Jacque Aye, Adorned by Chi creator, talks anime influences and Black magical girls

By: Amelia Cook April 26, 20180 Comments
A Black magical girl with gold earrings, a pink headback, long pink hair and a pink wand, with Igbo make-up on her face.

There are a ton of Black anime fans. Just go to any major convention and it’s obvious. Where it’s less obvious is right here, in online anime spaces, where Black voices are noticeably underrepresented (including on AniFem – writers, please pitch us!).

So I’ve been following as many Black anime nerds and organisations as I can for some time to signal-boost and support where possible. One of the companies I follow is Adorned by Chi, the “nerdy lifestyle brand for misfits & magical girls.” When I saw they had an 80% funded Kickstarter with a week to go, I had to know more.

From the Kickstarter page of Adorned by Chi: The Graphic Novel:

We’ve been making anime inspired gear for a while, but after introducing our own unique characters with great success, we’ve decided to expand their stories and offer a unique take on the magical girl genre that we love so much- we’re setting the story in Nigeria, with Igbo mythology weaved in as our inspiration! 

We could just drop these characters on social media like we’ve been doing, but instead we’ve weaved a tale in the form of a 9 issue 100+ page graphic novel/comic series that spans from the beginning of time to the near future. We’ve called on the talents of our favorite illustrators, animators, and musicians to create a one-of-a-kind multi-media experience and now we’re calling on you to help make this happen!

This is some next level Black excellence. Watch their video, read the interview with Jacque below, then check out their full Kickstarter campaign!

AC: Tell us a little about yourself for Anime Feminist readers.

JA: Hey there! My name is Jacque and I’m a Nigerian, Kansas born, Dallas dwelling nerd and owner of the super cutesy lifestyle brand Adorned by Chi.

AC: How do you feel being a Black woman has affected your experience of anime fandom? 

JA: For the most part it’s been great! I’ve made connections and friends and bonded with people over our love of anime. I’ve also gotten into a few light-hearted yet heated arguments about my top 5 choices- but passionately arguing about fictional characters is like my favorite part of being a nerd, ha! I do get some guys who either dismiss me or treat me like an anomaly for liking anime at all, which is silly, but I’m finding this experience to be happening less and less as nerd culture is now mainstream.

I will say I’ve always noticed a lack of diversity and representation. But after seeing problematic characters like Gorilla from Slam Dunk in the past (and even recently, an example being Sister Krone from Promised Neverland) I wasn’t really hard pressed for more characters that looked like me because I knew there was a chance they would be based around stereotypes. It wasn’t until I watched shows like Tiger & Bunny and especially Michiko y Hatchin and Afro Samurai that I realized it was very possible to get Black anime characters right.

AC: Why did you decide to create a graphic novel, and how did you actually start doing it?

JA: People who know me personally know that I’ve been writing forever. I honestly just love weaving tales, building worlds and telling stories. I’ve been scratching my itch to world build through my brand, but I just knew I wanted to do more. So I took two characters we had already introduced and expanded on their personalities, giving them elaborate backstories and a whole magical girl crew.

While anime is becoming more diverse, I don’t see the same energy with the magical girl genre in mainstream entertainment. But I have seen amazing independent creators putting their own spin on magical girls (Princess Love Pon, MagnifiqueNOIR, and Agents of the Realm), so I decided to throw my hat in the ring as well with West African (specifically Nigerian Igbo) influence. After I plotted out the story I reached out to people in my circle to help me create music and animation because I really want it to be a whole experience.

AC: What are the graphic novel’s influences?

When it comes to anime, the graphic novel is definitely inspired by Sailor Moon with its message of love, empathy and friendship, but also Madoka Magica (with its darker undertones). The next influence is my culture. There are six Igbo Goddesses that act as secondary characters in the story who actually guide our team in mastering their magic and defeating their enemy. There will be plenty of old and current Igbo beliefs and culture weaved in (Masquerades, etc) and I’m hoping that it gets people interested in learning more.

AC: What makes Adorned By Chi: The Graphic Novel different to other Black magical girl stories out there? (e.g. MagnifiqueNOIR, Mahou Josei Chimaka)

JA: So I had to sit on this question for a moment because although it’s an understandable comparison, it definitely shows that there aren’t enough diverse magical girl stories out there. The only thing we all have in common is the genre itself and the race of the main character(s), but we each have different stories to tell :).

I’ll admit I hadn’t heard of Mahou Josei Chimaka until reading this question but it looks awesome. I love the idea of a magical girl who has “aged out” and gets dragged back into battle. I learned of MagnifiqueNOIR from the writer of the book on Twitter and I love how she’s representing specifically for queer magical girls!

Adorned by Chi’s story generally differs from most in the genre because of it’s setting and inspiration. It’s set in Nigeria, with our magical girls (and one guy, it’s a co-ed team) receiving guidance from ancient Igbo Goddesses like Ala and Uhammiri. There is also a theme of colonizing and how people came into Nigeria and attempted to strip away parts of our culture.

AC: Why did you decide to fund it through Kickstarter?

JA: I was self funding, paying for artwork, music and animation and it was getting super expensive. I decided to make it a crowd-funding effort, not only to pay everyone fairly and get the book done in a timely manner, but to also create a sense of community around the book.

I love the idea of people feeling like they took part because they did! I asked my customers what they thought our two main character’s traits should be, I asked their opinion on little details about their personalities, and I hope they’re delighted to see their suggestions peppered through the book.

AC: What impact do you hope it will have?

JA: I hope that it makes Igbo fans of the magical girl genre proud. I hope that it gets more people interested in Igbo mythology and I hope that when people see the characters they see themselves.

AC: Any ideas for future projects that you can share?

JA: The Kickstarter is only to fund the first volume, I have two more after that before the story is complete!

AC: What advice do you have for marginalised anime and manga fans who want to start projects like yours?

JA: Just start. Write your story and put it out into the world. People need what you’ve got in your head more than you know.

AC: Which anime are you watching/manga are you reading right now?

JA: I’m watching Ancient Magus’ Bride and reading Promised Neverland!

Check out the Adorned by Chi: The Graphic Novel’s Kickstarter now – just one week left to get that final 20% funded!

Image credit: Tiana Mone’e for Adorned by Chi 

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