Being a multiracial person is a different experience for everyone claiming to be so. Not always positive, but not always negative.
There’s the common story of feeling this need to choose, the horrid possibility of hating yourself, the fear of choosing incorrectly, then the realization of not having to choose at all.
For me, seeing half-demons in anime and watching them experience these choices to an extreme helped me reconcile my own identity.
Now don’t trip. I didn’t lock myself away in a dark room and learn how to be a multiracial black woman from anime. However, anime seemed to be the only thing in my world in the early 2000’s portraying being mixed or multiracial in a way that was understandable; or even at all.
I never sought these characters and situations out as opportunities to learn about myself. But as I watched more anime and read more manga, the half-demon trope was consistently present and alarmingly relatable. Their stories overlapped and intertwined, yet still differed in interesting ways. Showing me a wide breadth of paths to choose and attitudes to have towards my situation. Surely one could write a list a mile long of all the half demon characters out there doing more or less the same as the last half demon character; but I will walk you through my journey with only two.
First there’s the ever popular and easily recognizable Inuyasha. It was among my firsts for anime, and the first story I’d encountered that was carried largely by the title character being a half demon. Unfortunately though, this anime was soaked in the “half evil” plot device and hardly ever let up on it. Born to a human mother and demon father, Inuyasha was made to feel like half of him was to be feared and fixed. This struck a cord.
I didn’t initially connect Inuyasha’s half demon makeup to my own genetic game of Jenga (fun fact; I do not have a white parent). Mostly because I was not fully aware of the exact reason behind my “otherness”. I assumed, and eventually turned out to be mostly correct, that my quirky tastes in music, clothing, ideas, and culture were the reason why I felt like an “other” in a room full of black children. What I latched onto about Inuyasha was the feeling of being alienated, even hated, for being different. This is not a feeling that strictly comes with being mixed or multiracial, for sure. But it’s definitely one that comes in the kit.
My kinship with Inuyasha was solidified with a very memorable scene. Referred to by the character as the first time he saw his mother cry. A young Inuyasha captures a runaway ball and eagerly returns it to some playing children. Rather than accept the return of their play thing, they whisper cutting things about “it” and “the half demon” before turning their backs on Inuyasha and walking away. The young half demon runs to his mother, too young to understand what has happened. But as he grew older, his mother’s tearful reaction to that moment helped him realize that half of who he was made him undesirable.
My immediate reaction to this scene? Tears. Many a group and lunch table did I approach at summer camp and church events where I was laughed away and pelted with hurtful words. I made friends still, but you always remember your rejections. Inuyasha’s continued run-in’s with such rejection and ridicule made him do what I did; dive headfirst into this thing people assumed about him and weaponize it. If my peers wanted a white girl, I would give them one.
This was a dangerous route to take and for years it screwed with my perception and acceptance of black culture as I grew. I rejected it everywhere I could and pursued my “white pastimes” at any given opportunity. But as the years passed it wore on me. Rather than feeling empowered, I felt lost in the rift between who I was trying to be and who I was. Much like Inuyasha, who tried so hard to be a fear-invoking full-blood demon when it was only half of who he was.
The second character I found myself intrigued by is one a bit more obscure but so much closer to my heart, Sha Gojyo of Saiyuki. Gojyo inhabits a world where humans and demons at one point lived in harmony. But even during this peaceful period the coupling of a human and a demon was taboo. Their children, born with red hair and eyes regardless of their parent’s genes, were “untouchables” and seen as unclean creatures with a predestined path of sin. Gojyo’s choice to take this and run with it was, and still is, nothing short of inspiring.
Where Inuyasha’s approach to his mixed parentage was to pick a side (even later looking to be a full human rather than a full demon after that blows up in his face), Gojyo’s approach was to take himself as he was and go with the flow. He made being a half demon work for him and he was hardly ever bothered by people who wanted to make a huge deal of it. Gojyo showed me that my genetic makeup didn’t have to dictate the type of things I chose to love and participate in or the person I wanted to be. He also showed me that the people who felt the need to “correct” or ridicule me could shove it.
There is always a thought when I come across these characters; of whether or not their creators put any real thought into how the character struggles and lives with their identity. Is there ever a moment where a character’s genetics aren’t just a plot device like with Inuyasha? Are there other characters out there with obvious arcs and epiphanies like Gojyo?
Then there is the hope that I’m not the only person who can learn lessons like these, even though I didn’t seek them out. I am still working towards embracing my identity, reconciling the growing pains in my past and questions raised by society everyday. But thank god I can turn to anime for some clarification by way of happy accidents.
What’s your opinion? Do you think the half-breed/half demon trope is overused, old and tired? Which characters do you think grow from the experience of being a half something else?