In current year, it has become a taboo of the highest order among the West to have a voice actor play a character outside of their own race, gender, and sexuality, even if such qualities only apply to said character within one’s own head canon – as proven for the umpteenth time by the recent outrage surrounding the English dub casting for Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury.
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This latest round of neoliberal whining kicked off on when the series’ Western licensee, Crunchyroll, unveiled the casting for the series’ main protagonists, Suletta Mercury and Miorine Rembran.
Taking to Twitter February 1st, the anime streaming service announced that thanks to the work of their in-house production studio, the former heroine would be portrayed by Jill Harris (Charlotte Pudding in One Piece) and the latter by Natalie Van Sistine (Yor Forger in Spy X Family).
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Thanks to her darker complexion and the now infamous ‘marriage’ proposal scene between her and Miorine in the series’ first episode, identity politics-focused Witch from Mercury fans have come to believe that Suletta is ‘coded’ – i.e. when overt stereotypes are used to portray a character’s identity rather than it being confirmed by the author – as both Middle Eastern/North African and queer.
However, it should be noted that these personal reads are just that, as the series has shown Suletta to be neither. Rather, her dark skin is the result of being raised on Merucry in close proximity to the Sun, and the aforementioned moment between her and Miorine is actually a matter of the latter rejecting her arranged marriage.
Regardless of reality, shortly after Crunchyroll made their announcement, some of Harris’ colleagues in the anime voice acting industry responded to the casting news by expressing immense frustration over what they believed to be the white- and straight- washing of Suletta’s character.
“It pains me to write this on a day that should be filled with nothing but celebration and admiration toward my peers,” opened a rant from Harris’ fellow Witch From Mercury voice actor Nazeeh H. Tarsha. ” To feel as though there is a corporate flyer with a risk assessment eval stating how much one can get away with before receiving an inordinate amount of backlash.”
“We can sit here and argue the merits of ‘right for the role’ vs ‘auto cast because of ethnicity’ but let’s also not pretend that the quality provided by minority actors is less than the quality of their peers,” continued the voice behind Guel’s stoic half-brother, Lauda Neill. “Inclusion gives us the ability to tell the stories of our backgrounds.”
“Even if it is a cookie cutter project where race ultimately could be neglected, character coding still exists,” he argued. “Therefore bringing forth racial relatability to minority consumers. Unfortunately, the more obscure the minority, the easier it is to sweep under the rug. Sad but true.”
Concluding his thoughts, Tarsha asserted, “I have a duty to my peers to use my platform. To speak for those whose voices go unheard.”
“May there come a day where the ambiguous nature of remote recording allowances is foregone and opportunities are provided to actors and directors alike to make the best possible products,” he ultimately declared.
Similarly, the English-language voice of Mirko in My Hero Academia, Anairis Quiñones, found it “very disappointing that, despite all the resources publicly available to find diverse talent, minority voice actors still cannot have the opportunity to represent themselves for a (extremely rare/groundbreaking!!) minority lead in anime.”
“ESPECIALLY a MENA queer lead,” she emphasized.
“Pretty lame that CR’s strong preference for local talent affects authentic representation in a major role,” Quiñones passive-aggressively sniped. “Casting a wide pool for the biggest anime show of the year and not a MENA queer lead in a major franchise says a lot.”
As of writing, Hill is still set to voice Suletta when the English dub of Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury premieres on Crunchyroll on February 5th.
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