Kotaku really – pardon the language – has probably fucked up with this one. Well… Kotaku UK at least…
The biggest Persona news of the week with there being a updated version of Persona 5 on the horizon titled Persona 5 The Royal was largely overshadowed by a seemingly massive scandal in the gaming community involving Persona 5 and that has lead to further discrediting of Kotaku itself by the gaming community; something they did not need. Last week on the 18th of April, Kotaku UK posted an article claiming that the Joker DLC character for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has a disability slur, “retarded,” interwoven into the lyrics of one of the included music tracks, while later recanting on their story after considerable backlash.
The track in question, ‘Wake Up, Get Up, Get Out There,’ is familiar to anyone that played Persona 5 as it’s the track played in the opening sequence prior to the title. The opening to Persona 5 has been critiqued, analyzed, and probably combed over a little too much in search of imagery, but what very much is heard is the version of ‘Wake Up, Get Up, Get Out There’ that plays is a shortened version of the original track, concluding with the finishing of the first verse. The entirety of the track features background vocals, which is where the lyrics in question appear.
Players that happen to listen to the OST in it’s entirety would hear the entire track, however as this is the first track heard in the game it can be one of the more forgettable compared to the rest of the rather great score. I also believe – however I’ve only played through Persona 5 once – that the track is actually not played in entirety anywhere in the title itself. It can be forgiven if most players are likely hearing this track as intended for the first time playing Smash Ultimate.
“Retarded” is a disability term that has completely fallen out of favor in modern times. Of background note is that even well into the 1990s many Government agencies were still officially using “retarded” or “retardation”, so it – unfortunately – has taken some time for the term “retard” to fall out of acceptable usage. I remember listening to ‘Wake Up, Get Up, Get Out There’ in it’s entirety back around when Persona 5 came out – I enjoy periodically listening to gaming OSTs at work – and do recall hearing a word very similar to “retarded” and even noting it, but did not pay it the mind as everyone else is now. I will also note that others have brought this questionable lyric up prior, so Kotaku was not the absolute first to put it out there although their exposure is undoubtably massive compared to a random Reddit thread.
I also somewhat preface that I feel Persona 5’s musical score is overall incredible and ranks up there as one of the better compilations in modern gaming. The track ‘Beneath The Mask’ in particular is one of my personal favorites. It is presented as an electronic simplistic-style instrumental early in gameplay against rain ambience, before switching over to a heavier robust score with lyrics that completely defies it’s pronounced sound. It and the other selections were very well thought out, make appearances at the most opportune moments, and it really goes to show how well intricately composed music with hand-picked selections can work wonders against quantity (i.e., Gran Truismo, which tries to throw every musical track it can gather into it’s menus).
The most immediate critique is that Persona 5’s score, along with it’s predecessors, is not spoken by a native English speaker. It’s understandable, being a game from Japan. On the enunciation of English vocals, I will say Persona 5’s English enunciation is much more clear than prior scores composed by Shoji Meguro. Immediately comparing to P5’s predecessors Persona 4 and Persona 3, both of those titles often carried vocals that were very difficult to discern unless you listened to them repeatedly. I remember one of P3’s least-vocal tracks, ‘Want To Be Close,’ has some of the most difficult to discern English words in any Persona music track I can recall.
I know by this point I’ve effectively said a lot of nothing.
Ultimately I do not feel any ill was meant by including the word in Meguro’s composition, even if it was actually meant to be “retarded.” There is probably a very obvious language barrier at play. Keep in mind the word retarded in English doesn’t necessarily suggest a slur and immediately means to slow down. It’s commonly used in regards to fuel mixtures and the like; there’s the classic term “retarding timing,” when a vehicle scales back it’s ignition timing. It could have been contrived similarly as to scale or pull back. So it’s difficult to immediately say that ill was intended, and if anything it’s slur reasoning may have really been lost in translation.
Unfortunately what is both very concerning is that Atlus themselves, a FULL WEEK after, have still not officially addressed what the lyrics actually say; I’m certain they themselves likely do not have a definitive answer and probably have to confer with Shoji Meguro. Additionally, Kotaku UK has done themselves no favors. Not only did the author of the piece follow seemingly no journalistic procedures to even attempt to verify her writing (she deleted her Twitter account in the backlash), the editor of Kotaku UK just agreed to push an article that had virtually no confirmation on it’s authenticity. My guess is the recent Persona 5 hype did little to help the matters, and obviously Kotaku wants to be a story-breaker.
They just broke the wrong story.
(cover image: Atlus. Used under the assumption of fair use in lower resolution)