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West meets West: D’ART Shtajio

Born the brainchild of twin brothers Arthell and Darnell Isom, D’ART Shtajio is touted as the first major black-owned anime studio in Tokyo, Japan.

Partnering with animator Henry Thurlow D’ART Shtajio is a 2-D animation studio that focuses on creating work at the crossroads between East and West. So in addition to its majority black ownership also makes it the first anime studio to be owned and operated by Americans in Japan.

According to the company’s website, D’ART Shtajio fuses “westernised elements of art and storytelling to the Japanese standard of animation”.

Founded in 2016, the company has created such works as the 2018 advert for online fashion retailer ASOS featuring model Jazzelle Zanaughtti, the somewhat biographical Shojo no Piero (The Doll), as well as a number of self-produced work including the XOGENASYS Anime, that tells the story of Darius Smith, a troubled teen trying to overcome adversity while providing for his family.

Something about their work is reminiscent of Aaron McGruder’s Boondocks. It moves beyond western influences in traditional anime styles, there’s something intentionally urban and diverse in their approach.

Of the two founding twins, Darnell is based in California while Arthell has lived in Japan for over 10 years with a career in anime spanning 13 years as a background and environment concept artist working on popular titles such as Naruto Shippuden, Detective Conan, Gintama, and most recently the Netflix Original B: the Beginning.

In fact, his mentor was well-known animator Hiromasa Ogura, who worked on projects like Ninja Scroll and Ghost in the Shell.

Speaking to Isom about his start and what inspired him to get started, among others it was in the early 2000s that Isom became obsessed with the G4 “Anime Unleashed” program block. That was when he decided to become an animator. He also shared:

“I watched ‘Ghost in the Shell’ every day for a year,” he said to the Japan Times. “I didn’t even know why I liked it until a teacher asked me to focus on that question. That’s when I discovered that I liked the backgrounds and the way the animation moved through them.”

His advice on others wanting to do what he’s done and cross the river and join the anime, he told SyFy Wire, learn the language, observe the industry and then “once you decide what it is that you want to be in the animation industry, then really try to just focus on that and building and developing your skills for that particular field”.

Natalie Bannerman