If you watch anime on a regular basis or have seen imagery from some of the most popular series, you might notice a few patterns related to the physical appearances of the characters. For example, while there are some compelling black anime characters with decent fanbases and significant narrative influence, the majority of main characters in anime tend to be Japanese and/or a generic kind of “white.” We also have some common appearances and personalities among other types of characters—such as female characters being less capable, or less important to the plot in anime based on shonen manga. Diverse representation and inclusion are important, but should anime be held to the same standards, and strive for more inclusion in the industry?
Why Diversity and Representation Are Important
First, let’s explore why it’s important for our movies and TV shows to be diverse and inclusive. There are a handful of main motivations here:
- Feelings of acceptance. Seeing onscreen characters that look like you can make you feel more accepted. There’s no shortage of white characters in anime for white people to feel attached to and resonate with, but for various minority groups, there aren’t as many chances to feel truly connected with onscreen characters.
- Story ideas. In many cases, having more diversity in your cast of characters can lead to more diverse, interesting story ideas. If all your characters look the same, have the same backgrounds, and have the same values, there’s not as much room for conflict, and you don’t have as many new ideas to branch out with.
- Author and animation opportunities. Encouraging more diversity within an industry can also increase the number of opportunities for minorities as authors, animators, showrunners, actors, and other prominent roles. For example, an anime with an all-black cast of characters would practically need an all-black cast of voice actors, providing more opportunities to people who might otherwise miss out on them.
- Reduction of racism. One of the best ways to reduce racial prejudice and outright racism is mere exposure. The more time a person spends with people of other races and from other backgrounds, the lower their feelings of prejudice become toward people of those races and backgrounds. Including more of those types of characters in media is a quick way to get more exposure to the masses.
So should anime strive to be more racially inclusive? The straightforward answer is yes, but there are a few considering factors we need to keep in mind before we pass judgment on the current state of the industry. For example, in Japan, Ethnic Japanese make up 98.5 percent of the local population (though this may be an estimate, with the “real” figures unknown). Much of the rest of the population is comprised of Koreans and Chinese. This doesn’t lead to a lot of actual diversity in Japan, where most anime originates, compared to other countries like the United States, where white people make up 77.7 percent of the population.
That said, this isn’t a free pass to have your media dominated by 98.5 percent the same characters. Anime has fanbases all over the world, and those fanbases are filled with people from differing backgrounds and of different races. Creating more series with a diverse cast of characters would enable more appreciation within those fanbases, or even open new audiences to the world of anime.
Conventions in Anime
We also need to consider some of the conventions in certain types of anime. Anime simply refers to an animation style, so it can (and frequently does) include a wide variety of different story arcs and types of characters, but some of the most popular anime series fall into generic formats, following protagonists through the same types of trials and tribulations. Even if a character is of a different race or from a different background, they might not deviate from that path, minimizing the potential impact of allowing for more diverse types of storytelling.
Should Anime Be Held to a Different Standard?
Anime isn’t the same as something like the American film industry, so it shouldn’t necessarily be held to the same standards. It requires additional, specific considerations due to its country of origin and current conventions in the genre. That said, encouraging more diversity in the medium couldn’t hurt—especially for international audiences, who want to take part in and feel closer to their favorite series. And because of that, we should strive to have more inclusion in the industry.