On the whole, black characters are quite rare in anime and manga. Plus, it’s been pointed out before that the majority of them are based on racist stereotypes. Although there is a black population in Japan (in fact, the current Miss Japan is half-black), most Japanese people are only exposed to black people through the media, which tends to reinforce their ignorance. As a result, you’d be hard-pressed to find an anime that focuses specifically on black issues.
The Little Women anime (1987) is one of the exceptions, as it goes out of its way to educate its young viewers about slavery and the American Civil War. The notable thing about this production is that it actually adds black perspectives that were entirely missing from Louisa May Alcott’s novel. The character of Hannah, the family maid, was changed into a black woman, and there’s also a subplot in the early episodes focusing on an escaped slave named John. 
As great as this is for people who like some diversity in their anime, it still remains that these perspectives are included for the benefit of a Japanese audience, not for an African American or even a White American audience. These representations are drawn primarily from second-hand sources. Moreover, the distinctive qualities of “Black vernacular” are completely erased through translation, which serves to obscure the complex relationship between race, gender and class.
If anything, this anime makes visible the uncomfortable politics of Alcott’s original novel, for by depicting black bodies without their voices, Little Women affirms a sanitised version of racial relations that revolves entirely around the white, middle-class experience.
This is a post about translation. It shows how all translation is, in the end, a matter of representation. I’ll compare how the white characters and black characters in Little Women are “represented” in Japanese, with a particular focus on women’s speech (which makes sense since this is a show about, you know, little women). But before we get to that, let’s go over some basic concepts in translation and sociolinguistics.
Silvachief over at The Geek Clinic asked me to answer some questions over at his blog. He also gave his own answers here. I like how these questions can be answered succinctly and with little effort. I consider them basic questions for any anime fan.
So what are the questions, you ask…?
I’m joking, of course. While I haven’t actually watched enough anime this year to string together a top 10 anime list, I did enjoy the stuff I got around to watching. I also feel that this was a productive year for me as an anime fan and for the aniblogsphere in general.
Time for the highlights!
The Barakamon anime is ending in a couple of days. This makes me really sad. Barakamon has been one of my favourite shows of the season. It’s one of the few slice of life anime that genuinely puts me at ease, and I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that there is catharsis in the narrative. I can see a lot of my own worries and anxieties reflected in Handa’s character. As he learns to de-stress, I can feel myself letting go as well.
(Perhaps that’s what those moe slice of life shows need more of: not an excuse to escape from reality but to embrace it, to tell the viewer that things will be okay.)
But I digress. I’ve been wanting to write about Barakamon for a while but kept putting it off, partly because I’ve been so busy lately. But it’s also because the reason Barakamon has resonated with me is so deeply entangled with my personality faults that I’d feel uncomfortable discussing it openly. Still, considering that I’d written a post not long ago urging fans to be willing to criticise themselves, it’d be hypocritical of me not to practice what I preach!
I should preface this discussion by saying that if you identify as an artist of any craft (or if you’re a perfectionist) you’d probably relate to Barakamon the same way I did. I highly recommend the series if you haven’t seen it already.
By the way, this is an autobiographical post for the most part, so it’s pretty much spoiler free.
What I’m currently watching: Akame ga Kill!, Ao Haru Ride, Barakamon, Free! Eternal Summer, Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun, Haikyuu!!, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders, Kuroshitsuji: Book of Circus, Sword Art Online II, Tokyo Ghoul and Zankyou no Terror. (As of August 01 2014)