Yes — 'The Boondocks' Should Be Considered the First Black Anime
Throughout its original four season run, The Boondocks gradually took on a more anime-style aesthetic. With its forthcoming return leaning even more into the Japanese animation style, it begs the question — is The Boondocks an anime?
Type in “Is The Boondocks” in Google. The first auto-fill response to appear will be “Is The Boondocks an anime?”
It’s a fair question. Aaron McGruder, the series’ creator, has vocalized his love of anime and manga (Japanese comics or graphic novels) and how both inspired The Boondocks comic strip and animated series. Anime signifiers are also apparent in both — from Huey and Riley Freeman’s large eyes to the exaggerated facial expressions characters offer (think Colonel H. Stinkmeaner possessing Tom DuBois and turning him into a deranged maniac, or Luna’s maniacal smile when she first utters the word “Kumite”).
Last year, The Daily Dot published a primer on anime titled, “Why anime is more popular now than ever,” with John-Michael Bond writing:
In its most basic form, anime refers to animation. Interestingly enough, the name itself isn’t an abbreviation of the English word animation. Instead, it’s how you say “animated cartoon” (written アニメ) in Japanese. To a Japanese viewer, anime is any cartoon, whether it’s made in Japan or not. Outside of Japan, however, the term anime has come to mean “animation made in Japan,” or more broadly, any animated show or movie that uses signature aspects of Japanese-style animation, like vibrant colors, dramatic panning, and characteristic facial expressions.
In 2016, Kotaku published a piece titled “What Anime Means,” which explores the evolution of how anime came to serve as a way to separate Japanese cartoons from cartoons throughout the rest of the world. The story also touches on American animation’s influence on Osamu Tezuka, “The Godfather of Anime” and creator of Astro Boy who took inspiration from Walt Disney and Max Fleischer. Highlighting the longlasting relationship between American and Japanese animation is important as the piece shows how Fleischer’s characters had anime attributes (both Betty Boop and her dog, Bimbo, having large eyes) long before the word became synonymous with Japan’s animation style during the ’70s and ’80s.
The piece also highlights just how broad of a word anime is in Japan and in America, with the former sometimes making distinctions between its own animated creations and those from other countries, but also categorizing everything from Tom & Jerry to Looney Tunes as anime too.
“In English, the word anime will continue to be used to describe animation from Japan — better yet, a certain type of animation,” Brian Ashcraft writes in “What ‘Anime’ Means.” “That’s fine. It evokes a style, a look, and even a mood. Still, just remember that sometimes ‘anime’ means more than just ‘anime.'”
It’s this difference in how anime is perceived that has incited countless forums debating if The Boondocks — and other American anime-adjacent series — is an anime or not.
In a 2012 Comics Alliance interview, McGruder described The Boondocks as “our attempt at anime, but it’s very, very black.” Prior to that, he spoke with The A.V. Club in 1999 about how anime influenced The Boondocks comic strip, saying:
It’s a better type of art for animation. I designed the characters that way because I wanted it to be animated one day, and I knew that was the direction I wanted to go way back then.
South Korean animation studios like Moi Animation and Studio Mir — both based in Seoul — helped bring McGruder’s vision to life, the former more notable considering it animated the first three seasons of The Boondocks. (Studio Mir only animated the fourth season.) Owned by Japanese animation studio Madhouse (aside from adapting mangas like Death Note and High School of the Dead, Madhouse also worked on a part of the second season of The Boondocks), Moi Animation helped shaped The Boondocks‘ anime-influenced aesthetic, at times even referencing popular anime series in certain episodes.
In “Granddad’s Fight,” the fourth episode from Boondocks‘ first season, Huey dreams of dueling a character named the “Blind Nigga Samurai.” The fight is an allusion to two scenes from Samurai Champloo: one where main cast character Jin battles an assassin named Inuyama in a bamboo forest, and another where fellow main cast character Mugen battles another assassin named Kariya.
The Boondocks has also referenced Naruto, the popular anime series centered on a young ninja who dreams of becoming the leader of his village. In “Stinkmeaner 3: The Hateocracy,” the fifth episode from Boondocks‘ third season, there’s a fight sequence between Riley and Lady Esmeralda Gripenasty, where the latter proceeds to kick the former’s ass. The scene is practically a shot-for-shot remake of main cast character Sasuke’s fight against antagonist Orochimaru.
This scene in particular has divided anime fans, with some calling the reference a homage while others think it’s a rip-off. (It’s worth noting that anime series have done this before. Take this shot-for-shot comparison between Cowboy Bebop: The Movie and Naruto for example.) Considering McGruder’s fandom, the reference doesn’t feel insincere and equates to the thrill of a rap fan recognizing a rap sample — something that only enthusiasts of a certain culture would recognize.
That The Boondocks not only has callbacks to popular anime series but molds itself after the anime art style presents a convincing case that it deserves to be called anime. And not only does it warrant being referred to as anime but it also warrants being considered as the first-ever black anime.
Although works like Takashi Okazaki’s Afro Samurai would likely be what people consider the first-ever black anime (the manga first came out in 1998), it relies more on archetypes common in anime and manga than speaking to a black experience. The Boondocks isn’t only centered around black characters but black topics too — from racial bias in our police systems and black men being wrongly convicted to internalized racism and hip-hop culture.
The Boondocks is leaning even more into an anime aesthetic with its forthcoming reboot, further supporting the idea that the series should be viewed as an anime. The official Boondocks Instagram has unveiled multiple new character designs, with everyone from Jazmine Dubois to Huey all having a more noticeably anime-like appearance.
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Sneak peek at Jazmine’s new look. Sketched by @saintchase. Welcome to the team! . . . . . #jazminedubois #boondocksmemes #freehueyx #jazmine #theboondocks #boondocks #sketch #saintchase #blackcartoons #blackcomics #cartoons #anime #aaronmcgruder #huey #riley #hueyfreeman #rileyfreeman #breakingnews #theshaderoom #worldstar #hiphopdx #complex #blacktwitter #boondocksisback #boondocksbootleg
Earlier this year, Metro Boomin was asked what his favorite anime is. He responded: The Boondocks. Even with the politics that come with what is and isn’t constituted as anime, The Boondocks still deserves to be considered as such. And it looks like it may very well be solidifying its case when it returns in 2020.