If you grew up watching Sunday morning anime on local TV channels and drawing Dragon Ball characters on your Canson sketch pad, you might have once dreamed of becoming a mangaka, or even an animator. At the time, it seemed that all you needed was some elbow grease and a few PSICOM-published How to Draw Manga books (remember those?) and you’d be down the path to becoming a best-selling creator for Shonen Jump.
It was one of many pipe dreams that some of us had as kids, but just like any pipe dream, it only took some growing up to realize how implausible it was. Breaking into an almost entirely Japan-based industry as a foreigner is tough enough as it is, but making great manga and anime also requires some top-tier talent and work ethic. In such a fiercely competitive industry where even Japanese creators have a hard time staying afloat and making a name for themselves, it’s hard to even imagine getting to work alongside them when you’re a foreigner.
That is, until D’ART Shtajio came into the spotlight as the first American and Black-owned anime studio in Japan. Rejoice, fighting dreamers, because the dream isn’t dead. Let’s take a look at how D’ART Shtajio is breaking new ground in the Japanese animation industry.
D’ART Shtajio was established in 2016 by twin brothers Arthell and Darnell Isom and animator Henry Thurlow. Prior to founding the studio, the three had already been working as professionals in their respective fields. Darnell Isom worked as a concept artist and visual effects artist on films like Pacific Rim, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, while his twin brother Arthell worked in the field of anime as a background artist for shows like Naruto, Bleach, and Black Butler. Henry Thurlow, who completes the trio, also worked in the field of anime as an animator for some of our favorite shows, including One Piece, Attack on Titan, and Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure.
Those with a grasp of basic Japanese vocabulary might have taken notice of the “Shtajio” part of the studio’s name, as the word “studio” in Japanese is actually romanized as “sutajio” (スタジオ), but “Shtajio” is actually a portmanteau of the word “studio” and the phrase “Shitaji ga daiji” (下地が大事), which means “The foundation (or groundwork) is important”. Anime background artists also use the word “shitaji” to refer to their underpaintings. D’ART Shtajio’s unique naming convention reflects its core motto: to place great importance on the most fundamental levels of the creative process.
The fact that an American and Black-owned anime studio has found its place in Japan matters to us because they represent the millions of anime fans around the world who’ve always wondered what it would be like to be on the other side of the screen. Anime has long inspired artists of every kind, but the medium itself felt irreplicable and out of reach to those outside of Japan. Recently, with the practice of outsourcing becoming more common among Japanese anime studios, more foreign artists have been able to contribute to the creation of anime, but doing outsourced work just isn’t the same as making an anime that’s distinctly your own.
The team at D’ART Shtajio are bravely going where very few, if any at all, have gone before, and they’re helping make anime a more globalized medium. Who knows, maybe following their example could be the start to getting some Japan-made Pinoy anime of our own, we already have a good start in Barangay 143, after all.
You can find more information on D’ART Shtajio on their official website, and you can follow their social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) as well as their YouTube channel for updates and vlogs.
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