[AniFemTalk] Characters of color

In last week’s post on the themes and motifs of Yuri!!! on ICE director Sayo Yamamoto, a commenter rightly pointed out:

I feel like it might be more clear to emphasize that Michiko & Hatchin‘s cast is composed of Black, Latino, and diasporic people, rather than just people of color broadly? Anime with 100% Japanese (and thereby 100% not white) casts is pretty commonplace, and Michiko & Hatchin is remarkable re: racial representation primarily for its dark-skinned characters and Japanese character(s?) in an international setting.

Excellent point! With this in mind, and in light of the weekend’s events in the US and resulting activism, let’s talk about black and brown characters in anime and manga – bonus points for examples of positive Muslim representation!

  • What is your favourite representation of black and/or brown characters in Japanese pop culture?
  • If you are black or brown yourself, which black or brown character do you most identify with in Japanese pop culture?
  • Which representation of black or brown people in Japanese pop culture do you think is most problematic?
  • Which Japanese pop culture text do you feel does the best job at portraying racism?

Self-promotion on these posts is permitted and even encouraged, especially if you are analyzing anime, manga, Japanese pop culture or fandom from a marginalized perspective! Please only include one link per post, but you can put up a different link every Monday if you like.


Comments are open! Please read our comments policy before joining the conversation and contact us if you have any problems.

Thanks to our generous patrons we are now able to pay all writers! Next we need to be able to pay members of the team for their work behind the scenes, especially their time spent editing the work of paid contributors. If you appreciate our work, believe in paying people fairly and can spare just $1 a month please become a patron today

  • Aza

    I really, really like Rakshata from Code Geass – I often thought: If I had the complexion, I’d so cosplay her. Since I’m white as a sheet, that’s out, but I still love her a lot. She’s an awesome scientist, a little quirky, but very competent. Even though she often opts out of the moral arguments by saying she is only here for science and trying out her inventions, there are several scenes where it’s shown that she has some morals – and a feeling for the repercussions of her work. Especially in contrast to Lloyd, who says of himself that he threw any morals overboard to fully embrace science, and Nina, who ignored her morals when building Freya and was hard-pressed to make up for what her creation did to thousands of people.

    And I looooove Phichit. He’s so adorable. And he accomplished so much, coming from Thailand, where Ice Skating really doesn’t have any well-laid foundation, going to the US as a teenager to train for international competition. And he’s not bitter that his way was and still is hard, he’s full of joy and offers friendship to the other skaters so openly and kindly. Phichit is the best! In so many ways. I could go on about him for hours….! XD

    • GreyLurker

      Don’t let color stop you from Cosplay. I’ve seen plenty of POC cosplaying white characters and they look awesome. Cosplay is about expressing your love for a character, the color of your skin shouldn’t matter

      • Aza

        but it does.
        Any way I could do it, some people would be terribly bitchy and/or offended. not worth the hassle, I’m getting enough shit for being an outspoken feminist already.

        • GreyLurker

          lol, never appologize for who you are

          there are always going to be people like that, who think being “True” the the look of the character is more important than anything else. Personally, like I said, I think it’s more about showing you love them. For example check out this facebook page. She has done some fantastic stuff including Wonder Woman


          • Sure, but let’s not deny or downplay the fact that cosplayers of colour have to deal with an extra set of social obstacles which may have a serious impact on how enjoyable cosplay is for them. Those who accept that and decide to cosplay anyway deserve respect, but those who choose not to – which includes me for exactly the same reasons, by the way – deserve at least understanding. I don’t like linking to xoJane, but this account of Cosplaying While Black is well worth reading: http://www.xojane.com/issues/mad-back-cosplayer-chaka-cumberbatch

          • GreyLurker

            I think I read that on the Mary Sue a while back. I think she looks great but you are right, sometimes it’s not worth the hassle and it’s not my place to push, I’m sorry.

          • Cosplay is such a personal thing, everyone has different boundaries for their comfort and enjoyment. I’ve never cosplayed, mainly because I wanted to pick a character I a) looked somewhat like and b) felt some affinity with. There’s such a dearth of brown characters that I’ve not yet managed to tick both boxes. Maybe someday!

  • anony

    I’ve seen a few anime with darker-skinned characters, but often those characters are disproportionately sexualized when they’re women (and sometimes they’re even like dark-skinned versions of existing characters, with much more ridiculous clothes). Akio and Anthy from Utena have to get a shout-out. Bleach and FMA do an all right job with their dark-skinned characters, and there’s also Archer from Fate/Stay Night, and that one character in Food Wars, and Dutch from Black Lagoon. I think Favaro from Bahamut might count as a black main character, though his skin is pretty light. Those are all decent portrayals though not groundbreaking. FMA, Black Lagoon and Food Wars actually acknowledge race, whereas the other examples do not. I also want to include Simon from DRRR!!, though his plot and characterization is thin, because he is very lovable and is the only character (I think) who gets to punch Izaya.

    I’ve never seen a romance type anime with a dark-skinned main character, or an anime that’s addressed racism against black or brown people, so it would be nice to see some recs for that.

    ! How could I forget Kotetsu Kaburagi, the Wild Tiger? The best fleshed-out dark-skinned character that I’ve seen for sure.

    • GreyLurker

      have you ever watched Nadia; Secret of Blue Water. It’s mostly an adventure series but it has some romance in it.

      • anony

        No, I haven’t. I’ll try to check it out 🙂

    • redsilversnake

      I’m not too sure F/SN’s Archer should be included there, since, as can be inferred from Unlimited Blade Works, he’s not naturally dark-skinned.

  • rubi-kun

    Edward from Cowboy Bebop remains the greatest (and does Jet count as a person of color? He’s drawn ambiguously and because Beau Billingslea’s voice in the dub I always read him as part-black).

    For Muslim characters, Mohammed Avdol from Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure springs to mind as a positive character. There were some problems with the older anime but Shueisha apologized for it and made a commitment to be more respectful: http://www.shueisha.co.jp/info/index_e.html

    • Eric Iacono

      I totally read Jet as black. That could be the the part of the voice though, as you mentioned.

  • Jahu

    Out of recent shows, I really appreciated the diversity in Yuri!!! on Ice’s cast. In addition to the Japanese characters, we had skaters from Thailand, Korea, Kazakhstan, and China for some Asian representation, plus a Mexican-American and the olive-skinned Crispino siblings. J.J.’s girlfriend is likely part-Chinese or Korean, too, basedan on her lat name Yang. And none of them were stereotypes!

    …As I’m typing this, it’s dawning on me though that there were no black characters to be found. Maybe season 2 will deliver on that front?

    • Ashen

      I agree; after the MCs I got attached to the cheerful and positive Korean skater Phichit. In addition to all the other exciting things season 2 could bring, it’d be wonderful to see an even broader range of international skaters like you mentioned!

      • NightWingDing

        Phichit is Thai, rather than Korean. He’s a really good character though and his character arc is used to show that representation matters to minority groups.

  • Petréa Mitchell

    1. Nathan Seymour/Fire Emblem from Tiger and Bunny, my favorite anime superhero.

    In general, I particularly like any show that includes black and brown characters from a country that’s majority non-black or brown. Other examples that immediately spring to mind: lots more in Tiger and Bunny, Kaleido Star (lots), Nobunagun (a Canadian First Nations character), Samurai Flamenco (the only named American in it is black), BBK/BRNK (despite many problems, the North American team is only 40% white, and it contains the first depiction I’ve ever seen in anime of a black European), the early parts of Space Brothers (see the answer to question #3).

    2. N/A

    3. Buddy Gorilla in the adventures of Mr. Hibbit! Around episode 70, Space Brothers started including a regular segment showing the adventures of anthropomorphic animal caricatures of the main characters, featuring the most prominent black character as, yup, a gorilla. And that is how it earned the honor of being the only show I’ve put into my lineup for my column and then dropped mid-season.

    4. I’ve seen some good bits on racism, but nothing with racism as a central enough theme to feel like a good answer for this question is coming to mind.

    Obligatory self-promotion: latest column at Amazing Stories. (Warning: discussion of current US politics, because I felt obliged to analyze the political thinking of Idol Incidents before dropping it.)

    • AntonyShepherd

      Aargh. I loved Space Brothers but those Mr. Hibbit segments just soured the whole show. What WERE they thinking? (My guess, they weren’t thinking at all.)

  • Adonisus

    My absolute favorite anime character of color? None other than the gun-wielding bounty hunter from Chicago RALLY VINCENT from “GUNSMITH CATS”. She’s not even partly Japanese or anything, she 100% Indian-American. She’s also a queer character, to boot.

  • Eric Iacono

    I especially like the job the actor does with faking a terrible Japanese accent. But I agree on the design being problematic.

    I’m also not quite sure he avoids magical negro tropes. He is either there as comedic input, or to deliver wise poignant advice that the character needs to hear (even to Izaya after said punch).

  • Lori P

    I’m surprised nobody is mentioning “Basquash!”, particularly Dan JD & Miyuki Ayukawa. (though I feel like Miyuki kind of got the shaft once Rouge was introduced..)

    I also really liked Nathan Seymour from Tiger & Bunny, though I find his overly effeminate portrayal a little on the problematic side. It’s not that q*eer black people don’t exist, it’s just that there’s a lot of history behind black male emasculation.

    • Petréa Mitchell

      Have you seen Tiger & Bunny: The Rising? It includes a look at how Nathan Seymour’s gender identity is constructed, and it’s clearly non-binary despite the subtitles’ insistence on translating em as “gay” as using “he”. E explicitly claims both male and female aspects to emself, even within the translation (which is why I’m using Spivak pronouns).

      In fact, it’s probably the best explanation I’ve ever seen of the anime concept of the okama (which of course may have little or nothing to do with how real-life okamas define their identities).

      • Lori P

        I haven’t seen The Rising! I may need to check that out 🙂 Thank you so much for bringing it to my attention!

  • Lori P

    Sorry for the double comment, but I forgot that Ojamajo Doremi does talk about racism at some point. I never finished the show, but I saw a tumblr post about it, and I was genuinely surprised. Lemme see if I can find it…

    Here it is! http://littlemissyandere.tumblr.com/post/105318564742/holy-shit-this-show-just-keeps-on-surprising-me

  • TheSojourner

    I do wish that Anime had a bit more diversity. Nearly everyone is Japanese, or at least Asian, or Caucasian. And because of the art style it’s often impossible tell the difference since everyone has large eyes and hair can be any color. Sometimes it makes sense, you wouldn’t expect to see much variety in a story set in a historical time period… but other times it would be welcome to see some darker skin tones.

    That said, other than ones already mentioned here, the only anime I can think of off the top of my head with a varied cast, including a black lead character, is Afro Samurai.

  • 13thMuse

    Thank you for talking about Michiko & Hacchin! I really appreciated that show’s diversity.

    The anime Planetes has a surprisingly diverse cast of characters; it takes place in an international space station in the near future, so it features people from the Middle East, India, China, etc. One more prominent POC character is Claire Rondo, from the fictional South American country of El Tanika. In the show they talk about her struggles to get promoted despite being a woman (of color) from a poor country, and they show her emotional conflict between furthering her career and being loyal to her countrymen. It was a surprisingly heavy topic and rather poignant in my opinion.

    This is more subtle, but in the new Little Witch Academia series Sucy Manbavaran is Filipino. Her last name is derived from the Cebuano word for sorcerer and her broom is a traditional Filipino Walis Tambo (whisk broom).

    • Finally someone mentions Planetes!! <3 Planetes is probably my favourite anime ever, and I strongly identify with Claire Rondo in many ways. I love the way the show handled her journey, she's such a multifaceted character.