HONG KONG — The final time an illustration of the tennis star Naomi Osaka made headlines, it was for all of the mistaken causes.
In an commercial for an immediate noodle model, Ms. Osaka, the daughter of a Japanese mom and a Haitian-American father, was proven with mild pores and skin in an anime-style depiction. Her followers known as it whitewashing.
“I’m tan,” Ms. Osaka said at the time. “It’s pretty obvious.”
So this yr, as a manga journal in Japan labored on a difficulty that may painting Ms. Osaka as an alien-vanquishing intergalactic tennis champion, it insisted on getting main particulars proper.
This time, Ms. Osaka will, certainly, be tan.
The journal, Nakayoshi, “was very careful on that subject,” stated Ms. Osaka’s sister, Mari Osaka, 24, a skilled tennis participant and illustrator who was a advisor on the mission.
“They were the ones who came up to me, and they were like: ‘We have to get the skin color right. What percentage darkness should it be?’” she stated in a telephone interview this week.
Naomi Osaka, 23, the highest-earning female athlete on the planet, has emerged as one of probably the most vocal antiracism activists within the sports activities world. In the July subject of Esquire, she wrote about tackling racism whereas inhabiting a number of identities. Before matches this yr, she wore masks bearing the names of Black victims of police violence.
The manga subject dwells firmly within the realm of fantasy, not Ms. Osaka’s real-world activism. Titled “Naomi Unrivaled” and set to be launched on Dec. 28, it tells a coming-of-age story that takes place in outer house, with Ms. Osaka battling extraterrestrials in a super-enhanced model of tennis.
The manga attracts on the intimate bond of the Osaka sisters. Mari seems as a staunch supporter, together with their dad and mom.
“In the end, the manga is a stewing battle in outer space,” she stated, including that her sister had lengthy been enthusiastic about showing in manga, which they each learn on daily basis as youngsters. “We’re not trying to make a point with the manga,” she added. “That should be saved for something else, really.”
Such as tv adverts.
Last week, a Nike Japan commercial depicting the alienation of biracial children within the nation confirmed a snippet of Naomi discussing the Black Lives Matter motion in a YouTube video, solely to be requested within the feedback: “So are you Japanese or American?”
The advert generated a backlash in Japan, a largely homogeneous nation the place discussions of race and variety are sometimes resisted by a conservative pressure within the inhabitants.
While many Japanese individuals help Naomi Osaka’s activism and take pride in her representation of the country in global competitions, some social media customers responded by threatening to boycott Nike merchandise, saying that Japan was being smeared.
Most of Ms. Osaka’s sponsors in Japan have been way more keen to hyperlink themselves to her tennis efficiency than her activism, with representatives of the businesses typically expressing displeasure — at all times anonymously — within the Japanese information media.
To Mari, the response to the Nike advert was telling. Some in Japan, the place the Osaka sisters have been born and spent their earliest years earlier than transferring to the United States, see Naomi as a troublemaker for speaking about a xenophobia that they don’t imagine exists, she stated.
“If they don’t see the problem in front of their eyes, they don’t believe it,” she stated. “People think she’s bringing a problem where there’s no problem.”
Mari has taken an energetic position in shaping Naomi’s public picture, notably in illustrations and designs. She created a portrait of her sister staring firmly forward for a difficulty of GQ Japan calling for solidarity within the face of the epidemic. For the Esquire article, she drew a number of outlines of Naomi’s face mixing into one.
Naomi wrote in that journal that the killing of George Floyd had galvanized her to converse up about systemic racism and police brutality. As she waited for tennis gamers to take a public stance, she stated in a separate conversation with Billie Jean King, she realized she ought to make step one.
While Naomi, who has described herself as shy, has been praised within the United States for locating her voice this yr as an activist, she has at all times been aware of racial bias, Mari stated. In personal, the sisters have typically mentioned how they have been handled within the United States, Japan and different nations the place they’ve traveled for matches, sharing tales concerning the individuals they met.
“We’ve known this issue and we’ve talked about it, and now she has people listening to it when she talks,” Mari stated.
In a assertion, the manga journal didn’t tackle Ms. Osaka’s activism, however stated that she was the “perfect new heroine” to current to readers.
“She works hard on training every day, and she dramatically demonstrates mental growth, one match after another,” it stated. “She has a strong will and makes tremendous efforts behind the growth.”
Hisako Ueno contributed reporting from Tokyo.