Half-Haitian, half-Japanese tennis star’s real-world complexion is far darker than how she appears as Prince of Tennis character.

Following her victory at the U.S. Open in September, tennis player Naomi Osaka has entered into endorsement deals with a number of Japanese companies. One of those is Nissin, makers of the Cup Noodle instant ramen line, and at the very end of December the company’s always creative marketing team released an animated ad showing Osaka facing off against fellow tennis pro and Nissin pitchman Kei Nishikori.

Then on January 14, Nissin released a second animated ad featuring the two athletes, this time in a cross-promotion with The Prince of Tennis, Japan’s most popular tennis-themed anime/manga franchise, which has been ongoing since 1999. In the ad, various characters from the franchise can be seen training with Osaka and Nishikori, displaying the reality-bending displays of athletic prowess for which the series is famous. However, there’s another break with real-world visuals that’s attracting controversy.

▼ Osaka and Nishikori, as they appear in the video

While the ad wasn’t met with widespread anger from Japanese viewers, it’s been a different story as the video has found the attention of overseas commenters, with several accusing Nissin of “whitewashing” the half-Haitian, half-Japanese Osaka.

▼ Osaka, as she appears in real life

▼ Nishikori

There’s no denying that Osaka’s skin tone has been considerably lightened in the ad, but it’s debatable as to whether or not “whitewashing,” in the sense of “making someone look like Caucasian,” is the most accurate description of what’s going on. In the image below, Osaka and Nishikori stand on the court with Ryoma Echizen and Kunimitsu Tezuka, two Prince of Tennis characters with entirely Japanese ethnicity, who are depicted with even lighter skin tones than the two real-world tennis stars.

▼ Ryoma and Kunimitsu’s Japanese teammates at Seishin Gakuen, the in-series school they attend

However, the key difference between Prince of Tennis’ fair-skinned-but-designed-from-scratch original characters and Osaka’s anime version is that the latter is based on a real person, so one would expect a more faithful depiction of her skin color, especially when Prince of Tennis does have a half-black, half-Japanese character, Richard Sakata, who’s shown in the anime with legitimately dark skin.

While the controversial ad remains up on Nissin’s Japanese YouTube channel, The New York Times’ Daniel Victor reports that a spokesperson for the company, Daisuke Okabayashi, has issued an apology via email, quoting him as saying:

“There is no intention of whitewashing. We accept that we are not sensitive enough and will pay more attention to diversity issue in the future.”

▼ Photos of Osaka are prominently featured on Nissin’s website as well.

Neither Osaka nor Nishikori have made any comments related to the controversy.

Source: The New York Times/Daniel Victor via Anime News Network/Lynzee Loveridge
Top image: YouTube/日清食品グループ公式チャンネル
Insert images: YouTube/日清食品グループ公式チャンネル, Prince of Tennis official website (1, 2), Nissin