Thursday, June 13, 2024

On the Fusion of Black Culture and Japanese Animation

Sierriana Terry, Harmony & Hues: Blerd Views on the Fusion of Black Culture and Japanese Animation, Ph. D. Dissertation, Department of Music, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2024.

Abstract: You turn on the television and the first thing you see is Samurai Champloo (2004), an anime series set in historical Japan with a breakdancing swordsman fighting as hip-hop music plays in the background. For Black American anime fans, this anime was the first to juxtapose Japanese and Black American cultures. By focusing on fan culture, and specifically Blerd (Black Nerd) culture, this dissertation asks: What is the construction and reception of these non-Japanese sonic and visual aesthetics amongst online forums and convention discussions? How does this and other similar Japanese anime function as a medium to express Black ideological and societal values through such decidedly non-Japanese sonic and visual aesthetics? 

My dissertation examines the roles of music genres (e.g., jazz, hip hop, Western classical music) as musical settings that show the complexities of racial discourse in Japanese media and their interpretations through Blerd culture. Exploring anime series produced between the early 2000s and the late 2010s, I examine the racial discourse based on a character’s aural and visual appearance in anime through the lens of Blerdness in Blerd spaces. I argue that Black sonic and visual expressions produced by Japanese animation studios in anime series (re)construct new and/or currently existing representations of Japaneseness in conjunction with representations of Blackness and Whiteness. Using critical methodologies from animation and multimedia studies, I employ ethnographic work to understand the viewer’s construction and reception of Black musical motifs and visual icons and symbols of fictional Japans with (re)imagined histories and presented through the lens of Blerd culture.

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