Why Are Most Anime Characters White?

    Anime characters are often white washed, but why is that?

    So, it’s safe to say that older weebs noticed a pattern where most of our beloved anime characters felt white washed. Like, let’s be honest here: Diversity really wasn’t a thing in Japanese anime in general. Hell, even most western cartoons struggled with portraying folks with different skin tones and ethnicities. I think one I remember that did it well was The Proud Family. But in Japan, anime was pretty much teh same, without a lot of variation when it came to features. So, what happened?

    Well, one of the main reasons most anime characters were white back then was because Japan genuinely hadn’t experienced a lot of diversity that they could emulate. People often forget that up until the 80’s, Japan was very xenophobic with barely any cultural variation. And the little diversity they saw was pretty Eurocentric. So, their animated works represented an amalgamation of them, with their lighter skin tones and larger eyes. However, to say anime didn’t have diversification at all is also wrong. 

    Even as early as the 70s, we had characters with different ethnicities. But there is something to be said about how it wasn’t really all that common. Things have gotten better recently, especially ever since anime went global and social media brought everyone closer. Now, it’s not all that surprising when an anime has a black character pop up, or varies it’s stylistic choices for different races. However, anime itself is a very contained animation style, with a distinct look that doesn’t really differ as much as other animation styles do. So, diversifying that is a challenge onto itself. 

    Still, we have had anime go the extra step and add more body types, facial features with distinct profiles and more varied skintones. All of that makes for a much better viewing experience. So, to say that most anime characters are white is incorrect, because a lighter skin tone is not exclusive to Caucasian people. However, there is a discussion there about how Eurocentric beauty standards influence anime. So today, let’s break that down in a segment of F.Y.I!

    History Lesson; Japan And Cultural Diversity

    Japanese Anime Girl

    So here’s the scoop: Japan was not a very diverse nation, and even now it’s very concise in the various ethnicities that reside there. With over 97% of residents being of purely Japanese heritage, Japan is rightfully termed as being ‘ethnically homogenous’. But why is that? 

    Well, for one thing: Colonizers. The fear of colonialism pre-war was very big in Japan. They only really opened their doors to the outside world in the late 1800s, after almost 300 years of isolation following the Tokugawa Shogunate. And while you might think a 100 or so years should be enough to become more modernized and accepting, that wasn’t the case here. And so, Japan was rightfully suspicious of anyone that didn’t speak their language or looked like them. Colonization meant giving up their culture, and so the integration of Japan with the rest of the world was very slow

    But it did happen. Afterwards, Japan went hard into their Industrial Age, pushing for invention and innovation that included discussions with people from all around the world. In 1917 we saw the very first animation reel come from Japan, and by the 1960s, Osamu Tezuka had streamlined the characteristic look and feel of classic anime. Anime was profitable, and children always wanted new toys. The two combined and the industry was never the same again.

    However, the fact that fairer skin is perceived as being attractive cannot go unsaid here. Colorism is still an active issue in most Asian countries, and that sadly also includes Japan. So, Anime characters having lighter skin tones were there to appeal to the Japanese masses. However, things have gotten better over the years, thanks to Globalization

    Why Anime Characters Are Not Predominantly White Anymore:

    Black Anime Girls

    So, let’s remember that skintone in animation is a bit more complicated than black or white. Because Asian people come in a variety of skin tones, and even Japan has ethnicities that vary from prefecture to prefecture. For example, someone from Tokyo would not look the same as someone from Okinawa. And so, variation in anime has always existed in some amounts. 

    I mean, just take a look at the original Mobile Suit Gundam, which boasted one of the first instances of a non-white character in a mainstream anime. After that, we saw many side characters be introduced with ethnicities other than Caucasians. However, one of the first examples of an anime being led by a character that had darker skin was Nadia: Secret Of The Blue Waters in 1990. Which revolved around an African girl named Nadia and her path of self-discovery. 

    And really, the 1990s were gearing up for a host of diversified anime releases. From Revolutionary Girl Utena to Afro-Samurai, black and brown characters were finally gracing the anime landscape without being stereotypical. Personally though, it was Bleach that really cemented character diversity in the mainstream, with many of its characters being proudly non-white, having cornrows and Afro-American roots that were not vague. 

    Since then, there have been a host of black anime boys and girls that have integrated themselves into Japanese Pop Culture. Carole And Tuesday is a popular example, with the eponymous Carole having a hairstyle that looks very much like locs. But then there is Canary from Hunter X Hunter, who has facial features that represent her ethnicity and dreads, to boot. Most recently, we had yet another Gundam series, Mobile Suit Gundam: Witch From Mercury that boasted a variety of ethnicities, and a main character that looked Middle Eastern, with a father that had a name with the same origins.

    Safe to say, anime still has a long way to go in perfecting its portrayals of different races and ethnicities. So, the question isn’t just about why most anime characters appeared white, but rather the history behind the choices. 

    Still, every step forward is a good one and with the globalization of anime, the industry has made strides into being inclusive and respectful on a whole. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go thirst after Isaac from Castlevania, like the Good Lord intended.

    Anza Qureshi
    Anza Qureshi
    Anza Qureshi is a writer, licensed dentist and certified Uchiha fangirl. When she isn't doing root canals or listing down anime waifus, you can find her screeching about her favorite JRPGs across social media.

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