10.31.2010

Black Women/WoC in Japanese Anime and Manga I

While I'm not a huge fan of anime or manga (although I do love me some Death Note and director Hayao Miyazaki's Academy Award winning masterpiece, Spirited Away...and wow, how could I forget the Dragon Ball series?), I recently got to wondering about black women (and other women of color) in this popular genre. I was quite surprised to learn that there are a lot of black/WOC female characters out there than I would have thought. Of course, not surprisingly, when blacks are drawn and/or written by non-blacks, things can get either borderline racist (sometimes not so borderline) and considerably stereotypical at times.

Because I haven't seen most of these anime or read any of the manga (except Bleach), I can't offer any informed opinions on the characters. I don't like some of what I've read, but I want to form my own opinions by actually watching the anime. I simply wanted to put them out there, good, bad or otherwise, because until recently I had no idea that black women/WOC in anime and manga even existed. It's just one other medium that we're made to feel doesn't apply to us when that's clearly not the case.

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Character:  Shihōin Yoruichi
ShowBleach

History:  Yoruichi Shihōin (四楓院 夜一, Shihōin Yoruichi) was born the princess of the Tenshiheisōban (天賜兵装番, House of Godly Gears), The Shihōin family, one of the four noble families. Yoruichi grew up at the Shihōin Mansion in the Seireitei of Soul Society, with her childhood friends Kisuke Urahara and Tessai Tsukabishi. During this time they played together daily under the Sōkyoku hill training space, which Urahara built when they were children. (more: Bleach Wiki)

Fun Facts:
~ In the Bleach fandom, Yoruichi is often shipped with childhood friend, Kisuke Urahara (浦原 喜助 Urahara Kisuke, a badass in his own right).
~ Yoruichi can transform into a black cat.
~ She has her own Facebook page.
~ She kicks major ass.
~ She is an ex-captain of the 2nd Division in the Soul Society, but left in order to help Urahara.


Character:  Kuramitsu Mihoshi
ShowTenchi Muyo!


History:  Mihoshi Kuramitsu (九羅密 美星 Kuramitsu Mihoshi) is a Galaxy Police detective in the fictional Tenchi Muyo! anime and manga series. Her given name "Mihoshi" , (みほし、美星), literally means "Beautiful Star", and is derived from a town in the Okayama Prefecture formerly known as Bisei.

In the OVA [Original Video Animation], Mihoshi is a Seniwan and a member of the Kuramitsu family, whose power is second only to the Jurai Royal Family.  (more:  Tenchi Muyo! Wiki).

Fun Facts:
~ Mihoshi is the great-great-granddaughter of Washu Hakubi (白眉 鷲羽, Hakubi Washū), the "self-proclaimed greatest mind in the universe."
~ Has a younger brother, Misao, who looks like he could be her twin.
~ Has the power of causality-bending and near invulnerability. 


Character:  Ed
ShowCowboy Bebop

History:  Edward was born on Earth and abandoned at a Christian orphanage by her absent-minded father, Mr. Appledelhi, when she was 5 years old. Eventually Edward left the orphanage on her own before her father remembered that he had left her.

When she met the crew of the Bebop she was living as a nomadic hacker armed only with her computer, Tomato. She had developed a folk hero-like status among many Earthlings who created larger than life descriptions of her. At her core Edward is a joyful adolescent with an affinity for souvenirs, pinwheels and Ein the Pembroke Welsh Corgi. Her full name is Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tiverusky IV. A name she made up because she thought it sounded cool. (more: Cowboy Bebop Wiki)

Fun Facts
~ Ed's real name is Françoise Appledehli.
~ She is around 13 years old and often refers to herself in the third person.
~ She is considered a computer hacker prodigy.
~ Her character was first conceived as a boy, hence her androgynous appearance.


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I just finished watching the first season of Bleach, but since Yoruichi has only made an appearance in her cat form, I can't offer anything meaningful about her character other than the fact that she seems very wise and tends to catch people off guard because of the fact that a cat is able to talk. As of the end of Season 1, the audience has no idea that she's really a woman because in cat form, she sounds like a male. She admits that she finds this fact quite amusing when she reveals her true form to Ichigo Kurosaki (黒崎 一護 Kurosaki Ichigo) , the series' protagonist, for the first time and his reaction is predictably shocked.  (Although I'm sure the fact that she was naked when she transformed had something to do with it.)  I hope to be able to offer more insight into her character--and those of some of the other anime--soon.

I would be remiss in not adding the fact that there is also a question in the general fandom of whether the black women portrayed in some anime and manga are really black or just dark-skinned "others", such as Yoruichi and Mihoshi.  And of course, it seems like it leans toward "other" more often than not. Some folks also pontificate that because a character has a Japanese name, they're obviously just Japanese (read: not black). I think it's ironic however, because if the character looks like Sailor Moon or otherwise has pale skin and large eyes, it's assumed he/she is white no matter what their name happens to be. Personally, I don't think the two have to be mutually exclusive, but that's just me.

Of course, this may all just be an exercise in futility, as this may be a part of Japanese culture that is simply flying right over my head, but the subject still intrigues me.

More characters to come...

***I changed the title of the post slightly to reflect the fact that there is some debate on whether some of these characters are in fact black, some other race/ethnicity or simply deeply tanned/darker-skinned white and/or Japanese women.

See also:

Black Women/WOC in Japanese Anime and Manga II
Black Women/WOC in Japanese Anime and Manga III

42 comments:

  1. Thanks for this! It never even occurred me that black female characters would feature in anime. Wow!!!!

    Twenty bucks says this is another one of your posts that's going to stick around a long while.

    Write more!

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  2. i had no idea ed is supposed to be black (or some other ethnicity)... i just thought she was a dark japanese person. learn new things everyday...

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  3. @Avastacia
    i had no idea ed is supposed to be black (or some other ethnicity)...

    I think that's the $64,000 question. From what I've been able to gather by browsing around on the 'Net, she's been called both black (or at least some form of POC) and "dark-skinned." I guess it's a matter of what one can accept.

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  4. Some of these characters will also be other women of color. There's so much debate out there over whether these women are black, "others", or simply dark-skinned Japanese characters that I'm really curious to know what we (black women) think. No one ever seems to ask our opinion about this kind of stuff.

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  5. Mihoshi is black? Wow, I thought she just had a VERY deep tan. XD

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  6. Yeah...that one was throwing me off too.

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  7. @Ankh
    Yeah...that one was throwing me off too.

    Who, Mihoshi? It's the same with her. She's been called both black and "dark-skinned." It's another of those, "it depends on how one sees it it" instances. I think all of these characters are (give or take a few obvious exceptions). I'm including them all because for once, I want to know our opinions. It's all so subjective, I wonder if it was done deliberately.

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  8. Here's another Mihoshi pic. That would be a really deep tan if she's not a WOC. I did read
    that her complexion had tendency to change from series to series, so who knows?

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  9. http://home.arcor.de/miya-angel/nad55.jpg

    Nadia(Left) from "The Secret of Blue Water" is specifically said to be looking for her ancestors who she believes are from Africa. Her original character design had her rocking dreads but it was too difficult to animate.

    http://deculture101.files.wordpress.com/2008/08/black_lagoon.jpg

    Dutch( far right) : he's the Leader of the band of motley pirates from the show Black Lagoon. He is definitely black, he kind of looks like Ving Rhames LOL but he isn't a stereotype.He's the leader and he's got mad ass kicking skills, from his time as a soldier in the Vietnam War. Black Lagoon in particular is an interesting show for characters that go against stereotypes( Most of the females kick serious ass) in Anime if you aren't too put off by the violence( it's about pirates in the south seas operating out of Malaysia)

    Technically this doesn't count because the character is most definitely Indian but Anthy Himemiya and Akio Ohtori the incestuous siblings of Revolutionary Girl Utena (long explanation but there is alot of outright or implied incest in this show. Because most of the characters are not adults, and I believe Japanese folklore has the island of Japan being created by a brother and sister god who were married, if that helps. It's a good show btw)
    Anthy Himemiya
    http://ohtori.nu/galerie/v/movie/art/uanda/Utena_Anthy_Artwork_22.png.html

    Akio Ohtori
    http://ohtori.nu/galerie/v/series/artwork/solo/SoloCharacters_02.png.html

    http://ohtori.nu/galerie/d/16154-1/Series_ep38_134.jpg

    The best that I can do to explain them in that context is that they are kind of like Gods in Revolutionary Girl Utena.They are Gods and appear to have their own Universe in which they control time.This is a fantasy show about a girl who wants to become a prince. Anthy has a sword that materializes inside her heart and is literally pulled out by Utena( Utena does too later on). Depending on who you ask they are neither good nor evil they just guide peoples actions through covert or overt acts of manipulation. Akio is definitely a Lucifer like character in that he tells people the truth in a very misleading fashion to fet the to serve a particular function in his plans.

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  10. "to further serve" Sorry English wasn't one of my strong suits.

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  11. http://ohtori.nu/galerie/d/24011-1/Movie_Screen_0495.jpg

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  12. Theres another anime, where one of the cahracters is balck. I couldn't remember totally what it was called but the theme song was playing in my head.
    It is called Basquash!

    Profile
    Miyuki Ayukawa

    Photos of her here.

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  13. I liked Basquash because of Miyuki! There seems to be a lot more anime coming out these days with black characters. One example will be Michiko e Hatchin which is set in a fictional country that resembles Brazil. So there are a lot of black characters, that anime should be the most culturally diverse anime I've seen in a while. A main character Atsuko Jackson, is not only black but sports a badass afro.

    I also have a bunch of one-shot manga with black female characters (and even one that has a hint of Blasian love). Lol, will have to check because I don't remember all the names.

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  14. @Student of the World

    I'm a fan of RGU and I love Anthy for the complexities of her character. I actually took the anime as a retelling of fairy tales which tend to have set character archetypes. RGU took that and basically turned it upside down and inside out. I have written 3 long blog posts on RGU so I won't leave an essay here ^^

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  15. There was also Coffee in Cowboy Bebop.

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  16. @Everyone

    Thanks! These characters will all be featured in later posts.

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  17. Bah! I remember one from waaaaay back when I was a kid and me and my brother used to watch this anime series like craaaaazy!!!

    Claudia Grant - ROBOTECH (most awesomest anime on the planet, don't anyone forget it!)

    Link!: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claudia_Grant

    She had a really interesting romance with one of the more fly-boy characters, but I loved his characterized (AmericanDubbed as I wasn't able to get the original Japanese version), but from what I saw of her characterization in the American version, she was very strong but still very feminine. Very kick butt, but still showed her softer side.

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  18. Awesome Yoruba mentioned Michiko to hatchin!!! Ibwas gonna say, how can we be talking about black characters while missing the most ethnically diverse anime we have of recent. I'm currently on ep 10 and i have to say my jaw never gets off the floor every time I see a black character who is so acurrateky drawn and even in a position of power. I'm amazed to see how well the Japanese producers have down the ethnic diversity of brazil. Even sometimes Michiko seems black to me. Atsuko is also a tall powerful Beaty with a kick ass fro. If any of you do watch it and make it to episode 9 you'd probably cry tears of Joy when you seetheir characterization of the little black girl Rita. She's very darkes skinned and absolutely beautiful at 10 years old. That series is HIGHLY recommended.

    Also panty and atalking with garter belt- their priest dad is black with a huge fro (they are not though..lol)

    And simon the Russian chef from durarara!!! Is also black and a great supporting character :3

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  19. If anyone checks out Eureka 7 they have a multitude of black characters. My favorite's Gidget.

    http://media.photobucket.com/image/eureka%207%20gidget/Nezu_chan/Darkskin%20characters/EurekaSeven-Gidget02.jpg

    then there's hilda:
    http://rayout.net/images/bios/Hilda.jpg

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  20. Other anime suggestions: April, the black British spy from Darker than Black. As for manga, Princess Prince has a dark-skinned character who appeared in a chapter as the love interest of the prince even though other members of the court hated her because of the colour of her skin. Kayono's one-shot Royal Seventeen had a character that I'm positive was black, Jessica as the best friend. I don't know if I can say Kayono's work was not stereotypical it was a one-shot so there was minimal character development all round. Oh I must add that Kayono's manga qualifies as smut.

    @Kenji

    OMG! I loved Rita. She was absolutely amazing. I loved how the black female characters in Michiko e Hatchin were not stereotyped and portrayed negatively. They were actually 3 dimensional!

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  21. @Ankh

    Is it possible to make a separate tag for this? "Discussion" alone seems kind of generic. I don't know what to call it, but I know you'll come up with something good. Thanks!

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  22. it would be cool if someone started a discussion about poc in japanese fighting games as well. *^_^*

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  23. Oh technically the Boondocks Counts LMFAO!

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  24. @ eccentricyoruba
    *imagine a puff of smoke where I am as I head over to read those essays LMFAO!*

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  25. I just remembered Aisha Clanclan of that space cowboy anime, Outlaw Star

    @Student of the World

    Hope you enjoy them, if you can't find them I can leave a link here ^^

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  26. Ok, here's the thing for me: Claudia Grant, Miyuki, Atsuko Jackson and Coffee all read to me as black female characters as their ethnic features distinguish them from your generic anime characters. E.g., Miyuki has a hint of Afro-textured hair in her 'bang', whereas the others have it in their hair and some of their facial features.

    I always considered Anthy to be Indian, with the bindi being a big help in that department.

    The others? Meh. Sorry...they look like generic anime characters with darker skin tones. They don't come across as being 'black' in an 'African-descendant' sense of the term. *shrug*

    By the way, I only looked at the ones for whom images/links were provided. I haven't googled the rest yet.

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  27. @leoprincess

    Anthy is definitely Indian. I always thought Miyuki's hair was locked even though she had them in pigtails all the time. Yoruichi is most definitely black, her creator has said she is supposed to be Afro-Brazilian.

    You seem to be using their hair to determine them being of 'African-descent' but as they are from cartoons, I don't know about that. I mean, if we want to apply this to real life, how do we know some of these characters haven't chemically straightened their hair or are wearing weaves. Lolz, my point is there are darker skinned anime characters (such as Urd and Hild from Ah! My Goddess!) and there are those that have Afros so we look at them as 'black' but to me, I'm just happy when I see dark-skinned anime characters, 'black' or not.

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  28. No, no, ity's not just the hair for me. Maybe I'm not explaining myself properly but some of the characters just look 'white girl dipped in chocolate' to me. Hence, I'm not sure what some of them are supposed to be - POC, or some girl who got nuts with the spray tan. But I guess it IS nice to see something other than the regular colour. ;)

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  29. @ leoprincess

    You mean, like a cookie-cutter character that could have just as easily been something else?

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  30. Yoruichi's always been my favorite-- she's the reason I started reading Bleach! Bleach has a few other characters that are usually considered Black:
    Tia Harribel, the 3rd Espada, unmistakably a WOC in the manga (however in the anime she appears to simply be tan)
    Her 'fraccion' Mila Rose, a former lioness hollow turned Amazon Warrior-like Arrancar
    Considering all three, one thing's certain-- Bleach's creator Tite Kubo has an affinity for well-endowed women~

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  31. @ Ankensen - Yea, that's what I was trying to say the first time, but I guess I didn't articulate it well. ^^; If you take Dutch from Black Lagoon, for example, they didn't just give him darker skin - they actually modified his facial features in keeping with his ethnicity. That's something I've also noticed with the characters I singled out; that they actually looked like they belonged to a particular ethnicity in terms of their facial features or other ethno-cultural identifiers (e.g. Anthy's bindi). The rest...well, at least they're not in the 'default' colour! :D

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  32. Oh, just wanted to share this: http://www.jamaipanese.com/wafrica-japan-africa-kimono/

    Not Anime-related, but flipping awesome nonetheless.

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  33. A Bleach DVD arrived this afternoon from Netflix. Tonight, after, ahem, class, I get to see Yoruichi reveal she is not a cat.

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  34. @ leoprincess

    Thanks for that awesome link, btw. The kimono is gorgeous.

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  35. I'm so surprised that no one said Karui from Masashi Kishimoto's Naruto!

    http://www.narutoimagens.com/img/naruto1688817848.jpg

    http://images2.wikia.nocookie.net/naruto/images/c/c3/Karui.png

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  36. I know some people describe Yoruichi as just a dark skinned woman who is not black, but in the anime she is described by an antagonist as black (I think he calls her either "the black one" or "the black woman") and she has an afro in one of the ending credit sequences for one of the seasons. So I figured she was black and not just "other".

    Villeta Nu in Code Geass may be black. There is an Indian woman in the series as well as a minor black female character who is only in a few short scenes.

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  37. I love seeing Black characters in anime and manga. My own personal goal is to make my own manga, which I'm well into right now, and publish it, the main character being black. I also have a story I've been writing for quite a while where the main character, a black female, newly officially an adult, falls in love with a Japanese man...the plot is thick, twisted, and engrossing, but I shant tell more about it unless asked. :3 But yes, I love to see more anime characters with color. :D

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  38. if u've ever seen outlaw star i think the cat girl named Asia is black.

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