I have thought about it for a couple of years and I’m ready to write about it. I acknowledge my own lived experiences and biases as I explore this topic. Still, I have to go ahead and disagree with Abagond with this one. I won’t be writing anything sophisticated or worthy of Hemingway–just what I hope is an articulate opinion and possibly argument.
I’ve been watching anime and reading manga since I was a child. Despite my issues with it, I still read and watch, even though I’ve pretty much given up on the idea that anything about it is going to change in my lifetime. I have never thought at any point that many mangaka (manga artists) and anime artists are above colorism, racial bias, or racism in their art. In particular, the genres of shoujo and boys love (shounen ai and yaoi) are ensnared in these trappings.
Coloration isn’t black and white but at least for me the portrayals I encounter are just too poignant to ignore. My friend–who is white–and I have conversations about Tite Kubo’s portrayals of colored people in Bleach, the sparse colored characters in the Final Fantasy games, and in anime and manga in general all the time.
I have a degree in Sociology as does the professor that I took Japanese from in college. I have seen dozens of animes and read at the very least a hundred manga titles. As lame as it might sound, I took Japanese as my foreign language requirement because I used to love anime, the complexity and beauty that its brings to the table in comparison to American cartoons.
What You Talkin’ ‘Bout, Ms. Queenly?
Some manga artists and anime producers do seem to have a fetish for whiteness and racial mixedness (particularly Japanese/white Western European mixedness) like most other American mainstream-drugged masses in the world. I don’t want to go so far as to accuse manga artists and anime producers of “drawing themselves as white” but I won’t fool myself about some of their portrayals.
Personally, I have never read a manga where one of the main characters was half-Black/half-Japanese. But I have read PLENTY of mangas and seen many animes where at least one of the characters is half-Japanese and half-white, whether it be half- German, white American, French, or English. Sometimes that mixedness is explicitly exotified or made an object ofsexual attention or interest.
I have written my say about interraciality more than once on this blog and how–as much I support people’s right to be with whoever they want as long as its healthy and consentual–I believe that interraciality is sometimes viciously used as a means to devalue those who are not of mixed heritage (white and Black being the most obvious example), those who America has not accepted let alone loved and embraced. Ideas of racial purity and white mixing for upward mobility and for consuming as a fetisized commodity have not escaped the Japanese by any means. Moving on.
As a Black woman, I have found it increasingly disturbing how “colored” women in manga and anime are portrayed. They usually have animals with them or animal print accessories; I once read a manga where the Black gurrlfriend character to the Japanese schoolgirl (sound like a different version of a familiar stereotype anyone?) spoke with music notes in her speech bubbles, had big glossy lips, big kinky hair, she was loud, violent, belligerent, and had animal print everything every time that she appeared on the page. These “colored” women sometimes have large breasts and exaggeratedly curvy figures or they are petite, maybe tall, 85-pounders…with big breasts. They are portrayed as aggressive or bimbo-ish. They have blue eyes and blond hair. More times than not, they have abilities or physical characteristics that align them with portrayals of animals.
Look no further than Tite Kubo’s popular manga (which was made into an anime) Bleach for examples of “colored” (brown specifically) characters such as the so-called “dark-skinned” Shihouin Yoruichi, Zommari Leroux, Harribel Tia, Yammy, and the dreadlocked comic relief Don Kanoji. (I’m not sure that there’s anything I can say about Tousen Kaname (also a brown character in Bleach) other than the fact that he is revealed to be a “villain”. Furthermore, the entire staff of “villains” (tentative term) live in a place called Hueco Mundo and there’s a very Latin American and indigenous theme to the whole physical characteristics and naming of persons and places there (Kubo studied Spanish/Latin America), not to mention the theme of mixing that is readily apparent throughout series with reference to the whole boundary between shinigami/hollow being crossed like a border!) I have yet to see a brown female character that I can really respect; women in general and colored people are largely fetishized in these arts because of the large male audiences that are attracted to them–its gratuitous fan service. The American consumerism presented in anime and manga is also ridiculous, from McDonald’s to representations of designer jewelry, cars, and clothes. In that vein, racism is just as consumable.
What’s My Point?
What I’m trying to say here is that whether its intentional or not, brown women and other brown characters in the manga and anime produced by Japanese artists trip too many stereotypes for me to think that its just a coincidence or that its “just me”, you know? …Or maybe you don’t?
Deciding to color a character brown is not something that falls out of thin air, especially when its easier to leave their bodies and faces white like most paper is by not coloring anything in. Thought goes into coloration. Thoughts also do not fall out of thin air nor do perceptions of race and their portrayals. Believe it or not, Japanese manga/anime artists, just like the French and some of the most popular Jewish comic book artists, have a living history of portraying brown
people as villains and, in the case of the French, purporting racist exoticism and hypersexualization of the Black (female) body, devaluing and demonizing brownness and maintaining a white standard for goodness and normativity. Its been done before, before anime and manga got popular in America. At best, their portrayals of colored bodies and personalities are subconsciously racist and hypersexualized.
In conclusion, it is not too far of a stretch to say that Japan has not escaped the white wash of the American mainstream media.
For Real, Always,