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.