Wednesday, June 27, 2018

KANEKO'S CRIB NOTES LVI: THE CAREER OF MASAYUKI DOI



by Soren and Eirikr

Masayuki Doi has the unfortunate distinction of being the black sheep of Atlus' main art designers, no doubt due to the fact that some of his best work is hidden within a dead series and that his rise to prominence came at a tumultuous time in the company's history. However, we think his surprisingly expansive oeuvre is definitely worthy of a comprehensive reevaluation and deserving of wider recognition, even if some of it is tarnished by lamentable choices and circumstances. Join Kaneko's Crib Notes editors Soren and Eirikr once more as they break down Doi's entire career, from Trauma Center to Shin Megami Tensei and much more!

Who is Masayuki Doi?

Masayuki Doi (土居政之) was born on February 24th, 1976. He was raised in the Tokyo-adjacent city of Yokohama. His blood type is A.

After high school, Doi attended a two-year fashion vocational school and majored in fashion design. A lung sickness prevented him from entering the workforce immediately after graduation; nonetheless, Doi's college, in his words, "hooked [him] up with a big-name clothing company." However, Doi declined the offer because his true desire was to be involved with games. He played and loved the original Famicom Megami Tensei game in elementary school, so he applied for a job at Atlus. [1]

Masayuki Doi is not
approved by the ESRB
Doi's job interview was conducted by none other than Kazuma Kaneko and Shigenori Soejima. He recalls Kaneko as being particularly honest and merciless towards his application portfolio. [1a] As of 2018, Doi has been working at Atlus for 21 years, currently as a member of the “Maniacs Team” that focuses on Shin Megami Tensei main series titles.

Upon first joining Atlus, Doi began work on Persona 2: Innocent Sin (1999), designing the tarot cards and coloring character portraits. Afterward, he would be assigned to 2D background art in Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne (2003), Digital Devil Saga 1&2 (2004/2005), and the two Raidou games, Soulless Army (2006) and King Abaddon (2008); he would be bumped up to background design leader in Nocturne Maniacs (2004) and says he contributed to the "worldview" design of Soulless Army in particular, presumably having to do with period aesthetics. [1]

Doi’s big "break" came as character design lead for the Trauma series. His first Trauma task was to redesign the characters credited to Maguro Ikehata in the original DS Trauma Center: Under the Knife (2005) for its Wii remake, Trauma Center: Second Opinion (2006). He remained as character designer for its sequels Trauma Center: New Blood (2007), Trauma Center: Under the Knife 2 (2008), and the series' final entry, Trauma Team (2010). After Trauma, he returned to Megami Tensei work with the ports of Persona 2: Eternal Punishment (2012) and Soul Hackers (2012).

In the wake of Kazuma Kaneko’s “evaporation,” Doi became the natural selection for the role of Shin Megami Tensei IV’s (2013) character designer, which finally brought him his hard-earned recognition. In the follow-up to SMT4, Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse (2016), Doi was responsible for both new characters and new demons; he also contributed a handful of character and demon designs for Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux (2017). Presently, it is assumed that Doi is working on design and art direction for the upcoming Shin Megami Tensei V.

Assessing Doi


As you can see, Masayuki Doi enjoyed a long tenure at Atlus prior to his emergence as the principal designer for post-Kaneko Shin Megami Tensei. Doi’s contributions in this respect have loomed largest in the public imagination these past few years, but with this history in mind we’d like to take a look further back, to a time when Atlus had yet to contract quite so tightly around their flagship series--in this case, 2006. It’s during the relatively brief but respectable run of the long dormant Trauma Center franchise in which Doi crystallized his chops as a character designer for the company, a period that receives little attention beyond what persists of the modest fanbase that formed around the series. And while the work produced therein is worth considering in any context, it’s particularly valuable as a source of insight into how that career has developed and even where things might have landed under different auspices. 

With SMTV on the horizon and Doi’s involvement all but assured, we decided to trace that development over the full decade that separates Trauma Center: Second Opinion from Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse, in an effort to better understand the artistic evolution that has taken place. The results have been enlightening, to say the least! So without further ado, the first item on our agenda is...

I. A Second Look at a First Impression


Trauma Center: Second Opinion / カドゥケウスZ 2つの超執刀

Soren: As mentioned in the bio, Doi was taking over the Trauma reins from Maguro Ikehata, who has no other discernible design credits and an indistinct style to match. A pretty good opportunity for a young artist to showcase their ability, during the same year that Kaneko stepped aside to make way for another younger artist. That should be a decent launch to discuss his style.
Robert Hoffman,
senior model

Eirikr: Yeah. And that's the big one, describing his style.

Soren: Relatively restrained modern anime, but still working with Ikehata's characters, so his design sense doesn't come in as clearly.

Eirikr: Yeah, as adaptations, most of them come off as fairly simple. Not to get too ahead of ourselves here, but another key difference I think is there are more shadows/highlights on faces in these older character designs compared to those from contemporary games.

Soren: They're pretty noticeable, yeah. They lend some additional volume that isn't as present in his recent work, compounded with less abstracted facial features. Doi was still, for example, drawing nostrils for Second Opinion’s designs, something that one Mr. Katsura Hashino would have hated, apparently. [2]

Eirikr: (laughs) That's right, those aren’t very cute.

Lashing and lip reading: Kaneko's Aleph compared to
Doi's Little Guy and Richard Anderson
Soren: There's also signs of Kaneko's influence, which are accentuated here and then excised entirely later on, like the dark shading on the upper lip, and even some pronounced eyelashes. 

Eirikr: On the topic of similarities, Leslie Sears also looks just like an S-link character.

We loooove them similarities:
Leslie Sears and Persona 4's Kou Ichijo
Soren: Yeah, she's got that look, like you should be buying her melon bread or something. 

Eirikr: So, admission time. Did you also think Doi’s Trauma art was actually handled by Shigenori Soejima?

Soren: Yes, I even distinctly recall a conversation I had on Giant Bomb about how Soejima had rescued the series from artistic mediocrity.

Eirikr: And that same conversation was happening in other places besides Giant Bomb. An honest mistake. After all, Doi's name just wasn't on the radar until Shin Megami Tensei IV--and how many people both actually beat all of the Trauma games and paid attention to the credits? Not me. 

Soren: Exactly. Plus during the period of Doi's Trauma work, between 2006-9, the only two in-house Atlus art styles were Kaneko's, whose is perpetually distinct, and Soejima's, whose Persona 3 and Persona 4 designs, to the ignorant eye, the Trauma characters definitely resemble.

Eirikr: It was quite a shock to eventually learn this assumption was off-base. But to conclude the topic of Second Opinion, there’s one character in the game who didn’t originate from Ikehata’s pen, and that’s Nozomi Weaver/Naomi Kimishima. Since she’s a Doi original, she probably also best encapsulates what was going on with his design sense at the time.

Naomi Kimishima's
Second Opinion designs
Soren: Yes, the bizarre silver do and deep cut dress suggest that the more restrained sensibility of New Blood wasn’t quite there yet, but the construction of the face is fairly illustrative of Doi circa 2006. Though I wonder if she's the first example of the "remake with a new female character" approach that Atlus has since cornered the market on.

Eirikr: I guess Mother Harlot doesn’t count, huh? Anyway, I’m immediately drawn to her feet. Though she’s in heels/platforms, they are posed arched upward and facing towards the viewer at a flat angle, something we’ll see more of in the future. Plus a rare look at Doi toes. This isn’t a fetish, I swear!

Soren: Looks like he was hot out the gate with those. The bold outlines around the eyes, in addition to the defined nostrils and upper lip, are all present as well, though they'd unfortunately have less of a shelf life to them.

Eirikr: She’s also got that exposed bra on her black outfit. Cunning! On a personal note, I can confirm that Kimishima’s design was successful at gaining the attention of at least one human being, that being my cousin. Though normally not into art even remotely resembling anime, I’m pretty sure at the time he called her “smokin’.” She’s probably half the reason he was interested in playing the game! And so, Doi’s work began earning accolades right out of the gate. Pretty... impressive?

II. Bloody Good Work



Trauma Center: New Blood / カドゥケウス ニューブラッド

Soren: New Blood apparently came out in the West first?

Eirikr: By two months, it seems: November 2007 to January 2008. Only a year after the previous release, Doi’s New Blood art is a noticeable evolution and refinement of the Second Opinion style. For example, emphasis on facial details like defined nostrils, as you said.

Soren: Yes, and Doi's full range of facial eclecticism is on display as well. The palette is subdued earth tones across the board, but the designs are still incredibly distinct. The sheer number of portraits dwarfs Second Opinion as well.

This baby is now 10:
Feel Old Yet? 
Eirikr: On the subject of portraits, the epitome of Doi's New Blood work has to be... Baby. Diminutive and doe-eyed, but with the saggy face of an old man. The concept of "infant" perfected. It's breathtaking.

Soren: That sweet mug contains multitudes. One glance and you can feel the apex of Doi's artistic output flash before your eyes.

Eirikr: But okay, seriously, it definitely has to be Professor Wilkins receiving a blowjob (note: don't worry, it's not literally that) from someone wearing Fuuka's trash bag outfit (note: it's literally a trash bag).

Soren: Yeah, there just isn't much competition there. One glimpse of that fellatious nonsense blanket and you can feel the apex of Doi's artistic output flash before your eyes.

Eirikr: But okay, seriously, in all honesty it's probably some version of Valerie Blaylock.

Soren: She hits all the major notes for this period of Doi's art, I think. For starters, his fashion chops are in effect for just about any outfit you catch her in.

Eirikr: Her frilly shirt is as distinct as the fact that it's shown as too tight around her chest for "some" reason. She also has some nice belts.


Valerie Blaylock, proud owner of three separate ensembles

Soren: It's pretty impressive that outfit works with the lab coat. Also carries across the subdued palette that New Blood employs nicely.

Eirikr: She looks like someone you might encounter in real life, which is not something you can often say about characters in Atlus games. But I mean that as a compliment.

Soren: Yeah, the overall sense of restraint comes through nice and clear here. And building on the diversity of the cast, we have maybe the only black protagonist in an Atlus game this side of Revelations: Persona (and thus the only one worth considering).

Eirikr: Yeah, that’s a great point! The diversity seems like a real power play to appeal to the North American audience. I would suppose they got burned by sales figures after this and a similar attempt with Strange Journey failed, as they’ve since retracted into their Japanese shells. But besides Valerie, which designs do you think are the standouts?

Soren: Good question. I really like the ones that you can immediately tell would never appear in a modern Atlus game, like Dr. Chen or Secretary Mendez.

Eirikr: Yeah, in addition to being an officially designated "No Nostril Zone," Atlus Japan subscribes to the Logan's Run school of age politics. But as to the point about earth tones, everyone has realistically-colored hair as well.

Soren: On that note, the masked villains immediately stand out due to their cotton candy flavored hair, a contrast that wouldn't really work in the next console Trauma title.

Doctor Chen and Secretary Mendez
Eirikr: (laughs) No. It's neat it's just on the masks themselves, too. The first masks of Doi's career.

Soren: The first and probably best. New Blood has it all.

Eirikr: Even though they are pretty ineffective in this game. I've never even played the damn thing and it was still obvious who they were. 

Soren: (laughs) Guess it's still a Trauma Center game. And to elaborate a bit, the racial diversity of the cast really is strong here.

Eirikr: Yes. Is this the Atlus game with the most black people? But it's beyond that, even.

Soren: Obviously a credit to the scenario, but Doi handles it with more tact than you would reasonably expect from a game like this. No comedy afros or anything. One of the things that also took me by surprise as I played through it earlier this year was the abundant Latinx representation, and not just within (fictional war-torn Latin American country).

Eirikr: They don't look like unfortunate stereotypes. They look... normal for this art style. Even game show host Guy Davidson is pretty subdued compared to other foreigner stereotypes in the medium.

Soren: Yeah, and he notably has a host of less exaggerated counterparts to offset the effect.

Eirikr: Though Chandler Forbes could probably slice cheese with that chin.

Soren: The kid is ready to do some damage; also basically a Navarre prototype.

Eirikr: Yeah. Cynthia Kazakov is the requisite deep cleavage babe, I guess, but she appears to be the only one. It doesn't appear too out of place if you imagine this as the modern medical drama it's aiming to be.

Cynthia Kazakov and John Q. Sexman,
another universe's primo shipping pair
Soren: She seems quaint compared to other examples in the Doi oeuvre.

Eirikr
: Plus there's Sexman.

Soren: Yes, Sexman is in the house.

Eirikr: Voted the world's sexiest impoverished video game man of the decade.

Soren: A little something for everybody, that's the promise of Sexman. Doi also has a habit of modelling faces on real people (as would happen in Shin Megami Tensei IV with Walter and Jonathan), so there may have been some of that going on in New Blood.

Eirikr: Yes, I was going to mention that next. Erik Hayes gives me a Tom Hanks vibe, although huskier. Likewise, Nilsen reminds me of someone whose name is on the tip of my tongue.

Soren: Agreed on Hayes. Couldn't quite place Nilsen, though.
Clockwise from top left: Nilsen,
Marshall, Quatro, and Hayes

Eirikr: George Marshall is Jamie Foxx-esque.

Soren: They look enough like real people that we can at least make guesses, which is something.

Eirikr: Yeah. Irene Quatro, Cate Blanchett. They aren't dead ringers but everyone looks distinct with regards to face shape and features. Doi was clearly using some reference models.

Soren: No doubt. Unfortunately, New Blood never received an art book, and we're not exactly drowning in interviews on the subject.

Eirikr: A shame. Looking at them now, I love the wrinkly details and shadows on Prof. Wilkin’s and Dr. Hoover’s faces.

Soren: Doi could draw the shit out of an old guy, and still can to an extent.

Eirikr: Rousseau sort of looks like the mafia prototype design for Tayama.

Soren: Yeah, same expression, swoop etc.

Eirikr: He needs more old guys and gals to draw.

Soren: Incidentally, the cast of Shin Megami Tensei IV is like, half middle-aged or older men, something that Doi even comments on in the game's artbook. He was probably in his comfort zone there. Definitely bring that back.


Good ol' Annapolis, down by
the Chesapeake... River??
Eirikr: That's true, I never thought about that before. Time will tell! But one more thing about New Blood I want to mention as a brief aside is that the game is one of the few to feature my home state of Maryland, albeit a very... Japanese version obviously lacking for research or verisimilitude. It’s apparently the location of Caduceus USA’s HQ, possibly in reference to the internationally famous Johns Hopkins hospital complex, a jewel in the Maryland crown. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a Japanese source to confirm Maryland was also in that version, but I would assume so, as the character names are identical between versions.

Soren: I do wonder how it worked, with New Blood releasing stateside before it hit Japan. Maybe it was designed to be more appealing to a Western audience, hence the subdued designs, racial diversity, etc.?

Eirikr: Yeah, like, how much House did the team watch? I can appreciate the crab cakes shoutout, but if this is supposed to be actual Maryland, some actual research into the geography would have been nice. The state capital Annapolis is the only city specifically mentioned, but if it’s riverside instead of bayside, that means there is no Chesapeake Bay, which means no crabs, which means no crab cakes. And apparently the Marylanders in this universe are way into hockey instead of baseball or football. [Eirikr's note, 6/11/18: The previous statement was written well before the recent Stanley Cup victory of the Washington Capitals. Regardless, I still don't care about hockey, vicinity and solidarity attempts by the Orioles (R.I.P.) be damned!

Soren: In 2007 or 2017, this sort of cultural research has apparently never been Atlus’ strong suit.

Eirikr: Yeah, why take the time to learn about other cultures when you can just make everything look Japanese, like the appearance of fake Maryland's urban sprawl? I mean, that's the default everywhere, right? But before we get too cynical, let’s move on!

III. Under the Radar 2



Trauma Center: Under the Knife 2 / 救急救命 カドゥケウス2

Eirikr: Of note for Under the Knife 2 is that it reuses a lot of assets.

Soren: Yeah, the main cast, with the exception of Derek and Angie, are recycled entirely. Otherwise there are about a dozen new faces.

Eirikr: And some more diversity, as Derek and Angie go to Africa on some humanitarian mission.

Soren: Yes, and right away we meet Derek's new protege, Adel Tulba, who has a luscious green mane. So we're basically back to the Second Opinion wheelhouse in terms of stylization.

Eirikr: Yeah, like Leslie's or Kimishima's hair, the restraint shown in New Blood is gone.

Soren: It's at least a practical decision, since designs in the style of New Blood would clash with the recycled assets.

Eirikr: Plus Under the Knife 2 has a healthy dose of the original's SyFy Original Movie fantasy science that was cut back a bit from New Blood.

Get up to get down with the Count:
Reina Mayuzumi and
Heinrich von Raitenau
Soren: Yes, they go to town with the Kyriaki hijinks in this one. It's all around a return to the roots. So basically everything we covered in Second Opinion applies here, albeit at a lower resolution. However, some new characters like Reina Mayuzumi and Bram Stoker's Heinrich von Raitenau introduce an additional element of visual goofiness that would expand later on.

Eirikr: And boy would your face eventually be red if you spent too much time reflecting on Reina.

Soren: No kidding. This image is also magnificent, Trauma Center cinematics at their finest.

Eirikr: That's how anti-nostril supervillain Hashino-Baba was born. And Heinrich looks like he should be bossing around Miles Edgeworth if not fighting a Belmont.

Soren: The guy isn't taking any extraneous steps to to disguise his villainous agenda, to say the least.

Eirikr: We've mentioned the one and only Dr. Derek Stiles but haven't given his designs a proper analysis yet. But there's a reason for that--we wanted to wait until we could compare and contrast them all at once. 

Soren: Yeah, he's the leading man and probably the face that most associate the franchise with, despite only maintaining his starring role for about half the series. And luckily enough, his designs in Second Opinion and Under the Knife 2 give us a decent look at where Doi was at both periods.


Derek's Initial Styles: Ikehata's Under the Knife version (left),
Doi's Second Opinion prototype (center) and final (right) versions

Eirikr: Not only that, you just found a promotional image that has what appears to be a prototype Derek.

Soren: This thing is bizarre. The basic design is intact, but we get a glimpse of an earlier, slightly more toned down style. For starters, dialing back the severe expression was definitely the right call, since the guy is kind of a dork.

Eirikr: The whole thing looks drab. He's also wearing a bright white Caduceus shirt that doesn't appear in the final game.

Soren: Looks to be the same one he's wearing in Ikehata's design, and taken with the less ostentatious headphones, it's definitely hewing closer to his original appearance. No surprise, considering it was probably drafted early on.

Eirikr: Yep, I was just going to say it looks like a more direct adaptation of Ikehata's.

Soren: That checks out then. The eyes and the duller color scheme underwent some changes, and the shading from the neck down is a lot more involved in the final product, but that seems to be the long and short of it.

Eirikr: Looking at the proto and the final side-by-side, besides the costume change, the real difference seems to be shading and the duller color, as you say. As for the Second Opinion Caduceus design, Derek's yet another year 2006 Atlus protagonist using a cylindrical mp3 player, after Persona 3's of course.

Under the Knife 2's
"Adult Contemporary Derek"
Soren: Remember those? Atlus probably could have scored some sweet product placement revenue for all the vouching they were doing for Sony.

Eirikr: Derek already has a smile on his face from the thought. Though maybe also because he knows he's going to be mistaken for a Soejima creation for years to come. Better networking opportunities there. 

Soren: The day had not yet come when anyone would actually know what a "Masayuki Doi" is. BEHOLD! But one day, when this series is completely sunk and your best days are behind you… Otherwise there's not much to say about the Second Opinion design beyond what applies to the leap from Ikehata that we covered above. His Under the Knife 2 incarnation, however, brings something new to the plate, representing a more significant departure from his DS design, now that Doi had more or less come into his own.

Eirikr: Yeah, Under the Knife 2's just has a much more natural flow to it, unlike the stiff Second Opinion art. Easy to see Doi was undoubtedly feeling a lot more confident at this point. However, here we have a clear case of Nostril Erosion.

Soren: His hair in particular is so much less of an awkward, spikey mass now. As for the nostrils, what little we see here is basically the last gasp.

Eirikr: But the folds on his jacket and the overall shading are pretty much what we could term "Contemporary Doi."

Soren: That sums it up nicely, and as such it's a solid encapsulation of his Under the Knife 2 fare. The palette and skin tone achieve much the same effect.

Eirikr: Even though Under the Knife 2 basically kept the Second Opinion style intact, a promotional image released for the game offered a glimpse at the near future.
PLEASE BUY OUR GAME

Soren: Yeah, it turned out to be a harbinger of things to come in terms of both style and tone. While pretty tame as far as these things go, a cheesy bikini pinup of female lead Angie is still a departure from the approach of earlier entries.

Eirikr: The good old days, before Atlus charged extra for this kind of stuff. I remember this image appearing in an old Atlus Faithful email, though it seems to have been deleted. And yeah, it’s not just that it’s Angie in a bikini, but that the style is a lot simpler. Less, or at least a different type of highlighting and shading. Her irises are way bigger and she has little dot nostrils, not the clearly outlined ones that appear even in her Under the Knife 2 art.

Soren: Yeah, thinner lines, different coloring (or does she have a tan here?), lines on her cheeks to suggest blush, and listening to headphones so you know she's a stylish anime gal.

Eirikr: She's owning that "oh, didn't see you there" Youtuber faux-bewilderment cliche, too.

Soren: No kidding. Her hair even has that line-riddled, paper-like quality to it,  all features that characterize Doi's style for the final entry of the series.

IV. Taking One for the Team



Trauma Team / HOSPITAL.: 6人の医師

Eirikr: I'll start with an anecdote: I hate Hank Freebird and his stupid squinting face. So the game was released in May of 2010, right?

Soren: Yeah, looks like it came out here before Japan as well.

Hank Freebird
Eirikr: Back when I was still on the Atlus Faithful email list, that whole first half of the year I was kind of pissed off that I was receiving so many Atlus emails about Trauma Team but none about Strange Journey, which released in March that year. Like it probably wasn't a constant, daily deluge of them, but that's what I remember. Instead of getting cool, insider info about Jimenez and Zelenin that I already knew anyway, I was getting the anime lovebaby of He-Man and Elvis. Of course, I later found out why I wasn't getting any Strange Journey emails: it was M-rated, and you had to toggle something on their site to receive emails about M-rated games. Trauma Team was only T for TEEN. And that's the story of how I was mildly annoyed by a game I was never interested in playing.

Soren: Incredible. The content of the Strange Journey emails was simply too scandalous for the teen population.

Eirikr: Atlus would be in hot water with parents if Little Johnny was allowed to play it and access a very specific quest on a very specific path that has a penis monster.

Soren: As for this other game, which unfortunately did not retain its Japanese title of HOSPITAL: 6 Doctors...

Eirikr: More like St. Nowhere, because that's where the series went after this release. 

Soren: Hank Freebird's ill-fitting coat just wasn't enough to move those copies.

Eirikr: Even back then it was kind of jarring how different the game looked from the others. Possibly the first instance of an Atlus series pivoting to chase those Persona dollars.


Could have been worse!
Soren: Yes, and I think the Caduceus Database sums up the new direction succinctly: “The events of the game are told in the style of a Graphic novel, with character art in the style of Anime." With helpful links to the Wikipedia pages for both concepts, of course.

Eirikr: (laughs) Yeah, couldn't have said it better myself. I need that on a bronze plaque.

Soren: It is supremely evocative. The original Japanese box art does a sterling job of communicating the new direction as well; beyond the comic panel framing, we can see that Doi has settled completely into the style first glimpsed in that saucy Under the Knife 2 wallpaper.

Eirikr: Yes, it is undeniably character art in the style of Anime.

Soren: With the busty heroine leaning over to give you a good look at her marketing assets, also in the style of Anime.

Eirikr: And if they didn't work, there's always these promo cards of the token Japanese girl, whom we’ll get to in more detail in a moment. Like, if this game wasn't made by Japanese people, she would come off as stereotypical.

Soren: Yeah, I'm not sure how practical that kimono would be for performing an endoscopy.


...PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD BUY OUR GAME

Eirikr: Well, good thing Doi also drew her for those aforementioned cards in different outfits, in the style of Bathing, Undressing, and Sexy Nurse.

Soren: He covered the whole gamut! Meanwhile CR-S01, inexplicably voiced by Nolan North, looks like a melange of Persona protagonist concepts.

Chie and Yukik... um, we mean
Maria Torres and Tomoe Tachibana
Eirikr: It's clearly part of the ensemble, but he's got those sharp feet like a Soejima persona design might have. But his are still positioned naturally, unlike some of the game's other characters. 

Soren: Yes, Doi's pigeon toes become a lot more prevalent at this point.

Eirikr: He's also wearing, like, long johns.

Soren: It's like his special prison onesie, or something? Definitely a look.

Eirikr: But what's obvious about Trauma Team right away is that it's trying so hard to pander, as it was a series in serious sales decline.

Soren: Yeah, and like you said, the shift can probably be attributed to chasing those evergreen Persona bucks.

Eirikr: And amazingly... it didn't work.

Soren: It was an admittedly awkward fit for a series of medical dramas, goofy as they were, but it really seems to have failed spectacularly.

Eirikr: No matter the volume of Hank Freebird emails Atlus tried to gorge us with, not enough people cared. Not boobies, not obvious visual similitude to Persona, nothing. So pandering doesn't always print money.

Soren: An important albeit short lived lesson only months before the acquisition of Atlus by Index co.

Eirikr: If you can't equal Persona, just make more Persona. And speaking of Persona and Trauma Team…

Soren: Tomoe and Maria are, incidentally, the standard bearers for Doi's artistic approach this time around, their likely Persona influence, among other things, speaking to the demographic targeting at play.

Eirikr: The two of them are incredibly blatant examples, on multiple levels. If they aren't somehow based on Persona 4's Yukiko and Chie, it would have to be one of God's cruelest jokes.

Soren: Yeah, a baffling turn for anyone who ever mixed up their Soejimas with their Dois. The promo cards of Tomoe speak for themselves in terms of pandering, and Maria manages to fulfil much the same function while at least looking less like a teenager.

Eirikr: Yeah, let's go over them individually to see just how sharp a pivot the direction was for this game, not only in the art but its whole marketing strategy and desperation for that cold, hard, and reliable otaku cash. First we have Maria, our Latina Chie. It's clear that our attention was meant to be focused on one very specific area, one her black camisole is doing its darndest not to obscure.

Soren: Though if that didn't do the trick there's always her gratuitous post-shower scene, which you'll find without much trouble anytime you go fishing for images online.

Maria and Tomo... dammit,
Chie Satonaka and Yukiko Amagi
Eirikr: Yeah, that post-shower portrait shows they had the utmost confidence in the broad appeal of Maria's character. The same confidence that appears in just about any other alternate art and poses for her.

Soren: I guess it's worth noting that no one dons scrubs at any point in this game, but they might have looked ridiculous if they had.

Eirikr: Who needs scrubs when you have an extremely expensive silken traditional dress?

Soren: They really lean in to the traditional Japanese angle for Tomoe, almost like a parody of Yukiko's nadeshiko trappings. She also gets a less notorious bathing scene in apparently her first appearance (which is accompanied by cherry blossoms, obviously).

Eirikr: What, are you serious? You are. Oh my god.

Soren: Fortunately it's pretty restrained in comparison, surprisingly so considering what we're dealing with. Still, that's like her first few seconds of screentime.

Eirikr: An idea posited by that otaku book I read was that nationalistic themes, or I guess what we would call “stereotypical imagery,” are popular ploys to that particular demographic in Japan. And like you said, it's the "nadeshiko" image in play here.

Soren: That would certainly fit neatly here. The idea that they're sending up Western depictions of Japanese culture may be too generous for what's on display.

Eirikr: Yeah, the references are too specific in that linked video, like the 8 million gods. Hey, they had to try and sell the game in the home market, too, even if they, you know, didn't. But they tried, dear Lord, they tried. Like with those cards.

Traditional Flavor™
Soren: Futile market signaling is the Trauma Team legacy, unfortunately. But for these purposes, Tomoe and Maria sum it up nicely.

Eirikr: Yes, not even art of a Japanese-style wet t-shirt contest was enough to save Trauma Team. But on the subject, Tomoe's promo cards display another nadeshiko element: a modest cup size. I'm pretty sure I read about this in an ancient J-List newsletter (years before the site dropped the pretenses of being a general Japanese goods store instead of 90% porn), but the ideal Japanese woman supposedly has around a Japanese C cup (B by Western bra measurements), which is about what Tomoe has (compare her to Maria or the other female cast members). For example, Hitomi Tanaka is not nadeshiko and I don't think I need to link her to explain why. This is all oddly specific I know, and I'm not making it up I swear, really, it's a thing, but keep this in mind whenever you see depictions of Japanese women in games or anime--usually the bustiest one is not the main heroine, nor is the tallest, etc, and it's all about appealing to the general standards of Japanese men. But moving on to the game’s other characters, Gabriel is just Spike Spiegel with a doctor's coat, and it’s so obvious it seems like a joke until you see that Doi was in on it.

Soren: Then we have our two returning characters, Naomi and Little Guy.

Eirikr: Yes, and thank goodness for them, as they allow us to directly compare how much Doi's style changed between games.

Soren: Yeah, these comparisons speak volumes.


Naomi Kirishima's Second Opinion and Trauma Team designs 

Eirikr: This applies not just to Naomi but most characters like CR-3PO-D2 as discussed, but the costumes in this game are way out there, not grounded like those of the previous main characters.

Soren: Yeah, in their own way they probably reflect Doi's background in fashion but are otherwise now pretty divorced from the setting.

Eirikr: I also just noticed that Atlus USA touched up Naomi's cleavage for the US box art.

Soren: Wow, yeah, they moved that zipper right up. No wonder keeping the original box art was out of the question.

Eirikr: It's still a Wii title, so you don't want grandma to think she's buying a sex game for her after-bowling sessions.

Soren: The many ancillary characters still reflect a solid variety of design elements, but otherwise the shift in style is in full effect.

Eirikr: Looking at the Naomi designs side-by-side is unbelievable.

Soren: It's a pretty vivid comparison, considering that her initial design was already one of the less restrained from the original run.

Eirikr: Yeah, since she's possibly the best representative of a primordial Doi, as we mentioned previously.

Soren: The answer was inside of them all along.
Little Guy's Second Opinion and Trauma Team designs

Eirikr: She still has some eyelashes, but they are far less Kaneko-esque.

Soren: Little Guy's comparison is a good illustration of how far the Kaneko influence had receded by this point though.

Eirikr: But without having to go over every minor Trauma Team character, including the new focus on both young female characters and bustier slightly older female characters that were possibly directives out of Doi's hands (which will be a recurring theme throughout his career), what do you think are the prime defining characteristics of his old style versus what we see in Trauma Team?

Soren: I'd say the big factors at play in his old style are the shading, noses, the more immediate variety of facial features, and a general sense of restraint.

Eirikr: Yeah, the nose details kinda blew my mind once you mentioned them.

Soren: His work here usually sticks with the long, slightly curved bridge and tiny nostrils that you see in a lot of modern anime influenced art. The abundance of thin lines versus shading to emphasize features, either on the face or hair, is also a big feature in his Trauma Team art.

Eirikr: To me, it's in many ways a regression, particularly after the highs of New Blood.

Soren: It's immediately less distinct, I’d say. They really went the opposite direction from New Blood; directorial concerns were certainly in play there, from the presentation and tone to the inclusion of post-shower scenes, so it's hard to say how much of the shift you could lay at Doi's feet.

Eirikr: Yeah, which brings us to…

V. True Doi Apotheosis


L-to-R: Kaneko (1999), Doi (2012), Soejima (2011)
Soren: So Doi had long worked as a concept artist for the series by the time he took his first crack at providing finished character art for a title, in this case the PSP port of Persona 2: Eternal Punishment, which was following hot on the heels of Soejima, who provided new character and promotional art for the previous Innocent Sin port. Doi was tasked with the same for its sequel. Soejima's work for Innocent Sin is odd in that it doesn't resemble his modern style all that much, maybe pulling back to better match the style of the in game character portraits? Whereas Doi, two years after Trauma Team, takes a step back himself and reintroduces some of his old artistic traits, like more detailed shading and thicker lines.

Eirikr: Getting ahead of ourselves here, but I remember Doi's Maya being used, particularly those damn arched pigeontoes, in comparison to Flynn's initial art reveal to prove he was the artist.

Soren: Yes, was just about to mention as much. Really hit the nail on the head, too. And speaking of Maya, that Maya comparison image (right) is still a pretty helpful reference.

Eirikr: (laughs) Indeed. Man, look at Doi kicking Soejima’s ass. Well, except for the feet.

Soren: Yeah, the hooves are strong there.

Eirikr: How much did Doi produce for Soul Hackers?

Soren: The new art for the main cast, and presumably the portraits for both Raidous.

Kaneko (1997) and Doi (2012)
Eirikr: Oh yes, right.

Soren: Oh, and Nemecchi, which I was surprised to see attributed to him and not, like, Yuji Himukai.

Eirikr: My god does that port feel like ancient history.

Soren: Yeah, surprised Soul Hackers and Eternal Punishment PSP came out the same year, too. I don't have much to say about his Soul Hackers work, except that it's sort of... pointless. Too close to the original Kaneko art, and just sort of highlights that his takes are less distinct renditions of the same.

Eirikr: It's so unremarkable that I think I sort of remember a Nemissa and Nemecchi, but that's it. Nightmarish long-legged Nemecchi. It was warning us about Chemtrail.

Soren: Yes, the gams, they would soon be back with a vengeance-- which leads us to Shin Megami Tensei IV, approximately one year later.

Shin Megami Tensei IV / 真・女神転生IV
Eirikr: SMT4, we meet again.

Soren: Yes, it never ends.

Eirikr: Doi's characters remain one of its strong points, though.

Soren: No doubt. They're probably the high point of his career after New Blood: well-executed without clashing with the style of the series.

Eirikr: Looking back, SMT4 certainly earned the biggest buzz an SMT game has ever garnered in the west.

Soren: Yeah, Strange Journey came and went without much fanfare, while Nocturne arrived before the series had found much of a foothold in the West.

Eirikr: But in SMT4, and without reiterating certain crises of the past, I think Doi's clean, anime-lite artstyle attracted eyes that were maybe put off by the Kaneko mannequins. Even though I was at the center of the hubbub over the demon designs, I never had anything bad to say about Doi's contributions. They are somewhere between Second Opinion and New Blood in style, so approximately Under the Knife 2.

Soren: That's a good way of putting it. The realistic hair colors are back, while Doi's shading has more of a presence than even his Eternal Punishment design work. The palette is subdued but not quite draped in earth tones, save for maybe the cover to that official artbook. And there are even designs that are identifiably modeled after real people.

Eirikr: Someone on Giant Bomb's forums or somewhere doubted me that K was Kurt Russell, but Doi's comments validated me. Detailed nostrils also exist, but only for characters with bigger noses, like Skins or Kiyoharu.

Soren: Yes, and Doi had long since stopped using lines to suggest the area around the nostrils, so they're predictably less emphasized.

Eirikr: And this is more on the scenario, but you said above that SMT4 has a heck of a lot of old people for a Japanese RPG released in 2013.

Soren: And just to tally the whole gang, there's Hope, K, Hugo, Fujiwara, Skins, Tayama, Akira, Kiyoharu, and even Stephen, if we're being generous-- but a little over half the cast no matter how you slice it.

Eirikr: And Gabby looks 20 but she's really thousands of years old.

Soren: Yeah, unfortunately the cast is pretty light on middle-aged or older women.

I am hip to the music of my time:
Ayukawa and Fujiwara
Eirikr: Would have been nice if one were in Fujiwara's role, because I think I hate that character and how he's dressed.

Soren: We can blame Makoto Ayukawa of the band Sheena & The Rokkets for that, apparently (R.I.P. Sheena). Might have stuck too close to the model there.

Eirikr: Oh damn, never looked him up before.

Soren: He basically just aged him up a little.

Eirikr: And one to chew on: Fujiwara also wears a powder blue jacket (see header) awfully similar to the one Doi was wearing for the game’s promo circuit. Self-insertion???

Soren: That's true, though it looks noticeably worse transplanted onto a painfully "hip" old man, of course. He looks especially ridiculous standing next to Skins 24/7.

Eirikr: This guy lives for all-day Panera wi-fi and Dark Roast. Him and his stupid teacup. If I had to pick the weakest out of the character designs, it’d be Fujiwara and Flynn, despite the fact that the latter is without a doubt the best representative of Doi’s efforts for the game.

Soren: Yeah, that isn't necessarily a condemnation of the overall quality of the cast, but he's unmistakably the poster boy. Flynn particularly functions as a model for the Samurai regalia, the foundation of Doi's design work for IV.


Final and Initial Concept Designs of Flynn

Eirikr: Yeah, despite any misgivings, Flynn is definitely the archetype of the Samurai uniform. And though Doi says they are based on Jedi robes, those in turn were clearly based on kimonos and samurai garb so Doi is just bringing ‘em back home. The blue and white works well not only as primary colors but as a way to throw back to the vestments of the old Messian order.

Soren: And the original black palette of the concept art is jarring in comparison, so some prudent decisions were made during the drafting process. And it's a good thing he stuck the landing, considering how prevalent they were in the marketing, thinking back to the publicity shot of him and Yamai with the outfit.

A Doi and His Dolls (with Kazuyuki
Yamai, center, and Ryota Kozuka, left)
Eirikr: The costumes they made?

Soren: Yeah.

Eirikr: Oh yeah, saw them with my own eyes, I did, at Tokyo Game Show 2012. Just a matter of feet away, Flynn and Isabeau cosplayers were paraded out onto the Sega stage Atlus was borrowing--a portent for things shortly to come.

Soren: Looking pretty awkward, and understandably so. The quality of the costumes is easy to vouch for, however, another credit to Doi's textile background as he mentions personally collaborating with the garment maker as they were drafted. [1b]

Eirikr: Atlus certainly had a lot of faith in the Samurai costume as a key image for the game and I'd call the general design a success, if not iconic. But for poster boy Flynn, the issues are less about what he's wearing and more about what's going on around his noggin. Flynn's dopey face and hair leave something to be desired. There’s just something soulless about this guy’s expression.

Soren: Yeah, Flynn and his giant hair seem to the most contentious elements at play here. Doi even mentions that he expected some pushback on that front. [1c] It's supposedly meant to vaguely evoke traditional samurai hairstyles, the topknot and all.

Eirikr: I like the ponytail. It's just the flat, giant, triangular bangs I find distracting. It looks like Mega Man's helmet.

White Samurai Apparel DLC
Soren: I think it's telling that his DLC outfit helmet is practically the same 
shape.

Eirikr: Ooooh, yeah. Permanent helmet hair.

Soren: And to their credit, you'll only spend maybe a few hours looking at Flynn's uncovered mop in-game.

Eirikr: If only that were so. You'll be looking at it for 30 hours in the battle on the bottom screen.

Soren: Oh boy, yeah. That's pretty unfortunate.

Eirikr: That's really when I began to sour on it. Being directly adjacent to Kaneko classics doesn't do it any favors.

Soren: Beyond that, only Isabeau's mini skirt stands out as really egregious to me, like he just couldn't imagine a girl wearing pants as part of what is essentially a goddamn military uniform (please let women wear pants occasionally).

Eirikr: That's the code of the Saw-moo-rye.

Pictured: PANTS
Soren: The only glimpse we get of other female samurai are through their zombie sprites, depicted with the same leggings as their male counterparts, which sort of made it even worse for me. But character portraits are cut off at the waist, so at least it's easier to play pretend here.

Eirikr: Hmm, I hadn't noticed that. The localization on those zombie samurai is all kinds of messed up, too. The two individual units are both called "Samurai Zombie" in English, but that's only accurate for the male zombie--the female zombie is named "Samurai Zonmi" (サムライゾンミ) in Japanese, "Zonmi" apparently being some feminization for a zombie that pops up from time to time. But it's even worse for the Samurai zombie amalgamation you encounter in Shibuya, which was originally called "Samurai Corpse" in a nod to those blasted Corpse demons from SMT1. But in English they are just called... "Zombie." Uh, what...? Unless that's some amazing 4D pun I just don't get.

Soren: Even in death, they just can't catch a break.

Eirikr: Nor can I help myself from going on demon localization tangents. But at least No-Pants faction leader Hikaru is there to keep Isabeau company.

Soren: There's another questionable design choice, but at least one that can be neatly chalked up to the scenario.

Eirikr: And divorced from scenario planning Doi shall be forevermore.

Soren: I never spared it a thought at the time, but going from Trauma Team to IV is quite a sight. It speaks to Doi's ability to shape his style according to the circumstances, for better or worse.

Eirikr: Yeah, that's what I'd call a progressive regression.

Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse /
真・女神転生IV FINAL
Soren: But then we move into Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse.

Eirikr: Yeah, and if SMT4 is Under the Knife 2, then SMT4A is most certainly Trauma Team.

Soren: Exactly. Things were not looking up from the very first ugly green promo collage.

Eirikr: Yeah, that thing. I couldn't believe what I was seeing that morning when it first broke. It was like the first guest artist demon Famitsu spread for SMT4 with Isabeau and Asmodeus--downright appalling.

Soren: It was a lot to take in. I think the only unquestionably good thing in this image is Sukuna-Hikona hiding in the corner there.

Eirikr: And that hint of Adramelech.

Soren: Yes, couldn’t make him out at the time, but glad he's in there somewhere.

Eirikr: By the time the first round of news was complete, I was still worried that Sukuna-Hikona was going to be Stolas or something.

The very green, very disconcerting SMT4A announcement collage
Soren: At least they managed to go the other way on that one. And ignoring the obvious for a moment, we can see that SMT4A seemed to be aping the Persona-inspired trend of a primary "theme" color.

Eirikr: Puke green was an appropriate choice, I think.

Soren: Mercifully not incorporated into the actual UI.


Soren: Oh lord, yes. This is a pretty useful time capsule!

Eirikr: I even mention the Isabeau/Asmodeus Famitsu pages. That feature freakin’ traumatized me.

Soren: Yes, the thing has an unfortunate sort of staying power to it.

Eirikr: I sure was reaching with the Dagda/Lugh thing, though.

Soren: And of course the latter wasn't even in the fucking game.

Eirikr: Lugh gets no respect, maybe because he was already in Devil Survivor 2. But speaking of, it was common to see SMT4A's cast compared to the general look of Devil Survivor, which I think is appropriate.
The supporting cast, in sprite form

Soren: That's an excellent comparison. If nothing else, the battle sprites really sell it.

Eirikr: And while the Samurai from the previous game had color-coded scarves, here it extends to their entire ensembles.

Soren: Yeah, and practically the same colors are utilized. Nozomi is also a good encapsulation of the shift that occurred here 

Eirikr: Poor Nozomi. She was always going to be a step down from her awesome original sprite that exuded more authentic character than whatever inane “big sister” personality they gave her in SMT4A. I mean, of course she was made a little sexier with a bust increase (keep in mind what I said about nadeshiko and cup sizes in the Trauma Team section!). But what is up with her silly neon pince-nez glasses? And while she’s coded red, we’ve got Nanashi in green per the main theme color, Asahi blue, Gaston white, Hallelujah yellow/gray, Toki black/purple, and Navarre... also green. Seems redundant with Nanashi there, but Navarre’s original Samurai scarf was green, so I suppose there was no divorcing that color from him. Dear lord, all of this is dredging up repressed memories of Tumblr arguments.

Soren: Things are still pretty fresh, unfortunately.

Eirikr: Even fresher for me since I just played through the game again within the past two weeks. But what's something new we can say about the character designs other than they fulfill various youth market and otaku tropes? For one, the concept art from the artbook showed us a direction never to be for (some) characters and most demons.


The Good and the... Less Good
Soren: The adult Nanashi is probably the biggest leap that occurred. Other characters generally fare worse in their concepts, particularly Toki.

Eirikr: Oh god, the bowlegged Toki. Jesus. God. How did this happen? How did we go from relatively grounded to that?

Soren: It's chilling evidence of what Doi is capable of. And there's like, what, one new old guy who immediately bites it? fuck this game

Eirikr: Peaks and valleys. And this is where so much of this had to be out of Doi's hands. There's a quote of Yamai's somewhere where he mentions that the ages of the party were deliberately lowered for some half-assed reason (the real reason is money). [3]

Toki
Soren: The green color scheme was secretly a cry for help (and money).

Eirikr: We won't need to talk about the demons much here because that will be exhaustively covered in the follow-up article to this feature, but their designs were where you could most easily see that Doi was just adhering to the needs of the scenario and those above him on the ladder.

Soren: Yeah, there would have to be some serious course correction to bring things back on track here, but even if Doi has proven to be capable of dialing back when necessary it's unlikely his compatriots share the same capacity, or desire.

Eirikr: Apocalypse seems like a deliberate attempt at demographic experimentation, and that’s why Toki is probably its best representative. There's no getting around that a 14-year-old expresses her sexual desire for the player protagonist. It's hard to see in the game, but Toki's black bodysuit even has a flame emanating from around her nether regions. And while Doi couldn't evade the script's assertions, he could have maybe made some more tasteful choices. But amazingly, the final design was the more tasteful option compared to the concept art.

Soren: Toki is an excellent distillation of the failures of both Doi and the scenario team in this case. I initially mistook her masked figure in that promo image for a Hannya design, but it wasn’t until much later that I would curse my lack of foresight on the matter.

Absolutely Not Lloyd Wilkens and Toki
Eirikr: Yeah, that’s about where my mind was when I first saw it, too. Honestly, the mask with its purple locks is astonishingly similar to those masked guys in New Blood.

Soren: Jeez, yeah. Of all the ways for New Blood to bleed into Apocalypse, it had to be a mask.

Eirikr: What can we say, Doi just hates drawing actual human expressions. But beyond the masks and hackneyed palettes, the main characters all have soft and smooth faces sans much shading, though that's probably due to their ages.

Soren: And Nanashi, Asahi, and Nozomi practically all have the same face shape.

Eirikr: And it looks like you could mine for gold with Toki's chin.

Soren: God, her too, really. While the shift between each Trauma Center entry felt calculated, it feels like Doi is just barely even trying here.

Eirikr: Manabu looks like he belongs more in Soul Hackers than the supposed oppressive environment of subterranean Tokyo.

Soren: There's a thriving Rasta subculture in this world that hasn't seen the sun in 25 years, apparently. And he's supposed to be 18? What the hell..?

Not Pictured: 7 years worth of artistic evolution
Eirikr: Now that's the craziest thing I've heard yet. And there's one other thing about the designs but it also ties into one from Strange Journey Redux, and that is a distinction between how characters and demons are shaded. It pops up in Apocalypse with Krishna and Demeter in Strange Journey Redux. Namely, that those two are rendered in the typical anime style like all the other characters even though they are demons.

Soren: Yes, when it comes to the demon compendium Doi employs what he calls his "heavy brush" (厚塗り) style in place of the appropriately termed "animation cel style" (アニメなセル画調) applied to his human characters, a dichotomy that he helpfully outlines in his comments on the SMT4 boxart. [1d] Doi approached Demeter in almost exactly the same manner he would treat any young female character.

Eirikr: He mentions it directly in the Demeter commentary: "Looks-wise, I was expected to give her more of a an actual character touch than have her look like a demon, similar to SMT4[A]'s Krishna.”

Soren: The reasoning seems to be that they wanted to emphasize their role as characters in the narrative over their significance as mythological figures, which certainly checks out with their modern approach to this shit.

"Anime" (left) and
"heavy" (right) Rei Reiho
Eirikr: Yeah, they... sure got that point across. But seeing the heavy brush/animation cel style distinction made in an official capacity is something I feel is important. It could also very easily apply to Soejima but particularly to Kaneko, whose works in the mid-to-late '90s are a good example. Especially illuminating are two renditions of Rei Reiho from Soul Hackers. The're both Rei in her pinstripe suit, but you can clearly see that the one version has adopted a much simpler style compared to the other. 

Soren: Yeah, that was right when he was developing his own "heavy brush" style, so you can see plenty of pieces that belong to both modes in there. Of course it would become the definitive look in short order, to such an extent that Doi employs his own take specifically to evoke that "Megaten" vibe, as he explains.  

Eirikr: Yeah, Kaneko's demons from Soul Hackers onward would particularly be defined by the "heavy brush."

Prime examples of Doi's own "anime" and "heavy brush" styles:
the flat, clean Krishna versus the gradated and textured Adramelech
Soren: Soul Hackers also saw the debut of collaborator and colorist Megumi Shiraishi, so I expect her influence was crucial in forming that style.

Eirikr: Heck yeah, we definitely need to make a shoutout to Shiraishi. Without her it would've been Soejima doing all that heavy brush lifting! But shifting gears back to our subject, I want to reiterate that Doi wasn’t behind the underwhelming crew portraits for Strange Journey Redux.

Soren: Yes, the blame for the crew portraits can be heaped squarely on Odagaki. Sort of like if they had brought in Ikehata to sub for Doi instead of vice-versa.

Eirikr: Worth noting also that Doi didn’t draw any of the sometimes shoddy cutscene artwork in SMT4A--it was done by Ikumi Fukuda, who was also behind the Demonic Gene SMT4 manga. But before we begin to wrap things up here, we previously mentioned the correspondence between the rainbow-colored anime casts of Apocalypse and Trauma Team, but didn’t touch on how analogous the dominant Samurai uniform in SMT4 is to the doctors’ white coats seen throughout Trauma Center.

Unfortunate, but not Doi: Akira Odagaki (left) and Ikumi Fukuda (right)

Soren: In both cases a particular uniform dominates the look of the main cast, but Doi manages to set each character apart from one another in meaningful, if sometimes slight, ways. It's hardly rare for limitation to foster creativity, but this sort of inherently restrained framework seems to compliment his abilities nicely.


Doi's Our Boy... for the Foreseeable Future 


Eirikr: So one final topic: Shin Megami Tensei V is impending and so far we’ve got a guy, a girl, and a pitchfork-wielding demon. The last of which I hope is just a generic “Demon” unit so we can know just how out-of-touch Atlus Japan is with Atlus USA.

Soren: That's what I'm hedging my bets on at the moment. But yeah, another link in the chain to explore.

Eirikr: The fact that it’s a whole group of them, too. But petal suit dude doesn’t instill much confidence, though it’s doubtful that guy will wear it for the whole game.

Party Time!
Soren: The fact that it's described as a school uniform is baffling.

Eirikr: It’s so ugly! And we haven’t even seen it from the front, yet!

Soren: Yeah, hopefully he'll undergo a wardrobe change after being... eaten by demons? That usually does the trick.

Eirikr: I can’t shake off the petal motif being part of his body (or some visual metaphor for blood, like Nocturne's Magatsuhi), either, after being saved by this game’s Lucifer/Dagda equivalent.

Soren: I imagine it'll persist in some form, but how clumsily that motif is employed has yet to be seen, so my modest hope is "not quite so clumsily this time.”

Eirikr: Be nice if it had to do with the world instead of a character. And there’s not much to go on for his girlfriend. Even beyond the design, I feel she will persist in the game in some stereotypical and intrusive form. That’s assuming she’s not the protagonist--we of course don’t know for sure yet! But it was Doi after all who towed the company line with the “men are better suited for apocalypses” shit. [4]

Soren: With that in mind, maybe she'll just bite it early to fuel his manpain. The possibilities are endless!

Eirikr: Well, Devilman is en vogue once again, but we’ll see, we’ll see!


(L-to-R) Famitsu Cover Illustration, Famitsu 30th Anniversary, and Persona Series 20th Anniversary

Soren: One last potentiality worth noting is a new style Doi seems to be experimenting with, exemplified in this promotional piece for SMT4A, a 20th anniversary sketch of Maya, and a recent image of Chun-Li celebrating Famitsu’s own 30th anniversary. All exhibit radically different coloring from even his other contemporary work, and the more pronounced glossy highlights on their faces seem to evoke the same flourish you catch in anime every now and then.

Eirikr: Yeah, this was unexpected. It’s not what I’d prefer to see out of Doi, which would be the New Blood style, but it’s the kind of variety and experimentation I can stand behind. Though doesn’t Soejima sometimes illustrate in a similarly simpler style? I can feel that being part of the influence at play.

Soren: Soejima changes it up often enough that it’s hard to say where the dominant influence might come from, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Doi pulls from him going forward. It would continue to justify our earlier confusion, anyway. I at least doubt this’ll be the prominent look for Shin Megami Tensei V's art direction, but maybe for a spin-off or something. Get some mileage out of that variety.

Eirikr: Yeah, I’m definitely open to it cropping up again. The bottom line is that I like Doi; he seems like an interesting, talented fellow.

Soren: Right, if anything this discussion has given me a better appreciation for his abilities as an artist and designer, even if the trajectory hasn't been the most encouraging.

Eirikr: I just don’t think Atlus is necessarily making the best use of him. In many cases his talent is being squandered as he is being strong-armed into delivering visions that aren’t entirely his own, as he seems pretty divorced from the producing and planning side of things. Something Kaneko was intimate with, given his seniority.

Soren: Atlus doesn't seem like the best place for artistic talent to thrive at the moment, no. Early signs suggest that SMT4A will prove less of an evolutionary dead end than Trauma Team, but Doi is still capable of some good work, even under dire circumstances. Not the best prognostics, but we'll see how it all pans out going forward!

Eirikr: Yeah, and as we’ll find out in the follow-up article about Doi's Odin and other demons, even when he is given more artistic freedom he’s prone to making poor or inappropriate choices. Despite that and any criticisms, Doi is a guy I want to root for. I think he’d benefit from having a greater role in the creative process.


NEXT: Doi inherits the "Demon Painter" title... but are his designs an Ultra Hit or Ultra Miss?









Coming next week on July 4th!
__________________________

Special thanks to:


References: 

[1] Shin Megami Tensei IV: Official Artworks. Udon Entertainment, 2016. 


  • [1a] “It was a really interesting interview, but I was nervous as could be. Afterward, I found myself appreciating Kaneko-san’s tendency to… how do I put it… judge me hard without any mercy. (laughs)”
  • [1b] “Even the Samurai cosplay outfits for our booth were made through a collaboration between myself and an actual garment maker. During their production, I started interfering with aspects that a person in my role normally wouldn’t, saying things like “I think these sleeves should be more like this,” and making other requests. The garment maker said, “Wait, do you have a background in fashion?” (laughs) Everything proceeded smoothly after that.”
  • [1c] “But then, his unique hairstyle gives him a bit of individuality. There were pros and cons to that choice, and I designed his hair assuming there would be some pushback.”
  • [1d] "On a technical level, although most of my illustrations are done in animation cel style, I challenged myself to do this one with heavy brush techniques in order to fit with the 'MegaTen' series' image and worldview."

[2] The Art of Persona 5. Prima Games, 2017.
Fixed those unsightly
nostrils for you,
Mr. Hashino!

“Things went smoothly after we locked down her character, but the first images drawn were not all that cute, so Director Hashino suggested that we 'make her cuter' and strongly demanded that we 'stop drawing nostrils on her.'"

[3] “Actually in the early phases of planning, we planned to have the main character to be even older than SMT4’s… if we’re making a simulator based on current era, rather than an adult with an almost complete self, it’s much better for a main character of a current-era Megaten to be incomplete children with some doubts in their hearts.” Translated by Nintendo Everything.  

[4] “Because the game is more about survival, on average male figures have a better chance to survive than females that’s why the games lean towards more male characters.” Making Law and Chaos Heroes, Siliconera

5 comments:

  1. This was great! I especially appreciated the examination of Trauma Center, I don't see that series brought up much in ATLUS discussions. Looking forward to the Doi article July 4th

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  2. This is good! looking forward for your commentary on demon designs!

    To be honest, I actually dig his designs for new blood. I think his art style fits with trauma team than megaten though... :d

    (btw, I'm Duckpasta from the talking time forum. haha.. :p)

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  3. This was an excellent read, thanks!

    Regarding Flynn's triangular hair, it's pretty reminiscent to Kaneko's Serph for Digital Devil Saga in my opinion.

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