Empowering Characters in Anime: Honoring Black History Month

Updated: Mar 8



Often in anime, it is very easy to get swept away by the plot or graphics or the notion that characters are primarily Japanese or European. It can sometimes be disappointing not to see some diversity in anime or if there is, the characters are ambiguous and hard to distinguish their ethnic background. Even worse, characters like Blackluster from One Punch Man can be construed as characters that perpetuate untrue generalizations erring on the side of racist. On the bright side, some characters of black descent have made their respective anime much more thrilling or captivating. Without further ado, it is time to briefly highlight some of the exceptional black supporting characters!


*Spoiler alert: If you have not watched some of the shows that will be discussed, feel free to skip that passage or read with caution.*


Canary

Canary is from Hunter x Hunter. For simplicity’s sake, only her character from the 2011 reboot will be discussed. Canary serves the Zoldyck family as a butler. She is an expert fighter who is a particularly quick learner, especially when she replicated Killua’s Rhythm Echo immediately after seeing it once; she can use nen to power Tsubone’s motorcycle.


Her initial appearance in the anime showed her ruthlessness when she attacked trespassers. Gon felt the full brunt of her possible wrath when he tried to see Killua at the Zoldyck mansion and after a full day of being struck by her cane, Canary implored Gon to give up on seeing Killua. When Gon’s determination to see his friend moves her (aw, she was just a softie), Killua’s mother knocks her unconscious.


Canary was alright, even after this ordeal and still helped Gon and the gang reach the butler quarters. In fact, her loyalty to Killua trumps her obligations to the Zolydck household in some instances, as she helps Gon and Killua numerous times. One of her most memorable quotes was "Master Killua is depending on me. He's risking everything to save his friend. I'll help him even if I lose my job... or my life!"

Coffee

In Cowboy Bebop, Coffee was a bounty hunter. First of all, her look is great and really dig her vibe. Second, she was known for using weapons while apprehending bounties, especially a grenade launcher. She was in pursuit of drug dealer Domino Walker when she chanced upon some trouble. Edward was as radical as ever for being entranced by the melons that Coffee purchased. Along with Ein, they hid in Coffee’s car trunk and when the police came upon her while she was hunting for Domino Walker, they found Edward and Ein.


After being arrested by the police, Coffee successfully escaped while her jailor was distracted and followed Edward, where she stumbled upon her target (talk about luck!). However, she missed when she shot at her bounty and later crashed her car when Shaft, one of the brothers that bought shrooms from Walker collided with her vehicle. At least the volume of her hair prevented any real damage, otherwise, things would have gotten really hairy for Coffee.

Iris

Iris is one of the few melanin-infused characters in the Pokémon series. For focus sake, only her anime presence will be discussed. She was introduced as a companion to Ash during his time in the Unova region, as a self-proclaimed guide for Ash’s exploration of the Unova region. This event came about after she was hiding inside a bush with Axew; Ash tried to catch her when he saw her hair sticking out of said bush (that is one of the better encounters Ash has had with his female traveling companions).


Along with Cilan, the three of them began their quest to be a Dragon Master, and in Cilan’s case, Pokemon Connoisseur. Iris was raised in the Village of Dragons. Ever since she was young, her rambunctious attitude has made it hard for others to treat her as a maturing lady but she did not mind. In fact, wild Pokemon that lived in a forest just outside of her village played with her, giving her knowledge on many Pokemon in their natural habitats (probably more than Ash did traveling several regions before...which explains why she could be seen giving Ash advice and treating him like a little kid).


She left home to achieve emotional growth with her partner, Axew. Iris was simple and would speak her mind when things got chaotic; her fearlessness was brought out in moments where she could be one with nature, such as swinging from vines in the jungle or climbing trees occasionally to get the lay of the land. Online, there is much disdain for Iris’ character but I believe that her and Ash not only got along swell, but she helped to mellow him out.

Muhammad Avdol

Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders is arguably one of the best parts of the franchise. In it was one of my personal favorite characters, Avdol. Joseph’s Joestar’s Egyptian fortune-telling friend joined the group to defeat Dio after Polnareff took him down when he was one of Dio’s flesh bud minions. It was no surprise that their budding friendship (everyone loves puns, so why not) was one of many Avdol had on the journey. Avdol was a Stand user since birth enabled him to summon Magician’s Red’s control over fierce flames, which could be executed as Avdol saw fit via various shapes and states.


Not only is he the one responsible for guiding the Jojo gang to Dio, but he knows a great deal about some of the other Stands that stood in their way. Furthermore, Avdol was the first character to use his Stand successfully in a fight, encounter and survive Dio. Avdol was one of a kind, though. Even when Polnareff confronted him regarding fleeing Dio, rather than confronting him, he lived his own way and went out on his terms- the first, jumping in front of Hol Horse’s attack to shield Polnareff from a fatal headshot. After he was actually not dead (thank gosh!), he soon came into conflict with Vanilla Ice. Long story short, I am still crying till this day every time I hear the word “cream” paired with a hole of sorts. One of the most solid characters in this franchise, reduced to nothing.

Sister Krone

Sister Krone looks like one of the monsters in The Promised Neverland, does she not? Not quite human with the extremely high intellect that enabled her to predict Emma, Norman, and Ray’s plan and too smug not to be wary of. When Krone was first introduced in the anime, I will admit, I was scared- no, I was SCARRED. The faces she made (which I will spare you for now) were crazy and frightening...which I guess was appropriate for her role- assistant caretaker to Isabella, Gracefield House’s very own “Mama.”


“...You better escape. You’re good at playing tag, right? Run... and run... and survive. Then destroy this damned world we live in!” The few good things that Sister Krone did the whole time she was at Gracefield House included not exposing the children’s plans After using her ridiculous superhuman strength, speed and cunning to apprehend all of the children in a game of tag, she quickly figured out Norman, Emma and Ray’s plans but did not expose them. Rather, she agreed to collaborate with them and even left them the pen she found and kept since her childhood.


She was not always like this, the unwavering, crazy-eyed tower she conveyed. In fact, at some point in The Promised Neverland, there was a flashback that depicted Krone when she was younger. Krone was sent away from her orphanage when she was 12 and had no choice but to be trained as a caretaker, which meant she had to be chipped at the heart via surgery. She learned to manipulate people to her will in order to further her own agenda. Krone did the best she could in the twisted environment she knew she was not long for and despite her early exit from the anime, she was a formidable character nonetheless.

Anime characters do not always depict accurate representations of other cultures. In fact, some of the characters from other cultural groups outside Japan can be cringey when they are based on stereotypes that are not necessarily true for an entire population of individuals. However, despite some awkward black character introductions in many anime, the effort to depict black anime characters is noticeable and should continue. That way, anime fans can be exposed to a diverse cast of characters and stories that need their own voices.


It’s not all bad, though, since the characters mentioned are some fine examples where heroes and anti-heroes turned out to be memorable fan favorites. As with The Boondocks, I am optimistic that the amount of influential black characters will continue to grow, thus inspiring more fans in the community. Let’s all treat others with the respect they deserve, as we pay tribute to black history month and the trailblazers that sacrificed a lot to help foster ideals that we should heed every day.


Most data regarding each character was collected on fandom wikis for each character.


Let us know your thoughts on the characters discussed, as well as any that were not mentioned.


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