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Was Tecmo’s whitewashing of a Dead or Alive character racist? Probably


Lisa as she appears in DOA 5

Over the weekend Tomonobu Itagaki, former Tecmo producer on the Dead or Alive (DOA) and Ninja Gaiden game series, made the accusation that his former company had acted in a racist manner by changing the skin colour of a DOA character from black to white.


Itagaki made the accusation on Saturday his Facebook, where he posted side-by-side pics of the character Lisa Hamilton/La Mariposa as she appeared in an earlier DOA game and how she appears now in DOA 5. In the post Itagaki wrote:

This is a CRIME against the entire world.

“Who on earth is she?
Who the hell forced our beloved Lisa to change her skin color?



There’s clearly no ambiguity in Itagaki’s words and, looking at the pics, it clear as day that the character’s skin tone has been lightened. Some fan’s have alluded in their comments that the lightening of Lisa’s skin tone may be as a result of DOA 5’s new lighting engine, a claim Itagaki disputes, citing his years of game development experience as a reference for his opinion.

But even without the benefit of years of game development experience a simple viewing of pics of the character from her debut in Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball and then for DOA 5 show a clear distinction in skin colour too extreme for a lighting change to affect. It’s obvious that Lisa was originally African American or Latina and that she’s now been made white. On the face of it, it would appear that Tecmo did, indeed, whitewash this character.


Lisa as she appears in DOA 4

But was it racism?

That’s a much harder questions to answer, but again the answer is probably, yes. There’s no way that changing a black character to white is not racist. I would counter though, that the change probably wasn’t malicious.

The Japanese have a very different experience with colour politics when compared with the western world, in that they have practically zero experience with it. It’s just not something one can reasonably expect them to think about, because racism in that form has few opportunities to crop up. Which doesn’t make it right, but at least mitigates the impact marginally.

Even so, one has to wonder that no one at Tecmo considered that this could be viewed as problematic. While the Dead or Alive franchise can hardly be described as the biggest in the world it does have a large, loyal international audience and in circumstances like that, it behooves any company to act with some measure of cultural sensitivity.

So while I am willing to give Tecmo the benefit of the doubt as to their intentions and motives for making Lisa white, I can’t really excuse it either. The long and the short of it is, the character was a black and isn’t anymore for no discernable and that’s wrong.

So what’s to be done? Some might call this extreme, but I’d recommend a patch to rollback Lisa’s skin colour and a sincere apology from Tecmo and promise to do better next time.

Sound appropriate?

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