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Nessa is a gym leader set to appear in the upcoming Pokémon Sword and Shield video games. After her cameo in the Nintendo Direct for E3 2019, she quickly developed a massive fandom, as fans created memes and fan art about the character, similar to their response to Sonia.
Fans were quick to create fan art for the character after her reveal. Twitter user @AkaiRiot posted art that gained over 6,000 retweets and 24,000 likes (shown below, left). Twitter user @ScruffyTurtles did the same, gaining over 2,600 retweets and 10,000 likes (shown below, right).
Many also joked about how the character was bound to be Rule 34’d. Redditor Manny4044 posted a You Are Already Dead joke about the character being Rule 34’d, gaining over 3,600 points in /r/Animemes. Redditor Steelerskc12 also made a Rule 34 joke on /r/animemes (shown below, right).
The art jokes were further highlighted by Nessa’s popularity shortly after Sonia’s announcement and respective popularity spike less than a week prior, with many memes pointing out how attention shifted away from Sonia following Nessa’s announcement. Redditor u/ZomicN3rf posted a Friendship Ended With Mudasir edit, gaining over 50 points, Tumblr user aiaikawa posted a Fairly OddParents edit gaining over 2,100 notes and Twitter user @MinaCreamu a comic about it gaining over 3,600 retweets and 17,000 likes in less than 2 weeks (shown below, left to right).
On June 12th, 2019, Twitter user @Anonemose posted fan art of Nessa in which they simply reposted the official Nessa artwork but gave her a lighter skin palette, claiming they “fixed” her (shown below, left). This was possibly done in parody of artists who post their versions of artwork claiming they “fixed” a character. The user stated in a followup tweet that it was intended to be satirical (shown below, middle). Users @HappaBadger outlined the type of post @Anonemose was intending to satirize (shown below, right).
However the image already led to a wave of backlash from the fan art community who saw the user’s post as racist, “improving” her by making her skin lighter. The Twitter account for the podcast Build Casters said “@anonemose
is a Racist and Anti-Black Dickhead. We are sick and fucking tired of the Anti-Blackness that permeates both Anime and Gaming culture and it needs to fucking stop,” gaining over 60 retweets and 230 likes (shown below, left). User @hyperpan posted a clownposting response, gaining over 330 likes (shown below, right).
The whitewashing debate extended beyond @Anonemose incident, as other pieces of Nessa fan art were accused of whitewashing the character. For example, a piece by @Naju0517 was accused of whitewashing the character by several users (shown below, left). This led to a debate on if the artist believed they were improving the character by making her lighter or drawing her in a more pastel style consistent with their other artworks. User @itmethanh tweeted that the argument “it’s just a palette choice” was a losing argument in the whitewashing debate, citing, “the fact that they thought choosing that particular color bc it’s ‘pretty’ or ‘fits best’ with their scheme is telling of internalized beliefs of how dark skin should be portrayed” (shown below, right). The debate was covered in a thread on /r/OutOfTheLoop.
Eventually the controversy spiraled into artists intentionally creating satirical pieces where Nessa was given a wide range of skin colors or made invisible, such as the pieces by BOW and @Ewe_we01 (shown below, left 2 images). Later, artists also created pieces where they purposely added even more well known racist caricatures, such as drawing Nessa as a chimpanzee or in a SS-outfit by respectively @Evulart and @itsukarine (shown below, right two images). Each of these tweets managed to gather thousands of likes and retweets within days of being posted with varying reactions.