“As of now I’m a full-time actor/director/writer/entertainer,” says King Vader casually. He’s sitting with Fandom at Crunchyroll Expo 2022 to talk about an upcoming film and reflect on past successes. He’s just been asked if he plans on dropping an album sometime. “I don’t have any plans right now. Maybe in the future.”
“But maybe, someday, anime rap jams?” ventures interviewer Emma Fyffe.
Vader laughs at the prospect of adding yet another item to his repertoire. But then–surprise, surprise–he remembers he’s already done that.
“Naruto vs. Goku,” he says, referring to a video he made with Irving Lambert. “Honestly, if you wanna hear some anime bars, that’s where you can check one out.”
From Vine Star to Ninja Star
He’s certainly got the cred to back it up. King Vader first made waves in the anime community with his Hood Naruto video series, which have tens of millions of views between them. But it wasn’t his first foray into content creation; prior to that series premiering, he had a respectable presence on Vine before the platform’s eventual demise. It was his love for anime that helped set him apart once he made the move to the YouTube sphere.
“It began with me being inspired by who Naruto was as a character,” he says, reminiscing on his childhood. “Having moments that truly resonated with me … like, I’m a child. Am I supposed to be relating with this? I wasn’t relating to Spongebob, but with Naruto, I was right there.”
While Vine had been a great place to cut his teeth on audiovisual entertainment, he knew he’d have to figure out his brand on YouTube. “My heart was telling me I should make videos based on anime and things I truly loved. So it started with Naruto, honestly. In the Vine days, I kinda started to sprinkle in Naruto, and people liked it. I was like, ‘Y’all like anime too? I like anime!’ So when we pushed over to YouTube, I just took a chance. I wanted to show people, this is what I love. So I made Naruto Part 3, and that’s probably one of the most viral ones … It just blew up.”
He’s not exaggerating, either. At time of publication, it actually has nearly 31 million views and counting. Since then, he’s covered all sorts of beloved franchises to similar effect, garnering massive popularity in one of the internet’s most famously enthusiastic circles. Seeing his work in the anime space gain so much notoriety is a far cry from how he remembers the medium’s reputation in his youth.
On the DL
“Back in high school, it was like a secret society,” he says. “Certain people watched it, but no one talked about it. As I was starting to exit high school, it started to become more popular, and now it’s mainstream. It’s everywhere now.”
The fact that he’s premiering his highly-anticipated new series, Hood Jujutsu Kaisen, at CRX of all places, is proof-positive of that. And it’s not just fans of the anime who are taking notice.
“Hood JJK premiered this year on Friday, and a big surprise–the voice actors of Yuji and Nobara ran up on stage,” he says, still visibly starstruck. “And they were like ‘Hey, what’s up, I’m Adam, I’m the voice of Yuji Itadori, and this is Nobara, and we’re just here to support my boy King Vader and his project…’“
“I’m on the side of the stage just shocked, like this can’t be happening. But it’s happening.”
Game recognizes game, it seems.
Let Your Fandom Flag Fly
Through hard work, raw talent, and shockingly high production values, Vader’s meteoric success on YouTube has made him a mainstay in a community that hasn’t traditionally centered on Black voices. His fans aren’t shy about telling him they feel represented in his work, either.
“The greatest version of that is coming out to these conventions and speaking to people, seeing my supporters face-to-face and having these heart to heart conversations. That’s where I really get, ‘You changed my life, you let me know it was cool to watch anime and represent it outside my home.’”
He gestures to his Giyu Tomioka-inspired jacket. “For me, I step out of the house like this. This is just the wave. How I create these films, how I walk, how I speak, I think that has touched a lot of people who look just like me across the world.”
That impact will only continue to grow as he builds up his substantial backlog of material. So what does a particular show need for him to want to put his own creative spin on it?
“It starts with what drew me and connected me to that anime. We’ve done Naruto, Cowboy Bebop, Dragon Ball Super, JJK, Demon Slayer, and every time I watch these anime, there’s a moment where I’m like, ‘Wow, that struck something in me,’ and I wanna find a way to pay homage to that.”
He’s got plenty to choose from, as his first exposure to anime goes back even further than he realized. “For a long time I’ve been thinking it was Dragon Ball Z, the Broly movie, until I learned that Speed Racer was an anime. I’ve been watching that since I was a child! But DBZ was the one where I was like, I wanna see more. And the one that really stuck with me the most, and my favorite to this day, is Naruto. All the life lessons in that show kinda shaped me as a person.”
Big Cursed Energy
Even with all his projects and tributes, there are still a few memories that make filming Hood JJK unique. ““One of the actors who plays Todo, Matt, he was my first boxing trainer. So when it came to looking for Todo, who’s gonna represent the Todo, I’m looking through my Instagram, I’m scanning the world, and I’m like, this guy’s gotta be the strongest person I know. And Matt is one of the strongest people I know. I hit him up and he’s like, ‘What?! That’s my favorite anime character!’ So I’m like, I think this is gonna work.”
It’s more than a shared love for the source material that makes things click, though. “We did a little intro theme song for the video, and while we’re filming it, one of my friends hears us bickering on-set, and they’re like ‘wow, you guys really argue like Yuji and Todo.’ I’m like, this is just who we are at this point.”
“I think we’re actually becoming best friends. It’s kinda scary.”
And Matt isn’t the only friend making an appearance. Says Vader, “It’s always a collaborative process when it comes to video. I’m shooting for the stars, but when it comes to this JJK video that’s dropping on August 20 on my channel, we’re trying to get a very special cameo, and if it happens the world is gonna freak out. It’s gonna be something special for the community.”
We can’t wait to see how he breaks the internet this time. Catch the film’s premiere on the KING VADER YouTube channel later this month.