Black anime fans have always had a particular problem with their favorite medium: it’s been hard finding Black characters. Of course, there’s an obvious reason: anime is a Japanese import. But combined with internalized Western stereotypes about Black people, finding an appropriate Black character in an anime is sometimes like finding a needle in a haystack. Thank goodness for LeSean Thomas, who has finally debuted the first season of his nostalgia-inducing anime, Cannon Busters, on Netflix.
If you’re fans of shows like Trigun, Cowboy Bebop and Outlaw Star, then Cannon Busters will be like manna to you. It prominently features Black characters in an intergalactic Wild West comedy adventure. For those of us who grew up with Toonami‘s block of programming, Cannon Busters will give you the feeling of sitting in front of the TV after school or on Saturday morning, eating a bowl of the most sugary cereal possible.
Thomas has been one of the most popular and recognized talents in the animation industry. Through his cultural influences and love for anime, he’s been able to create a successful career working on popular cartoon shows such as The Boondocks, Black Dynamite, The Legend of Korra, Ben 10: Alien Force, Batman: The Brave and The Bold, Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers Assemble, Spider-Man and many more. Cannon Busters has been around for quite some time, with the story first coming to fans as a comic book series between 2004 and 2005 by Udon Comics and Devil’s Due. There was talk of a graphic novel version of the story coming in 2009, but that was put on hold because Cannon Busters was being developed into a show.
The series also features Black voice actors such as Kenn Michael, who ’90s kids will certainly recognize from his role in Robert Townsend’s sitcom The Parent ‘Hood. Michael, who voices the immortal criminal Philly the Kid, also worked throughout the ’90s and ’00s on several fan-favorite shows, like Moesha and Freeks and Geeks. His voice acting career has also cemented him as one of the unsung heroes of the ’90s and ’00s, with his voice featured on Pepper Ann, Static Shock and As Told by Ginger among other projects.
Kamali Minter plays opposite Michael as the voice for Sam, a friendly robot who is on a quest to secure Philly’s help for her place of origin, the Kingdom of Botica. Minter’s voice has been featured on The Loud House and Game Shakers, and previous work includes Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII and Ben 10: Alien Force.
Zeno Robinson rounds out the cast of Black voice actors, taking on the role of Prince Kelby, the royal who Sam needs Philly’s help with finding. Two of Robinson’s biggest roles aside from Cannon Busters includes Young Justice and Craig of the Creek. Other notable voice roles include several anime and American cartoons, such as One Punch Man, Cyborg 009: Call of Justice, Spider-Man, Lego Star Wars: All Stars and Mobile Suit Gundam Narrative.
Overall, this show is something Black anime fans have been waiting on for years, so it’s exciting to finally see it on a large platform like Netflix. Also, because the series was created in Japan by animation studios Satelight and Yumeta Company, it begs the question if this series will broaden the scope of how Blackness is perceived in anime and Japanese culture at large. Thomas isn’t just making Black anime fans happy with Cannon Busters; he’s also expanding consciousness regarding the idea of Blackness abroad.