Black Geek Moment #2
My Favorite Characters (Who Look Like Me) in Anime & Video Games
“Why dark-skinned people ALWAYS gotta be the bad guys!”
Imagine this: you’re playing Kingdom Hearts for the first time. You marvel at the perfectly illustrated CGI graphics, watch blue-eyed Sora chase grey-eyed Riku into the darkness of who knows where, both young boys scrambling to find what they love, and in turn, who they are. Sora understands his friends to be his purpose, his guiding force, while Riku seeks something more tangible, power, the ability to dominate and control so those he loves can never be in danger. I’m about 12 years old and Black (hello, for those who don’t know, my name is Sean Medlin, pen and stage name Sean Avery, and I’m a Black-American male). Kingdom Hearts is a Square Enix – Disney collaboration, and I don’t really like Disney either, I’m past that phase. But this game, with it’s unique combat system and intricate storyline is too much to pass up, so I play it, already aware of the lack of Black people in both Disney and Square Enix products (seems like both the Japanese and Americans imagine white worlds). It never really got to me. I played the game and additions to the series for years to come. It isn’t until college, when I’m enrolled in many Afro A/M courses and answered my call to explore Black masculinity, that I noticed the one dark skin person in the game, Ansem, Seeker of Darkness, was the main villain. Check this out for yourself:
Colorism? Yes. Racism? Hell yes. Why dark-skinned people ALWAYS gotta be the bad guys! I can’t even begin to trace the bullshit history I’ve unearthed here, but it’s long yo, real long, and if you’re interested, start here. There are a hundred Ansems in video game history, we have Validar from the second recent Fire Emblem game, Dr. Cortex from Crash Bandicoot, Gal and Maia Acheron from Jak and Daxter, Ganondorf from the Zelda series, Donkey Kong from Mario (Black are constantly imagined as gorillas in the white imagination, read here), nearly all of the Ratchet & Clank villains, the Dark Genie from Dark Cloud, and Golbez and Zemus from Final Fantasy IV, to name JUST the ones I either found recently or remember from my childhood. That’s why I want to take this moment to celebrate the most badass dark-skinned characters I grew up with in video games and anime. These are also characters who are protagonists, or at least have a more complicated role than the big bad guy. Here goes my list:
- Peppita Rossetti (Star Ocean: Til the End of Time)
I’ma keep it one-hundred ya’ll. I never even got this character in Star Ocean: Til the End of Time. I got about halfway through the game. I had the strategy guide though (how I have the strategy guide and not beat the game?), and I fell in love with this picture of Peppita. It was the first time I saw a girl in a game that looked kinda like my sister, or my Mom. I had a huge crush.
- Kaname Tosen (Bleach)
Okay, so I’ma be real with ya’ll again. I ain’t even into Bleach like that. I remember watching Tosen fight Kenpachi on Youtube, cuz my boy was a Kenpachi fanboy, and I was like, “Yo! His Bankai is dope!” Isn’t it sad how there’s so few dark-skinned/ Black characters in anime, that I remember each and everyone, even if I never really watched said show? I’ll never forget Tosen.
- Opacho (Shaman King)
This cutie is from Shaman King, an anime I loved to watch on Saturday mornings. Although she doesn’t do much in the anime, I thought she was adorable and unabashedly Black. She has the power to read minds, as well as summon a Ram spirit (once ramming another character miles into the atmosphere). She might be loyal to the main antagonist, but she won my heart. ❤ ❤
- A, the Fourth Raikage (Naruto: Shippuden)
This man really rubbed off on me. Yeah, I know he’s the brute caricature dropped into Kishimoto’s ninja world, but when he cut off his own arm after Sasuke used Amaterasu, I was sold. There’s nothing more badass than that! He didn’t even flinch! The rest of his squad is cool, but I’ve never been a fan of Killer Bee, something about his minstrelsy rapping disturbed me.
- Pikkon (Dragonball Z)
Are green characters in Dragonball Z Black? That seems to be the popular belief with Piccolo and the other Namekians; I mean, they’re indigenous peoples for sure, their planet is scourged by a white alien seeking a rare resource: the Dragonballs. Although Pikkon’s race is not Namekian, nor is he Black, I’m counting him as such because he fought Goku in Otherworld. (My blog is titled 808s and Otherworlds, I had to include Pikkon, just like I had to review TLOP).
- Afro (Afro Samurai)
There’s not much to say about this guy, he’s just dope. When I first watched Afro Samurai the anime, I felt kinda weird. Written and illustrated by Takashi Okazaki, the manga was inspired by his love of Black-American music. With that being said, Afro Samurai walks a thin line between appreciation and appropriation. Still, you gotta love this sword-wielding soul brother for what he is.
Yes, I know these two are different characters from different .hack series, however, as you can see above, Mimiru is based off of BlackRose. Rather than count them as two separate characters, I thought it made more sense to represent them as one collective badass Black girl. I hope that isn’t minimizing; both characters wielded Heavy Blades and were central characters.
- Eddy Gordo (Tekken Series)
I’m not Jamaican, even though I’ve been mistaken as such before, and there’s only two Jamaicans that make me kinda wish I was: Usain Bolt and Eddy Gordo. I also kinda suck at Tekken and I’ve been beaten by Eddy enough times to fearfully respect his dance. I do think it’s a bit ridiculous that he’s such a caricature of West Indian people, but I really love breakdancing.
April (Darker than Black)
Imagine a Black woman waterbender, specializing in ice, working as a secret government agent. If that description intrigues you, watch Darker than Black, and make sure you finish the first season so you can experience the awesomeness than is April. You know April is my birth month? Anyway, this character will surprise you, impress you, and win you over. She da best.
Darui (Naruto: Shippuden)
Darui is my homie’s favorite character in Naruto, and he’s pretty good with him in Ninja Storm as well. What’s cool to me about Darui is his hair. He fits this Black emo kid aesthetic that I saw a lot in the early 2000s. His character may be minor or supporting, but seeing him really meant a lot too my friends and I, who spent our early years feeling othered in white alternative cultures.
As a child, Sean Avery was a military brat who kicked his grandma because he thought he was a Power Ranger, but that’s a story for another time. Today, Avery is a rapper, poet, actor, First Wave Scholar, contributing writer for the Black Voice UW Madison, and senior studying English Creative Writing and African-American Studies, by way of Avondale, Arizona, better known as, the Sun. His work has been featured in Buzzfeed, Blavity, AFROPUNK, the Wisconsin Film Festival, special topics courses at ASU, and he has been published in Wisconsin People & Ideas and Illumination: The Undergraduate Journal of Humanities. In 2014, he released his debut mixtape, EMOFUNK, available online at bandcamp.com. His work embraces both his imagination and journey towards defining his own Black masculinity, and in 2016, he is exploring how rap music affects the formation of Black male identity.