BLACK WOMEN IN ANIME: THEY WERE SO MUCH MORE
She is NOT just a stereotype
It is no secret that the portrayal of black women in mainstream media and entertainment has a history of using stereotypical tropes that poorly represent who black women truly are. Amongst black women, the feeling of misidentification was not unfamiliar as we were limited to a few characters in entertainment that truly resonated with us. Not only was there a struggle in the diversity of black women on television, but a struggle to be positively represented.
Much like every group, we yearn to feel proud and included. Our young minds are most productive and happy when we have the ability to look up to those who look or relate to us; we feel more secure with ourselves.
As a young black woman who grew an early love for cartoons and gaming, it was bewildering when I began my journey in the anime verse and came across the supporting character, Yoruichi. The anime she belonged to was named ‘Bleach’ created by the manga artist, Tite Kubo. In a slightly offbeat world, a young edgy teenager battles the supernatural in order for good to prevail. The young teenager, Ichigo wanted to match the power of those who threatened the safety of his friends. On this journey to get stronger, he meets a beautiful black woman who mentors him in both power and speed. Yoruichi.
It was a great shock to me that the first anime I had ever watched, featured a black woman who could be goofy, witty, magnetic, and mesmerising all at once. The absence of negative connotations with her skin colour made me feel comfortable and secure watching her. Her strength was in her speed and the audience got to watch her receive praise and be respected by her peers. We also watch her being loved by many as the plot progresses, her impact on other characters throughout the show is made very apparent. It became clear that this character was not a token black woman, but an unforgettable character who played a vital role in what the anime would become. It was my first time immersing in the anime verse, and I was immediately able to find characters like her. I finally felt included.
We get to hear the stories of formidable black women who each have a unique story of intellect and resilience. Despite this, black women are still more likely to be portrayed as one-dimensional characters. This is due to many creators sticking to familiar tropes such as ‘the sassy friend’. A supporting character who only serves flamboyant remarks for the main character but has no actual substance or awareness of their own characterisation. However, anime succeeds in doing the complete opposite for a lot of its characters in the verse. Anime’s quirky and constantly innovating style shows unique diversity which can be very unpredictable.
Everyone has a story
Whether it is shown through flashbacks or faint hints provided through the course of the show, a deeper side to the characters is revealed and we get to look at this as an audience. Black women in anime are no exception to this, and a great example would be the newer generation anime, ‘The Promised Neverland.’ We are introduced to a supporting character named Sister Krone, a black woman who joins the orphanage to monitor the children. Though she is considered a villain in the anime, she is held in great regard for her high intellect and physical skill. It is only as the story begins to truly tell itself do you realise the detailed backstory of her character. Her story beholds a dark truth, carefully detailed to the smallest adornments such as the teddy bear, she always carries around. Though displayed as an adult, it becomes clear to the audience that she holds onto the toy for comfort and strength – a safety mechanism for her difficult past. The use of stuffed toys within this horror anime became a powerful motif, and it made me overjoyed that it was the black woman who presented this fact.
It is not uncommon for black women to be vulnerable like Sister Krone and the relationship she has with her possession. It was a breath of fresh air when I saw this fact finally be acknowledged. She and many black women have the depth that goes deeper than what many would assume in society.
She has a story
As a black woman, I felt visible watching these characters. I watched characters such as Miyuki Ayukawa from the anime ‘Basquash!’ with knowledge of how great this sense of representation was. She was designed with a hairstyle similar to what the average black woman had and was an engineer. Young black minds are able to watch these positive representations of black women being who they want to be and owning who they are. Anime series such as ‘Michiko to Hatchin,’ are now featuring more than just one black woman within one anime, and as main characters! These characters are so important for how we subconsciously feel about ourselves as we grow and develop. It is heavily anticipated the future portrayals of black people in anime, and for good reason. Black girls and women do not have to enjoy anime whilst feeling completely excluded and unaccepted. We can watch ourselves be animated and portrayed beautifully on the screen. We can feel positively represented because of what the characters were to us.
They were divine. They were intelligent. They had a story. And they were so much more.
This is the second part of our Black History Month campaign, with content written by Black anime fans who want to share their thoughts and feelings on the world of anime!
This piece was written by Leanne Lion, who is an anime fanatic, gamer, and writer!
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