Since she makes a guest appearance in today’s episode of Warriors Wednesday, I thought we’d take a closer look at my favourite Dead or Alive girl for today’s Waifu Wednesday.
Kasumi is one of those characters that it’s probably not fashionable to say is your “favourite”, what with her being one of the most prominently seen characters in the series, but I don’t care. I like ninjas, I like thighs and I like redheads.
She’s also an interesting and iconic character with a long history. So let’s explore the real Kasumi.
Dead or Alive creator Tomonobu Itagaki initially envisioned the character of Kasumi to be a male ninja, but subsequently changed her sex and became more and more attached to her as her design evolved. Eventually, his love of Kasumi reached such a degree that he decided to make her the main protagonist of the new series; she remained very much in the leading role for the first two games, and has played an important role in the story for the series as a whole ever since, as well as remaining one of the most recognisable faces of Dead or Alive in general.
In fact, Itagaki has described Kasumi as his “daughter”, and that she is “like a Venus” to him. He has also never had any shame about the oft-criticised sex appeal of the series, even when Kasumi herself was canonically 17 years old. Now-defunct website QuickJump quoted him in 2007 as saying “in Japan, [the sexualisation of a 17-year old] is okay. Maybe it’s 20 in America.” So, err, basically, deal with it.
Kasumi first appeared in 1996’s Dead or Alive, initially released for arcades but subsequently ported to PlayStation and Saturn. She was always positioned as the lead, being specifically mentioned in the game’s prologue text and occupying the first position on the character selection screen.
In this first game, we learn of her backstory: originally intended to become the new master of the Mugen Tenshin clan of shinobi, Kasumi instead abandoned her responsibilities in order to track down the attacker of her older brother Hayate. This begins a long chain of events that forms the backdrop to most of the rest of the series; at the conclusion of her narrative in the original Dead or Alive, she successfully overpowers the main villain of the piece — who it turns out had been genetically modified by the DOATEC organisation — and is subsequently kidnapped in his stead.
During her captivity, DOATEC steal Kasumi’s DNA on the assumption that if she could take down their most powerful experiment, she would make a fine basis for a genetically engineered super-fighter who could be cloned and sold off to the highest bidder. From this point on, Kasumi frequently encounters various clones of herself; indeed, for the majority of her narrative in Dead or Alive 5, you are actually playing as one of her clones rather than the original.
It’s all terribly confusing, but then fighting game lore often gets extremely complex if you look into it. Of course, if you do happen to find it a bit too much to process, it doesn’t matter too much, since fighting games are mechanics-centric experiences first and foremost, so you can enjoy and appreciate Kasumi even if you don’t have a fricking clue what on Earth is going on in her frighteningly complicated life.
Mechanically, Kasumi has always been considered to be one of the best characters in the Dead or Alive series; it makes sense for Itagaki’s “daughter” to be top-tier, after all.
Kasumi is particularly beloved by players for her balanced capabilities and her speed; her strikes are especially speedy, allowing for relentless assaults against unprepared or more slow-moving foes. She is also a character that many beginners gravitate towards, with relatively simple button inputs unleashing a variety of different attacks, and a number of natural, easily understandable combos within reach of even the most rubbish fighting game player. Like me!
That said, she’s not completely infallible. Although her individual moves are easy enough to perform, by themselves they don’t deal a lot of damage, so she shines the most when stringing together long combos and punctuating them with throws. Her reliance on long combos also makes her somewhat vulnerable to well-timed throws, and her short range can make her quite risky to use.
The Dead or Alive cast underwent something of a redesign in 2012 for Dead or Alive 5, with the game’s art director Yuta Saito noting that he wanted to “evolve the characters in a slightly realistic direction”. He noted that the biggest challenge for the team in this regard was Kasumi; producer Yasuke Hayashi added that various attempts to redesign Kasumi sparked more disputes among the development team than anything else.
Modern Kasumi is still well-loved by players, but Itagaki wasn’t happy. He’d long departed the series by this point; he left Tecmo’s development studio Team Ninja in 2008 following disputes with the parent company and specifically with the company president based on “unreasonable and disingenuous statements”, but it’s clear Kasumi was still important to him. Speaking with Siliconera in 2014, Itagaki noted that he felt that his “daughter was totally ruined, spoiled” and that he “can’t/shouldn’t avert [his] eyes from that fact”.
These sentiments were further emphasised in the run-up to 2019’s Dead or Alive 6. In preview material for the new game, Kasumi was shown in a new default outfit that abandoned her iconic (and revealing) blue side-tie dress in favour of an armoured skin-tight catsuit. This was initially assumed to be due to Team Ninja and Koei Tecmo attempting to tone down the series’ notorious fanservice, but it was later revealed that her iconic outfit was still present; it just wasn’t her default appearance any more.
That outfit will always remain associated with her, however; its original 1990s design was created with cosplayers in mind, and she has remained a popular character with the cosplay community ever since. And you’ll be pleased to hear that the outfit is present and correct in Warriors All-Stars, too…
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