Whether you love it or hate it, anime has firmly entrenched itself in our cultural zeitgeist. Far from being the inspiration for many of the action sequences of Western animation (à la Avatar: Another AirbenderAnd the transformersAnd the Scooby Doo), the most obvious anime references appear in the mainstream media on a regular basis. Top celebrities like Michael B Jordan, Megan Fox, Keanu Reeves, and Ariana Grande have all professed their love for anime in one form or another, but there’s one particular group of fans that I’ve started to notice lately: the rapper.
Made by Megan Thee Stallion Naruto The references in her song “Girls In The Hood” and the music video for Doja Cat’s “Like That” rely heavily on the transformation sequences in sailor moon (And we didn’t even start talking about the e-girl aesthetic.) But it’s not just them: According to a quick Google search, Kanye West, Snoop Dogg, RZA, Pharrell, and Lil Uzi Vert all revealed themselves as anime fans, watching classics like AkiraAnd the Cowboy BebopAnd the One Piece, NarutoAnd the Dragon ball Z. But for someone who grew up and scorned watching cartoons, I was very surprised to see how boldly our most famous icons showed their love for animation. Part of my love for animation stems from my desire to act as an Asian American. For me, anime was a cartoon set in a world centered on Asian culture. It was, in a way, one of the oldest forms of on-screen acting that I felt like I could kind of resonate with. So why did anime resonate with rap and how did they find it?
The answer was much simpler than I realized. “The 1990s saw a transnational boom in global circulation and popularity Japanese comicsBridges IV, Assistant Professor of Japanese at the University of Rochester. “During this period, American distributors and broadcasters have been directing in every sense of the word Japanese comics in American homes. (Think here, for example, on Toonami from Cartoon Network.) After the boom of the 1990s, the global and critical success of Studio Ghibli pushed animation deeper into American cultural conversations. He grew up with rappers who came of age during this period Japanese comics and their aesthetics as a common feature in their artistic diet.”
This makes a lot of sense. My childhood experience in animation for Ghibli films and Sailor Moon VHS tapes was introduced by my sister, before expanding into Inuyasha sub-episodes downloaded from LimeWire, then Dragon ball Z Episodes appearing on Toonami and spin-offs Cowboy Bebop Ring on the adult swim. Animation availability has also grown rapidly with the invention of YouTube and other streaming services. Entire anime episodes could be posted in 4-part bits on YouTube, and websites like CrunchyRoll had some of the fastest subs, reducing the time between when a raw Japanese broadcast was released and when an English-speaking audience could actually watch the episode. The animation had a much greater availability than I initially expected, but what resonated with the rapper? According to Bridges, it’s a mixture of art, politics, and social injustice.
At its core, anime is just another artistic medium for storytelling, like drawing or music: deeper stories have a certain amount of universality to them, and they usually provide some kind of commentary about what’s wrong in the world, and how it’s done. should Be instead. But what’s unique about anime as a way to tell stories is its approach. Going back as far as Tezuka Osamu, Japanese comics He has long aspired to be “mukokuseki” (“homeless”), or tell universal stories with endless entry points for a wide range of audiences,” says Bridges, in light of this contemporary history. Japanese comics It tends to tell stories in a capacious and in a way that resonates with viewers all over the world.”
But rappers don’t just hesitate to any good, universal stories that come their way. Many of them tend to be martyred Dragon Ball, NarutoAnd the pieceAnd the My hero academy Their favorite: the famous classic shounen battle anime. “Keep in mind that the generation of rappers who grew up with animation has also come of age in an age where austerity policies, eroding social safety nets, and disinvestment in the public good have collided with the legacies and enduring realities of racial injustice,” says Bridges. “For these rappers, like anime AkiraAnd the Dragon ball ZAnd the NarutoAnd the sailor moon Not just asking a WEB DuBois question – How do you feel when it’s a problem? They also answer this question with extraordinary displays of strength, courage, and perseverance in the face of seemingly insurmountable social hostility.
In short, underdog stories about rising from humble origins to meet greatness. But it’s not just rising to meet greatness – it’s about how one evolves to meet greatness with you nakama (your existing family). in NarutoNot only can Naruto learn how to hit hard to fix the problems in his story, he must understand the problems within the systems of the shinobi village to understand why his enemies act as they do. But he cannot do it alone. in sailor moonUsagi can’t cry and complain until someone saves her, and she has to face her fears and take responsibility for being the Princess of the Moon. But she cannot do it alone.
When placed in the context of our larger history, it’s easy to see how stories about a young and frightened protagonist must grow to resonate with African Americans who live within a system and society stacked against them, who feel lonely and the world is just waiting for one last reason to kick them. In truth, anime doesn’t necessarily resonate with rappers specifically, but rappers have a microphone to talk about animation, and they can help share their experience by mentioning what helps inspire their work.
“There is an incredible amount of interaction between hip-hop and anime,” Bridges says. “There is an anime inspired by hip-hop (like Samurai Champloo And the Afro Samurai). There is anime-inspired hip-hop music (like Lupe Fiasco’s Tetsu and youth and Kanye West’s video for “Stronger”). There is a meeting Japanese comics The aesthetics of hip-hop in artistic media other than Japanese Japanese comics and hip-hop (as boondocks and paintings by Iona Russell Brown). And since 2016, there is D’Art Shtaijio, the first American animation studio in Japan and the first ever black-owned animation studio (founded by twin brothers Arthell and Darnell Isom and Henry Thurlow.) “Rap and anime have been close companions, each medium influencing the other.” And it certainly doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon. And honestly you know Megan the Stallion and Doja Cat? Both are sure to release some music videos full of Jojo references or Demon Slayer She inspired me in 2022, and I personally can’t wait to see what comes next.