Black History Month – People of Color in Anime

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This is an editorial from one of Funimation’s Social Media Coordinators, Godswill Ugwa. These are his personal opinions that he invites you to chime in on!


Last year, I wrote my first editorial showing off black characters in anime. As a black nerd that grew up loving cartoons, movies, video games, and of course anime, black characters or People of Color (PoC) were hard to come by. The few PoC characters that were in media were often stereotypical, and it was hard for me to bond with them as believable characters.


Growing up (and even now), I looked to these aforementioned media sources for my heroes. Anime has provided many such heroes which I try to emulate, such as Simon the Digger from Gurren Lagann with his growth from shy and unassuming kid to the unflappable fighter legend. Or Luffy, the goofy yet brave and determined leader of the infamous/famous Strawhat Crew. However, although I love these guys, I’m always on the lookout for other heroes that look like, or represent, me.



In this anime list, I shout out some such anime characters that I believe do a solid job of representing people of color. They may not be a particular race in the typical standard of skin color/ethnicity, but they all, in one way or another, add to representation as a whole in this growing medium.


*Warning some spoilers may follow*


Black Lagoon



Black Lagoon Dutch


Black Lagoon is a great show all around, that mixes amazing action and complex character growth; but it earns a special place in my heart for the character known as Dutch. Even though I had been watching anime for a solid while when I came across Black Lagoon, I had never seen a “normal” looking Black guy in anime–regular hairstyle (or not in this case), normal human features, not cartoonishly oversized, etc–nor had I seen a Black guy in a main role. (Of course, I would watch Afro Samurai later and that would change.)



In fact, Dutch was able to stand toe-to-toe with some of the best fighters of the show, which is definitely saying something, and he was the organizational leader of the main group! He has qualities of a great leader and he oozes coolness like Shaft. Let me say I considered going bald for a minute to be more like him.


Dragon Ball Z



Piccolo Dragon Ball Z Backwards Hat


I know that this entry may be shocking to some. You may say, “What about Mr. Popo? He’s legitimately black.” But to that, I say that I synced with Piccolo and the Namekians more. The Namekians were an enslaved alien race under harsh rule that faced prejudice and even genocide. Piccolo stood out in personality and looks from his allies.



I wouldn’t necessarily say that Piccolo was black, but he was that “person of color” that I could relate with more than any other character (Gohan and Krillin are my other personal DBZ favorites). Piccolo always stood out in public and among his comrades with his obvious skin color and clothes, but he was never phased by it. He was the “other” in his group of already extraordinary humans/humanoids, and he had the least reason to fight with the Z Fighters: he’s not an Earthling and many of them were his enemies at a point. But he was one of the most reliable fighters and, strangely enough, the more human of his counterparts. (I mean, he was the best father for most of the show.)


Hunter x Hunter



Canary Hunter x Hunter


Although her stay in the show is much more temporary compared to the others on this list, she still left quite an impression on me.




First, it’s already rare to see PoC women in anime, much less so to see more normal-looking ones. That’s nothing against the cartoonish characters, but it’s always refreshing to see characters that are relatably realistic-looking, as she has natural curly hair (which I’ve never personally seen in anime) and familiar features that you may see on many real-life black girls.. Then as soon as she makes her introduction to the main characters, she proceeds to lay a humbling smackdown. Within a few episodes, she undergoes a deep backstory that showcases good character development and her skills. She’s tough physically, and has more personality than some main characters.


Michiko & Hatchin



Satoshi Michiko and Hatchin


At first glance, he’s very unassuming, especially since you have the fiery frontrunner of Michiko Malandro and the harshness of the city. But as you go through the show, you realize that Satoshi is definitely one of the hardest dudes to ever do it.



Although he’s an antagonist, he’s a character that leaves a mark on you and it’s hard to forget him; in fact, at times you root for him. As you go through the series, you see how the city forms him into a cold gang leader and killer. Every emotion that comes from this man is filled with ice which makes his overall dilemma more convincing. Not to mention, his action scenes are some of the coolest action scenes to come from Manglobe (a strong assertion as these guys made Samurai Champloo and Gangsta.)


*Bonus: The opening to Michiko and Hatchin remains one of my favorites as it is sooooo funky!



Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders

Mohammed Avdol



Avdol was a shocking addition to the typical roster of Jojo’s compatriots to me. As I started Stardust Crusaders, I didn’t much think of Avdol as he was pretty distant to the rest of the team and I thought he was a transitory ally. I thought to myself, “they surely wouldn’t have an actual African as a partner on Jojo’s.” The other People of Color that appeared in the show in past seasons stayed for an episode or less to never be heard from again, so I didn’t have much hope.



But the show continued and Avdol became a bigger force in the show who developed more of a personality. Avdol was the voice of reason for the group and he was able to be both jovial and responsible. He fought better than some of the main characters and was one of the more reliable ones when fighting villains.


Wolf’s Rain

Tsume & Blue


Blue Wolf's RainTsume Wolf's Rain


This one is more of a stretch as they technically aren’t even people, they’re wolves that can look like humans (Blue is half dog/half wolf and all foxy). But their human forms represent badass People of Color. Although their skin color isn’t an issue in this world, these two live like Piccolo above as special humanoids that don’t quite fit in with either of the worlds they belong to.



These two are some of the best fighters within the pack of wolves and are the toughest and more reliable of fighters. They also undergo the most character development within the journey of the show as they change from distant lone wolves that don’t like people (or other wolves) to connected team players that do all they can to protect their pack.



While I made this anime list of PoC anime characters that influenced my life, I know I left off many that others would include. Who are your favorites? Who do you think showcase growth the best? Let us know in the comments and thanks for reading!



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