Hello, folks! Today is finally my tour stop for OWLS’ April blog tour. Please check out Rai’s tour post about “The Colorful World of Avatar”. She did a great job. For this month, our Chief Creative Officer LynLyn assigned us yet another awesome and meaningful topic: “Colors”.
We are all part of one race, the human race. “Colors” refers to people of color in anime. For this monthly topic, we will be discussing how people of color or characters of different “races” (a literal alien race) are represented in anime. Some topics we are considering are the dangers of stereotyping bi-racial characters, and the importance of “inclusion”.
The majority of the characters in Attack on Titan (進撃の巨人 / Shingeki no Kyojin) are white, presumably European. Based on the surnames, many of them are of German origin like the main protagonist, Eren Jaeger. Mikasa is the only known surviving character so far who is of Asian descent. She is bi-racial: her mother Asian and her father white.
This detail of Mikasa as the only character of Asian background escaped the 2015 live-action film adaptations of Attack on Titan. Granted, the films changed enough of the story, completely removing the concept of different races from the original source material, that having an all-Japanese cast doesn’t feel too weird. For this to work, however, viewers should treat the AoT film as a stand-alone story, separate from the original manga and anime.
Other similar examples include the 2014 Black Butler (黒執事 / Kuroshitsuji) and the upcoming 2017 Fullmetal Alchemist (鋼の錬金術師 / Hagane no Renkinjutsushi) live-action film adaptations.
Just like the Attack on Titan films, the Black Butler film changed enough of the story to justify an all-Japanese cast, changing the setting from the original Victorian-era London to an Eastern nation in the year 2020.
This is not the case for the upcoming 2017 Fullmetal Alchemist film, however. It seems that it will retain the original European cultural setting with an all-Japanese cast. We’ll see whether the film succeeds in suspending our disbelief when it releases at the end of this year.
Compared to Asianwashing or other racewashing, it seems that viewers are the most critical about whitewashing. Whitewashing is when white actors and actresses are cast in roles originally intended for other races.
The most recent example is Scarlett Johansson playing the character of Major Kusanagi in the recent 2017 Ghost in the Shell film adaptation. Many fans of the anime are furious about casting a white actress to play a Japanese character. Interestingly enough, it seems that the Japanese fans themselves already expected and accepted that a white actress would play Major because the adaptation is Hollywood-produced.
Another similar example is the upcoming 2017 Death Note film to be released on Netflix this August. It has been criticized of whitewashing even before its release, just like Ghost in the Shell.
The Importance of Racial Identity
Race remains an important cultural identity. For many of us, our racial background is a source of pride and confirmation that we belong to our respective unique cultures and communities. With discrimination still a real problem in the world, the issue of race remains a very delicate subject.
Races other than whites are still considered the minority in Hollywood. Diversity is slowly inching its way in the entertainment industry, but it still has a very long way to go. Hollywood is still a white-dominated industry. That’s why I understand how changing the race of characters in a show, especially the lead roles, offends people. Some think that changing races in adaptations is a great disrespect to the races being replaced from the original, especially when the lead role is given to a white actor while the minor roles are given to actors of Asian, African or other minority backgrounds.
Universal Stories for the Entire Human Race
While I prefer for live-action adaptations to honour the intended race of characters from the original source material, I think that this is short-sighted and ignores the fact that the world consists of many nations with different racial and cultural backgrounds. Strict casting for the sake of following the correct race of each role based on the original manga/anime story eliminates any possibility of localization or even globalization, which are important in making stories universal; meaning, relatable to a wider audience.
I’m not saying that racewashing is okay. Not at all. I just think that instead of individual races, we should focus more on the universal experiences, issues, and dreams of humanity these adaptations are portraying and emphasizing based on the original anime/manga.
Saying this, however, I still think that adaptations need to respect, or even just give a better sense of cohesiveness by matching the cultural settings of their stories to the races of the characters. For example, a live-action film adaptation of Naruto was announced late last year. It is being produced by Lionsgate, a Hollywood production studio. The story of Naruto centres around ninjas. Ninjas are Japanese. I would be very dismayed if the film features white ninjas. However, if this upcoming adaptation changes enough of the cultural setting just like in Attack on Titan and Black Butler films, perhaps having white ninjas wouldn’t be considered weird in the film’s story. We’ll see.
The live-action trilogy Rurouni Kenshin (るろうに剣心) are considered to be some, if not the “best” adaptations of an anime ever. I say that the biggest cause of their success comes from them feeling “just right”. Rurouni Kenshin is about samurai warriors. Samurai warriors are Japanese. The movies are Japanese, featuring a Japanese cast. If the films featured white samurai warriors in Meiji-era Japan, I doubt that they would garner any positive reception. On the contrary, I’m certain that they would have been brutally criticized instead.
My point is that is should be OKAY for adaptations to give roles to actors and actresses of another race different from the intended race of the character in the original manga/anime. BUT the adaptation should change enough of the story to warrant such casting choice (e.g., completely changing the cultural setting, etc.). The essence of the story must still be preserved, of course, so it would still be recognizable to anime fans. By doing this, adaptations will transform anime stories from something strictly Japanese into something universal, something all humans can relate to, not just anime fans and Japanese people.
As anime and manga fans, I think we should not limit these media and their adaptations within Japan and Asia only. We should position our worldviews more towards diversity. I would love to see an adaptation of an anime with a very diverse and multicultural cast, an adaptation that speaks not only to us fans or to a select racial groups, but speaks to ALL of humanity.
Thank you very much for reading my tour post. This is the most difficult OWLS tour post that I’ve written so far. Also please read Remy’s tour post titled “Social Projecting and Self-Stereotyping in Japanese Media”.
For the full schedule of our April “Colors” Blog Tour, click here. And if you haven’t done so yet please click here and check out our “Sanctuary” Blog Tour last month. If you are interested in our group Otaku Warriors for Liberty & Self-Respect (OWLS), feel free to check our official blog here. We welcome new, committed members! Thank you very much. Have a gorgeous day. Cheers!
Free to be ME,
Arria (OWLS Secretary)
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