Japanese cartoons often draw so many fans from the West because of their broad spectrum of possibility and visual diversity: Aliens, transforming princesses, warriors with absurd weapons. But it's strikingly rare to see a person of color in anime, and stereotypes abound where they do appear.
At VICE, Cecilia D'Anastasio spoke to a number of black anime fans and cosplayers about negotiating the strange space between animation fan culture and white geekdom, and sheds light on some of the interesting ways anime and identity intersect for black fans:
Are there any characters you identified with as a black person growing up in America?
Afro Samurai. That plays into what I said earlier. As a minority, my mom always said you have three strikes against you: You're a man so they won't go easy on you. You're foreign (I was born in South America). And you're black. So you have to work extra hard cause you have those things going against you. As a community, you're trying to do better because stuff isn't in your favor. Afro Samurai is about how [Samuel Jackson's character] has the number-two headband and he wants to defeat the man with the number-one headband, so he can be the best. That metaphor goes so deep.
Were there any other characters you identified with?
Piccolo [the green alien from Dragonball Z] is black. He is. In the main group of the Dragonball Z fighters, there wasn't a black one, but there was a green one. He was token. You can see him being a black man instead of a green man and you wouldn't think twice about it. He has to work extra hard just to keep up with Goku. Goku is just naturally good.
Dragonball Z comes up often in the article. I learned that RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan wrote at length in The Tao of Wu about relating to the character of Goku and his Saiyan race as a parallel with black America.
The interviewer also speaks to young black women who cosplay as iconic characters like Sailor Moon in the face of backlash. Read D'Anastasio's whole piece, "What Black Anime Fans Can Teach Us About Race in America".