You may remember a while ago I had the pleasure of creating a top 5 collab with the wonderful Jordanne. She is truly a wellspring of creativity so when she suggested a further collab I was genuinely excited!
Now the subject here may be a little delicate so I am going to reuse Jordanne’s own words, since she explains it better than I could:
“I will start off here, just to be safe, by saying that at no point in this post do I mean to cause
anyone any offense whatsoever. If I do offend you with anything I write here, please, educate me and explain my error and why you found it offensive, so I might do better next time (without my getting upset and hiding from the internet for 3 days)….
…In case you haven’t heard the term before, racebending is defined as: ‘Racebending is a neologism used to describe a process where a character’s perceived race or ethnicity is changed in a narrative by an adapter as it is created in a new media form.’ – (The
Audiopedia, 2017) (There is also the definition that racebending applies only when characters of colour are played by white actors, but I believe based on the context I’ve heard it used in more recently that the definition has been retconned to reflect the one above.) (IRINA: I’ve heard the term whitewashing used for that definition)
So, on with the post. I was prompted with this idea after I read an article on TOR.com entitled
‘Miles Morales Is Not Peter Parker: Why New Characters Don’t Solve the Problem of Diverse
Representation’ by Steven Padnick. It discussed, essentially, the importance of racebending
iconic characters when the opportunity presents itself in order to create more genuine diverse
representation. It’s an interesting article that I highly recommend you read, and it got me thinking about racebending in a whole new way.”
I’ve avoided just hijacking Jordanne’s entire post but I wanted to. It’s thought provoking and extremely well written. I strongly urge you to go read the whole thing for yourself.
I will throw in a few words of my own before we start listing things. I also do not mean to offend anyone and welcome your criticism. This being the internet and all, outrage is sort of the native tongue but please understand that this is really just a thought exercise in the benefits of diversity in a classic narrative.
Also, it’s no secret that anime as a medium is highly homogenous when it comes to race. Although more diverse characters have slowly started to trickly in over the past few years, you are still more likely to see a person with tentacles than a visible minority. And as such, there is potential for a lot of untouched narrative wealth in adding in some different racial perspectives to anime.
Again, if I stumble over my thoughts and they happen to come out tone death, tell me. I want to get smarter every chance I get!
Any long running fighting shonen protagonist
I once did a post on the top 5 ladies who happen to be Shonen protagonists and it was difficult. I had to result to a few deuteragonists just to make it to 5. I have to say, if I needed to do the same with racial minorities, I don’t think I would be able to come up with a single one.
It doesn’t actually need to affect anything at all in the characterization or plot structure in any way. But when you’re dealing with a medium that’s not limited by the actors you can find, why not throw in a little variety. Just for fun if nothing else. OK so maybe Naruto, coming from a classic little japanese village wouldn’t make much sense but Goku’s an alien. He could have been purple.
Hachiman (SNAFU) – Kodaka (Haganai) – Riyugi (Toradora) – Maika (Blend S) – Kazuya Kujo (Gosick)
All of these characters are supposed to be shunned or considered scary and intimidating because of their looks, but all of them look pretty normal. Kodaka is supposedly shunned because of his dirty blonde hair but there are two other blondes in the main cast. I know the colour’s a little different but it still makes little sense. Maika is downright just cute.
What I’m saying is if you’re going to have a main character who is openly discriminated against because of their looks (Maika can’t find a job because she looks mean…) you might as well add in the racial dimension. It wouldn’t affect the plot or dialogue in any way but it would add in a touch of realism and give your audience something to chew on when it comes to how we treat each other.
Taiga Kagami – Kuroko no Basuke
I could have picked any sports anime really but I singled out Taiga because he’s already an outsider. Kuroko no Basuke occasionally has a bit of trouble developing it’s characters, luckily it has enough episodes to sort everyone out but it does fresort to a few shortcuts, trying to pass off quirks as personalities and incidents as backgrounds.
Taiga being one of the main characters, gets more attention than most, still for a long time his character was basically, really big and good a basketball because he’s half americain. That’s it. We do get some notion that he’s isolated and feels like a stranger. He’s bad a Japanese and gawked at by strangers, but the show never goes into it too deeply. Giving him even a subtle racebent would have allowed them to develop that idea so much more without having to actually devote and plot or dialogue to it.
The simple implications would have made his unique situation much clearer to the audience and given his character a bit of depth and flavour. It would also have brought up some very interesting questions when you consider his tendencies towards defensiveness and defending the odd man out.
Roy Mustang – Fullmetal Alchemist
Is it just me or does Roy already look like he comes from Xing?
Fullmetal alchemist is one of the few series with distinguishable race groups. Unfortunately they are completely segregated through plot and history. It’s also one of the few animes that openly deals with racial tension, and it does so fairly well.
Amestris is obviously modeled after Nazi Germany so the strong unwaveringly arian features of the citizens are to be expected. However, a pushback against this single race doctrine can be seen throughout the series. For better or for worse, the leading architect of change, and the man most likely to shape the future of the nation is Roy Mustang. Someone who already stands out in so many ways.
I understand that within the context of this particular narrative, a racebend Roy Mustang might never have existed. He would not have had the opportunities to rise within the ranks at all. Although, his natural talent as an alchemist may have countered some of the bias against him. I’m still not entirely sure it can work in my mind but I would have loved to see all those high stakes political games played by a man who also has a genetic obstacle to overcome. Mustang is a crafty fellow and he would have figured out how to get himself in the rooms he needs to be in despite this, but it would have been a challenge. And that challenge would have been fascinating to watch.
Light Yagami – Death Note
I wouldn’t say I like Light but he’s a good character. A fantastic antagonist and a great subverted hero. One of Light’s strengths as a character is (somewhat ironically) his single mindedness. Light’s extreme and debatable views on “justice” and individual “social responsibility” guide his every actions, giving him a keen sense of purpose and direction. One of the better points of Death Note’s narrative is that Light starts of not only sounding generally reasonable, but even somewhat admitable. His motivations are difficult to argue with at the start and you can see why an idealistic young man would hold such beliefs.
Over the course of the story, power slowly perverts both him and his goals but at the core, this brutal sense of justice remains. I found the discussion between the merits of punishment vs rehabilitation and the limits of our understanding of justice to be fascinating. Within the context of the story, the moral dilemmas are held to the concepts of criminality, eventually inserting the idea of policing moral standing. However, all if it stays within a social normative setting. Light, L and every other character in the story are from an average middle class background and represent the majority of the population.
I would have loved to see how Lights high and mighty ideals reconcile with systemic discrimination. How does one view “justice” in a criminal system that is simply less fair to some. How does one police the morality of bigotry? All of these are truly fascinating issues and very topical. And because Light is a deeply selfish young man, he probably would never think about any of them unless they affect him directly.
Well I have to say this assignment was something of a challenge but I really did enjoy writing it and it gave me the chance to think about the question of diversity in anime which is a valuable exercise in itself. Is there any character that comes to mind for you?
15 thoughts on “5 Anime Characters I’d Like To See Racebent”
That way, the creators could comment on how nationality shouldn’t have to colour people’s perceptions of others, how certain ethnicities are seen as desirable and some are not, and love transcends national boundaries (etc. etc.)…which kinda sounds like a reverse harem version of Hetalia, now that I think about it…
It may be that since Japan is more racially homogeneous than the US (and I have heard that even subtle racial differences play a big factor there) it may be it never occurs to them to make a character that is not white. I often thing they simply don’t know how to draw anything BUT western Caucasians. How many times have we seen, for example, Black characters drawn like some 1930s cartoon? Or drawn to reflect some racial stereotype? They don’t even draw Japanese faces that well in anime.
Michiko and Hatchin is one of those extraordinarily rare exceptions. Even there the “quality” renderings were limited to important characters. Secondary characters were still rendered as caricatures.
Well it’s slowly changing.
I enjoyed this post even more than the first time I read it. I still love the Light angle so much – would he still maintain these ideals had he been the subject of discrimination himself? Would his concept of justice be different? Who knows – amazing post Irina, it was awesome writing with you again!
Thanks again or giving me the opportunity. I would never have come up with this on my own
This feels a bit like an odd topic, for me. For starters, there’s the social context: how homogenous is the society where you come from? Anime audience in the western blogosphere is international. Race is hard to define. You get plenty of asians who’ve grown up outside of Asia watching anime. You get typical Western stereotypes in anime, who behave exactly like Japanese except for some superficial markers that respond to stereotypes. And at the same time you get western fans claiming anime characters look white (haven’t come across this one in years, but I’ve heard this from my father as far back as the 80ies, and I’ve read blog-posts debunking it, so other people must have encountered this, too).
Among your mentions is Kazuya Kujo from Gosick, and this gets my mind in a twist: he’s the only Japanese character in the entire cast (except maybe his sister? Mother? some relative? It’s been a while.) It’s the Japanese-boy-away-from-home trope. There quite literally already is a racial angle, but it’s unusual in that the outsider shares the race with the audience. If he looks normal within an anime context that’s because he’s quite literally the representative of every regular anime protaginist in this show full of foreigners in their homeland. You get shows like these now and then (Ikoku Meiro no Croiseé and Little Witch Academia come to mind). It’s just that often the character designs don’t make the difference as obvious as it would be in real life. When you abstract people to the extent that anime often does, racial difference is reduced to iconicity. (It’s been a while, but in Gossick the only difference I remember noticing is that Kujo’s hair and eyes are a little darker than those around him (there are brown-haired characters on the show, but I think they were lighter shades?).
I haven’t seen Kuroku no Basket, but what you write makes me wonder, too. American is a nationality, so what does it mean to be half-American? Is he an American of Japanese decent? Does he have American citizenship because he’s been born there? Are both his parents ethnically asian? I admit I read your sentence at fist as “[really big and good at basketball] [because he’s half american]”, and I imagined there’s supposed to be some white/black ancestry baked in – the genes made him tall. But of course the sentence has also the following reading: “[really big] and [good at basketball because he’s half american]”.
A lot of attempts at racial portrayal may work in one place and not in another, because stereotpyes and perceptions differ. So racebending is rather difficult, when the real world is involved, and you’re not talking about “homegrown” media. Full Metal Alchemist may be the best example (I haven’t seen the show so I don’t actually know), because, while probably inspired by real-world settings, the setting re-defines race in its own terms. So maybe fantasy shows that play completely in another world without a tranfer character are the best examples? (A lot of shounen fighters would apply, actually.)
To be honest, I don’t feel up to the task.
That’s o.k., it’s an odd topic for everyone.
When I saw the title of this post, I felt apprehensive a bit. But after reading your post, I loved it so much. I think having racially diverse characters, especially for Roy Mustang and Taiga, would have been really interesting. As someone who reads a lot and is a huge film nerd, having those racially diverse people really do add to the tension and challenges of a narrative, especially when you need subtle development or struggles. For Taiga, it always boggled my mind when he would talk about “being different” in Japan and being an outsider because there’s a disconnect for what outsiders are truly like in Japan versus his character. So that’d be very fascinating to see. This was brilliant. I loved it. Keep it up!! 💖💖💖
It’s definitely a tricky topic but Jordanne the thought experiment can be interesting
It’s a very interesting and thought provoking post. Especially the paragraph about Light. It’s without a doubt differences between how I, who has grown up in a white middle class suburb (with a police dad) sees justice, and how my muslim neighbor who has met several racists through out their years here and not being listened to by the law sees justice.
Justice is a very subjective thing
Hmm didn’t knew Kagami was half-american, I mean it’s not state once in the anime or on his character wikia page (unless it mention it in the manga and the wikia just decide to left that out.)
Kagami moved in the US cause of his father work when he was around 8 (third grade) and come back in Japan for his last year of middle school (which mean 14 since his bday his in August) in other world he pass 6 year in America which could explain his difficulties in Japanese abd when he seems awkward with the Japanese culture.
When he moved in America he also had the language barrier his he didn’t speak a word of english that moment. His only friend was Himuro who was also japanese.
Haven’t seen the anime yet (tried the manga once or twice but the artstyle made the characters’ lips distracting), but a multiethnic Ouran High School Host Club would be interesting (aside from “Tamaki being French to some degree”). That way, the creators could comment on how nationality shouldn’t have to colour people’s perceptions of others, how certain ethnicities are seen as desirable and some are not, and love transcends national boundaries (etc. etc.)…which kinda sounds like a reverse harem version of Hetalia, now that I think about it…
(…whoops, didn’t mean to tack that to the bottom of Mel’s reply, but my answer still stands.)
oh good pull!