The Brief History of Japan’s First Black-Owned Anime Studio

D’ART Shtajio is Japan’s first Black-Owned anime studio. It was founded by animators behind titles such as Pokémon, Naruto, and Bleach.


According to Hypebeast, “D’ART Shtajio was founded back in 2016 by three industry veterans: animator Henry Thurlow, background artist Arthell Isom and his twin brother Darnell, both of whom are Black. The team set off to create a unique studio with the goal of bringing together American sensibilities and Japanese anime, and represent incredible talent in the field. Thurlow himself had previously worked for Nakamura Production as an in-between animator, responsible for titles such as Pokémon and Gundam Build Fighters.”

Above: Arthell Isom, CEO, D’Art Shtajio in Tokyo. Photo Credit: Ben Gonzalez

In February, SyFy wrote, ” Although Arthell Isom’s father, a musician, had instilled an entrepreneurial spirit and a love for the arts in him growing up, it still took him a few swings at life to figure out what he wanted as a career. The answer came not at any job or internship, but while watching TV at home. In the early 2000s, Isom got hooked on the G4 “Anime Unleashed” program block. That was when he decided to become an animator, specifically in the world of anime. At the time, becoming an anime-focused animator was such a unique career path in the United States that no one at the San Francisco Academy of Art, where he attended, was prepared to help him. What he did know was that he admired veteran anime art director Hiromasa Ogura (Ninja Scroll, Ghost in the Shell 1 and 2), so he decided to go to the source. Taking a shot in the dark, he decided to e-mail Production IG (the animation house behind GiTS) for advice.


Somehow he got a reply, which directed him toward the Yoyogi Animation Academy in Osaka, Japan. Unfortunately, when Isom initially arrived in Japan, the school couldn’t enroll him because they had no formal acceptance program for foreign students. That led to an entire year in Japan sorting out paperwork and visas to get enrolled. He was finally accepted to Yoyogi and spent years learning the craft and business of anime. Then, right before graduation, he was shocked to learn that Hiromasa Ogura’s studio only hires one graduate artist a year. After all the obstacles he’d faced down, he wasn’t going to let anything stop him. So he poured everything he had into his portfolio and was lucky enough to land his dream job. He remained with Ogura’s studio for five years.”

“The great thing is with us being here, Black creators seek us out. It’s a great opportunity to work with them,” Isom told Hypebeast. “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.”