Whitewashing a fictional character often offends people, but whitewashing a living, breathing woman of color undoubtedly takes the outrage to a new level.
Haitian-Japanese tennis player and reigning US Open champion Naomi Osaka has been hailed as a role model and shining example for biracial people in an ethnically homogenous nation.
Naturally, cup noodle corporation Nissin sought to use Osaka’s likeness in a new advertising campaign. Collaborating with Takeshi Konomi, the famed mangaka of The Prince of Tennis series, an anime incarnation seemed like an exciting prospect.
Unfortunately, many of Osaka’s fans felt that the character art didn’t look like her. Anime Osaka’s skin is extremely light–the same shade as her fellow Japanese player Kei Nishikori. A long criticism of the anime industry is the whitewashing of characters with most ethnically Japanese designs looking fairly caucasian.
Responding to the backlash, Nissin spokesman Daisuke Okabayashi declared, “There is no intention of whitewashing.”
He also added, “We accept that we are not sensitive enough and will pay more attention to diversity issue in the future.”
Baye McNeil, a black expat and author who has lived in Japan for over 15 years felt Nissin had erased Naomi’s ” black features” and replaced it with an “image of pretty much the prototypical anime girl-next-door character.”
While anime has occasionally dipped into uncomfortable stereotypes and problematic images, there have been instances of black characters such as Killer Bee in Naruto. Prince of Tennis is not one of these series and Nissin claims it was only trying to present Osaka in keeping with that series’ art style.
While Osaka is American-born and often speaks English in interviews, she is proud of her Japanese heritage and has expressed adoration for anime and manga on multiple occasions. She is also, however, always sure to emphasize her Haitian background as well.