Black Anime VAs

Why Do People Assume Black Folks Aren’t Into Anime When We’ve Been Here the Whole Time?

We've been a part of this community for decades.

I’ve been an anime fan since I was ten years old, back when it was being aired on random channels in the middle of the night while my parents were asleep. Described to me as “a cartoon, but not really a cartoon,” I was captivated by the likes of Vampire Hunter D and Dragon Ball, which had only released a handful of episodes at the time.

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The amazing thing is that after being an anime fan for nearly thirty years, this thing that a handful of us would geek out about has really taken off. No one back in the 90s ever thought we’d reach a point where anime would be breaking box office records while manga landed on bestselling lists, but here we are – not just as fans, but as active participants in the industry.

We’re voicing characters. We’re creating our own stories. We’re, well, writing articles during Black History Month to celebrate Black anime talent.

But for some reason which I, to this day, cannot comprehend, I remember being told that Black people (especially girls) just “weren’t into that kind of thing,” as if I wasn’t passing around those VHS tapes to other Black kids at my high school. Those Black kids were watching the Tenchi Muyo movie on that Sci-Fi (SyFy) Channel anime block just like I was, and those that weren’t? Knew who Goku and Sailor Moon were by word of mouth.

We were out there. We always have been.

And yet, there is still this idea that lingers throughout the anime community that we just aren’t into “this stuff” – save for in February, of course, or whenever a random anime avatar decides to get racist on main when a Black voice actor gets cast in a roll.

I had the pleasure of chatting with four Black anime voice actors about the ridiculousness of the discrimination that happens and why despite what Twitter user SasukeUchiha12375 says, Black anime fans and professionals are here, and they’re amazing.

Who are we chatting with?

Zeno Robinson is an actor residing in Los Angeles, California. Zeno began his acting journey in middle school, and after taking a program called “All About Kids”, signed with CESD Talent. He would gain his professional voiceover start soon after as “Alan Albright” in Ben 10 Alien Force at 14 years old and has since studied under industry pioneers such as Charlie Adler, Tony Gonzales, Kris Zimmerman, Phil Lamarr, Ginny McSwain, and Tony Oliver. Zeno can now be heard as “Remy” in Big City Greens, “Hawks” in My Hero Academia, “Cyborg” in Young Justice, and “The Green Poncho” in Craig of the Creek.

Originally from the Bronx, New York, Kimberley Anne Campbell is a voice-over talent now living and working in the Los Angeles area, specializing in character voices for animated and interactive media. She can be heard in the anime “86” as the voice of Frederica Rosenfort, Argo in the new “Sword Art Online Progressive: Aria of a Starless Night” movie, as well as the titular character Nagatoro in “Don’t Toy With Me, Miss Nagatoro.”

A.J. Beckles, born and raised in the Boston area, is most known for his roles as Takemichi Hanagaki, the lead in Tokyo Revengers, and Shiki Tademaru in Kemono Jihen! He’s studied under some of the best in the industry, including Crispin Freeman, Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, and Richard Horvitz. When not acting in animation, anime, and games, A.J. can probably be found demolishing a cheeseburger and playing some video games!

Anairis Quiñones is a voice actress most known for voicing Mirko in My Hero Academia, Nessa in Pokémon: Twilight Wings, Yelena in Attack on Titan, Yuki in Horimiya, and Rika in Wonder Egg Priority. You can also hear her in Ys IX, SMITE, RWBY, and Rainbow High. When she’s not acting, she’s gaming, singing Steven Universe songs, or crushing on cute anime girls on Twitter.

What really stood out to me when chatting with everyone is that, at the end of the day, they’re really a bunch of anime fans who love this industry as much as we all do. Like a lot of fans, myself included, they stumbled upon anime without even realizing what it was and fell in love with the visuals and storytelling. Now that they’re a part of the industry, they get to lend their voices to these characters and, whether they realize it or not, show folks that we’re out here doing incredible things.

So many of us relate to that feeling of turning on the TV and seeing Naruto or Pokémon for the first time, but for some reason, there’s this sense of surprise that happens when a Black person says they’re into anime. As much as the unoriginal racism that gets drummed up is obnoxious and hurtful, the idea that we just are NOT a part of this community is especially bothersome.

Why do people act like we aren’t here?

As I said, it’s always surprising to me when people express genuine shock about Black folks liking anime, as if my cousin hasn’t been trying to convince me to watch One Piece for centuries. The “why” behind it stems from a willful ignorance, in my opinion, and it’s something that the voice actors addressed.

Much like any facet of the geek community, you have to purposefully be trying to ignore us to not know that we’re there at this point.

But even if you didn’t know that Black people watched anime, why would it be surprising that a certain group watched a form of entertainment? Anime is viewable to anyone who’s interested, so why is the big shock when Black people participate?

We’re here and it makes all the difference in the world to the anime community

The voice actors took a moment to reflect on the moment where they realized, “This is why I do this.”

First and foremost was the realization that they had become a professional in a medium that they grew up loving. With that came the community support and celebration – myself included, because seeing my fellow Black nerds become a part of something I’ve been a fan of for decades is amazing.

After being told time and time again that we weren’t a part of this, it turns out, well, we absolutely are.

What many may not realize, I think, is that some of these voice actors hit these points during a rather tumultuous time. Thanks to the ongoing pandemic, they haven’t been able to see these reactions in person. The love was online, of course, but as they began to make convention appearances they were able to feel the Black joy in person.

What do we want to see in the future?

While there is a definite desire to see more opportunities for Black creatives, both in front of the camera and behind it, the answer that really struck me was, frankly, a desire to reach a point where we don’t need to have these conversations anymore.

We always push for more diversity, more inclusivity, and more of a chance to celebrate the wins in the Black community instead of having to defend folks from racism, but along with that comes a desire for these accomplishments to not be a rarity because more of us are given a shot.

And more people are okay with that instead of getting on Twitter(dot)com to respond with hate.

There’s something to be said about the number of times a Black person is the “first.” We will celebrate them, of course, and the achievement is noteworthy, but along with that is the realization that we’re still hitting “first” milestones after all this time.

One day, hopefully, us being included will be a regular thing instead of a shock to the system. For now, my Black fangirl heart is full knowing that there are more people like me in the anime industry who are striving to make us, not just feel more seen, but be more seen.

(Image: Zeno Robinson/Anairis Quiñones/AJ Beckles/Kimberley Anne Campbell)

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Author
Briana Lawrence
Briana (she/her - bisexual) is trying her best to cosplay as a responsible adult. Her writing tends to focus on the importance of representation, whether it’s through her multiple book series or the pieces she writes. After de-transforming from her magical girl state, she indulges in an ever-growing pile of manga, marathons too much anime, and dedicates an embarrassing amount of time to her Animal Crossing pumpkin patch (it's Halloween forever, deal with it Nook)