Dead or Alive 5 and the Portrayal of Women

When Tecmo’s Dead or Alive 5 was first announced, the developers express the desire to portray their female characters better than they had in the past, with Team Ninja’s head developer Hayashi Yosuke even mentioning in an interview that “we’re trying to focus on the real women that surround us; the voice of a female, the mannerisms. We are being realistic about it.”

The DOA franchise has always been known for its sex appeal, from the first game’s available option to set level of breast jiggling to the Xtreme Beach Volleyball series where the girls trade their fighting uniforms for bikinis, so the promise of increased realism and improved depictions of women led to a some questions. Just what did they mean by real women, and could this fall flat on its face? Thus, although the guest appearance of Virtua Fighter protagonist Akira Yuki was the main headline, the new promotional trailer for Dead or Alive 5 is significant in that it gives us our first glimpse at just what the developers were aiming for.

Kasumi, main heroine, in DOA4 (left) and DOA5 (right)

Given the comparison image above and the statements from Hayashi, I think it’s clear that the changes to Kasumi’s look are not caused solely by improvements in graphics technology in the 7-year time span between the games. While Kasumi is still meant to be obviously attractive, there has been a bit of a reduction in her breast size and her face is substantially different, coming across as indeed “more realistic.” In fact, given the track record of the series, where greater realism could have meant shapelier breasts, Team Ninja has done a better job than probably anyone expected.

Ayane, Kasumi’s sister and rival, in DOA4 (left) and DOA5 (right)

Another feature that’s not really obvious without another character for comparison purposes is that DOA5 looks to be making more of an effort to give each character a more distinguishing face. When you look at any of the girls in previous titles, there isn’t much difference in their facial structure, andhen you look at the DOA4 versions of Kasumi and Ayane especially, they’re not that different from one another. With DOA5 however, their faces have substantial differences. They’re still designed to be attractive, and they still have similarly idealized bodies, but there seems to be an effort to vary the characters by more than their costumes and three sizes.

One element of Kasumi and Ayane’s newfound realism is that she seems to come across as “more Asian” than their previous iterations. Even though I haven’t actually seen this point discussed, I feel like this could potentially lead back to an argument concerning the appearance of anime characters where Japanese characters supposedly look “white” or distinctively “non-Japanese,” and that there may be some underlying psychological and historical reasons for making Japanese not look Japanese. The counter-argument to this has been that to assume the wide eyes of anime characters somehow equals “whiteness” is a cultural assumption in and of itself, but in the face of these revised looks, how does this hold up?

When I look at DOA4 Kasumi, even though her face comes across as “less Asian,” I still find that it comes across as more Asian than anything else, especially when compared to the non-Asian characters. And actually, Asianness and Whiteness as a binary is probably the most important mistake to avoid. Instead, the key difference is in another type of realism. In previous versions the characters come across across as more plastic and doll-like, especially in the eyes, with Kasumi’s own doe-like gaze, for example, acting more like an element of innocent seductiveness than anything else. In somewhat of a contrast, Kasumi in DOA5‘s eyes aren’t more realistic just because they’re closer to an Asian’s eyes in the real world, but because there is a sign of personality behind them.

I think the change in not just the way the characters’ eyes are, but the way in which they stare speaks towards what Hayashi meant when he referred to “the real women around us.” To some extent, this is aided by the improvement in technology, but it still requires the desire to move in that direction. Even as Kasumi continues to act as the sexy poster girl for the franchise, and while it can also be argued that her (and everyone else’s) bodies are ridiculous, I think that from what we’ve seen, Team Ninja actually seems quite serious about making the changes to the franchise that they promised.

13 thoughts on “Dead or Alive 5 and the Portrayal of Women

  1. A lovely run-through! Would also like to add that the postures are very important as well. Noticed hands in DoA5 video as well as the screenshots above are always in front of the ladies in question as opposed to their more submissive DoA4 shots. Also the way the hilt of Kasumi’s blade is extended toward the viewer (DoA5 shot) as opposed to safely tucked behind her back (DoA4) makes her seem more of an aggressor.


  2. Kasumi & Ayane looks like they lost their curves which i say BOO!
    The sex appeal was apart of DeadOrAlive & now the developers are trying to trade sexy for serious or realism, if i wanted realism then i wouldn’t be playing video games. I keep my realism & video game fantasy separate. Dead or alive high sex appeal & a reversal system went well together it was all part of what made it stand out. Now it’s just another fighting game, it’s like taking the zombies out of Resident Evil. I’ll skip this one & just stick with SoulCalibur5.


  3. LOL @ VampireWicked. You are just a pervert. Personally I welcome the change. The girls look great, proving you don’t need to have huge boobs to look ‘sexy’! Hopefully this will help attract more females to the franchise.


  4. I still can’t accept the change. They are not DOA girls anymore. but they are more like from Dynasty warriors. Somehow, now the girls all have a boyish face and all the charms are down the drain. T_T


  5. I am a female and Kasumi has always been my favorite. She is my only favorite girl fighter from all games and the more older advance look has really brought out the true beauty of kasumi! she is more real and is ever so much more beautiful as she have gotten older. I think her beauty won’t ever fade. Tecmo love you for making doa 5 more inpatient to wait for :D


  6. I think they look fantastic, and as previously state, full of personality. Almost as like you know who they are on a personal level just by how they carry themselves. The doll look from the previous games was actually a turn off to me, and the reason I continued to play was the actual gameplay. All in all i think that it is a change for the better and am excited for September.


  7. The breast size has not been reduced. Rather, I’d say there is even more emphasis on their breasts now than ever before. Also the main point is that their faces are more realistic. This is because from DOA2 to DOA4 the facial technology was never changed. Probably because of Itagaki being to lazy to change it or something. And you compared rendered DOA4 images to real time images in DOA5 which is not a fair comparison.


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  10. I have to agree with Crystal. Kasumi looks like she’s older, more mature! She’s my favorite fantasy girl EVER! No one compares, but keep toggling your eyes back and forth old schoolers…just because they reduced her breast size from size HOLY CRAP! to what it is now, doesnt mean her boobs arent big. Who knows..maybe they are realistically the same measurements, she just doesnt have cannonballs attached to her small frame lol. If the DOA4 Kasumi was an actual girl standing in front of you, youd be more turned off than on because her boobs would be past attractive. This New Kasumi is perfect…still with D’s and much more. They’ve done an amazing job with this and the graphics and mannerisms will only get better! SCV killed customization for me. if you want to talk about boobs go back to SCIV because while the girls look better in 5 the boobs suffer. With DOA…Everything is better and finally proportioned (Well maybe except Tina lol) I skipped out on DOA4 but DOA5…Oh yea!


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