I remember when I became an anime fan.
I was nine years old living in Johannesburg, South Africa. One afternoon, I saw a commercial for Dragon Ball Z with the tagline “You’ll never know what hit you.”
I was in love from the moment I saw that commercial and for the next few weeks Dragon Ball Z was all the kids at school could talk about. We couldn’t wait for first episode and after seeing Son Goku in action for the first time, we were hooked.
I hadn’t heard the word ‘anime’ until I moved to Canada in 2000. Back then there was an online chatroom called Yabbernet directed at kids aged 10-13 which had a dedicated anime room. Those were the only other kids I could talk to about anime because at my elementary school in rural Ontario, the only popular titles were Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh! which I did find to be fun games, but weak anime.
In addition to the lack of hardcore anime fans, there were only four other black kids. It wasn’t until I started going to Carleton University in 2008 that I started meeting more black people and trying to figure out where I fit in with them. Anime ended up being a huge factor in that.
I met one of my lifelong friends in Carleton residence because of anime. He noticed I was watching Dragon Ball Z and asked if he could join. We watched four full episodes before exchanging names. My mom’s side of the family is Cameroonian and his family was Ghanian so we immediately connected as children of West African diaspora.
I hadn’t met another person of color who loved anime as much as I did during my rural upbringing so I found this to be remarkable. He grew up in Scarborough around considerably more black people than me and would tell me about their favorite anime. That’s when I started noticing the relationship between blackness and anime.
Whether it was Kanye West saying Akira is one of his favorite movies, the anime inspiration behind Aaron McGruder’s The Boondocks or the time Soulja Boy was on the red carpet for the L.A. premiere of the Fullmetal Alchemist movie, there was evidence that black kids were growing up on anime and reciprocating that love.
Communities of black anime fans are popping up online to band together as well. Blogs like cosplayingwhileblack.tumblr.com are giving this subculture a place to come together and discuss their unique experiences. There are even black rappers like Josip on Deck making strides in a genre of music called Otaku Rap, where hip hop and anime merge seamlessly.
Anime studios aren’t blind to this development. They know their consumers and reflect that in their content. Samurai Champloo is inspired by hip hop culture, Michiko & Hatchin has a black protagonist and mega popular series Naruto: Shippuden has gone as far as having story arcs revolving around a village of black ninja.
North American black culture has adopted anime in interesting ways and the Japanese culture which produces the work has reciprocated the love. As a black anime fan it’s very interesting to see how mainstream anime has become. It’s important for us to examine these cultural connections and realize that while the world is still a big place, the internet keeps shrinking it by making it easier for us to consume entertainment created by other cultures.