Meet Arthell Isom, the man behind Japan’s first major black-owned anime studio

Theodora Aidoo Jun 28, 2020 at 09:00am

June 28, 2020 at 09:00 am | Success Story

Theodora Aidoo

Theodora Aidoo | Staff Writer

June 28, 2020 at 09:00 am | Success Story

Arthell Isom, CEO, D'Art Shtajio in Tokyo. Pic Credit: Ben Gonzalez

Arthell Isom and his twin brother Darnell are co-founders of D’Art Shtajio, a 2-D animation studio located in Tokyo, Japan. The first major black-owned anime studio in the country, D’Art Shtajio was established in 2016 after the brothers teamed up with animator Henry Thurlow. Since then, the studio has been producing Japanese anime that merges with American culture. 

Darnell helps run the studio from California but Isom has been in Japan for the past 12 years. He started his career studying art history in San Francisco. He also attended art schools in Italy, and then Osaka. He became passionate about the visual backgrounds in anime, so he set out on his own as a freelance background animation artist.

Isom worked as a background animator with animation studio Ogura Kobo on shows like Bleach, Black Butler, and Naruto. According to him, those years of experience helped him to make a mark in Japan, a country where only 5% of the labor force is reportedly non-Japanese.

Netflix Sturgill Simpson Sound and Fury directed by Henry Thurlow/D’Art Shtajio Studio – Pic Credit: Netflix

Then, in 2016, Isom co-founded his own studio, D’Art Shtajio interpreted: “The Foundation is Important”. He credits his mentor Hiromasa Ogura, who worked on projects like Ninja Scroll and Ghost in the Shell, for helping him shape his career.

“I watched Ghost in the Shell every day for a year. 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,” Isom said, according to the Japan Times.

D’ART Shtajio, the first American-owned anime studio in Japan, has worked on popular shows like Attack on Titan, One Piece, and Tokyo Ghoul, as well as commercials for Adidas and Asos.

“The great thing is with us being here, Black creators seek us out. It’s a great opportunity to work with them. We’ve worked with quite a few like independent manga creators with projects like Tephlon Funk and XOGENASYS; we get the opportunity to then tell more Black stories. These are storytellers who want to see their story adapted to anime form,” he said.

D’ART Shtajio has released several in-house productions, including Sturgill Simpson Presents Sound and Fury, a Netflix original anime anthology set to Sturgill Simpson’s SOUND & FURY album, as well as anime shorts like “Indigo Ignited.”

Learn more about Arthell Isom and the D’ART Shtajio in this video:

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