I started watching anime when I was 14 during grade nine in Junior School. I remember the son of one of my father’s friends convincing me to give it a try. I was very hesitant at first; during that time in my life, my friends and classmates considered anime as a nerd and geek thing. Watching anime was the quickest way to be an outcast, and I did not want to be teased or ostracized for the rest of my high school experience. However, this guy was persistent. He showed me that anime was more than Naruto, Dragon Ball and Sailor Moon. I had a serious fixation with the horror genre. So, he showed me a list of horror anime such as Elfen Lied, Deadman’s Wonderland, and Attack on Titan, before it became famous. I watched them all and fell in love with all of them. At this point, I have become obsessed with anime. I was teased a little, but my mom got me a lot of anime merchandise, especially backpacks, for school. This was before everyone was buying anime merchandise, so it was made specially (that is what I would like to believe).
When I first started watching anime, Black representation never really crossed my mind. I guess I was already used to the lack of representation in other forms of media like western cartoons, films, and TV shows. In a way, I became desensitized and never understood the importance of Black representation. Although this may have been the case, I can still recall certain characters that I took comfort in, one of them being Dutch from Black Lagoon, my favorite anime. As a young teenager, I never exactly understood his character, which does not shock me because Black Lagoon is a very mature anime. However, I did find him very interesting; he was a favorite of mine. Dutch is a 40–50 African American man that was captain of the ex-U.S. Navy PT boat. He is also a former Marine who fought in the Vietnam War. Before the war ended, he deserted his post and escaped to Thailand to work as a mercenary.
He started the Lagoon Company that consists of three other employees. The Lagoon Company is a for-hire service that is hired by different criminal organizations to locate, retrieve, and smuggle items. Despite his lifestyle, Dutch is a polite and laid-back character and is viewed as the mentor of his company. I know it is weird saying I find comfort in a mercenary as a character, but as a 14-year-old, I did find it surprising to have a Black main character in an anime. It was not unheard of but really uncommon, so I found that very interesting.
When I was about 17, I decided to give Black Lagoon another watch, and the importance of representation became a little clearer to me. There is actually a scene where Dutch encounters Asian neo-Nazis, and they try to kill him instead of his Asian employee that is actively shooting at them. Although an extreme example, it did shine the light on issues of racism that my community and I face. I also appreciate the writers of the Black Lagoon not perpetuating negative stereotypes for Dutch’s character. They did not make him a loud, obnoxious gangbanger. Despite being a criminal, they gave him an intellectual, calm, and somewhat fatherly appearance in the anime. He kind of reminds me of some characters that Denzel Washington played.
Now that I am older, I do understand the importance of Black representation. I acknowledge that seeing those like me on my favorite shows has a positive effect because it reminds me that I matter, that my community and I are being seen, and that we are taking strides towards a better tomorrow. With Japan being a homogenous country, it is heart-warming to see animation studios, anime, and manga creators take the necessary steps to implement diversity within the art and the industry. I hope discussing Dutch from Black Lagoon and why he stood out to me displays how important Black representation is to me.
Here is a list of famous Black anime characters:
– Kaname Tosen & Yoruichi Shihouin – Bleach
– Coffee – Cowboy Bepop
– Carole Stanley – Carole and Tuesday
– Michiki Malandro & Atsuko Jackson – Michiko and Hatchin
– Muhammed Avdol – JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure
– Kaz Kaan – Neo Yokio
– Darui, Karui, Omoi, Killer B and A ( Fourth Raikage)– Naruto Shippuden
– Canary – Hunter x Hunter
– Afro Samurai – Afro Samurai
– Rock Lock/ Ken Takagi
– Philly the kid – Canon Busters