Blacks In Videogames/Anime

I'm sure most of you know that I have a geek side to me but I'm not sure if you guys realize the extent of my geekdom. I like alot of geeky things. I collected D.C and Marvel cards when I was younger, read comic books and manga, watched anime, and most of all play videogames. I'm sad to say I haven't changed much (but I don't collect cards anymore). Most people are shocked when they find out how much of a nerd I am because I guess I don't really exude that vibe but I am.

Now because of my nerdyness I feel like I have a pretty good handle on the next topic. But first I am going to share a story with you.

I was recently playing a video game called Mass Effect (It's a sci fi rpg on the 360 that is freaking awesome. If you haven't played it you should and if you have, get the 2nd one too!) and my little cousin was watching me play. In the game, you can create your own specific character design. I created a character that was a black female (naturally since I am one). My little cousin took one look and asked me, "Can you make your own person in this game?" I replied 'yes'. He nods and responds "I thought so because there is no way they'd have a black girl as the main person"

I was shocked by how astute his observation was. This led me to think of black people in videogames/anime and they're existence in the virtual reality world.

I always wondered why in anime, specifically the ones in the 80's-early 90's (Think Sailor Moon, Revolutionary Girl Utena, The Roses of Versaille,etc) ,featured people with very Caucasian features as major characters and yet these cartoons where created by Asians? Or even video games. If you've ever played any of the games in the Final Fantasy franchise, (specially final fantasy 12), most characters have fair hair and fair eyes.Now, there is nothing wrong with that but I've always noticed it. Perhaps its because popular media from the Western world (which admittedly is dominated by whites) would be a huge influence on these people. So add that on top of the fact that most of the media I indulge in is produced by Asian/white developers and the representations can get sort of screwed.

But I'm not just blaming them-I'm blaming us too. We allow ourselves to be portrayed stupidly on television (example-watch an hour of VH1 reality television or Maury). Sure, we can blame the media for only showing this side of us and not the affluent African Americans we never hear about, but there comes a point when maybe we have to put the blame on ourselves to allow these images to be circulated through out the world then be surprised when a foreigner depicts us in such a way. Also-unfortunately, (I can say this because I'm black), a lot of black people have a stick up their butt for no reason. I'm not saying other races don't but if my boss, who's a black woman, tells me that she loves black people but sometimes we can be just plain mean to others as well as each other-something is bat shit wrong.
I'm so afraid now that these stereotypes and depictions are so far ingrained in our culture that we can't even dig ourselves out of it. It's a double edged sword. Because if we act ghetto, mean, and uneducated it's expected but if we act normal, educated, nice, then we are being weird and assimilators. But I digress.

In the typical video game and/or anime we are usually either portrayed like Mr. Popo in DBZ (completely black, featureless besides for bright red/pink lips and white eyes ala black face) or some jive turkey cool cat gangster type. *sigh*. And its considered okay and not offensive.
We mainly fit into these roles:
*Tough, big, slightly imposing, but loveable black guy (Think Barret In FF7)
*Funny, comic relief sidekick
*Hyper sexualized, tough, power bitch (Afro Diva-Cowboy Bebop)
*Dark skinned, light haired, not really sure if they are black but we'll just throw them in there so we can have someone ethnic looking-girl.
*Jive turkey Villain

I mean, Nadia The Secret of the Blue Water, the main characters (who's name is central African) is black and the writers/developers originally drew her with kinky hair but they instead made it wavy because they didn't think Japanese people would take her as a main character.
In the upcoming FF13, one of the sidekicks-who is a black guy-carries around a little bird in his 'bird nest' hair and is the comic relief. Maybe I'm taking it all too seriously but c'mon!

I attribute all of this to plain simple lack of exposure. But it IS getting better. I've started to notice a lot of newer anime/manga has a more positive representation of blacks which makes me think we are going in the right direction. (Which may make future cosplaying easier. Although I haven't had the guts to cosplay yet...might be too nerdy).

I'm definitely going to make a pt. 2, probably regarding the Princess and The Frog and other animations I wanted to cover but I ended up not getting to. This was really just skimming the topic but I would like to go more in depth. Anyways, I want your opinion. White or Black, offensive or not. Talk to me.

(BTW-if any of you have a 360 you should totally give me your GT and I'll message you)


thatcrazyolgoth said…
Interesting post, although when im playing games I always create a character thats the complete opposite of who I am in reality, sounds a little strange, but to be able to do things and be something other than what I am every day of the week is nice.
Especially in Mass Effect (2 now) choosing insulting conversation paths is always fun!

My live tag:
RainaHavock said…
As a fellow Anime and Video game lover I agree with the post. Also I'm glad I'm not the only one who notice Mr. Popo looked like the Aunt Jemima figure. That's why I am so happy they have games were you can create your own character. Also nice to know somebody else knows about Utena Revolutionary Girl that was the first Manga I ever read.
@thatcrazyolgoth-That makes sense. I always invest too much into character creating processes when I am able to edit characters. I can spend a long time trying to make it like me but just tweaked, lol. Mass Effect is awesome though and I hope some time we can play. If you get a random friend request soon it's probably from me.
@RainaHavock-Nerds unite! lol. Yeah, I always had a problem with Mr. Popo-even if he was supposed to be more Indian looking, it's still an offensive representation to any dark skinned person.
Anonymous said…
Luke sez:

I don't reckon anime characters are white.

This one is hilarious (wait for the ending)

anyways it's a shame they can't have a non stereotype black folks in anime, it's just a fact of life that whites and Asians pretty much run the mainstream culture of the planet and you're shit out of luck if you're outside of that.

It's funny how you said "Jive Turkey" I just remembered the black black market (2x black) dealer in Battle Angel Alita.

I still can't think of any, the only other black character I vaguely remember is some black chick in Crying Freeman, but I'm 90% sure she was a stereotype, at the very least she was hyper sexualized.
blackmetaller said…
As far the blame partly lying with ourselves if you spend five minutes in harajuku on a weekend you'll see exactly where the stereotypes are coming from. The african dudes standing outside the shops trying to drag you in whilst doing the hip hop minstrel routine aren't doing us any favours at all. Japan is still every internal so the positive images of black people that come from the u.s and u.k (what few there are)aren't really picked up too often. Really if we want to see change in the way we as a race are percieved we need to get out there and make ourselves known (I was there was a tourist flashing cash in akiba and roppongi like it was going out of fashion, and I saw a few man mountain business men in
Nuclear Mamba said…
I agree with most of the things you've said. My favorite black anime character is Michiko Malandro from Michiko to Hatchin, but even she kind of falls into the "Hyper sexualized, tough, power bitch" category. However, I kind of let it slide with her because she does have a certain depth beyond the stereotype.

Also, believe it or not, but I actually don't watch anime very much; maybe once every other month. However, I still get kind of excited when I see an (awesome) black character for once. We can only hope that there will be more in the future.

I do somewhat disagree with one of your points, though. You said that us black people should begin to act better so we can change our image. I actually do agree that A LOT of us need to get our act together, but at the same time, I don't think it's fair when ordinary black people are expected to take the blame for the "hoodrats". I think that even if 95% of black people were good, law abiding citizens, that 5% would still be broadcast as the "typical" black person.

Anyway, I'm getting way off the subject, so I'll go ahead and commend you for this entry. It was put together very well.
Viajera said…
Thanks so much for pointing this out. I have to admit that I've never understood why anime characters are so Caucasian-looking. I mean, they try to do something with the eyes, but it's a stereotypical "white" look. My Asian friends tell me that they didn't notice until I point it out, and even then, they have no problems with it. Well, most of them believe they're white, but that's another story altogether. ;)
As to the portrayal of dark-skinned people... I guess the animators are still living in some kinda black-face/Aunt Jemima/plantation world. :P
Great post! You should get this published.
Silver said…
Where have you been? Come baaaack! D=
Cory said…
You may find this article on perceived race in anime interesting:

According to the study, caucasians overestimated the presence of white anime characters by more than six times of what was intended. Even asians thought the balance of asian to caucasian characters was pretty close, estimating about four times more whites than was intended.

On a related note, I noticed that someone in the comments said their favorite black character in anime is Michiko Malandro from Michiko to Hatchin. The anime is set in Brazil and considering Brazil has some of the largest mixed-race proportion of any country in the world, I was surprised that they perceived Michiko as black.

The Brazilian population was shaped by an influx of Portuguese settlers and African slaves (mostly Bantu and West African) and then in the late 19th to early 20th century there was the "Great Immigration" of Portuguese, Italian, Spanish and German origin, but also from Japan, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe. Brazil contains the largest population of Japanese people outside of Japan, so when I watched the anime "Michiko to Hatchin", I assumed the characters with Japanese names were probably half or partially Japanese.

Additionally, the notion of "black" and "white" in Brazil is basically meaningless, they have many words to describe skin-tone ranging from (branca (white), clara, castanha, morena, mestiça, mista (miscigenated, mixed), parda, mulata, negra (black), petra (black)) well as perceptions of Asian and Amerindian heritage. Even the government census classifies the population into 5 racial categories: white, black, pardo (brown), yellow, and indigenous, which seems racist as hell especially considering it's such a cultural and racial melting pot.

Anyway, my personal perception of the Michiko character was that she was partially Japanese, partially hispanic and/or black. It could really be anything in Brazil ESPECIALLY considering how race in anime is sort of surreal anyway (Japanese/white characters with neon hair and neon's not really a real life species even, haha).
NuclearMamba said…
Sorry for the double (now triple) post. Every time I submitted something, it said that the website was down. =\
Damocles said…
As a black anime fan, I really do feel your pain. Don't give up hope yet! I recently watched gundam 00 and saw a perfectly normal gundam pilot who just happened to be a black man with braids. No odd skin tones,giant lips, or any of that other garbage.
Kelly said…
I'm not going to argue with your main point, but I have to defend Cowboy Bebop here. As you know, that show combined different genres, and often did a take on a particular genre with an episode. "Ganymede Elegy" is the retired cop drama, "Ballad of Fallen Angels" is a dark action revenge/redemption drama, and a number of them are western takeoffs.

The episode in question, "Mushroom Samba", was intended as a spoof of blaxploitation films of the 70's. Since it's a spoof/homage to a genre which was intentionally, uh, racist/stereotypical, I don't think the episode itself or the show can be considered racist.

The episode before that, "Black Dog Serenade" (named for Jet and the Led Zeppelin song) included a non-stereotyped black character, a highly-skilled assassin, and in the end it's not him who seems like the real bad guy.
Viagra said…
You are so right. I had seen that before but never gave it much more of a thought. And that little cousin of yours is very clever to point out that they will never use a black Woman as main character... ow far have gone?
Anonymous said…
hmm... really good points. But as a white person, I have to say that I don't really identify most anime/jrpg characters as white (including most FF games) - to me they seem like very pale skin asians, as I don't identify with their facial features. And it's understandable in my view - while most white people strive to get good tan colouring, asian culture values pale skin ... so I think they are making idealized asian characters rather than white ones (just as a number of idealized white representations can be so tanned as to almost look latin).
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mrda said…
Isn't Mr Popo meant to be some kinda otherworldly genie and not human, let alone melanite? I do think Toriyama modelling him on a fat golliwog doll was unfortunate, though.
@mrda-First, Welcome to the blog!
Anyways, I think gollywogs were meant to be representations of all 'dark skinned' peoples.
Originally, someone pointed out to me that because he is a genie type-would'nt that imply that he as Indian or middle eastern?
I still find it offensive even if it is meant for Indians. It should be for all people of color. The gollywog is an racist depiction of colored people period, no?
At least thats how I see it.
I know that wasn't Toriyama's intent (probably was innocent enough) but it still sucks.
helluvadrug said…
Abagond has an amazing post that may answer some questions and perhaps raise a few others:
MetalFRO said…
Interesting thoughts. Part of the "Caucasian persuasion" in anime is due to the Japanese proclivity toward all things Western, thus the anime and manga often depicting large-breasted women (somewhat uncommon in Japan, at least naturally) as well as more Caucasian features. This is not true of the genre as a whole, but a large enough percentage supports this theory, especially since non-Caucasian peoples are still seen as "minorities" in the West.

A somewhat stereotypical, yet still positive black video game character that comes to mind is Barret fro Final Fantasy VII. Sure, that could be seen as awfully cliche, especially given Barret's somewhat "ghetto" speech pattern, at least in the US translation of the game, but throughout the game his character is developed and you see more layers of him. Not just as a fighter or member of a loose "team" trying nobly to save the world, but also as a surrogate father to the little girl in his care, as well as to the members of his team he leads and tries to protect. What I like is that Barret is NOT a picture of a black man; he is a picture of a man. Flawed and vulnerable like all of humanity, but trying his best to do the right thing in the face of great odds. THAT is what will win the day - when the tone of the "virtual skin" is forgotten and what you see is a person in all of their layers.
Anonymous said…
Are you kidding me? That's absurd.

The reason there are less black people in anime is because 90% of it takes place in some version of JAPAN and there aren't many black (or white) people there.

Yes, there are people with blue eyes and blonde hair, but there are also people with blue hair and red eyes. In Japan, the majority of the population has the same hair and eye color, so it's common practice to dye it to stand out. Most characters in anime are Asian, and there's nothing racist about that.

The ironic thing is the real racism here is people who look at media, and have trouble relating to it unless the characters have the same skin color as them. Do you have the same problem when watching The Smurfs?
@anon: I never once said it was racist that this was going on. Just the truth. I'm talking about the black representation in Japanese anime-not necessarily the representations the Japanese themselves.
I don't see a lot of Japenese people with blonde hair and blue eyes. Those are certainly considered, 'Western' features. Western culture is very popular in Japan.
Calm down, horn nugget. lol
Anonymous said…
The little anime I've seen just features light skinned characters but, speaking of video games, Prototype 2 has an African American main character!

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