A little story about how I created Zhen Marks.
When I was first making all the characters they all were based in this fictional town of Japan and they were all Japanese and that was that. That is what a 13-year old making a story and being obsessed with anime does. When I got older I wanted to make a diverse cast. I wanted things to make more sense and real, because although the bigger story of Choco Ichigo is "magical," my goal was to always make the characters as real as possible so people can connect to them. I feel like in some stories we lose interest in main characters because they become unrelatable and we end up loving villains because they are the ones with the backstories and pain we can understand.
With Zhen, he looked like everyone else except...he was tall. He was a tall, Japanese boy with brown hair and glasses. He was basically a second Haruto. As much as I love Haruto, having two of them just seemed boring. (Though, I am pretty sure Kagami would not have a problem with two Harutos). I liked Zhen's character, but I wasn't IN love with him like I was with the other characters. I knew I needed something different for him. I don't know what whispered in my ear, I don't know what made me do this, but I started with Zhen's outline, the same jawline, and everything, but I started curling his hair. I didn't know what I was doing, I just kept going until I was looking at this outline and saw an entirely different character. I picked out a color to fill in this outline and I immediately fell in love. I felt like I met someone new. The change to make Zhen black was probably the most natural, comfortable, feeling I have ever had when reimagining a character. It just made sense to me. I cannot even see Zhen as that other original style anymore, that wasn't Zhen, that was just a placeholder for someone so much more. I felt like with this change, I could give Zhen more of a personality. His role never changed in the story, but the personality did. He became someone who could actually grow. At first he was just a pretty boy, but with this new Zhen, he paved the path to what Choco Ichigo is going to turn into. He inspired a lot of the rest of the story. Not because of his dramatic change of appearance, but the fact that he felt like a real person and not some model.
We need more diversity when it comes to characters. I feel like as a creator sometimes we get stuck with a certain frame of mind and maybe some people are too scared to make that jump. I am not saying that you need to make all your characters gay and POC, but it doesn't hurt to give representation to something you may not be. I was 13 when I made the original cast of Choco Ichigo, I didn't think how important diversity was. Then I grew up and realized, oh yeah, I can make a main character gay, I can have POC characters, I can make a transgender character because these are real people. It is not like I HAD to make these characters because I was worried I didn't have enough diversity, no, it was the fact that I want to make a story that has real feeling characters and that includes representation of individuals that I may not be a part of when it comes to their community, but I am an ally and Choco Ichigo will always give support to those who need it the most.
Below is a link to the situation at hand and amazing explanations of what is happening. There are places where you can donate, take part in petitions, and other means to help bring justice to those who deserve it. Please don't stop fighting. We need to keep making an impact. Change is needed and change will happen if we keep fighting for what is right and condemn those who have done so much wrong.
Stay safe out there and Stay Sweet 🍫🍓❤️