Essay: Reflections on the Black anime fandom

Back when I had the freedom and leisure to dream indulgently, my aspiration was to become a Pokémon Master. I decided this in the first grade and even proclaimed it in an assignment my teacher had given that asked my classmates and me to reveal our career goals. Truthfully, I felt some embarrassment after I saw my private dream displayed on a bulletin board outside the classroom. And when a peer asked about the answer I wrote on the assignment, I minimized my love for Pokémon — one of the most recognized anime television shows of all time. I wish I had the courage then to affirm my passion. I wish I had been unafraid to confess how I collected Pokémon cards and named my favorite dog after Pikachu, the show’s red-cheeked, electric-type creature. But, back then, many Black kids like me were shamed into concealing or renouncing our anime fandom. Some thought our hobbies were the kind reserved only for white boys that fled down the hall with their arms flung back, ninja-style. The truth is anime empowered us to believe in ourselves and our dreams. So, at a time when anime is increasingly visible and venerated in popular culture, I want to recognize its enduring power and celebrate the beauty of Black fandom.

My favorite anime show of all time is the original Naruto, a popular series about a dimwitted but determined ninja. As a child, I watched its legendary marathons on Cartoon Network and commissioned student illustrators to trace characters from the show. I appreciated Naruto for its captivating worldbuilding and combat choreography. But more than that, I loved the soul of the series. I could feel Naruto’s assurance when he faced his opponent, Neji, with a fistful of blood and declared, “I vow to win.” I could feel his resolve when, in a sequence set to plaintive piano, he pledged to defend his village against Gaara, a traumatized villain. In the aftermath of their battle, Gaara gazed from the ground at a cheerful sky and pondered Naruto’s power: “Love – is that the thing that makes him so strong?” To me, that fight encapsulated the show’s commanding spirit. And because of that spirit, I grew up loving Naruto to the depths of my tiny heart. I loved the anime in that innocent and inimitable way in which only children can adore. It was simply the magic and purity of a lonely kid discovering herself in another lonely, but lionhearted, child.

Until this summer, when I binged classics like “One Piece” and “Death Note,” I had not watched anime in several years. Maybe I retired my passion out of secret shame. Or, perhaps I thought I grew out of a genre that I equated with the irrecoverable charm of childhood. Whatever the reason, it does not matter now. I find my fandom reflected in the anime aesthetics that Megan Thee Stallion posts on Instagram alongside bold outfits and bedazzled nails. I see it in the Pikachu plushie that appears in Naomi Osaka’s Netflix docuseries. When I watch Black anime YouTubers like RDCWorld1, I am reminded that the joy I derive from the genre matters. These influencers assert, in their endearing cosplay, that the memories we make and the emotions we experience because of anime are worthy of celebration and preservation. The dreams that anime dealt me, the magic it invoked, will remain — long after the last arc.

Zeniya Cooley, a junior majoring in journalism and mass communication, is an opinions columnist.

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