Arthell Isom: Brain Behind Japan’s First Major Black-Owned Anime Studio

by Duke Magazine

Arthell Isom and his twin brother Darnell are co-founders of D’Art Shtajio, a 2-D animation studio situated in Tokyo, Japan. This is the first major black-owned anime studio in the country. D’Art Shtajio was founded in 2016 sequel to the brothers’ teaming with animator Henry Thurlow. Ever since, the studio has been remarkably producing Japanese anime that agrees with American culture. 

Darnell runs the studio from California, U.S, but Isom has been a Japanese resident for over one decade. His career started from studying Art History in San Francisco, couple with furthering his studies at art schools in Italy, and then Osaka. Isom’s passion about the visual backgrounds in anime began to brew, and he set out on his own as a freelance background animation artist.

In his career history, Isom has 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 availed him the opportunity of making a foot print 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 – Image credit: Netflix

In 2016, Isom co-founded his own studio, D’Art Shtajio, with an interpretation“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’, with 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.’

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