When it comes to anime, representation has always been a bit of sore point. We are not just talking about the apparent fascination with blue-eyed blondes (although the argument for such cases have circled around the idea that this makes it easier to differentiate between characters born from the same drawing-style). We are talking about the ‘fear of the dark’.
I mean you’ve seen it. Some racist propaganda cartoon renders that should belong on the cover of Klan Weekly. Or just a character’s actions and non-pivotal role that command viewers to surgically graph their face into their palm permanently. But in the sea of ignorance, there is the occasional glimmer of trope-hope that proves that not all people in the world are insensitive oafs wallowing in Western-fuelled ethnocentrism.
So we said, “hey, let’s highlight the positive in the anime-sphere that bolsters narrative constructs with strong, layered black characters”. Not all may be in the forefront (which is something else that could use some developing in future titles), neither are they all PC squeaky-clean (who truly is, really?), but the few in our list go some ways towards changing things for the better:
10.) Muhammad Avdol
in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders (2014)
Muhammad is depicted with brown skin of Egyptian nationality, tall and medium-built with dreadlock-like hair.
Muhammad is often Don’t be fooled by Muhammad’s serious demeanour, as his a very sensitive, emotional guy. He tends to be the voice of reason in his merry team, and his levelheadedness and dedication to any task at hand and his teammates make him the ideal kind of guy you want to have you back. Oh, yeah, he’s a powerful fortune teller too.
9.) Sherry Walken
in Gungrave (2003)
Sherry Walken is the only child, raised by her father after her mother died from illness. Her big heart knows no bounds, as she falls in love with Harry, who latter becomes a part of the organised crime family Millennium, lead by Big Daddy. Nevertheless, she loved Harry immensely despite his involvement with the crime family and his underhand vying to become head honcho of Millennium. Sherry love for Harry however is at her own peril, dying from a gunshot caused by a struggle between Harry and dissenting members of the crime family.
Naive, maybe, but her big heart and indiscriminate brand of love is a nice reminder of what human beings should be like.
8.) Yoruichi Shihouin
in Bleach (2004)
Once a captain and commander in the soul society, she abandons her rank for the humble life in the Urhara Shop, where Ichigo and the Soul Reapers can get their little trinkets in the Human World.
Depicted as a dark-skinned, slender woman, with golden eyes and violet coloured hair, Yoruichi is witty and intelligent, a bit of a flirty tease, calm, mature and vivacious. There is also the added bonus of being able to transform into a cat. Fitting, since she’s a feline that’s all about the young prey.
in Nadia: Secret of Blue Water (1990)
When a French Inventor meets a orphaned circus acrobatic performer who possesses a rare gem with unique powers, a world fuelled by purpose and destiny abound. Nadia’s only wish is to return home to Africa and discover her true past / searching for her father.
Depicted as a young woman with brown / dark-olive skin, dark hair and big emerald eyes, Nadia’s takes on adventure and world exploration in the face of ancient conspiracies and danger. Warm, sweet and vivacious, who doesn’t like Nadia?
6.) Kaname Tōsen
in Bleach (2004)
Tōsen may be blind, but no one can say he doesn’t have great insight.
Kaname is depicted with dark skin, no pupils (being blind) and dark brown braided hair.
Those familiar with Bleach, spirit world of the Soul Society is responsible for aiding the transition of wayward souls of human-turn-monstrosities known as “Hollows” back to the spirit world. But like these big societies with their excessive moving parts, the Soul Society tends to have a lot of corruption and improprieties, particular with the warmongering Kenpachi Zaraki, captain of the 11th Division, and the Elders.
Tōsen’s main philosophy is to “take the path with the least bloodshed”. So you can thus understand Kaname’s dissent from being a captain of the 9th Division in the Soul Society. Kaname has always been a clear voice of reason. Quite the journalist too, being an editor of Seireitei Communication during his time as Captain, as well as a bit of a food enthusiast and chef, Kaname is a ‘pure spirit’, but also willing to fight for what he believes in.. Hell, he ‘hollowfied’ his own captain.
in Black Lagoon (2006)
Being a ex-Marine who fought in Vietnam, you’d expect to see someone more unhinged that this guy. Just before the war ended, he went AWOL, escaping to Thailand to become a mercenary with the Lagoon Company.
Dutch is depicted as a tall African-American man with a bald head and circle beard, usually sporting a Flak Jacket.
Dutch tends to negotiate contracts with clients, all the while being kept on his toes dealing with shady individuals. He’s a calm, collective character, a leader and often seen mentoring his business partner Rock. His demeanour may come from being a Christian, but if actions call for aggressive defence, Dutch won’t be turning the other cheek.
4.) Afro Samurai
in Afro Samurai (2007)
Afro Samurai’s hands may be encrusted in the blood of countless foes, some friends, and mindless dolts who would dare challenge the world’s greatest swordsman in the f*cking world, but a little bloodletting and righteous revenge shouldn’t take away his chance to make #TAP10.
Depicted with dark brown skin, and possibly the most bountiful black afro in existence, with a greenish tint if you look real close. He dresses in a tradition white Japanese folding shirt, dark pants and wooden sandals, armed with his trusty samurai sword.
Afro Samurai sees his dad, the then number one swordsman in the world, get his head lopped off by a greasy lawman named Justice, Taking Daddy-Afro’s number one headband grants Justice god-like powers. Afro Samurai is understandably consumed by a spirit of revenge, and the trail of blood is long and deep. Not the most positive, but the best characters are often the most tragic. Dedication, even when in the face of the insurmountable and knowing how to stand your ground and hold your sword when things get thick are traits we all could adopt. We can leave off the “silent, cold-blooded killer” trait.
3.) Michiko Malandro
in Michiko and Hatchin (2008)
Michiko is definitely the type of girl your mother warned you about. A real wild one: tattooed, saucy, sexy bombshell who has managed to escape one of the greatest maximum security prisons not once but at least four times.
She’s depicted as a mahogany-brown skinned woman with long dark brown hair hair.
Even with her bad-assery she saves her new partner in crime, Hatchin, from an abusive foster home in search of Hatchin’s dad. A bit rough around the edges, sure, but Michiko has a heart of gold.
in Berserk (1997)
Casca’s story is the epitome of struggle and the effects of tragedy. As a peasant, starvation and kidnapping are disturbingly normal occurrences. After being nearly raped by a noble, she kills her attacker with the aid of Griffith. Subsequently she becomes one tough cookie and loyal warrior, the only female member of the band of mercenaries known as “Band of the Hawk”. For a while Casca was second in command only to Griffith. Her tough demeanour masks a certain vulnerability as she battles inner demons (figuratively and literally) from a traumatising past that continually plague her, especially after she is changed by the supernatural effects of an eclipse.
Depicted as a beautiful slender woman with dark brown skin, brown eyes and short to shoulder-length black hair, with the ‘Brand of Sacrifice’ on the left side of her chest, Casca is a bit of a tragic character, but we see her as a strong adapter, passionate with caring, motherly instincts.
1.) Claudia Grant
in Robotech (1985)Claudia Grant aka Claudia LaSalle is a lieutenant commander of the SDF-1, tasked with coordinating communications for the 15,000 crew members aboard the massive battle fortress. So her role in the function and operation of the SDF-1 is a vast and integral one.
Claudia high-ranking status does not get the best of her sensibilities though. She is relaxed, levelheaded and a confident leader, she commands only the best from her crew, at the same time building a good rapport with her fellow bridge officers.
Depicted as a black woman with short, cropped hair, this friendly chick is the kind of leader that motivates and inspires those under her.
Anime is a creative form of expression. And like all creative forms, anime often holds a mirror up to society, reflecting human and social paradigms and flaws, particularly as it relates to race and gender. Whether positive, subversive, or subconscious. But as long as we get certain depressing news where Darien Hunt, a black Cosplayer dressed like Mugen from Samurai Champloo was shot dead by Utah police for having a toy sword (running for his life), it is clear it is vastly important to challenge the current ‘status quo’. This is how narratives and stories evolve. And, in its own way, can and will have an effect on our perspectives as a human race. Just think about all the cool stories we are missing out on when we narrow our choices of characters and viewpoints.