DOA5’s Lisa and Japan’s Skintone Threshold

Lisa a.k.a. La Mariposa is easily one of my favorite DOA characters. Introduced in Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball, she was described by Tomonobu Itagaki as a “gift to the American fans”. It made sense that he would do this as while the DOA series was looked down upon in Japan, it had a solid following in America.

Light skin is part of the traditional Japanese ideal of beauty; it’s why Geisha paint their faces white. What about those crazy Japanese girls that tan their skin and bleach their hair, Ganguros? They’re actually rebelling against the Japanese standard of beauty. There’s no denying that the girls of DOA, aside from their massive breasts, are designed based on a rather traditional Japanese standard of beauty.

But when Itagaki decided to put Lisa in the games, he bucked the trend ever so slightly. She still looked like a DOA girl with similar proportions and facial structure, but she had dark skin. It made her stand out and be a bit unique. Which, in turn, sparked a massive debate as to if Lisa was black. A debate that still rages on today and has honestly gotten a bit ugly as people aren’t afraid to be outright racist on the internet. Seriously, you’d be surprised how many anime fans can spew some serious hatred about anyone that isn’t from “Glorious Nippon”.

But, Itagaki didn’t really have a plan with the character and so when she entered into the main series she inadvertently became the most awesome and interesting character in the series. She was a brilliant scientist who worked at DOATEC and was actually responsible for erasing Hayate’s memories and making Alpha-152 but she quit the company and became a Luchador…who uses Capoeira. She also enjoys surfing, was the Captain of her college volleyball team, and acts as a ninja spy. Yet despite all of this, she’s an exceedingly kind woman, able to make friends with even the coldest assassins. She is easily one of the most interesting characters in DOA. More than that, her interesting playstyle made the games infinitely more fun.

However, Tomonobu Itagaki left Tecmo’s Team Ninja. Tecmo was then bought out by Koei and the reigns of the team was passed to Yosuke Hayashi. What’s more, DOA had been recycling the same character models since the original Xtreme Beach Volleyball. A new DOA with new character models was necessary. But with the new team, what would this mean for the characters? Hayashi openly stated that making the girls look lighter and “softer skinned” was a major concern of his and sure enough my worst fears were realized.

Lisa wound up with lighter skin. Presumably this is to appeal to a Japanese audience and while she still has more of a tan than the rest of the cast, she looks exceedingly pale and it robs her of some of her identity. What’s more it will no doubt make the endless “Is Lisa Black” debate even more of a mess. Regardless of what you think, it doesn’t justify changing an existing character’s design so drastically. The undeniable fact is that she is far paler in DOA5 than she was in previous DOAs.

What’s worse is that this actually makes her less distinguishable as a character as now she looks nearly identical to Tekken Tag 2’s Jaycee a.k.a. Julia Chang.

This is actually quite striking. Julia Chang is a very pale Native American character and the fact that she and Lisa have nearly the same skintone in these screenshots is quite odd.

What makes this all the more interesting though is that this is not the first time this has happened. Virtua Fighter’s Vanessa Lewis underwent a similar, but more drastic, transformation between Virtua Fighter 4 and 5.

Obviously, Lisa’s change is nowhere near that bad as poor Vanessa lost much of her muscle mass and one of her fighting styles as well as becoming much much paler. SEGA did try to explain this one away in story as being the result of Vanessa getting kidnapped and locked in a cell for extended periods of time (she was the basis for the new Dural) but it still rubbed me the wrong way. Thankfully, subsequent game releases made her skin slightly darker and offered players the ability to equip her with a “Tropical Tan”. The most recent release, Final Showdown, even lets players equip “Dark Oiled Skin” and “Abs” to restore Vanessa to her former glory.

However, why do players have to actively equip items to change Vanessa back to how she was? If you wanna make her light and skinny to appeal to a Japanese audience, why not make them equip the items to bleach her skin and remove her muscle?

If we wanted to continue I could also point to the differences between the manga and anime versions of the character Angol Moa from SGT.Frog/Keroro Gunsou.

Moa is a particularly odd case as she is actually a (very pale) alien disguised as a ganguro girl. I bring her up though because aside from looking noticeably lighter in the anime, she has nearly the same skintone as DOA5 Lisa and the slightly darker home version of VF5’s Vanessa.

This is interesting because it indicates a sort of ideal tan threshold in Japanese media. It’s a level of tan that a Japanese woman can naturally achieve just from getting a good amount of sun. Anything darker than this will probably be lightened.

Now, again, we are talking about Japan. There aren’t exactly a lot of black people in Japan, you know. As such they generally have only a vague idea of what they look like based on Western media and they don’t exactly think about them much. To the average Japanese person, a black person is just “a foreigner with really dark skin”. The nature of their racial make up and their facial structure and all that stuff isn’t really dwelled upon too much. Our Western race issues aren’t really a “thing” in Japan.

So, indeed, this is far from an active bit of racism but rather an issue with our cultural differences. To them they just think “we made the very tanned foreigner a bit less tanned”, but to us it’s seen as “they made the game’s one black girl white!”.

Still, this does not excuse such a drastic change in character design. Many of us like Lisa just the way she was. However, the game is not out yet so there is still time for this to be fixed. Hopefully the final release will see a darker Lisa or give us a means to darken her. Otherwise, this might get problematic.

UPDATE: It did. Follow-up article can be found here.

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13 Comments on “DOA5’s Lisa and Japan’s Skintone Threshold”

  1. Pai Says:

    This happens to black models in other countries as well, unfortunately:

    http://kolorblindprincesstemi.com/2012/06/28/real-talk-skin-bleaching-among-african-women/

    Our old english word ‘fair’ means both ‘pretty’ and ‘pale-skinned’. There’s a very old equation in lots of cultures that the more of a shut-in (read = soft skin, no tan, etc) a woman is, the more attractive she is. It’s sort of sad that such an old subconscious bias still affects us today.

  2. Melissa Says:

    Reblogged this on The Conversationalist and commented:
    Very interesting race debate on Lisa from the Dead or Alive video game series

  3. Jason Ruffin Says:

    I came across this totally by accident, but I’d like to add that I too have noticed a similar trend when it comes to “black” characters in fighters (I put that in quotes as I’m aware that most other countries have a different view of “black” than we bone-headed Americans). A quick side note, I think it’s a little unfair to say that DoA5 Lisa bears little differentiation from Tekken Tag 2’s Jaycee/Julia (for the record, she’s Native and Chinese, not just Native) on account of the ambient lighting from the stage featured in the screenshot; put Lisa in, say, the Street stage and she’ll look quite a bit different. Same for Jaycee/Julia if you compare the lighting in the Norway stage or Miguel’s bar to something a bit “cooler” like the aptly-named Moonlight Wilderness or the snowbound forest of the Finland.

    But here’s something else I noticed in particular regards to Lisa in DoA5: if you analyze her facial features, you may notice that she has a facial structure more in tune to how the average black person looks in real life (the other girls have also been redesigned to better reflect their nationalities, even the “hybrids” Hitomi and Kokoro). It’s quite a refreshing change from the creepy doll-like features prominent in the previous entries in the series (which, strangely enough, doesn’t seem to fit the MALE characters that well, but that’s another subject). Seriously, check it out next time you have a chance. :)

    • GEL Says:

      Oh I have. Wrote this article before either game actually came out. Now that I own both? I totally agree I went too far on the Jaycee comment.

      Been playing a LOT of DOA5. Totally in love with the game and Lisa is WAAAY better in this game than she was in DOA4 (she got a LOT of new moves it seems). And yeah, in action she isn’t TOO bad but she’s definitely more pale than normal. I do like some of the facial tweaks though, especially her nose believe it or not.

  4. Tay Says:

    I’m so glad l came across this article. As a fan of Lisa, it so bothers me how Japanese / American game studios handle black characters especially when it comes to black female characters.

    I noticed that your rarely see any black female characters in fighters or in gaming in general, but when you do, they’re always light skin. l recently got into a mini debate with an online gamer while playing DOA5 Ultimate, and when l told him Lisa was black, he didn’t believe it and came to him as a shock. As l explained to him, he basically brushed it off as to say “whatever you say”. I find it annoying because you never have these problems when it comes to other nationalities in games only when it comes to Black/African American characters. But l don’t care what anyway say, Lisa is black end of story because l don’t know too many Latina’s with the last name Hamilton.

    • GEL Says:

      Well one thing to keep in mind is…well…this is JAPAN. They don’t have too many black people in Japan and their views on race are oddly skewed in such a way that it can be either offensive or progressive to Western eyes completely on accident.

      See I just realized…Japan can’t tell the difference between people of African decent and people of Indian (as in India, not North America) decent. In fact they probably see more Indian people than black people what with Japan being pretty darn close to India.

      This mostly clicked with The Wonderful 101’s character Wonder Black who is a breakdancing dark skinned kid with cornrows who is a tech genius stationed in INDIA. Thinking about it a lot of dark skinned anime characters are computer geniuses or tech experts like Nanvel Candlestick or Miyuki Ayukawa which does seem to sort of be a stereotype of Indian people (what with the tech support and all).

      Does this mean I think Lisa is actually Indian? Err…no, not quite. I think she’s a dark skinned American. I firmly believe there’s some black in her, but I’m willing to say “mixed” because…well…the fuck does Japan know about black people! XD

      Really, try looking at her as being part Black, part Indian, and part Latina (or more accurately Brazillian)? I’d buy that.

      At the same time…yeah she looks a lot like Halle Berry now too.

      Yeah I’m just done arguing it. Lisa is ALL races. ALL OF THEM!!!

      But you ARE right, it is weird how often people will argue about the race of certain fictional characters. Know what’s really weird? I can think of ONE character no one ever argued wasn’t black and wound up just being really tanned: Frida from Bust A Groove. Yeah, finding out Comet was her sister surprised EVERYONE.

      Sorry, rambling. :P I’m also not helping what with this being my submission for the DOA5U Costume Contest:

      C’MOOOOON GENIE LISA!!!

  5. Albert Says:

    Interesting observations, appreciated reading it. Well, it seems to me as if Tomonobu Itagaki had some original visions stumped by Yosuke Hayashi, huh? I wonder if there is a similar story to the Vanessa case. This somewhat reminds me of what almost happened to Shantae who also appeared much paler than usual in promo art. The fandom showed their displeasure at the change and her color soon reappeared.

  6. RegalSin Says:

    All you people are nuts. I am sorry Gel but seriously just let it go. Look I am going to be honest, I come from people who are to dumbfounded whitefolks ( pun unintended ) are barack. I do not appreciate my culture due to private problems I have.

    1. The standard completion in Japan is tan, persian skinned, and so forth. White ( as in dove white ) is really hard to get and darker skinned people are people who toil in the sun usually. The working man/class. If you can remember “Lum Chan” You will find the martial arts/sea-man/book seller father was dark. This is common for people who are outside at the beach.

    2. Back in the 1990’s we had the melting pot Gel. I could stress all of this free information out. Maybe we could do an entire show about this. See “Linda 3 PCE” and “Kite”, and “Perfect Blue. That is what the “Super 80’s” was about. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bill Clinton, and even Silvester Stallone ( which is 1980’s transition ). That is how Barack the world was allowed to get. It was a world where a man who was physically fit did have a chance ( pushing civil engineering aside ). A post Hippy/1960 result world AKA the Golden Age of the 1970’s people ( our parents ). What I am trying to say Gel.

    African is just another trend for the Europeans. Like Big haired bands, Fritz the cats, or feminism, Turkish furniture, or the French. It is just another trend. Like in South Park ( the RPG ) where you can play dress up.

    To be continued……..

    3. Japanese people and the dark skinned trend of the 1990’s. In fact did you know Gel an certain AV model ( go search my posts )
    inspired the woman of Japan to “extenuate” their darkness. That is right Gel in Japan AV models have respect.

    In the west we think bs. People ( little noobie bastards ) think that is Pornography.. It is just sad because seriously nowadays even in Japan the AV models are turning more and more into pornographic works rather then models itself. N

    Not to go off topic Gel but seriously most people in Japan are light skinned. Nowadays people ( like myself ) would like to have clear skin that is ABSOLUTE. Bleaching creams are their because people want to know they are 100% balanced. Sometimes the sun uneven the skin and the number one solution is to just super clean your skin.

    Like anybody else I have women folk among my kin. They all basically use products like crazy. If I used these same products I would look the same way. So think about it like advertisement.

    Another thing Gel is just pure asshole-ry. Thanks to painting programs. People can just color select. Most images on the net since the post photoshop days all have been using COLOR SELECT TOOL. Where you can STEAL TONES AND COLORS FROM IMAGES.

    I mean yes many people did mix colors ( and still do ) for animations and stuff, but seriously this is not the 8-bit age and people want variety Gel.

    Lastly Gel. Phuck the west. Bottom line Gel looking back on the history of animation ( Japanese mostly ) when we make Westerners the amount of detail to show off that they are westerners make the image looks complex. Like we have to show details that makes the men look like ugly old ( etc ) ( GO WATCH DARK CATS the Animation right now Gel ). You see those oldr teachers, looking mean, unhappy, and unhealthy on purpose. That is how IT FEELS TO WESTERN PEOPLE ANIMATED SOMETIMES EVEN WHEN IT iS GOOD. IT IS THAT ODD FEELING WHEN YOU SAY THAT IS AUWSOME BUT THEN YOU REALIZE IT IS ALSO KINDA Ewwwwwhhhhh Groooossssee. The west itself is barely any sexual content and the people who believe they have any sexual content are fools.

    the idea of beauty in the far east is different then the far far west ( where you and I and most of us resides ). To make things difficult the beauty of the complex flesh is also another kind of beauty I have been admiring ( not the beauty of the old ).

    Bottom-line Gel is the dawning of the PS2 is where Japanese 3d stopped being interesting. As a man I have to outgrow the simplistic imagery ( which you have been complaining about ) and move forward and accept the rest of the worlds beauty.

    Speaking of “complex beauty” Gelly Gel Gellzz. Remember the “The Gross Sisters,Nubia,Olay & Gina” from the “proud family” ( funny they are called that, on a show that is called the “proud family”). Imagine them naked…………. Yes so we all could say that if they were naked or presented in another mannor or form we could actually learn to admire them, IDOLize them, as people do with with these FALSE images. The same with “Kim Possible” and the one super-villain that is a girl and actually have tools and toys that works ( which replaced Shego ) is a fat Velma. Speaking of these types it is funny that they are in fact more sexy when added with the “School girl craze” and even the “Kawaii” craze.

    As you said Gel “we are getting old” and I ( maybe you to but I have ) have surpass the mountain of various image of women ( which I enjoy because I am an heterosexual dude after all ). It is kinda funny how that complex of the ideology of women itself we would have forgotten long ago if their was somebody in our lives that would surpass that entire eccentricity of that itself

    JAPANESE CAN GEL BUT SERIOUSLY WHO REALLY CARES ANYMORE GEL. WHO CARES. CONSOLES ARE GARBAGE NOWADAYS AND EVEN THEN WHEN WE LOVED THEM SO. If you have read enough comics you will understand that only the west ideological of beauty is the severity details of the flesh. It might be an racist thing but that is something that makes the USA unique including the other westerners who think that way.

    I myself am starting to bow down to the detail-ness of the flesh. Wanting children who have variations that are different as well. Not just the color or simplicity. Yes Gel for us as young people the east is ideological, but for the children we want people who are both tall, athletic, have decent eye-sight and has a form that demands a high amount of space. It is a beautiful way of living but at what cost.

    Personally I wouldn’t be made about this bs at all Gel. Unless you want realistic forms featuring our momma’s teenie bodies before the had is ejected from the sack into their wombs.

    If you still wanna cry about this meh stuff, then go right ahead be like the drone episode of Southpark and write a letter and start some lame movement to demand detailed characters that demands different race groups. That is just another boiling put of water to dip into.

    Speaking of which I would like to see the two characters from the last of us.

  7. Landa Says:

    …RegalSin left the strangest reply…

    Anyway, GEL, you made a lot of sense. I forgot that race is a bit different in other parts of the world. When I saw Lisa, it was after I unlocked all the outfits on DOA Ultimate 2. A photo gallery of DOA Extreme was unlocked and I was surprised. A dark-skinned woman on a Dead or Alive game! Neat. I found out later that she was on the game DOA 4 and her name was La Mariposa. That was when I started to ask questions. Long story short, they made Lisa too dark. I went to predominately Hispanic schools and it’s just a fact. Hispanics/Latinas are not dark. Some are a bit tan, but the “dark” women bleach their skin and wear lots of makeup. I asked a few friends from school and they were pretty sure she was black. Short hair, dark skin. She did not have the famous long brown hair with pale/somewhat tan skin. I left it at that: the game developers simply made her too dark.
    It’s a bit annoying when people say that she is Latina as if it is SO obvious… Not all DOA fans played DOA 5 (when her skin color was corrected) before DOA Ultimate 2. Not everyone saw “La Mariposa.”Not everyone looked her up and saw that she was of Mexican descent (according to what I’ve read on Youtube.com) SOME of us saw a woman with very dark skin with short hair. She also had the surname: Hamilton. What else could she be?
    She could be just a foreigner. Just a random American mixed with everything, so you might be onto something lol
    Anyway, great topic! Interesting observations!
    I know that I am not very up-to-date when it comes to videogames; I just wanted to leave my comment. =)

  8. ran76 Says:

    though not perfectly applicable to the article, Rose from Full Metal Alchemist was apparently originally a pale skinned character in the manga and she was made darker in the 1st anime series. when the second series was made she was back to the pale-skin design. Personally I think her character looked better with the darker skin.


  9. […] questione fu sollevata ben tre anni fa da un appassionato del titolo Tecmo, il quale ha pubblicato un interessante articolo sulla questione del cambiamento di colore della pelle nei picchiaduro che chiama in causa non solo […]


  10. […] recently I noticed a spike in hits on my article “Lisa and Japan’s Skintone Threshold”. Come to find out the source of this spike was a thread on NeoGAF and a series of Facebook posts […]

  11. Hercules GK Says:

    I agree 100%. Anti-blackness and racism is found internationally. It really sucks to see that your own skin color is not deemed as beautiful. And the only times that it is considered beautiful when a weeaboo fetishist admired your ‘exotic skin’. We need more diversity, representation, and decolonization in our media!


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