Children’s self-esteem generally decreases as TV watching increases; except for white boys.” The rationale makes perfect sense especially in Western media. Most protagonists are white males where they are the lead characters, the most desirable, most heroic, and the most idealized characters in the show. This surprisingly applies to villains, too. Even they have agency in their stories and they may have some strengths like being legitimately threatening, powerful, smart, etc. The Joker certainly comes to mind among other examples. This is not meant to shame anyone, but the stats can really speak volumes on how impressionable children can get their values or see their own worth (or not) depending on their race or gender. Here’s a bit more information on that issue: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/tv-children-self-esteem-black-white_n_1616957.

Anyways, I will be talking about this sporadically (hopefully once a week) about positive representation in the media. I never realized how much of a psychological effect it had on me and I want to share these findings mixed with my own personal experiences.

The screenshot is property of Jabari Osaze from the video “Seven Little White Lies” on YouTube.