Naomi Osaka with Lightning Powers: Unrivaled Naomi Tenka-ichi

I knew that Naomi Osaka was supposed to get her own manga. What I didn’t know is that it would be drawn by the artists responsible for the Precure manga, nor that it would be about futuristic space tennis. Having read the first chapter, I think Unrivaled Naomi Tenka-ichi is going to turn out amazing.

In the year NKY2770, five elemental planets (light, wind, water, earth, fire) compete in space to determine the next king after the previous King of Light suddenly died and left the planets vulnerable to the forces of darkness. A 15-year-old girl named Naomi travels with her family to the wind planet to support her dad’s dream of becoming a space tennis coach, but an old man Naomi rescues reveals to Naomi her immense potential, and puts her down the thrilling path of a player.

One thing I did not expect from Unrivaled Naomi Tenka-ichi is that it’s much more action-packed than I expected. While the Precure anime is known for its fight scenes, Kamikita Futago’s manga renditions usually eschew superpowered combat in favor of friendly conversations and non-battle storylines. Not so here, as part of what puts the “space” in space tennis is elemental-powered strokes and tense matches that would feel at home even in a shounen magazine.

In terms of racial sensitivity, while I can’t say much, the Kamikita twins have prior experience drawing a darker-skinned heroine thanks to their work on the Star Twinkle Precure manga, which features the half-Mexican Amamiya Elena. From what I can tell there, the artists drew Elena very respectfully, and I see a similar approach being used here.

The credits also for the series also include supervision from Naomi’s older sister Mari, who’s also a tennis player. I’m curious as to what exactly her involvement is. Does she provide tennis expertise? Is she a fan of shoujo manga? These are probably questions I’ll never know the answer to.

Even if the series ends up being pretty by-the-numbers, I’m looking forward to it. Sure, it looks fun so far, but more importantly, I think it has real potential to make some social impact. For its first chapter, Unrivaled Naomi Tenka-ichi graces the cover of its magazine, Nakayoshi. While I don’t know how many dark-skinned heroines have been cover girls for Nakayoshi, I suspect that it’s been more the exception than the rule. I can imagine a young Japanese girl who’s self-conscious about her own skin color seeing the fictional and real versions of Naomi proudly displayed on the cover, and drawing confidence and inspiration from it. Maybe it’ll help them see themselves in a prouder light. And if this manga reaches a worldwide audience, then it’s all the better.

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