Opinion

If Anime Is ‘Racially Ambiguous,’ Why Do We Always Cast White Actors?

Anything is possible in the world of anime.

What my hand feels like after 7 hours of Zelda: Breath of The Wild.

Jesus Christ and Buddha can be apartment roommates who blog and play video games, and a can of melon soda can transform into a human Pokémon who battles other cans of soda.

This makes sense. Right?

If you’re a newcomer to anime you might find it hard to relate to a soda can-turned human, but two episodes in and you’ll be addicted to the most random, nonsensical anime. “Anime Jesus speaks to my soul, man!”

Someone should make a bracelet with “WWAJD” (what would anime Jesus do?)

This is where anime succeeds: it’s great at transforming this-shouldn’t-make-sense characters into relatable, understandable ones. To establish this connection, anime writers take quirky behaviors and character flaws that we often hide, like laziness or a relentless sexual drive, and project them onto talking pets and super saiyans.

Another important factor to anime’s relatability are the many anime characters written/drawn as racially ambiguous. Unless an anime character has dark skin, is the supposed descendent of Japanese samurais, or a name like Motoko Kusanagi, there’s no way to tell what race a character is. But whenever Hollywood creates a live adaptation of an anime series, they always default to casting white actors.

One of the biggest factor that leads to whitewashing is the tired argument that anime characters look white. Yes, let’s forget the fact that anime is created by Japanese writers and artists, or that many animes are set in Japan with Japanese characters who have Japanese names, and let’s focus on the obnoxiously large anime eyes and glowing blue hair which, apparently, real white people have.

Ah, yes. Neon blue hair, a trademark feature of the Caucasian race.

This is the problem.

Even when we’re presented with anime characters who look racially ambiguous, we automatically assume they’re white. This happens because we’re so used to consuming media that centers whiteness that unless we’re told that a character is a person of color, we default to whiteness.

Let’s play a game.

Since many anime fans approve the whitewashing of anime on the basis of “anime characters look white,” I’d like to see just how white you think anime is. The collage below has six anime facial features with eyes and noses that are all racially ambiguous. Your challenge is to see which of the six features belong to white anime characters and which ones are Asian.

Answers at the end of this article.

There’s No Such Thing As “White Facial Features”

White folks may have a monopoly on Hollywood and the American political system (especially in the Trump administration) but white people do not have ownership of facial features — no one does.

One of the most pervasive arguments in support of whitewashing is the idea that anime characters have “white” features.

How, Sway? Anime noses look like squiggly lines and anime eyes resemble fried eggs — why would anyone consider them white? It’s one thing to attribute an ethnicity to a hairstyle or an article of clothing (kimonos and Japanese people, dreadlocks and Black folks, camouflage-printed tube tops and white people) but facial features? Not a chance. Green irises, pointed noses, and large eyes aren’t specific to any particular race and can be found on the faces of Black, Brown, and Asian people.

When you claim that anime characters — many of whom have exaggerated features such as eyeballs bigger than a durian fruit or electric purple hair — you suggest that people of color have monolithic physical features and anyone who doesn’t fit your stereotypical view of a yellow-skinned, bucktoothed Asian or a dark-skinned Black person must be Caucasian.

Why Don’t They Cast Racially Ambiguous Actresses To Play Racially Ambiguous Characters?

If anime characters like Major Kusanagi and Light Yagami are supposedly racially ambiguous, why not cast racially ambiguous actresses? Why did Hollywhite default to Scarwhite Johannsson and not Chloe Bennett or Jackie Cruz?

Whitewashed animes aren’t just problematic because casting directors choose white actors, they’re problematic because only white actors are considered. The names of Latina, Indigenous, or biracial actresses were never thrown into the Ghost in The Shell sorting hat, leaving us with the same question:

Why does Hollywood only cast white people in anime?

Simple. Hollywood is only interested in selling tickets to white male audiences, even though the demographic breakdown from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) show otherwise. Hollywood films have always centered around white men and white male audiences.

Ironically enough, when Hollywood casts white actors because “white audiences can’t relate to non-white characters,” they end up patronizing their white audience members, assuming that they’re too selfish and racist to relate to a non-white character.

“These 3D glasses make white privilege seem so real!”

When It Comes To Anime: White Ain’t Always Right

When Asians express their frustration about whitewashed Asian-American characters like Jim Sturgess in 21 or Emma Stone in Aloha, we’re often met with demands to be quiet and “write your own source material if you’re so offended!” And yet, whenever Asians point to works of anime, a genre defined by its direct link to Japanese culture and Japanese creators, as possible source material, we’re told that anime, too, is for white people.

Nah. Anime might be the masturbatory material of choice for white Alt-Right piss babies, but it is by no means a white-centric medium. Anime has and will always be true to Japanese culture, and to suggest that iconic characters like Goku, Major Motoko Musanagi, or Light Yagami are anything but Japanese is simply a ploy to bring whiteness into a space where it doesn’t belong.

Anime characters don’t look white, you just have a burning desire to find the whiteness in anime.

**Answers to the anime facial features test**

SURPRISE! None of them are white or Asian. Everyone in this collage is a dark-skinned Black character with the exception of Pocahontas, an Indigenous Disney character.


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