Here’s some things that are very, very preliminary thoughts in terms my thoughts on Naruto, Kishimoto, and Blackness in the manga and anime. A lot of them center on tropes, which will factor into my analysis of Naruto, especially now that I know there’s an entire village of Black ninja.
(Which makes me really want to read the manga even more y’all!)
Anyways, here’s some of my thoughts.
- The use of the tropes Dark-Skinned Blonde or Dark-Skinned Redhead does not diminish the authenticity of black bodies in Naruto. But I am getting the feeling there’s a lot of People of Hair Color in this village, much in the same way the Ishvalans are in FMA / FMA: B. My bet’s on Blonde or Platinum hair for these folks.
- While it is possible to call Ambiguously Brown to the village, there are most likely clear indicators that these characters are coded as this world’s African Americans despite the clearly Japanese setting and focus in primarily Asian areas. In the instance of the character Killer Bee, we can be assured that through use him being a rapping ninja – I knew this before I went in, mind- they’re probably all of African descent.
- Are there characters with dramaticized features –cartoonish features- that are paired with Eclectic Black Guy and Funny Afro moments? Are they real or are they being made fun of? Is the audience supposed to take the side of humor over harm? Past typical anime reactions, do we see the Mr. Popo-esque (DBZ) designs where the character is, to some degree, perceivable as a caricature?
- Does everyone have dreads or are we seeing the same variety as with the Japanese ninja?
- I swear to god if their village uses music I’m going to flip a table. Well, I’ll upset a bookshelf since this is supposed to be academic.
- And no sassy black villagers!
- Is Killer Be going to be both a Rapper and a Soul Brotha?
- The problem that might arise within any positivity is usage of the Magical Negro or the Ethnic Magician In the case of Jutsu, there’s many explanations in early volumes of how Jutsu functions as a part of the human body’s natural make-up: however, does the village in question have extremely “magical” elements? Are they known as “mysterious” or “otherworldly?” Are they given features to dehumanized and make them seem more element than man?
- There’s a risk for Fantastic Racism even though Naruto uses a very realistic parallel world, completely in the same era as our own. In that case, is this a reflection of the creator, or of Japanese perceptions of African American culture? Can we separate that?
I’m going to largely remained unspoiled about their presence. I might peek a little at TV Tropes as I read, but only after I’ve understood the context in the series and primary source.
Like I said, all very preliminary thoughts, and ones that will only be answered by reading, researching, and watching. Hopefully, some of my fears won’t happen: this will actually be a pretty decent reflection of how to have diverse character imagery in manga.