Naomi Osaka the reigning US Open champion and may just win the 2019 Australian Open today!
She is a GODDESS of the sport and with her unique background as half Japanese and half Haitian- the tennis star is one of the brightest talents in sports. She burst onto the scene with a wild victory over the legendary SERENA WILLIAMS in a contested final involving an “in his feelings” referee. Through it all, her hard work, grace, and beauty made her a superstar of the sport. What should have been a smooth next step for her sports career had become a significant misstep however when popular ramen maker, NISSIN, a sponsor of Osaka’s, debuted an ANIME ad where the athlete was depicted as a light-skinned person that was very different from the real tennis player who describes herself as “Tan.” By making the decision to change her skin tone, consequently, they also changed her hair to match her lighter complexion.
While this DOES fit the definition of whitewashing, we choose to feel that this was an isolated incident or an accident at best. That said, it’s unfair to pretend that the Japanese manga/anime do not have a severe representation problem. Some of our FAVORITE series such as EYESHIELD 21, KUROKO NO BASKET, and the uber-popular, PRINCE OF TENNIS feature diverse casts of athletes that either happens to be White or Asian. While Japan is a mostly Asian country – it’s an unrealistic notion to assume that black and brown people do not live, work, and have families in Japan. Likewise, many black sports celebrities are well-known there from Lebron James to Michael Jordan to Usain Bolt.
Again, we don’t blame NISSIN nor do we think that colorism is an issue only in Japan. Brazil and even America have had problems depicting or celebrating darker skinned people in certain circumstances but it does hurt a little bit more when our favorite anime and manga fail to showcase the beauty of diversity. Naomi Osaka and upcoming NBA superstar Rui Hachimura are black, darker-skinned mixed-Japanese but even then in most series the diverse character will be half Japanese and Half white. We would hope that this is something that will change as younger folks in Japan surely embrace music, fashion, and global trends that celebrate many cultures outside of Japan.
Now when it comes to representation, we at Saturday AM (the World’s MOST Diverse Shonen Manga Anthology) are very interested. Our series include characters who are Arabic, Latina, Black, Indian as well as heroes who are disabled, from urban backgrounds to European cities. Even though, we publish popular titles likeAPPLE BLACK, SAIGAMI, HAMMER and CLOCK STRIKER (to name a few) we would LOVE to have a strong sports manga! As a genre it’s one of the uniquely art forms that seems impossible to replicate as it seems only the Japanese can find the drama of every minute detail (in volleyball, soccer, go, or even golf) in a comicbook for kids!
That said, we will give it a try and keep trying despite the inevitable setbacks we are to endure.
That’s something we learned from Naomi Osaka – not the erroneous anime version but the real-life, dark-skinned goddess – A PRINCESS even — of TENNIS.