Over on Karandi s blog, I wrote a post about the general trends we see in the way foreign characters are portrayed in anime. And by foreign, I meant characters that are not Japanese but are in a Japanese setting. How outsiders are shown to interact with Japanese society and culture. It’s a subject I had been meaning to write about for a while now and I’m glad I did.  I actually did some research and everything.

Today I m just doing a listicle cause we ain’t fancy here! I’m sticking by the same rules though or else there would be way too many characters to choose from. So here are 5 of my favourite foreigners in anime:

assassination classoroom irina

5) Irina Jelavic – Assassination Classroom

I’ll admit at first I just chose Irina for the list because she has the same name and background as me. The eastern European part not the war orphan assassin part. I’m not a war orphan. After all, in an anime about a group of social misfits centred around a literal alien, Irina’s just not that special. (If I had a nickel…)

But the more I thought about it, the more something struck me. Irina is often the butt of the joke. Her childish bratty nature is played for laughs but the narrative isn’t entirely unkind to her. It treats her many skills with the respect they deserve and is solemn and kind to her difficult past. But what’s really interesting is the biases. Of all the prominent adult characters in Assassination Classroom, Irina is the only one who is not Japanese, she’s also considerably less disciplined, more flighty and hot-blooded than all the other ones.

This is almost opposite of the traditional North American stereotype of the ex-communist sexy spy. We usually see the dangerous eastern European beauties portrayed as cold, methodical and unnervingly calm. This spoiled brat would never fit in! I personally love this presentation. I’m taking it as permission to act like a little spoiled princess as much as I want.

nagi ryouga
you could be fooled into thinking he knows what he’s doing

4) Rokuya Nagi – Idolish 7

Nagi from Idolish 7 is in your face foreign. This character will not let you forget he’s not from pure Japanese anime heritage. Sure there’s the blonde hair but in a series where everyone else has anime hair, this isn’t that remarkable. No, Nagi’s claim to fame is his unmistakable accent. He sounds like what I would imagine the Swedish Chef would sound like in Japanese.

For those of you who don’t know who the Swedish Chef is: TADA! Imagine hearing that in Japanese for an entire series. It started out as a mix of baffling and hilarious, became sort by annoying, moved into weirdly charming territory and finally settled as amusing. In any case, it was impossible to ignore. It was also the first time I really noticed an accent (as take as it may be) in Japanese and I give them props for that.

I really liked Gabriel

3) Gabriel – Gabriel DropOut

Technically Gabriel is a foreigner. And again blonde… I’m noticing a trend! Ok so being a celestial being may not be what you have in mind when you think from a different land but it applies. Besides, there’s canon reason for her inclusion in this list.

Those of you who have seen the show may remember that poor little Gabriel finds herself forced to get a job at some point. Fortunately for her, she somehow manages to land the world’s coolest boss. Now Gabriel does have some pretty peculiar habits. Some stemming from said celestial origin but some just because she’s a weirdo. And being on a shift doesn’t stop her from acting a bit, let’s say, “off”.

However, all is forgiven as her ever-patient Master (that’s just how everyone calls the owner. It’s not creepy…) knows that you can’t blame foreigners for being different!


L always looks insane in stills

2) L – Death Note 

When I was doing this list I actually forgot that L is not Japanese. It’s not like it’s important to the story in any way. I don’t remember it coming up at all. But I think the reason I almost overlooked him, and the reason he really should be on this list is that he’s a complete foreigner trope subversion. Also, cause L is just awesome!

Black haired, socially awkward and relatively quiet, brilliant but less inclined to physical outbursts is the British boy L. His Japanese counterpart, Light, is just as smart but much more traditionally athletic and physically imposing. He’s also more boisterous and sociable and fair-haired! Does it seem like the stereotypes got invested somehow?

And I think it is relevant that while neither character is a paragon of moral virtue, in the end, it’s the Japanese man that got judged as the villain. I’m spoilers… I only noticed these particularities while I was putting the list together and I am once again impressed by this series.

you earned it

1) Syaoran Li – Cardcaptor Sakura

When we think of foreigners in Anime, we generally think of Europeans or Americans. Well, I do. Somehow it slips my mind that Asia is a huge and diverse continent with a wide range of nationalities to choose from. That’s why seeing Li for the first time in Cardcaptor Sakura felt so refreshing.

Sure customs and minutia may be a bit closer between Chinese and Japanese cultures but a clash is still inevitable. One of the most memorable moments of the series for me was finding out that hard working and disciplined Lee might be failing his exams. Having arrived only recently in Japan he was still struggling with reading and writing the language which made everything else so much harder.

Such a small detail but it brought so much depth to the character. The proud young man forced to take blow after blow to his ego and carrying all of it alone. Having to work twice as hard to achieve half of what his classmates did without realizing it. I suddenly sympathized with him so much that to this day I want to get him a cupcake. Cupcakes are my hugs.

There you have it. My top 5 foreigners in anime. As I was writing this so many other characters popped up in my mind. Do you have a favourite? Who is it?

Yuri on ice isn’t set in Japan exactly…


12 thoughts

  1. One foreign manga character I wish I could have seen in an anime: Billy from Alice 19th. He’s a magic-using, engaged African-American postal worker. Nice guy, too. He came in late in the series, but he needed more time!

  2. @Gabriel Dropout: Isn’t it interesting how all the angels and demons in that show have Japanese/English compound names? Never thought about this before.

  3. Well, given you pointed out Yuri on Ice isn’t strictly speaking set in Japan I guess Victor doesn’t count… I guess I’d have to go with Hei from Darker Than Black – though I’m not sure if he’s actually Chinese or just pretending to be a Chinese exchange student. They really don’t make that particularly clear.

  4. Syaoran and L are good choices for anime foreigners. Here are some of my favorites that I can think of at the top of my head in no particular order…

    Fee Carmichael from Planetes (African-American)
    Hajji Rahmani from Yugo the Negotiator (Pakistani)
    Yomiko Readman from Read or Die (Japanese/British mixed)

    1. Those are all great – I need to remeber them if I make a lost for anime set outside of Japan.

  5. Hi Irina, I think your blog is really cool and kudos for refreshing it on a daily basis. I wonder where you get your mojo!

    This is such an intriguing topic so I am throwing iny 2 cents: I vote for Hei from Darker than Black

    1. I still need to see Darker Than Black. I have to find a way to watch it legally up here

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