Are Japanese video game, anime, and manga characters white?
Let’s take a look at some recent and upcoming video game releases:
What do gamers and viewers perceive about these characters? What do you see?
Dr. Amy Shirong Lu conducted a study in which participants viewed a random selection of anime characters. They were asked if they thought the characters were intended to be white or Asian. Both Asian and Caucasian participants incorrectly identified characters as white (although Asians did so to a lesser degree).
With the exception of Bluehole, which is a Korean company, all those listed above are Japanese video game producers. In an interview with the Playstation blog for his Sony Computer Entertainment game Gravity Rush, (Gravity Daze in Japan) Game Director Keiichiro Toyama said:
“The main character was the most difficult thing to lock down, so we thought a lot about it. If we made something completely Japanese, then it would be only acceptable to Japanese users, and we’ll lose audience in other territories. So we avoided that.”
The majority of creative properties coming out of Japan are steeped in fantasy. Even so, features typically identified as Asian are excised. Hair colors run the gamut of the rainbow, and eyes usually are anything but almond-shaped. Are these still Japanese characters, if they don’t look “Japanese”? The characters speak Japanese, many practice Japanese customs, and if not in a fantasy world, are in a Japanese locale.
Marketing to a worldwide consumer base may be just one reason why Japanese designers commonly create characters that do not resemble themselves. The face of an Anglo-Saxon seems to be good business. Despite proclamations of a melting pot society, America overwhelmingly continues to propagate a monolithic Anglo-Saxon culture. Many still utilize “American” to denote “white”, and images exported from America are overwhelmingly white. The amount of Asian images coming from America and Europe is miniscule.
From comic books to movies to video games, the lack of Asian depictions may say, “Asians are not representative of us.” And that could affect the images that get marketed towards America. For example, the perpetual shunting of foreign films to art houses may temper a desire to produce an image that the “average consumer” does not identify with. And if Hollywood executives are overwhelmingly white, it stands to reason they see most characters as such. Imbuing more diverse representation in imagery may have to start at the decision-making level.
The infiltration of Hollywood images is perhaps even more pervasive in the mind of Japanese creators than when Commodore Perry forced the opening of trade in Japan. Throughout Asia, the people discarded their cheongsams and kimonos for Western suits and dresses. These days, American culture is more than just a fetishization, it’s an occupation. And that ideal may be represented in the characters created.
But it's possible that despite the blue hair and saucer pan eyes, the characters are just assumed to be Japanese; not white or race-unspecific.
For some, race has no place in their fantasy world. But for others, it enhances it.
Square Enix will soon release Sleeping Dogs, in which the player is Wei Shen, an undercover cop taking down Hong Kong triads.
Finally -- Wei Shen is a character I can see myself as.