In the expansive world of anime, there are a lot of offerings from production studios that seek to make an impact with their artwork and storytelling. Every year, a fresh batch is born, and a few hopefuls do just that. As for writer and storyteller Richard Singleton II, also known as Creative Theory, he wants to do more than connect with audiences through what’s onscreen. After embarking on an intercontinental tour to promote his upcoming anime work, Singleton realized that the ongoing story and journey behind his and his team’s web series, Broken Beat Forthbringers, is equally vital to their success in the anime industry. Right now, the series is streaming on YouTube and serves as a prequel for their next project series, Broken Beat: Legend of the Last Forthbringer. We caught up with Creative Theory before he headed to the Philippines to discuss how that journey is going and what he hopes his recent work means for the future of inclusion in the genre.
BSF: Can you tell us about the inspiration behind your new anime project? What motivated you to create it and what were your first steps?
Creative Theory (CT): My father introduced me to the world of cartoons when I was a kid, sparking my imagination with classics like He-Man, Transformers, Mazinger Z, and Dragon Ball Z, to name a few. As I went deeper into this medium, I noticed a lack of representation for characters who looked like me.
My goal then became to create an alternate world where black people could exist without experiencing racism and where their character is the sole measure of their worth. In this world, the focus would be on fostering storytelling to emphasize the crafting of narratives where black characters are heroes embarking on great adventures, without it feeling like a novelty act.
I made some unconventional choices. I ventured into two war zones, Afghanistan and Iraq, to secure the necessary funds for this project. My quest to make Broken Beat had me embark on a global search to find the right collaborators who shared my passion for this project. In this pursuit, I was fortunate to connect with Magnetic Studios a talented team of animators from the Philippines who were once part of Toei Animation Studios, renowned for their work in the anime industry.
BSF: How do you see your anime impacting underrepresented or marginalized communities within the anime fandom?
CT: My anime project holds immense potential to impact our community by providing a world where they are not just seen but celebrated, and are the center of a narrative. In storytelling, the power of representation is often underestimated, but it has the profound ability to shape perceptions and empower individuals. An example of this can be drawn from an episode of Static Shock where Virgil, finds himself in Africa and shares with his white friend Richie that at that moment, he doesn’t feel like a “Black kid in Africa”; he simply feels like a kid. This scene illustrates the transformative impact of storytelling, highlighting the universal desire to be seen beyond racial or cultural boundaries, and Broken Beat has the potential to provide that sense of belonging and empowerment to countless individuals within the black anime community fandom
BSF: Are there any particular hurdles you’ve encountered in creating an inclusive anime, and how have you handled them?
CT: Creating an inclusive black-centered anime presents its unique set of challenges for sure. They can often leave you feeling caught in the middle. Within my own community, some may not fully understand the ambitious nature of this project, leading to skepticism or even resistance. Simultaneously, I have encountered racial slurs and bigotry from individuals outside my community who resist change and diversity in the anime industry. Furthermore, being relatively unknown and lacking the status enjoyed by established creators, I find myself on a tightrope struggling to gain recognition from both everyday creators and industry elites.
However, I do my best to navigate these complex situations. Trusting my inner guide and maintaining a tough skin have become essential tools. By staying true to my vision I know I am carving a path towards creating a transformative and inclusive anime that not only empowers my community but also helps inspire change within the industry itself.
And even with all of that, managing this project in the challenging environments of Iraq and Afghanistan, while working tirelessly for 12-hour shifts, seven days a week, has been my toughest hurdle. The constant threat of terrorist attacks at any given moment only adds another layer of complexity and danger to an already demanding situation. Balancing creative pursuits like running an anime project while working in a warzone has tested me in ways I don’t think most could understand.
BSF: Tell us about the creative team for this project.
CT: I connected with Magnetic Studios, a team of Filipino animators who once animated for Toei Animation Studios by soliciting myself to Noel Barrios and Anton Ferris, the founders of Magnetic. After that, they agreed to be the animators after becoming interested in the plot’s potential. Since 2020 we have been working together to bring everyone something different but familiar. The goal to capture an old-school anime style but with an up-to-date look has been this title’s signature. Their expertise and dedication have been instrumental in bringing this story to life.
BSF: Who would you really like to work with (creator/studio/writer/actors) in the future?
CT: Growing up in Fayetteville, NC, I’ve always felt a strong connection to my hometown, and I can’t help but be inspired by the talent it’s produced. People like J. Cole, the hometown hero who’s taken the music industry by storm, Ben Vereen, who’s a legendary entertainer, Brian Tyree Henry, making waves in the acting world, Affion Crockett, a hilarious comedian, and Carl Jones, the creative genius. We’ve all got this Fayetteville vibe in our veins, and I’ve got this dream project in mind that brings our hometown pride to life. Imagine what we could create together, celebrating where we come from and sharing our talents with the world. It’s a dream project that feels like a natural fit, and I’d love nothing more than to make it happen one day.
BSF: What feedback have you gotten from your international audiences so far, and has your travel affected the creative lens for your work?
CT: You know, it’s been an incredible journey with this anime. I’ve been lucky enough to travel to places like Africa, India, Japan, and the Philippines, where I’ve made some amazing friends along the way, all while trying to soak in their beautiful cultures. The best part? The international feedback I’ve received for my anime has been overwhelmingly positive. These countries have shown nothing but love and support for the web series thus far, and it’s truly heartwarming. I couldn’t be more grateful for the friendships and appreciation that “Broken Beat” has brought into my life.
BSF: Are there any moments that stood out to you in your production process that further highlight or reaffirm the importance of inclusivity in your project?
After uploading the second episode from Broken Beat Forthbringers to Facebook I received a message that was in all caps, and it simply said, “NEVER STOP. OUR CHILDREN NEED YOU!” Those words have stayed in my mind ever since. Right now in this very moment, it is a reminder of the impact my work can have and for those who may find inspiration in what I do. It’s a responsibility I take to heart, knowing that the stories and content I create can shape young minds and make a positive difference in their lives. That message has motivated me to keep pushing forward, to keep creating.
BSF: Could you share some insights into the marketing and distribution strategies you’ve used so far?
Being in a warzone taught me some hard-hitting lessons about priorities and resource management. When it came to marketing my work, it was a matter of properly resting and survival. I didn’t have the luxury of time to put in sophisticated marketing strategies. Instead, I adopted a simple approach: post my content and let the work speak for itself. It was basically sending out a message in a bottle and hoping it reaches someone who connects with it. Likes and fancy algorithms took a backseat to the ultimate goal–views. In these circumstances, every view was seen as a victory.
BSF: What are your hopes for the future of inclusivity in the industry?
CT: My hope for the future of inclusivity is rooted in the freedom of expression for black creators. It’s essential that they aren’t confined to a box or pigeonholed into specific roles or themes. In a world increasingly influenced by AI and technology, allowing Black creators the chance to experiment, to seamlessly navigate between content that celebrates our culture and unrestricted fantasy. The beauty of creativity is in its boundless potential, and by affording black creators this creative freedom, we not only empower ourselves but also enrich our collective cultural tapestry with an array of stories and perspectives. It’s a future where creativity has no limits, and that’s a world I’m eager to see.
BSF: What are your long-term goals for this and other projects you’re working on?
CT: My long-term goal in creating anime is to fuse my passions for writing, music, and drawing into a perfect mix. I want to weave narratives that can be felt from my music, resonate with my words, and come to life through my art. I’m also deeply committed to using my work to challenge and transform the way people perceive black stories in anime. I aspire to help bring authentic and empowering representations of black characters and narratives to the forefront, dismantling stereotypes and clichés.
Furthermore, my aim is to inspire fellow creators to follow their creative instincts and pour their hearts into their projects, rather than succumbing to trends or societal expectations. I believe that true artistry lies in authenticity, and I hope to be a beacon of encouragement for others to create from a place of genuine passion and purpose. Through this journey I’m currently on, I hope to foster a community of creators who are driven by the desire to tell unique and meaningful stories, paving the way for a more inclusive and imaginative world of animation.
As far as my other projects go. First, I have a completed series set in Africa during the reign of King Ezana in Aksum, Ethiopia titled “Isha”. This project allowed me to explore the rich history and culture of my ancestors, and I’m proud to say this will give me the opportunity to showcase how allowing the narrative to focus more on storytelling and creativity while staying true to our heritage will develop content that is effortlessly authentic and relatable.
Additionally, I’m currently working on a movie centered around music, which is still in the writing phase. It will be a unique and immersive experience, combining my passion for music with the world of anime.
Lastly, my passion project anime series is something I believe will cultivate a devoted fanbase similar to those of Star Wars and Star Trek fans. I’m pouring my heart and soul into this project, and I can’t wait to see it come to life. These projects are a celebration of storytelling, culture, and creativity, and I’m eager to share them with the world.
M’Shai S. Dash is a Muslim author, writer, and speaker from Washington, D.C. Her work is centered on how to transform adversity into purpose and art, the evolution of afrofuturism as an aesthetic and literary genre, and how to use storytelling as a tool to connect with online audiences. Dash has always had a passion for activism, art, and literature, and is the author of the series Quirky Black Sci-Fi Tales, and a volume of poetry titled Woman In Sujud.