Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Henshin-A-No-No, Baby! Why "Ultra" Odin Paints a Grim Future for Shin Megami Tensei Demon Design

by Soren and Eirikr

The mercurial Norse deity Odin is a fascinating subject, one interpreted in countless ways around the world. He has been variously portrayed as a warrior king from outer space, a slicing-and-dicing quasi-samurai, and even most recently as a mushroom munching megalomaniac. Still another imagined him as just a naked purple guy, a concept so unremarkable we expect its creator to be long out of a job.

But enter Masayuki Doi and his ultra-modern Odin designed for Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse. Cool, streamlined, and poised to kick major butt, this Odin is a perfect image of the contemporary pop culture zeitgeist--but a less than perfect image of Odin himself. Continuing from where we left off in our Kaneko’s Crib Notes examination of Doi’s career, we turn now to the burgeoning artist’s demons to examine their ups and many downs as refracted through Odin’s flawed prism.

Do the problems lie only with the adoption of superficial pop culture? Is it a desperation to ride Persona’s gilded coattails? Or is it deficient leadership and research? Can a series purportedly about mythology and religion continue to make that claim if its forms don’t reflect cultural standards? In an exhaustive examination of Shin Megami Tensei demon design past and present, we answer all of these daunting questions and much, much more… and offer a little wisdom for a brighter future with the eternal symbols of myth and legend.

Who is Odin?

Odin (or Wotan, Woden, etc.) is a famous enough deity that a remedial biography might seem unnecessary. Sure, he’s the chief god of the Norse pantheon, has the spear Gungnir, rides the eight-legged horse Sleipnir and all that--common knowledge! Still, it’s necessary for our purposes to ascertain a popular consensus on who Odin really is. First, let’s see what some general mythology reference books have to say about him:
Mime and the Wanderer,
Arthur Rackham
Odin is the ‘all-father.’ ...god of magic and of war. ...Odin leads the Aesir, the gods of war, death and power. (Mythologies of the World: The Illustrated Guide to Mythological Beliefs & Customs, p. 68)

The ruler of Asgard, Odin was god of war, storms, magic, inspiration, and the underworld. The oldest and greatest of all the Norse gods, he created the cosmos with his brothers Vili and Ve. There were two secrets to Odin’s power. The first was his ability to change shape, taking any form he wished. The second was his wisdom, which he got by drinking from Mimir’s well. This contained dew from one of the roots of the world’s great ash tree, Yggdrasil. (DK Illustrated Dictionary of Mythology, p. 82)
God of the sky, war, and victory in battle. Odin summoned the fallen to Valhalla, Hall of the Slain at Asgard. He is known in Nordic, Icelandic, and Germanic myth, and is associated with wolves and ravens, which, as scavengers, symbolize death. Prisoners of war were sacrificed to Odin in imitation of his own self-immolation at the world tree, Yggdrasil. Odin was also the god of wealth. (DK Signs & Symbols, p. 143)
These books agree on a few points, namely that Odin is the ruler of the Aesir gods and that he is a god of war and magic, but there are many discrepancies between them for what qualifies as basic information, some of it not the most modern. Case in point, the DK Illustrated Dictionary of Mythology’s naming of Odin as storm god may refer to an association with the wind that likely stems from Richard Wagner’s Wotan in his famous Ring Cycle; in the general mythology, Odin sharing storm and thus thunder duties with Thor would be more than a little redundant. But taken together, however, these descriptions do constitute the broad, collective overview of the role and identity of Odin, obviously a complex deity. Still, if these mainstream-focused books are sometimes inconsistent, what do the scholars who specialize in Norse religion have to say about Odin?

...Wotan or Odin, the fierce god of death and battle, inspiration and magic lore… (Scandinavian Mythology, p. 12)

Odin is primarily the god of the dead and ruler of the underworld. (Scandinavian Mythology, p. 42)

God of poetry, wisdom, hosts, and the dead; in the received mythology head of the pantheon. (Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs, p. 247)

Here the descriptions are more specific, though first it’s important to know the date of publication of each book: Hilda Roderick Ellis Davidson’s Scandinavian Mythology was published in 1969, John Lindow’s Norse Mythology in 2001. Clearly the overall consensus on Odin hadn’t changed significantly in the 30+ years between them (and Lindow even praises Ellis Davidson in his book), but it can be presumed that Lindow’s information is more up-to-date. Important for our purposes is that both sources emphasize Odin’s death aspect as well as the martial, though both curiously avoid using the term “god of war” outright, instead associating him with “battle” and “hosts” (i.e., armies); this distinction seems semantic but it more accurately frames Odin within the context of armed conflict: he may influence wars, but he himself is not a warrior.

Odin and Frigg, Lorenz Frølich
In the words of the renowned 20th century French mythographer Georges Dumézil in his Mythes et dieux des Germains (Myths and Gods of the Germans) via Mircea Eliade’s Images and Symbols: “Odin is certainly the governor, the warrior-chief in this world and the next. Yet neither in the prose Edda nor in the Edda poems does he himself fight…. He has a whole series of magical ‘gifts’--that of ubiquity, or at least of instantaneous transport; the art of disguise and the gift of the unlimited metamorphosis; lastly and chiefly, the gift of being able to blind, deafen or paralyse his adversaries and deprive their weapons of all efficacy.” (pp. 92-93) While Thor is the Norse god who most often commits violent, physical acts (usually beating giants over the head), Odin is seemingly content to observe battles from the sidelines and utilize his magical powers as he sees fit; he is hardly a “badass” in the modern pop sense. Says Larousse World Mythology, “Whereas Odin was the sovereign magician who directed battles, made his enemies powerless and chose the slain for Valhalla, Thor is more like the best fighter, the most redoubtable man under arms, whose blows are invariably fatal.” (p. 372)

In myth, Odin is only ever said to participate in battles in the Aesir-Vanir War (which ends in a stalemate and agreement to fold the Vanir into the Aesir group), and of course his inescapable death in the jaws of Fenrir at Ragnarok in the mythological future (in the sense that it is something yet to come for both man and god). In the description of the Aesir-Vanir War in the Poetic Edda’s Voluspa, it says that “Odin shot a spear, hurled it over the host / that was still the first war in the world” (stanza 24); he initiates the war (the first in Norse cosmology) by throwing a spear over the Vanir’s heads (presumably Gungnir, even though it was technically not created until later), but it does not end in a total victory for the Aesir; nonetheless, the reconciliation of the Aesir and Vanir is ultimately beneficial for both sides. And at Ragnarok, even though Odin is definitely wielding his Gungnir, spear of sovereign symbolic strength, he is still fated to die and does not even kill his archfoe Fenrir, as that task will only be completed by his son Vidar.

Odin rides against Fenrir, Lorenz Frølich

But in the historical “present” of the Norse (as in, when the myths were recorded), Odin, as chief deity, was given tribute by historical lords and chieftains who wished for victory in battles. Defined by a worldview where Odin reigned supreme, it would be reckoned by these Valhalla-wishers that whoever gave him the best tribute and sacrifices would be given favor on the battlefield with Gungnir on their side--or not, because in stark reality the inclinations of Odin or any other non-existent deity would only be as influential as a belligerent faction’s strategy, skill, or numbers. “It was said of Odin that he set kings a-warring, or, as Saxo put it, ‘he weaves the dooms of the mighty and fils Phlegethon with noble shapes.’” (Scandinavian Mythology, p. 28) Indeed, in the Lokasenna, Loki criticizes Odin for sometimes handing victory to the inferior force, showing how Odin’s war aspect was perceived as that of an overseer or manipulator rather than an active combative agent. Along with his valkyries, choosers of the mortal slain, and the crazed berserkers who fought in his name, Odin’s war associations are best understood in the context of human conflict.

It is in this role as “sovereign magician” over battle and hosts that also explains Odin as a god of death. Loki’s words in the Lokasenna may have called Odin’s bluff over his capriciousness, but it also frames it as a conscious selection of preferring the superior soldiers to die so they can become the valkyries’ chosen: the einherjar. In the afterlife, the einherjar are famously carted to none other than Valhalla (or Valhöll in Old Norse), which “appears to have been a symbol of the grave rather than some bright abode of the sky. ...It seems to be a kind of riddling account of the field of battle… where the doors of death are opened for many.” (Scandinavian Mythology, p. 42) Lindow translates Valhöll as “carrion-hall” (p. 308), which does not paint a romantic picture of the place. At the Valhöll and its environs, repeatedly do the einherjar battle and die by day and rise again and feast by night, all in anticipation of Ragnarok: “In the literature the reason given for Odin’s hospitality was that he was collecting a mighty host from among the noble dead to follow him in the last great battle, when the gods would have to fight for survival against monsters and giants.”  (Scandinavian Mythology, p. 28)

Odin at Mimir's well, Emil Doepler

Odin's sacrifice,
Lorenz Frølich
In characterizing Odin, it would be remiss not to expand on “his obsessive quest for wisdom, particularly for information about Ragnarok” (Introduction to Vafthrudnir’s Sayings, The Poetic Edda, p. 39), which itself has some ties to the death theme. First is the creation of the wisdom figure Kvasir by the Aesir and Vanir, who is killed by dwarves and turned into the intellect-increasing mead of poetry (or inspiration), which ends up in the possession of giants; after a convoluted episode where Odin assumes the name of Bölverk (“evil-deed”) and magically turns the giants’ weapons against them, he successfully steals the mead for the benefit of the Aesir. Possibly as a result of imbibing the mead of poetry, “Odin spoke only in verse.” (Norse Mythology, p. 227) Odin also obtains great wisdom and hints of Ragnarok from the preserved severed head of the god Mimir, into whose well he also sacrificed an eye to gain additional magical insight. Lastly, Odin obtains occult runic wisdom through self-sacrifice on the branches of Yggdrasil: “The tree on which the Norse god Odin sacrificed himself was called Yggdrasil, ‘the horse of Odin,’ and it grew at the center of the world. In its roots were hidden the runes, the alphabet of poetic divination. Suspended from its branches for nine long nights, Odin ‘rode’ the tree and obtained its secrets.” (The Book of Symbols, p. 746) This event is the basis for one of the most famous stanzas in Norse poetry:

I know that I hung on a windy treenine long nightswounded with a spear, dedicated to Odin,myself to myself,
on that tree of which no man knows
from where its roots run.
(Sayings of the High One [Havamal], stanza 138)

Lindow states outright that “Odin’s most important characteristic is his wisdom.” (p. 248) And fitting for a wisdom figure, Odin was also considered advanced in age; the Poetic Edda refers to Odin in stanza 28 of the Voluspa, saying, “the old man came, the Terrible One of the Aesir.” Losing an eye and gored with a spear, these wounds would be proof of a warrior’s glory if they weren’t self-inflicted--and for the sake of wisdom, no less. But despite the abundance of wisdom at Odin’s disposal, even he would not be able to prevent the fatalism inherent with Ragnarok.

Odin and Billing's girl, Lorenz Frølich
There are also unsavory elements of Odin’s character. He attempts the seduction of “Billing’s girl” (Billing being a giant or dwarf, the girl herself unnamed), among other women, but she rebuffs his advances by tying a “bitch” to her bedpost. Odin also uses magic to entrance a goddess named Rind and rapes her; this results in the god Vali, who avenges the death of Baldr by striking down his killer, his brother Hod. These sexual transgressions recall the escapades of a certain Greek father god. Additionally, Odin was the chief recipient of sacrifices, both human and animal. “Reflecting Odin’s ‘hanging,’ it was a Norse custom to sacrifice men and animals to the god by hanging them in trees; therefore Odin was known as Hangatyr (‘God of the Hanged’) and Galgatyr (‘Gallows God’).” (The Book of Symbols, p. 746) But for a god who plays with the lives of men, these unpleasant features of Odin’s character and cult are not entirely out of left field and are consistent with the characteristics of supreme gods of other pantheons.

To reiterate, Odin is a complex deity and we’ve described here just a few of his many facets. As summed up by Larousse World Mythology, “Odin has pride of place, for he is the unquestioned chief of the entire society of gods. He is endowed with powers that surpass all others, he is the most knowledgeable, the fullest initiate into mysteries, the master of magic, of supreme science and poetry. But he is also the god of war, particularly in the West German regions, where he is called Wodan.” (p. 367) Though as we move on to Odin in Shin Megami Tensei, it would be wise to remember not just his aspects of death and wisdom but the specific application of his status as war god... and why he is definitely not the pantheon's deity of thunder and lightning. 

Kazuma Kaneko's Legacy of Odins

Odin is one of the Megami Tensei franchise demon elite that have received three or more designs by former series artist Kazuma Kaneko; four designs over a period of only seven years, to be exact. Despite that special attention Odin was never given a starring role in the Kaneko era, instead relegated to being a mere demon companion or appearing as a glorified cameo in minor sidequests. As for the the designs themselves, popular opinion perceives a gulf in quality between them, to put it mildly. Let’s take a brief look at each one.

Megami Tensei II (1990)

An Odin most ancient, with features that include a stereotypical Viking helmet, a simple tunic with cape, and a full beard; it also has reddish-pink skin that would portend dermatological things to come for the Norse tribe... maybe. By Kaneko's own admission he didn't put much thought into source material for the Megami Tensei II designs, [1] which shows here by the choice of Odin brandishing an axe rather than his typical spear, suggesting that the original Megami Tensei sprite may have served as a reference. However, remove the axe blade and the shaft’s pointed tip suggests a spear anyway. Other than the axe, this design is not bad if a bit unremarkable. And just as a programming note: we generally won’t be discussing Kaneko's Megami Tensei II designs beyond this entry.

Shin Megami Tensei (1992)

The differences between this and the previous design are quite stark: a spear for the axe, a white cape for a green one, an eyepatch for an eye, and a stylized horned helmet for the predecessor’s $12.99 Party City costume prop. And, uh, of course there’s also the All-Father’s new clothes (and, by extension, new beard), which do nothing but accentuate his finely-toned purple body. Since nudity is a grave sin in the eyes of software ratings boards across the globe, whenever this Odin appears rendered in the 3D he requires a groin covering, affectionately earning him the name “Diaper Odin.” An altogether simpler Odin than Megami Tensei II’s, and none the more revered for it.

Devil Summoner (1995)

A simple remake of SMT1’s Odin, with the major change being that the cape is now more of a full cloak or robe, draping over the shoulders and covering the still-naked body except for a li’l purple dad leg. The only additions are some dark locks of hair emerging from the (now silver instead of gold) helmet and a leather gauntlet on his spear-grasping hand.  It’s undeniably dull, making Odin look like some little kid with a big white blanket wrapped around their body. To our knowledge this Odin was never given any pet name, so let’s call him “Blankie Odin.”

Soul Hackers (1997)

Possibly the most sublime illustration of Odin to ever exist. It represents all of the major aspects of Odin detailed in the biographical section: war by the ever-present Gungnir, identical in appearance to the two prior designs; death by the dominant red and black palette; and most obviously magic, specifically the occult runic magic learned at his hanging, shown by the actual runic letters floating above what looks to be some kind of magical vacuum from within the cape itself. Also apparent is that Odin has no body besides his outstretched arms and head (with beard!), surely intended to reflect on his mind-over-matter wizardry. For these reasons, this Odin is often referred to as “Rune Odin.” The only vestiges of the old are the barely visible purple skin on his face and that he still wears a Viking helmet--albeit one that also has a wide brim like his Gandalf-inspiring “wanderer” guise. On a good day, we’re liable to call this Kaneko’s best demon design ever. As luck would have it, today’s a good day.

Safely ignoring the Megami Tensei II design as it hails from an era apart, out of the remaining three Odins only two have ever appeared consistently, those being SMT1’s and Devil Summoner’s; players more familiar with the PlayStation 2 Megami Tensei games including Persona will know Diaper Odin while players of every mainline SMT game since Strange Journey (excluding Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse) will have experienced Blankie Odin wearing out his welcome. And considering these two designs are merely reflections of each other, it's really just been a singular Odin we've been looking at in nearly every Megami Tensei game made between 2002 and 2013 (and into 2016-17 with Persona 5 and presumably beyond!).

Meanwhile, the Literally Perfect Rune Odin has been forced to forever languish on some Atlus office hard drive, a sad indicator of how Atlus would eventually view Kaneko’s oeuvre. Even when Soul Hackers re-released on the 3DS in 2012, they had the gall to add in Blankie as a higher level alternate; while Rune Odin was probably still more useful, the complete lack of respect or awareness of its preeminence was felt sharply. So when it finally came time to give Odin some time in the limelight, stark nakedness and completely forgotten Nordic occultism just weren't going to do.

Masayuki Doi Takes Odin to Cool School

“No more diapers, no more floaty runes, no more Odins in the nude!” Such was the refrain howled by new Shin Megami Tensei series artist Masayuki Doi as he took the reins from Kazuma Kaneko and made manifest in his fresh Odin designed for 2016’s Shin Megami Tensei: Apocalypse. Totally unlike any Odin seen before in the series, Doi’s bold new direction is jacked with more flavor and crunch than a 2¼ oz. bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. Here’s how Doi himself describes the design:

A god that has appeared since the very first days of Megaten, usually under the guise of a one-eyed old man wearing a hat. However, I wanted to draw his updated design as him in his battle attire, golden, with a blue mantle, ready to show his face on the battlefield. I was also inspired by movies about Norse mythology and I thought that portraying Thor and the other Norse gods as aliens was an interesting idea, so I emphasized the alien (for the Japanese) image of the Ultra Hero[2]

Original Ultraman and an Ultra Odin
palette swap (Odin edit by Luntakesalla)
As he states, the inspiration for the design is credited to "alien" Norse gods from movies (i.e., the recent Marvel Thor films) but then reinterpreted through what would mean "alien" for the Japanese, which is Ultraman (because the Ultraman power is extraterrestrial); trading one region’s superheroes for another’s. The strongest proof of the Ultraman influence is in Odin's head, which looks rigid and molded like Ultraman's helmet is supposed to be, with a similar fin protruding from the top. Around the waist he wears a power belt typical of the style worn by sentai superhero teams or other tokusatsu live-action heroes, with a blue orb inlaid in its center that looks identical to the blue orb in Ultraman’s own chest. The simple and complementary gold and blue palette is practically an inversion of the silver and red of Ultraman; swap them and it shows just how much the design looks and feels like an Ultraman variant, with the contrasting lines on the suit (of Odin's default palette or the swap) evoking the same effect as the Japanese hero. So, for consistency, we’ll refer to this design as “Ultra Odin.”

But why go with an Ultraman motif in the first place? Transforming heroes and the all-encompassing tokusatsu live-action special effects genre are a big deal in Japan and a touchstone for Japanese people that grew up in the 1960s and beyond. We’ve never been parents in Japan, but it's apparent to us that the adults are thrilled that the genre's continued relevance allows a shared experience across generations, particularly fathers to sons. Check out this segment from an NHK show (Tokyo Eye 2020, episode: "Tokyo's Amazing Backyard, Part 1: Kawasaki") to see one father pee his pants with excitement just because he could take his kids to an Ultraman-themed restaurant (not to be missed: the crucified Ultramen a little over a minute into the segment, something that actually happened; more on this below). So if these heroes are perennially popular, it's little surprise that their influence could be felt just about anywhere, lying in wait and ready to influence just about any creative content Japan produces.

Reactions to the design have been generally positive, even enthusiastic, especially in comparison to the much maligned Diaper and Blankie Odins and their 3D model offspring. It's quite easy to find examples online of people praising Doi's design as a replacement for Kaneko's, with the reasoning often framed around a matter of "cool" vs. "boring." Truly the Pepsi of Odins, Doi’s is the choice of a new (extraterrestrial) generation. So why exactly is Doi's Odin cool and Kaneko's totally bogus?

Real Ultra Odin testimonials, collected from the likes of GameFAQs and YouTube

Almost paradoxically, there tend to be two poles when it comes to a general perception of "coolness": sleek cool and convoluted cool. Sleek cool is applicable to designs typically with an economy of details and features (such as color), while convoluted cool embraces complexity and intricate, often extraneous detail. Ultra Odin is a perfect example of sleek cool with its mainly smooth facade and limited color palette; under the convoluted cool umbrella would be stuff like Keita Amemiya’s sinewy, entropic archangels from Shin Megami Tensei IV, which still have their zealous defenders to this day.

Mudras of peace and
reflection are so not cool
Of course, this is just a broad generalization of popular design trends that are not always limited to two points on a single axis; there are also myriad subcategories of subjective coolness that appeal to a variety of tastes, one obvious example of which would be the well-worn qualifier of "badass." What is considered "badass"? Almost invariably, a character attuned to physical violence, especially of the stylish or excessive kind. Ultra Odin is described as such because of the outward signs that he is a warrior: his spear and attire. Consider that, from a purely aesthetic level, Ultra Odin's design isn't too dissimilar from that of Maitreya, his SMT4A counterpart, but Maitreya isn't called badass because he's a "fat Buddha" and not a spear-wielding fighter.

It's likely that no one has ever fawned over a depiction of the mythical Odin as the aged and grey wanderer, commenting, "Shit, look at how old and wise that guy looks. Dude is so erudite and awesome!" It's probably not impossible to make a wise old man look cool, but in prioritizing youthful superficialities you might run the risk of contradicting the inherent meaning of maturity. Hence, Doi's youth-and-action coded design is almost guaranteed to manufacture a favorable reception, appealing to ingrained Japanese cultural archetypes on one hand and on the other appearing sleek and stylish in comparison to reviled predecessors--which is precisely why Ultra Odin fails to be a good representation of Odin the Norse god.

Taking Masayuki Doi (and Atlus) to Odin School

Considered critically, Doi’s Ultra Odin commentary is a curious series of words, implying that the design process involved something only tangentially related to actual Scandinavian culture until he was distracted by thoughts of Ultraman. Even with the "alien" concept bridging the gap, it's still quite a jump in logic to go from Marvel's long-established, extremely loose adaptation of Norse myth to a long-established Japanese live-action series that has nothing to do with Norse mythology. But hey, at least it looks cool… right???

It will probably come as no surprise that we aren’t fans of Ultra Odin. Sure, its shiny modern shell may make for a better first impression than Diaper or Blankie, but that very facade is all it has to offer. Here are seven lovingly-detailed reasons why it’s a poor design.

I. The Inspiration is Literally Uninspired

Above we touched on the fact that Japanese people love their tokusatsu live action superhero antics. Anyone exposed to a healthy amount of the country's media could also easily claim that the Japanese have an almost equal love for references and parodies of them. His outward appearance a declared Ultraman reference, Doi's Odin is part of that legacy--and that's the problem: these references and parodies of particular Japanese hero types are so prevalent as to be hackneyed.

In the realm of games alone, we were able to find well over 20 examples and we weren't even looking that hard or that long, just at lists on various wikis. Follow the adjacent banner for a quick and dirty index of our extremely scientific findings.

To be exact, most of the references are to Super Sentai (Power Rangers) teams, not Ultraman; while both are under the tokusatsu umbrella, Ultraman would be considered part of a separate subgenre, kaiju (or daikaiju).

If there’s any opposition to the overuse of tokusatsu tropes in Japanese media, it’s not to be found within the Atlus offices. In an interview around the time of Shin Megami Tensei IV’s release in 2013, Kazuyuki Yamai, the game’s director and current creative lead on Shin Megami Tensei products, divulged why the tokusatsu guest artists were hired to design demons:

I am a Super Sentai and Kamen Rider fan, so I asked artists from that field (laughs) and we ended up with a lot of tokusatsu artists. Nevertheless, I didn’t simply choose them based on my hobbies, but aimed to have creature and monster designs inspired by the Ultraman series and others that would match Kaneko’s designs. [3]

Not only does he name-drop all three major tokusatsu brands in only two sentences, he reveals that the overall direction for the new demons was for them to look like Ultraman monsters… with the expectation that they would somehow jibe with Kaneko’s. If only this interview were translated before Identity Crisis was published, but we digress. Doi himself also shares in the giddiness over tokusatsu elements in a SMT4 artbook commentary on a Kamen Rider-inspired armor set:

This one continues the Rider line, but with more protectors, like in motocross. It also has elements from tokusatsu movie heroes. I call it 'Kame Rider'! (laughs) The motifs on the belt buckle and back aren't supposed to be grasshoppers; they're turtles ['kame' means 'turtle' in Japanese]. Unlike the villainous-looking Rider Set, this is supposed to be straight-up heroic-looking, and the staff had a lot of fun making it. I also happen to love it, personally. (laughs) [4]

"Ultra" HD
Collective appreciation of the superhero genre among Atlus staff members probably means that Ultra Odin was immediately beloved, facing little or no dissent. Interestingly, Odin is one of the few designs in the SMT4A artbook that does not include rough sketches of alternate concepts; it must have been a hole-in-one in the minds of Doi and everyone else involved. But the biggest endorsement is undoubtedly that Ultra Odin was bestowed the starring role in the Shin Megami Tensei HD (now known to be Shin Megami Tensei V) reveal trailer, where the camera was panned around his body at a distance so close it could only be described as pornographic.

If it’s not already apparent, it must be understood that these callbacks are almost universally placed into these games with genuine enthusiasm and/or reverence and not from a place of criticism or cynicism, even the spoofs; these heroes and their shows were undoubtedly formative for Japanese kids since the 1960s, probably defining career paths from a young age in some cases. Even so, our point that these references are mundane and uninspired remains. We honestly wonder how their banality does not deter their further propagation.

Superman is to Bakery-on-Main-Man
as Ultraman is to Ultra Odin
To create an analogy from American pop culture, imagine that a not insignificant (read: not a majority or even plurality, but a large enough sample to see a pattern) number of RPGs or shooters contained bald and specific parodies of certain superheroes. For example, while you're mowing down demons in the corridors of a Doom game, an obvious Batman proxy bursts through the wall accompanied by a pale and non-copyright-infringing imitation of the original 1960s theme. Or, you could be traipsing around Skyrim and encounter a fantasy version of Batman again, wearing black armor with bat motifs and killing people with sinks or whatever the heck happens with Batman or Elder Scrolls these days. The point is, almost all the references you'd encounter would be Batman, with the occasional Superman or Spider-man. So how effective would these parodies still be after you've seen them for the 30th time? Likely not very.

In this example, Ultraman is not the ubiquitous Batman (to whom the Super Sentai would be equated) but the almost-equally-pervasive Superman. But whether or not they are conjuring the image of a different, slightly less popular sub-genre, these references are still drawing from the same limited pool of costumed defenders. We can offer no concrete answers why these samey references are not viewed as cliched in Japan, but there is one thing we do know: being Ultraman means Doi's Odin is simply nothing special.

II. The Design Emphasizes the Wrong Details, Whether by Doi’s Choices or Not

Outfitted in his gold and blue suit and grasping his spear, Ultra Odin looks ready for a scrap at a moment's notice, and Doi says as much in the commentary. However, as detailed in his abbreviated biography above, Odin isn't primarily a warrior; he’s barely one, in fact. He is associated with the martial as “lord of death,” of course, but he's more complex than that and arguably better represented as a wisdom figure, as attested by his wisdom quests including the self-maiming inflicted to gain Mimir's wisdom or learn the secret of the runes. This breadth of role is why he has always been a part of the typically versatile gods of Shin Megami Tensei's Deity race instead of those in destructive or belligerent races like Fury or Kishin.

Deceptively in-character
We discussed in our review of Doi’s career that certain things are out of his hands, and responsibility for Odin may be shared with SMT4A’s writing and overall direction. A prevailing issue is that the game’s scenario treats him as a fighter first and foremost, with he and Maitreya serving as the "muscle" for the malevolently-portrayed Krishna and his alliance, the Divine Powers. Besides his role as a plot device to fool children into opening Krishna's Ark and his clashes with the player party and Flynn to show how "tough" he is, Odin's dialogue and personality are a big blank that don't accomplish anything that Krishna doesn't already emphasize or signify. Indeed, Odin is such a flat presence in the game and his characterization so devoid of Norse qualities that if you exchanged him for another male deity, like the Celtic god Lugh, not a whole lot of the script would have to be changed. In fact, it’s entirely plausible that most of the script was written before the identities of the supporting deities were fixed; consider that the only Odin-specific references (mention of “Valhalla,” “valkyries”) come during his boss battle and fusion dialogue, i.e., text that would be considered sub-scenario and produced separately. Sad to say, Odin’s character in SMT4A is even completely outclassed by the brief SMT4 sidequest “Save the Old Man,” where an amnesiac Odin in human form recounts tales of “Wodan” before the party and Thor fight to help him recover his identity, promising entry into Valhalla for those involved.

"I come not to bring peace but a
sword"... wait, that's the other guy
Of course, this is a SMT4A (and modern Atlus) writing problem that extends beyond Odin. Another example is Odin’s fellow Maitreya, the messianic analogue of Buddhism, threatening to kill a 15-year-old girl, a scene that will never not be the perfect encapsulation of everything wrong with SMT4A; and like Odin, Maitreya makes proper Buddhist references only during his battle and fusion dialogues! But on the topic of Maitreya, Doi’s commentary on him provides another clue for why Odin ended up the way he did:

I originally wanted to give Maitreya Bodhisattva a feminine image. Something along the lines of Bodhisattva as the mother, while Nyorai would be the father. I focused on the androgynous aspect, and tried all kinds of appearances, but I also had to think about the balance between the three gods of the Divine Powers, so in the end I settled on a large version[2]

Dreamlanders: Maitreya with Matsuko Deluxe,
Divine, and John Waters
The phrase key to the discussion is "I also had to think about the balance between the three gods of the Divine Powers." In other words, each design between Odin, Krishna, and Maitreya had to be visually distinct from one another for the sake of visual variety. By Doi's own admission, his "large version" of Maitreya (in comparison to the slender concept versions seen in SMT4A's artbook) has a feminine or androgynous appearance because the same can be said for many Japanese Buddhist statues, including the most famous Japanese Maitreya/Miroku statue from Koryu Temple; however, what's also responsible for the look of Doi's Maitreya is its probable inspiration from Japanese gay cross-dressing celebrity Matsuko Deluxe (think a Japanese version of the late, great John Waters collaborator Divine), muumuu and all; Matsuko Deluxe's corpulence (and penchant for donuts) also provides a convenient analogue for Maitreya's associations with the "fat Buddha" Budai. Krishna, on the other hand, is portrayed with the flat “anime cell” shading that identifies him as human-like, with more realistic proportions and dress to boot, in contrast to the “heavy brush” style of his two brute pals and the other demons. So to stand out from an enigmatic schoolboy and the “large” silhouette of a national celebrity, Odin became a sleek soldier.

At second glance, it actually seems to be
spelling out "GGGGGIGUNGNIR"
Even the most remarkable aspects of Ultra Odin, Gungnir and the raven, don't hold up to scrutiny. The spear’s distinctive jagged blade even features "GUNGNIR" etched in runes, we guess for identification purposes in case Odin ever goes on an all-night bender with fellow spear-wielders like the aforementioned Lugh or Shiva. Really, it’s all smooth sailing for the spear until you look into the reason why the blade is jagged: SMT4A associates Odin with lightning in both cutscenes and battle abilities and thus its sharp angles represent a bolt of the stuff. This association is dubious, not only for a general lack of attestations in source material but because Odin's son Thor is already the de facto storm deity in Norse myth; the tokusatsu-esque power belt that Ultra Odin wears is also akin to Thor’s own Megingjord, to sprinkle in some salt to the wound. At best you could claim that the lightning is just part of Odin’s magical repertoire if not for the lack of textual support.

But Odin as a lightning-user is not a Megami Tensei universal and is, in fact, a relatively recent development. In most Famicom, Super Famicom, and Saturn games barring Soul Hackers, he usually wields ice skills (due to the Scandinavian climate, one can assume) and some death skills for reasons hopefully already clear; Soul Hackers gives him death skills and the Thunderbolt skill, the first instance of Odin with lightning. Both Persona 2 games duplicate the death/electric skillset of Soul Hackers plus the addition of the physical move Deathbound, which in turn was copied by the game that seems to have codified Odin's modern abilities: Persona 3. Here Odin finally gains what would become his signature move, Thunder Reign, which was imported to Shin Megami Tensei beginning with Strange Journey. So, in an oblique way, the impeccable Rune Odin may be indirectly responsible for some elements of his substandard portrayal in modern Megami Tensei games. Note that electric skills are oddly equated to the earth element in SMT (judging by the skills and resistances of Element race demons Erthys and Gnome) but that offers little remedy in this situation, one that likely overreaches Doi's low level of authority at the company; it’s plausible he was "encouraged" to include a lightning motif somewhere in the design for parity with gameplay affinities. And if you really want to stretch assumptions you could argue that even the gold and blue colors of Odin’s suit represent lightning and rain... but why aggravate an already lousy situation?

Huginn or Muninn?
The second "close, but no cigar" element of Ultra Odin is the raven perched on his left hand, one that seems like an original inclusion of Doi’s since it has no bearing on anything else in the game. On its own the raven is composed marvelously, cast in a satin black with four striking eyes. A problem only arises when you know that, of course, Odin has two ravens, not one. This is not an inconsequential detail, as the ravens are significant in their pairing: the first is Huginn (or "thought") and Muninn (or "memory"). Together, the two ravens fly across the world and return to keep Odin informed of events and, based on the meanings of their names, perhaps as vessels for Odin's own cognition or, according to Lindow, as symbolizing a shamanic trance. The single raven, while a nice touch, seems to be naively copying a motif without understanding its importance within the Norse framework. Then, is it Huginn or Muninn perched on Odin's hand? We'd probably say Muninn, because it's clear not a lot of Huginn went into this design.

So even the two best parts of Ultra Odin are flawed: the spear's lightning wants to portray a side of Odin that doesn't exist and the raven represents an incomplete concept. Despite what SMT4A wants us to believe about Odin or indeed most of the demons in the game, their historical realities are much more complex. Correlating a wise, old, manipulator of men’s fates to a children's superhero character who exists only to fight monsters means that this must be how Atlus sees Odin and wants him to be disseminated to their audience. To put it another way: the truth is inconvenient to “cool.”

III. It Makes No Sense in the Context of the Story

There has been a similar Stephen screenshot
in every major article on this blog
Odin's design also contradicts a central conceit of SMT4A's plot, called "observation." The series’ miracle god-man Stephen and some of the demons explain the concept in-game, but it’s best and most succinctly explained by the game’s own encyclopedia:
As described by Stephen, 'observation' (sometimes described as 'understanding') is the ability humans possess to give structure to the formless. In this instance, 'observation' has nothing to do with sight, but rather human perception. It is an extension of the philosophical concept of 'qualia,' or individual, subjective experiences. For example, the sensation of seeing color is not easily communicated, yet something humanity possess a shared understanding of. Likewise, YHVH only exists because of this shared observation.
Of course, forms of communication are necessary in order for humans to share their observations with one another. But once framed by language, these concepts change in nature. In effect, they become bound by language, much like the shared understanding of YHVH. What Dagda and the Divine Powers seek to do is free themselves from the limiting existence forced upon them by language. Because YHVH never revealed himself to humanity, he is not bound by language the same way they are.

Basically, observation is just a fancy term for perception and/or interpretation; it is alleged to "give structure to the formless," meaning it’s how demons exist. Basically, humans "observe" natural phenomena and define it according to their cultural subjectivity, thus giving form to gods representative of said phenomena. Examples: the peoples of Canaanite culture see thunderclouds and thus perceive it as Baal; the Japanese see the sun and interpret it as Amaterasu; the Balinese see life as a duality and interpret it through Barong and Rangda, and so on. Even though this (decent!) concept is from a recent game, it applies perfectly to most of the extant Kaneko demon compendium as most are designed with the perspectives of their respective cultures in mind as they relate to basic forms, costumes, and motifs.

Observation is of course entirely applicable to Ultra Odin as well; if other cultures observed the world around them and created their own gods, so it should be for these (SMT4 universe) Germanic peoples of northern Europe. And, judging by the game's presentation, these ancient people anthropomorphized magic, death, wisdom, creation, and sovereignty… as a Japanese superhero from the 1960s. Let that sink in for a moment. This is dissonance of a caliber that undermines the value of observation as a plot device and it's not like the Odin design is the only perpetrator, with Dagda's design an even more egregious offender.

Ultraman? More like... Bibleman
The inappropriateness of an Ultraman influence grows when you realize that Ultraman's creator, Eiji Tsuburaya, was a devout Roman Catholic and the show has overt Judeo-Christian imagery and references, ironic considering the purpose of the Divine Powers is to oppose YHVH. These references include the infamous crucifixions on the planet Golgotha, monsters named Cherubim and "Gomora," an Ultraman "Noa" retconned as the "God of Noah" who appears in an OG Ultraman episode that features Mount Ararat, an Ultraman Belial, the Mother of Ultra named Marie, and the Father of Ultra, who takes the guise of Santa Claus. That's not even getting into the cruciform "Specium Beam" attack pose, though the exact intent behind this pose has been debated online for nearly decades going by this early 2000s email BBS page. Regardless, there's a wealth of references to Judeo-Christian religion in Ultraman and whether they are religiously-tinged by Tsuburaya Productions or not, they only further undermine the appropriateness of the superhero as an influence on Odin. It's like designing a mascot for a veganism advocacy group and basing it on Guy Fieri.

Even though there’s reason to believe Doi isn’t always in command of his own destiny, the observation faults also raise the possibility that Doi and the scenario planners aren't always on the same page, either. However, more probable is that observation was an eleventh hour addition to SMT4A’s plot to tie up some rather massive loose ends (where it still performs poorly, particularly with YHVH). Even if the idea behind the concept isn't completely worthless, jettison it from the story and not much changes, other than the cast would need another, less flimsy motivation to go after YHVH. Honestly, that sounds like it could only be an improvement! Designed with observation in mind or not, Doi could have avoided any and all potential conflicts simply by designing an Odin that actually represents Odin.

IV. An Inorganic Look for a Decidedly Organic Deity

Ultra Odin: Certified Inorganic
A hallmark of Kaneko's demons is a tendency for them to appear as living things. Most of the important gods in the series have bodies clearly covered in skin and other organic features, which accurately represents the general view of world religion that deities are living and contemporary aspects of the universe and nature. This point may seem irrelevant to the discussion but it is in fact describing something Ultra Odin is not: an entirely biological entity.

This mostly has to do with his helmet, which is designed in such a way to give no impression of a head wearing it; it appears that the "helmet" is literally his head. It is exacerbated by the encompassing gold-and-blue bodysuit, which offers nowhere for skin to breathe and no telltale seams other than some armor plating. Even the exposed weaving on the side of the helmet suggests something either mechanical or decidedly inorganic happening within it. The only things that animate on the SMT4A sprite’s helmet are the eyes: the “intact” right blinks on and off while the “gouged” left’s stylized flame flickers ever so slightly; on the SMT5 teaser 3D model, Odin's face (flame-patch and all) is entirely rigid, just like Ultraman's. Also keep in mind that Odin is paired with Maitreya, a demon who also looks to be cast out of metal and, like Odin, has no facial animation. Based on the visual language provided by Doi, distinguishing organic elements were of little importance, only a tribute to the seamless and expressionless Ultraman suit.

Ultraman has some fleshy bits it seems but these
are outmatched by the metallic or synthetic
But this seems preposterous, right? Even if there are no outward signs of life, surely there is supposed to be a god body underneath Odin's suit? This would be a valid concern if Ultraman himself had not already supplied the answer. Indeed, Tsuburaya Productions designed anatomical cross-sections of various Ultramen, revealing what to television viewers may seem like a cheap rubber suit is the Ultras' "actual" skin, with a skeletal structure and various organs within. If Ultraman is the overall inspiration for the "alien to the Japanese" Odin design, then surely a similar organ system was intended by Doi. It genuinely seems like Doi's attempt was meant to emulate Ultraman in his entirety.

Besides Ultra Odin, Doi has produced a preponderance of "masked" demons with faces devoid of expression or sans certain facial features like Dagda, Danu, Maitreya, Chironnuppu, Inanna, and Sukuna-Hikona; indeed, so has Kaneko with the likes of Thor and and Lugh. But better than framing this around “masks or no masks” is categorizing demon designs as having organic or inorganic characteristics. For example, Kaneko's SMT1 remake Thor may have a fully-covered head like Odin, but has visible skin so you know his helmet isn't literally part of his body; likewise, Kaneko's Lugh has a face-obscuring mask, but one that protrudes unnaturally as if it is being worn rather than a body part, plus he has those gorgeous (and organic) golden locks. Similarly, Doi's Sukuna-Hikona is among the veiled but his human-like skin tone clearly separates flesh from textile; in fact, many of Doi's SMT4A designs would also fit into the organic category, like Krishna, Adramelech, Mermaid, Mephisto, and Cleopatra. However, Odin plainly belongs into the inorganic group.

Thor, Lugh, and Sukuna-Hikona: organic elements
add life and dimension to depictions of deities

Odin's "living costume" design is unfortunate, because, as already discussed, the god has myriad roles unrelated to Ultraman-style battling. He drinks his mead, has sex, and has properly described body parts like the surrendered eye which really doesn’t feel like a sacrificial disfigurement when it’s part of an artificial body. Molding Odin into a plastic alien warrior robs him of all his original relevance in the human realm as a divine reflection of ancient Germanic culture.

V. It's Just a Persona

"I am thou, thou art I"
On the subject of masks, between the inorganic style and the overall artistic intent for Ultra Odin, he resembles a Persona series persona more than a Shin Megami Tensei demon. To briefly sum up the differences between demon and persona designs, demons are nominally physical beings and representations of their respective religious figures, while personas are manifestation of a specific individual's psyche and thus are not necessarily "alive.” Thus, personas conform generally to the idea of "inorganic" aesthetics and can incorporate any manner of artificial materials or objects as part of their bodies so long as it is appropriate for the intended theme-- masks in particular, as that is the literal meaning of the word “persona.” As a result, personas tend towards being unrestricted, exaggerated, stylish, or any combination thereof, from sleek to convoluted and everything in-between; all the hallmarks you need for something that can be perceived as "cool" by a majority at a glance. In short, after Persona 1, it became the standard for personas and demons to look wildly different from one another. Even if Ultra Odin doesn’t fit in with the SMT establishment, he’d be right at home among personas.

A persona that provides an easy comparison with Ultra Odin is Persona 2's Apollo. Like Odin, Apollo is clad in a head-to-toe costume, masked, and depicted with two primary colors. Stylistic differences between Kaneko and Doi aside, these two figures share the "living costume" motif and appear like they could have been derived from a similar aesthetic logic; in one particularly obscure interview between Kaneko and comics legend Hirohiko Araki, the former touching on his then newly minted design ethos for the Persona series, the pair even set aside some time to muse on their shared inspiration stemming from the costumed aesthetic of works such as Kamen Rider and, of course, Ultraman. [5] But even better than Apollo is any flavor of Persona 4’s Izanagi, who follows identical design beats to Ultra Odin’s: the inorganic mask face, the modern bancho jacket or suit, and clenched spear. Though when you consider Apollo and Izanagi look intentionally dissimilar to the actual gods, this is not meant to be a compliment to Ultra Odin.

A "persona-fied" Ultra Odin and face detail
Granted, Odin's “mask” does have two features Apollo and Izanagi lack: a nose and a mouth. But remove both of those and you are left with an overall design that looks like it should belong to a modern Persona character whose character conceit is to be a stoic leader. Whereas the tenets of observation made the tokusatsu trappings of Ultra Odin inappropriate from the get-go, interpreting the design as the persona from the mind of a Japanese teenager honestly makes a lot more sense… or from the mind of a 40-something artist, as it were.

Ultimately, inorganic Ultraman Odin is proof that the Persona series' style and aesthetic sensibilities emerged triumphant at Atlus Japan, a victory that was perhaps inevitable. The success of this brand of mainstream-oriented design was previously shown in the collage of Ultra Odin accolades seen above, the comments of which reflect a prevailing attitude that equates coolness with quality: "It looks cool, therefore it's good." While that's all well and good for a large chunk of pop culture, unfortunately, that's not how religious and mythological imagery work and since SMT represents these precise concepts, "cool" shouldn't be a primary goal. The myths could have been considered thrilling to the Scandinavians of their time, particularly to younger audiences, but they didn't think Odin was "badass" because sliced Ymir into a million pieces nor were the simplistic ancient wood and stone carvings of Odin considered sleek and swell by modern understanding; this would be to completely overlook his actual religious function, where he could be an intimidating tutelary deity without the need for Dragonball Z power level antics.

VI. Pop Culture Is Primary, Odin Is Secondary

The Ultra family reunion (by Luntakesalla
Modern pop culture influences have been apparent in the Shin Megami Tensei compendium since its inception and have become so numerous over the years they're practically an expectation. Therefore, Doi recalling Ultraman in his Odin design is hardly something out of the ordinary for the series. However, the problem isn't in the reference itself but rather its application; there's much more Ultraman in this design than there is Odin.

We've already shown how close Odin's body conforms to an Ultraman suit, so there's little need to reiterate those details. And that fact, simply, is the entire problem. While the raven and Gungnir are technically nice until you think about them for more than five seconds, the physique, the frame, the actual personage of Ultra Odin is entirely tokusatsu. This depiction says nearly nothing about Odin himself but instead has much to say about how Doi prefers not to step outside of his Japanese comfort zone even when it comes to decidedly non-Japanese demons; Ultra Odin is perhaps most accurately described as an Odin-themed Ultraman design rather than the other way around. For a series that wants us to believe its gods and demons are actually the real deal, such a move is a general violation of its central assertions.

Helpfully, analogues exist in the Kaneko catalogue to illustrate how to balance a pop culture reference with a demon's core identity. There's an easy comparison to be made between Doi's Odin to Kaneko's Zaou Gongen, a favorite design of ours that also happens to include an overt pop culture reference. Originally covered in Kaneko's Crib Notes XXXII for its general adherence to Buddhist statuary, we revisited him again in volume XLIX thanks to a reader comment that pointed out his chains and demon codpiece were remarkable similar to those not of a Japanese superhero but an American one: Todd McFarlane's Spawn. Take a look:

Zaou Gongen's fusion of East with West
This one stands out because it's both a real Zaou Gongen statue crib and an incomprehensibly gritty superhero comic crib and the latter doesn't undermine the effectiveness of the former. This is because Zaou Gongen the esoteric Buddhist divinity forms the foundation of the design, with the modern Spawn elements merely supplementing the traditional. Even with these modern comic book elements the design is still easily identified as Zaou Gongen, so much so that we were unaware of the chains’ provenance until it was pointed out to us!

Ultra Odin's
Identity Crisis
Doi’s Odin, however, is the opposite. The nucleus of the design is unmistakably an Ultra-suited humanoid; the raven and Gungnir might seem like mere accessories at first glance, but instead function to identify the design as Odin in the first place. Remove both elements and you would be left with a figure that does not represent Odin in the slightest way, barring the head’s abstract, Art Deco-like wings and flame-patch, both elements so stylized as to be indistinct. Conversely, remove the Spawn from Zaou Gongen and you would be left with... Zaou Gongen, with the pose and accoutrements of... Zaou Gongen.

This demonstrates the importance of prioritizing the fundamental mythic forms of demons before adding elements that may or may not accentuate their actual functions. Doi himself in fact adhered to this very guideline in SMT4A with designs like Adramelech, Sukuna-Hikona, and Krishna--his very best, most SMT-like demons. And while we've roasted the Shin Megami Tensei IV guest artist demons plenty over the years, Tamotsu Shinohara's Tenkai follows approximately the same formula, making him a monk first and foremost and the motif of a body of carved rock second, producing a wholly inoffensive and even good addition among some truly wretched attempts (that, unsurprisingly, also generally violated this guideline). But perhaps most surprising of all is a likely Ultraman reference that comes at us via one of Kaneko's last demons: Asherah. Though her design emphasis is that of a mother goddess with large breasts, her skin is covered in a labyrinthine pattern that bears a close resemblance to Ultraman nemesis Dada, though the Dada aliens in turn were named after and inspired by the art movement of the same name; notice that this reference does not interfere with the messaging of her mother goddess emphasis.

(terrible joke about Dada being sexier than Asherah)

We want to stress that if Spawn of all things can be a legitimate influence for a deity of Japanese Buddhism, so could Ultraman work for Odin: it's all in the utilization. And if Asherah can still successfully represent a Levantine mother goddess with Ultraman monster stripes, if Krishna can still properly toot away on his flute even in dapper contemporary schoolboy clothes, then there's undoubtedly a way for Odin to incorporate some aspect of Ultraman without jeopardizing his own essence. Unfortunately, Doi thoughtlessly chose to prioritize the side over the entree.

VII. It's No Better Than Shin Megami Tensei IV's Guest Demons

Approximate representation of your
memories of Yamato Takeru
In the time between Ultra Odin’s initial reveal and the present, its single, shallow layer has nonetheless proven to be a fount of fascinating misfires. But hey, at least we can say it’s still better than what Shin Megami Tensei IV wrought, right? Lamentably, Ultra Odin's best parallel is to an SMT4 guest design so mediocre you've probably already forgotten about it: Yamato Takeru.

A demigod of Japanese myth, Yamato Takeru was a warrior who inherited Susano-o's famous sword Ame-no-Murakumo, later calling it the Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi ("grass-cutting sword"). He is perhaps most notable for an episode where he cross-dressed as a maid to kill rival leaders, a description of which is conspicuously absent from Yamato Takeru's SMT4 profile. Yamato Takeru has no real role in SMT4's story other than being mafia boss Tayama's divine bodyguard and member of the National Defense Divinities and the less said about the latter, the better.

Yamato Takeru was designed for SMT4 by Kyouma Aki. Here's what Aki had to say about the process:
The keywords I received for him were 'Yamato Takeru' [a Japanese historical/legendary figure], 'angular hair,' 'magatama jewels,' 'ancient Japan,' 'cracked earthenware,' and, redundantly, 'Transform!! ...A bit.' For the rough I submitted, I also included 'young man,' 'male,' 'assassin,' 'divine sword Ame-no-Murakumo-no-Tsurugi' (Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi), 'top-brass villain in a transforming hero movie,' and 'National Defense Divinity' (that sounds so cool). I made his arms and legs puffier in a redo. I really wanted to design him as a dark hero. By slotting the magatama jewels from his buckle into Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi, he can pull off all sorts of special moves. If the jewels on his chest tend to the left, he's an enemy. If they tend to the right, he's an ally. If both sides sink into his body, he turns gold and enters hyper-mode... That's everything I've come up with. (laughs) The demons are going to be voiced, so I hope that makes communicating their personalities through the images even easier[4]
Aki's Yamato Takeru
It should be pretty obvious that the chosen direction for Yamato Takeru was none other than a tokusatsu-style superhero. Because of this, we thought it would be illustrative to subject the Yamato Takeru design to the same six criticisms we had about Odin. Just how apt is the comparison?

Hackneyed inspiration. Another confirmed tokusatsu design, so what more can we say? But it gets worse, as this isn't even the only "henshin" design Aki contributed, describing his Astaroth in the following way: "The keywords were 'androgynous man,' 'top-brass villain in a transforming hero movie,' and 'medieval nobleman + figure.'[4]

Emphasis on the wrong functional details. He probably deserves a pass here, as Yamato Takeru is not as multifaceted a deity as Odin and his warrior role is not lost in the transformation to martial hero. However, if you interpret his "transform" imperative as a reference to his cross-dressing, that perhaps crosses an inappropriate line.

It doesn't suit the story. Now since observation didn't technically exist in Shin Megami Tensei IV proper, it is hard to fault Aki and Yamato Takeru for not adhering to its perplexing laws before the fact. Yamato Takeru's blink-and-miss role in the game that's only on a single route also makes this one hard to judge; basically all that's required of him is that he be Japanese, something this design passes with flying colors!

It's inorganic. Absolutely. It was entirely intentional! Just a once-over will tell you that Yamato Takeru is a "living costume" topped off by a perfect example of a molded mask-head, just like Odin.

It's a persona. His bulky rock armor makes him look a little less sleek than Odin, but the inexpressive, clownish masked face alone makes this design more persona than demon.

Primary vs. secondary emphasis. While it's obvious that the primary goal was to make Yamato Takeru look sentai-like, his origins weren't pushed aside to the degree seen with Odin. His suit is designed to resemble Yayoi period clothing and his helmet head is nonetheless ornamented with flaps intended to echo the ancient Japanese mizura hairstyle. He may also be wearing a sentai transformation belt, but it and the complementary upper armor are decorated with magatama stones. One real missed opportunity is his Kusanagi sword, which, should there be any consideration of design continuity, doesn't resemble the pronged sword wielded by Susano-o at all. But all this said, yes, much of Yamato Takeru is lost for the sentai stylings and it’s very doubtful you’d be able to guess who it was just by looking at it.

Doi's Dengeki Nintendo cover
Aki's Yamato Takeru design is safely consistent with four out of the six criticisms; one of the remaining two is irrelevant to the design and the last is possibly open to interpretation. So let's just say four out of five. And though Yamato Takeru proved to be the best correspondence to Odin, this same rubric could be successfully applied to other SMT4 designs including Astaroth, Asmodeus, Raphael, Gabriel, Uriel, Michael, Michizane, Koga Saburo, and arguably others. That Odin could be mentioned in the same breath as those names is no compliment and should be eye-opening.

The Yamato Takeru comparison also benefits from that design having received direct commentary from Doi himself. Doi selected him to accompany Flynn and Isabeau for a SMT4-themed Dengeki Nintendo magazine cover and states that "making the heroic Yamato Takeru their demon friend seemed like a right choice, as he was a new demon with little exposure (at the time) who eventually befriends the protagonist in a way. I also just personally like how Yamato Takeru looks and wanted to try drawing him. (laughs)" [4] Think about that last sentence there while keeping in mind Aki's description of Yamato Takeru's "gold hyper-mode" and you can potentially see the genesis of Doi's Odin. Chilling!

VIII. Ultra Odin Strangles Kittens and Enjoys It in a Sick, Perverted Way

Marvel's Odin surveys his dominion
over the laser tag field
Okay, sure, overall the new Odin design might not be a crime against humanity, but it falls so short of the mark in so many ways it's staggering. As Doi already obliquely mentioned Marvel's Thor in his commentary, all he really had to do was riff on the films' Anthony Hopkins Odin and call it a day if he was so intent on adding a modern element. But however sleek the final product is, it's not so cool when Hannibal Lecter in a wig still makes for a better Odin than the attempt made by the series ostensibly about the literal deities of myth and religion.

While it's not impossible to identify Doi’s Ultraman tribute as Odin (people guessed who it was via a barely intelligible silhouette, after all, mostly due to the winged head and seemingly missing eye), our point remains that his design consists mostly of frills that detract from or conflict with his Norse identity. It's a cliche, but Ultra Odin is simply all style and no substance--and since Odin is a god with a lot of substance, that’s ultimately what makes the design such a massive disappointment. Doi's effort has more in common with the depictions of gods you'd see in Final Fantasy or, more accurately, one of the multitudes of mobile gatcha games that aren't concerned with actual gods as much as they are with filling out archetypes to cast a wide net of appeal; conforming demon design to these standards of frivolous “cool” will only serve to make Shin Megami Tensei indistinguishable in addition to eroding its unique position as a curator of actual world culture, not that Atlus will care so long as this pop pipeline continues to leak black gold. Worst of all, Ultra Odin’s myriad flaws are no isolated incident--which is why he’s been the perfect case study for everything wrong with modern demon design.

Patterns of Failure in Modern Demon Design

As above, so below.” This famous phrase of Hermeticism refers to the idea that the microcosm reflects the macrocosm, often repeated to describe how the human body is a model of the universe itself. Aptly, we’ve found that the inadequacies of Ultra Odin, our subject microcosm, only echo problems that resound in the macrocosm of Masayuki Doi’s collective demon design works.

By our count, Doi has produced 24 wholly original designs as of Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse and Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux. We exclude the refurbished guest artist demons (like Lucifer, Merkabah; albeit with one specific exception), facelifts of Kazuma Kaneko demons (specifically YHVH's first form), and the currently unnamed pitchfork-wielding demon seen in the Shin Megami Tensei V trailer. These 24 demons are illustrated in the below rogues’ gallery:

Before we begin, this is a good time for a reminder that we think Doi is a talented artist. By and large, the majority of the criticisms we have stem from the unsatisfactory incorporation of mythological motifs in his designs, what we believe to be a critical and defining aspect of the Shin Megami Tensei series; it’s very rarely a question of the actual quality of his artwork. In fact, you may or may not be excited to learn that there will even be some Kaneko criticism to follow, as some of the issues began during the Kaneko and Cozy Okada era and it’s only fair to address them as warranted. But make no mistake, there is no true equivalency between the two generations. The two dozen members of the modern demon portfolio, with Ultra Odin as their model, represent a palpable paradigm shift in design that only validates the concerns of Identity Crisis almost three years ago--and one that paints a grim picture for the demons yet to come from Doi's digital canvas.

A. Odin's Raven: Research, That Old Bugaboo

The lone raven alight Ultra Odin’s clenched fist resounds with a familiar caw: effective representation of myths requires effective investigation (unless your primary source is a popular children’s program). But how does the research process work within Atlus itself? As luck would have it, Doi himself shed some tantalizing light on the topic in a question and answer session for the English release of Strange Journey Redux:
Q: How do you research your information for demon designs what sources do you look at to find stories from mythology from around the world and how do you incorporate that into the final design?
Masayuki Doi: It all begins with going through the materials such as books, mythology-related websites, and other resources put together by the person in charge of the story setting. And based on those materials, I sketch out details that could be used in designing the demons and characters, and then I discuss which is the best design amongst the team. Whether their designs remain faithful to the original mythologies or certain aspects are exaggerated is decided through this process. [6]
This entire quote is a big, fat, juicy porterhouse that will require multiple courses to properly savor. But for now, the tender morsel to chew is simply the fact that there is a method for utilizing source materials as part of the design process. However, no matter if it’s the scenario lead or Doi himself, many of the 24 new demons display an odd aversion to the content of these source materials to an extent that adequate engagement with them doesn’t seem like a priority. Here are a generous handful of ways demon design has been affected by this indifference to source research:

1. Minor mistakes. Relatively insignificant errors that will seem downright quaint as we move on.

Pan of the ass
Adramelech's pan: Doi's Adramelech is a favorite design of ours for its agreement to the Louis Le Breton original, but, by Doi's own admission, [2] he is shown grasping an extremely specific and odd item: a Japanese-style iron (a hinoshi), replete with burning coals. Why is a European demon described as the supervisor of Lucifer's wardrobe holding a hot iron that is also from a country completely alien to him? Doi does not elucidate further.

Left: the Adramelech found on Japanese Wikipedia;
Right: the recent reproduction
Despite that, we think we may have an idea. The Louis Le Breton print from the 19th century Dictionnaire Infernal depicts the familiar Adramelech in a cocksure pose and similarly grasping an accessory, but viewing a clear scan of the print makes it obvious what it's supposed to be: a magnifying glass, presumably alluding to his occupation as Hell's outfitter and tailor. Our theory is that Doi only had access to a poor quality facsimile of the Le Breton print, from which he had to interpret what exactly Adramelech was holding. In fact, the Japanese Wikipedia page for Adramelech (and most of the other language pages, for that matter) displays a shabby scan of the print that's been there since 2007; it's so low contrast it's quite difficult to discern the object in question, other than it might have a handle connected to something round, hence our Japanese iron. It's quite possible that this very image was what Doi used, as high quality and clean scans of the Dictionnaire Infernal illustrations have become available only just recently; Adramelech's was uploaded to Wikimedia Commons on September 9, 2015, less than a month before Doi's Adramelech made his covert debut as part of Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse's announcement, and therefore couldn't have impacted the design. Our only remaining criticism is that Doi defaulted to Japanese culture for something from European culture; it's lamentably comparable to Ultra Odin and further reinforces a tendency for him to not think outside his native bubble.

An Abraxas stone and Kaneko's Abraxas

Adramelech's iron also has an easy Kaneko analogue with Abraxas. Abraxas is often seen wielding a lash or flail on the ancient "Abraxas stones," but Kaneko drew him with an olive branch instead, perhaps also due to issues with interpreting low-fidelity images. The Abraxas design is otherwise in harmony with the ancient depiction, just given another object with a similar silhouette--but at least one with connections to Greek and Mediterranean culture, unlike Adramelech's item.

Pumpkin Crimes 
Demeter's pumpkin: Hardly a heinous crime, but Demeter's cornucopia, otherwise one of the few appealing components of her design, contains a pumpkin, a species totally foreign to her homeland of Greece. While trivial, it speaks to an impulse towards superficial research, as either Doi or someone else likely procured a quick and dirty reference of a cornucopia from an image search without much thought as to the context for which it was being adapted.

2. Baffling leaps of logic. We've already seen the best example of a logic leap with Doi's thought process for Ultra Odin, as the sci-fi, alien trappings of the Marvel Cinematic Universe led to adopting a completely unrelated extraterrestrial appearance with Ultraman. Unfortunately, that's not the only puzzling rationale Doi has admitted.

Not-so-solid snakes
Cleopatra: Most are familiar with the legend of Cleopatra committing suicide via the asp, even Doi, who comments, "there are also numerous anecdotes containing the snake, so I made her head ornament out of live snakes and added a few more to coil around her arms, so she would be able to use them as whips in order to make men or her enemies submit to her.[2] So, because Cleopatra took her own life with snake venom, her arm literally becomes weaponized snakes…? That’s to say nothing of the live snake protruding from her forehead; that snake isn’t merely part of her diadem, as underneath it you can see droplets of the same black snake ooze that affects her arm, suggesting an emergence from her body. This one's so stupid you bet your life we'll have more to say about it below.

3. Problems with comprehension and application. Research may technically be a collaborative process at Atlus but, based on the demonic evidence, all parties involved are complicit in the misunderstanding and/or misapplication of the source material.

A load of bull
Mitra-Buddha: SMT4A's big, fat nothingburger, Mitra-Buddha, or Mitra Bodhisattva as intended in the Japanese version (pedantic, but there is a meaningful difference), is a nonexistent entity. Mitra is of course a character of Persian and Vedic mythology, but there is no synthesis of Mitra and Buddhism anywhere. At best, that is what Maitreya already represents, though only through etymology. But all of this is less pertinent than Doi's remarks about the design, which are worth reproducing in their entirety:
I used [Maitreya] as a base and collaborated on finding a design for Mitra with the staff that was more well-versed in mythology. The Mitra of ancient times is such an old god that he has spawned numerous variations, and yet there are very few descriptions of him. That is why in this game his design reflects the changes suffered historically by Mitra himself. Among the things I wanted the god of contracts to reflect were the principle of Christian salvation or the revered cow. [2]
There are two important takeaways:

1. Doi needed help from fellow staff members "more well-versed in mythology." This must mean either that Doi doesn't consider himself knowledgeable on the subject or that he specifically needed to consult them about the imaginary friend they created for him to draw. Our dream is that it's a sarcastic quip aimed squarely at the scenario planners for tasking him with the impossible.

2. This design represents all generations of the Mitra family tree, meaning that Persian-Vedic Mitra, Zoroastrian Mithra, Roman Mithras are all here in some respect. The wings probably call back to the Zoroastrian yazatas and the bull head certainly refers to the tauroctony of Mithraism, the only Mitra-related myth that has a sacred bull. How "Christian salvation" works into the mix is anyone's guess, but Doi is probably making a general (and fairly inaccurate) comparison between Mithraism and Christianity.

As no true amalgamation of Mitra exists in any tradition, this is a demon literally without an identity. Without a clear identity, there's no solid foundation on which to build. Mitra-Buddha is an aimless, unfocused design resulting from poor guidance and a lack of knowledge.

Eyes up here: Nirasawa's (L), Doi's (R)
Medusa: We will deliberately avoid talking about the handful of remasters of Shin Megami Tensei IV's guest demons, but Doi's refinement of Yasushi Nirasawa's Medusa poses her hunched over with her cleavage as a focal point; Nirasawa's original featured her chest in profile, the focus on her goofy Disney villain mug. Adding cleavage is probably the oldest trick in the pandering book, but think about it from a mythological standpoint: why would Medusa want to put her breasts on display when she really wants the eyes of men to lock with her own petrifying gaze? Doi's effort is a better stylistic match for Shin Megami Tensei but Nirasawa had the better grasp of mythological function, sad as that is to say.

The epitome of stupid
and abstruse combined
Satan: Judging by his comments on the design (see section B, "Odin’s Mask," below), Doi was hellbent on illustrating the Satan that appears in the Christian Book of Revelation. This means he was given the requisite seven heads with ten horns (more like spikes in this case) but also prominent broken chains dangling off hand-impaling spikes that speak to an escape from Hell. The problem is that Satan appears in SMT4A as a servant of YHVH as the Almighty's "stumbling block," squarely in the original Jewish context. Thus, no escape would be necessary because he is a direct avatar of God himself--the descent of the "fallen angel" Satan as an independent character only has meaning in a Christian context which SMT4A's scenario doesn't provide. The chains and their implication of flight also add an additional layer of nonsense because you literally see Satan form before your eyes in a cutscene as a willing fusion of Merkabah and Lucifer, two beings known explicitly as YHVH's pawns. It admittedly takes some serious reading to fully understand the difference between the Christian and Jewish Satans, but in this case it was Doi's job to do so; however, his preconceptions apparently became a stumbling block of their own, leading to a design failure.

4. Seemingly random adherence to source material. Not every design of Doi's is a dud! But for those that clearly utilize proper sources and research, why do they feel like exceptions?

We make no secret of our love for Adramelech and Mephisto; along with Sukuna-Hikona, Krishna, and maybe Chironnuppu, we think they represent the pinnacle of Doi's demon output thus far. But it's Adramelech and Mephisto in particular that stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Kaneko giants (is it any surprise that both these guys put in appearances for our regrettably brief run of Doi’s Crib Notes?). If we were to show only these two demons to our 2013 selves, at the height of SMT4 guest artist negativity, we probably would have been even more sour on Amemiya, Nirasawa, et al. and positively thrilled for this false future. And the reason for this success is simple: Doi stayed within the cultural lines. The lines, after all, are your friends.

Adramelech and Mephisto
Adramelech cleaves straight to the iconic Louis Le Breton illustration, introducing a host of stylized details that compliment rather than distract, including a more anatomical neck and some shocks of blue and orange on the head-piece and slacks that introduce a pleasing color variety to the original black and white design. Even the peacock-like feet come across as such a natural extension that you would be forgiven for assuming they were present in the Breton print as well-- the primacy of the original cultural image is preserved without sacrificing invention. Mephisto, meanwhile, emphasizes the traditional theater garb employed in stage adaptations of the Faust legend, complimented by the reasonable embellishment of a pale, demonic countenance. And while an iconic pose a la Adramelech isn't supplied by tradition, Doi conceives a striking and appropriate posture of his own, right arm thrust forward in theatrical fashion, perhaps in a gesture of a maniacal suggestion, left crooked casually over the hilt of his saber and legs positioned as to imply levitation. From tip to toe, Adramelech and Mephisto display an acute understanding of the now classic mode of design, which Doi touches upon in their respective commentaries:
[On Adramelech] A design made in the early stages, back when I decided to draw the demons. The reason for this selection was that I wanted to release a proper looking demon, so I consulted the ‘Dictionnaire Infernal.’ [2]

Mephistopheles is a character from the legend of Faust that has been often interpreted in various plays, movies and so on, so his design has become fixed in people's minds. I chose to respect that, while also adding my own original points. [2]
So the question is why, exactly, was this approach reserved for these two in particular, amid the constellation of designs that otherwise flout source material? Doi’s comments are murky on the rationale: he seems to imply that the choice of Adramelech for the scenario was left to him, perhaps entailing an unusual degree of freedom in the process. A “proper looking demon” would naturally imply something along the lines of the Goetia, so his choice may have been as simple as searching for something that had yet to put in an appearance in the series. Perhaps Doi is more willing to apply a source-oriented approach to “demons” in the traditional, infernal sense, as another demon to be discussed later retains his usual aspect beyond some gigantic red distractions.

This theory should eventually bear out as more demonic alumni are inevitably introduced, but for now it applies equally to the fiendish-but-not-goetic Mephisto. Here Doi simply states the dictum of cultural primacy in design to the letter, leaving little ambiguity that he understands and is capable of executing on the philosophy of successful demon design. Does his DLC-exclusive status imply that it was simply his fortune to be one of the last designs conceived, perhaps at a period in which a weary Doi was ready to shift gears for a moment, or is it simply an extension of the “demonic exception” mentioned above?

There are a few other examples of Doi employing source materials with fantastic results, like Anahita’s panels, which employ auspicious inverted triangles of Zoroastrian art. These panels, Adramelech, and Mephisto are proof positive that Doi is capable of fantastic work in (re)producing source-oriented forms--and also that simple research is sometimes all you need! This is a fact that should guarantee the inclusion of at least a few exceptional designs per mainline entry going forward, but that’s the whole issue: a pattern of erratic application will ensure it’s a crapshoot as to who makes it out of Maniacs Team’s tokusatsu vacuum forming machine unscathed.

5. Overreliance on obsolete "truths." Kaneko contrarians rejoice: finally an issue that began in the Atlus “golden days.”

The general field of religion and mythology may deal with subjects that are millennia old, but the surrounding scholarship is surprisingly fluid. New archeological finds challenge accepted assumptions, textual analysis could established new connections between cultures, and so on; maybe the books on Apollo or Osiris won't be rewritten, but the right find in the dirt could shed needed light on more mysterious characters like Mithras or even the ultimate origins of Yahweh. The trouble is, Atlus seems reluctant to release its death grip on its decades-old books or update the information they are disseminating in demon profiles and the like.

From the official Dx2
Facebook page
This topic popped up recently in the form of an official English Shin Megami Tensei: Liberation Dx2 demon profile of none other than Odin’s eight-legged horse Sleipnir, which, for all its problems, actually seems to be an accurate translation of the Japanese version, which is where the problem lies. Most of the content is fine until the last sentence when it says the name Sleipnir means “wood of the gallows” (絞首台の木) and that the tree on which Odin hanged was also named “Sleipnir,” two dubious statements, to put it mildly.  The name Sleipnir actually means “slippy” or “smooth” and of course the tree in question is none other than the world ash Yggdrasil.

As far as we can tell for either case, a possible explanation is that kennings (a feature of Norse poetry that uses figurative phrases to indirectly refer to another subject) were taken literally. For the first, there is indeed a kenning for “gallows” that incorporates Sleipnir’s name: “the high-breasted Sleipnir of flax cords”; if anything, the definition assignment is backwards and it’s “gallows” that is taken to be a “Sleipnir,” but it’s not the intent for this poetic language to be taken at face value. The same seems to be true for Yggdrasil, which itself is a kenning meaning “Ygg’s steed,” “Ygg” being another name for Odin himself. Because Odin hanged himself from Yggdrasil to learn the secret of the runes (he did not hang the heads of others; that seems to be a mistranslation, unless it is referring to sacrifices), he in a sense “rode” it as if it were a horse–it may have been another gallows scene, but being a god, he still came out on top.

These kennings seem to have been translated literally in Japanese in whatever source Atlus used for Sleipnir’s profile, probably old and outdated. And though Sega developed Liberation, it’s not their fault: we can confirm that this same misinformation about Sleipnir exists in his Pandemonium book profile from 2001, and the profiles from those books were in turn sourced from the two Akuma Zensho ("Demon Complete Book/Compendium") CD-ROMs for Devil Summoner and Soul Hackers. This same info is used for current profiles, as you can see on the wiki; but note Imagine’s text, which is longer, different, and more accurate (except for a possible translation gaffe that exchanged “underworld” for “underwater”), and likely written with newer, different sources.

Utilizing outdated information would of course be intrinsically harmful to demon design, but has it actually happened? We think so, but the particular example that sticks out to us isn’t by Doi. Yes, even the almighty Kaneko fell victim to spurious research with his Cernunnos... sort of.

Kaneko's Cernunnos
Though an elusive figure in Celtic myth, Cernunnos is today basically known as a fertility god and while he may indeed have some relation to the underworld, it doesn’t seem to be his defining function. While Kaneko's Cernunnos is not a bad piece of art, it misses the mythical mark by a country mile, emphasizing the god as a psychopathic psychopomp. Obviously based on the antlered figure from the ancient Gundestrop cauldron (as opposed to the Cernunnos on the Pillar of the Boatmen), Kaneko's mounts an impish Cernunnos on a giant deer skull, which doesn't really fit a deity of life who famously appears on the cauldron in a meditative pose surrounded by wildlife. Abetting this skullduggery is that SMT places Cernunnos within the Reaper/"Death God" race, while official profiles for Cernunnos adversely mention he is a "god of the dead, hunting, fertility, and vegetation" while also mentioning the antlers.

So, even with good intentions and a fantastic primary source, how can a god be misinterpreted so badly?  Conveniently, Soul Hackers' Demon Compendium CD-ROM lists two sources for Celtic deities: Proinsias MacCana's seminal Celtic Mythology (1969; published in Japan in 1991) and Miranda Jane Green's Celtic Myths (1994; published in Japan in 1997). MacCana's work on Cernunnos is eerily similar to the content currently on the god's Wikipedia page, suggesting a consensus unchanged this past half-century; Green's is much the same. Two things to note here, however: the first is that these sources are valid only for the written profiles for the Soul Hackers CD-ROM, et al. and are not automatically assumed to be Kaneko's specific inspiration; the second that Wikipedia doesn't always have the most up-to-date information, particularly for obscure Celtic deities that receive relatively scant page traffic. The only conclusion we can make from this is that Kaneko (and whoever assigns races) personally consulted a source older than MacCana with outdated information while also using the Gundestrop cauldron as a visual aid. While it's a technically inaccurate design, at least the intention to use an original source is there, something largely absent from Doi's Odin.

Atlus is in dire need of some contemporary book recommendations. Unfortunately, we expect the regurgitation and recycling of misinformation or half-truths instead of much-needed new research to continue to be a problem going forward. If they continue to use the same old books, scenario writing and demon designs could be affected just as much as simple profiles. It likely won’t be an issue for every demon--for example, how could one possibly botch the design of a universally-known god, like Zeus?--but Doi is the inheritor of an environment ambivalent towards the truth and keen to superficial spectacle.

UPDATE: Thanks to another clutch translation by Dijeh, we have another example of information that's less than accurate. In a 1996 interview with Sega Saturn Magazine for the release of the Devil Summoner Akuma Zensho, Kaneko himself remarks: 

I really got into Sumerian culture while working on this, and found out that in their mythology there is a planet with an elliptic orbit outside the solar system, number twelve or so. It’s really popular among occultists and it is said monsters hail from there. Inaruna, who shows up in the final part of Devil Summoner was inspired by the Sumerian goddess Inanna. There are many mother goddesses all over the world, like Ishtar or Kali, but Inanna feels like the mother of them all. They all differ from region to region though, and it seems Inanna became Ishtar at some point too. If we put it like that, if feels like Sumer is the origin of God, so I paid special attention to it.

Here we see Kaneko peddling the idea that Inanna is a mother goddess, even going as far as to call her relationship to other goddesses as being "the mother of them all." This is absurd, yes, but it also presages Inanna's role in SMT4A, which will be touched on later in this article. Additionally, saying "Sumer is the origin of God" predicts (and contradicts) Kaneko's odd Nocturne strategy guide comment from years later that "YHWH, the god of the Old Testament, is the basis for all the gods around the world, from a folklorist’s standpoint." Another interesting nugget from the interview is that Kaneko notes that Shogo Isogai, later scenario writer for Nocturne and Strange Journey, among others, is "the one in charge with the monster data" for Akuma Zensho, which entails the demon profiles we're still reading (well, at least some of us do!) in modern SMT games.

B. Odin's Mask: Persona Pressure

Asmodeus: Soothsayer
Persona is more popular and makes more money for Atlus than Shin Megami Tensei; this is possibly the most obvious postulate ever postulated. Then, it would follow that aspects of Persona, like its style and design tropes, would bleed into the company's other products in an attempt to capture more lightning in a bottle and expand their audience. It's only natural!

We touched on the inorganic “mask” effect earlier with Ultra Odin and why that makes him resemble a persona more than a demon and also that this can equally apply to a number of Doi’s other demons. In fact, the “mask” nomenclature is a slight misnomer in that respect, as the “persona-ization” of demons is about more than just what happens with a demon’s head, extending to whether inorganic body types supersede organic and even to aspects like theming emphasis. All told, the claim that Persona is seeping into Shin Megami Tensei may not be particularly extraordinary, but the overabundant evidence present in the demons themselves just might be.
DAGDA'S GROSS INNARDS AWAIT! (Unless you already read it last year)

: Dagda's enough of a mess for myriad other reasons that he already has his own article. Click/tap on the adjacent banner for a complete disseverment of this so-called "good god." (Note: Dissecting Dagda originally published on 2/10/17.) Nevertheless, one of its ultimate points is that Dagda resembles a persona more than a demon because A. the design looks nothing like the mythical Dagda and B. the design takes a single trait (death) and exaggerates it, a common tactic of persona design. And fitting for a being who wants to end all life as the inhabitants of the SMT4-verse know it, Dagda wears one extremely inorganic body.

Danu's mask and... whatever
is happening with Inanna
Danu: Danu exemplifies usage of the mask motif because, like Odin, what we see of her actual head looks just like one. Cast in a conspicuous ivory to contrast with the rest of her earth tone body, her "mask" is also missing a nose, an intentional exclusion that goes a long way in giving her that persona vibe. And speaking of her body, Doi portrays her with a wooden figure; according to him, “she has very few actual descriptions so I used my imagination a lot. The flowers and green on her head signify overflowing life, while her body is a tree trunk and the earth, showing the flow of life.” [2] Wood is technically organic tissue but the nicely composed carved textures on her "skin" and the inlaid orbs like those on Dagda (and some of SMT4's guest demons) reinforce an overall inorganic aesthetic. 

Inanna: It bears repeating for Inanna: she's not a mother goddess no matter how many times SMT4A says she is. Unfortunately, Inanna's final design runs with this idea, saddling her with a humongous distended belly and seven odd onion-patterned breasts of various sizes. Though if you take a good, hard look at what's happening with her whole torso you'll find that it's oddly egg-shaped; this is presumably playing off the bird theme borrowed from the Burney Relief, though every element is still embellished to the nth degree. But where the persona comparison is strongest is once again in the head; we'd say face, but she literally doesn't have one, just some flat ornamental patterning and a Heath Ledger Joker smile. She doesn't even have eyes! Not even her hair looks particularly realistic for the style, instead resembling twisted rolls of Play-Doh. In sum, Inanna doesn't exactly look like something that would be living and breathing.

Persona 2's Prometheus, Persona 3's Castor, Cleopatra

Cleopatra: The majority of Cleopatra is organic and human-like (and thus not similar to a persona), that is, all but her “weaponized” right arm, which subtly transforms into a knot of snakes behind her head; the shift is difficult to see at first but no trickery was intended by Doi as you can very obviously see her skin change into a snake's to the left of her head, like the aforementioned brow cobra. So, because she committed suicide with one, Cleopatra literally is snakes. What's the logic in becoming or being equated with what killed you, other than for for symbolic reasons that better fit a persona than a demon? For similar examples, see Prometheus' rock body in Persona 2 and the impaled-yet-animated Castor of Persona 3

The seams of the
Bosatsu Bros.
Maitreya & Mitra-Buddha: Maitreya is yet another design with a rigid head "mask," with visible seams on his face and arms that imply he doesn't just look golden, he might actually be gold. And as Mitra is a glorified palette swap of Maitreya he retains the arm seams and seemingly loses those on the face with his new bull head, but a closer examination reveals they're still there. They're difficult to see but are definitely unnaturally stylized and not meant to be organic skin creases; additionally, there's just really something off about his facial structure and expression, particularly the jaw. There's also a similar problem to Cleopatra in that the "sacred" bull head represents Mithraism, seemingly without the awareness that the bull was sacrificed by Mithras in that religion, so incorporating something symbolic yet apart from the literal, physical body of the god only makes sense in a Persona context and barely at that. And is this where we repeat that there is no such thing as a Mitra-Buddha/Bodhisattva, but that one's really not on Doi. However, if Mitra is the "true form" of Maitreya and thus older, shouldn't Maitreya resemble him and not the other way around? Did sapient beings write this game?  

Chironnuppu and Vishnu-Flynn 
Chironnuppu: The diminutive Chironnuppu has a wispy body but a big ol' fox noggin that looks like it was carved out of wood, judging by the lines and texture present. This may mean that Chironnuppu is another "masked" demon but we think it is the best executed out of any in that category; the blockhead and Marshmallow Fluff work well in tandem, as if a spirit were inhabiting and animating the mask. A nice reminder that creative and appropriate use of inorganic elements can actually enhance a design's messaging!

Vishnu-Flynn: It might seem that the two flavors of Vishnu-Flynn barely count as demons, but so says the game and supplementary materials! One positive about Vishnu-Flynn is that he has a head with an actual face; there's eyes, a nose, a mouth, and Flynn's silly hair, all of which make sense for story reasons. But despite a literal human aspect, the rest of him is yet another Doi tribute to the inorganic costume body; on his arms and chest you can see oddly delineated and unnatural segments of "muscle" in addition to the gold veins.

Zeus: Zeus is guilty here but we’ll be getting to him in more detail in a separate discussion below.

So out of Doi's 24 original demon designs, 12 of them, a solid HALF, display persona-like tendencies. But counting Odin, you may notice something's off about our math as so far we've only talked about 11 persona-demons. That's deliberate, as we needed extra room for possibly the most egregiously persona-esque of them all: Satan. It's truly difficult to decide where to begin with him but we might as well start with the most eye-catching element, his seven heads. As previously mentioned, this is because Doi chose to depict Satan as the Great Beast from the Book of Revelation:
I’ve been thinking for a long time that I’d like to see a demon illustration of Satan as the red dragon described by John in the Book of Revelation. I never thought I’d actually be the one to draw him, but this was a good opportunity so I took it as a challenge. I didn't want him to be mistaken for the Beast of the Harlot, so I only used the description of its head and emphasised the rest as a demon design. The details on his hands and legs are vestiges of his imprisonment in Hell. To me, this design is my biggest wish fulfilled. [2]
Satan's face icon passes its judgment

Now, it must be prefaced that this "biggest wish fulfilled," like an aggravating number of SMT4A's original demons, first and foremost has problems with its portrayal, as was already covered in regards to the problems with proper research. But regardless of Doi's source inspiration, we are left with these honestly striking crimson horned heads erupting like lava from a basalt-colored body; we have to admit that this volcanic contrast is a compositional highlight. And at first glance you'll see that the many heads all have full facial features even with some agreeable stylization going on with the skull and dragon motifs. That is, all but one: the top central head is "masked," sans all but eyes, and is confirmed to be Satan's representative head judging by the fact that it is the one that appears on his miniature face icon. Doi couldn't resist!

Satan's torso is downright bizarre. Consisting of seemingly random veiny and other subdivided segments, it certainly counts as convoluted if that was the type of “cool” Doi was aiming for here. These divided sections are similar to those discussed of Vishnu-Flynn's, though here amplified; if they are meant to be musculature, they certainly don't look organic. In fact, the craggy "pauldrons" and volcanic allusions imply that Doi's intention for the body was indeed something hard and stony. And why volcanic theming? Given how Satan is depicted as having "escaped" from Hell, then it follows that his mineral and magma is supposed to represent such a fiery pit. Satan would then be another example of a death or punishment manifesting itself into the body, like Cleopatra; Satan compares particularly well to Persona 2's Prometheus, who incorporates the rock onto which he was bound and tortured as part of his design.
Satan's shambles: the torso's convoluted blob and one of his oversized novelty hands

There's little to say about his wings or tail but Satan's arms are as exaggerated as anything else about the design. His hands are twice as wide as his arms, giving him cartoonish proportions. It's common for the chained spikes impaling the hands to be compared to the shackles of Kaneko's Persona 1 Satan, and whether or not that’s the influence, Doi likely included the spikes to emphasize the Revelation theming.

*sigh*... Who Wore It Better?
But nothing about Satan screams "persona" more than his legs, which are ripped directly from the playbook of modern Persona series artist Shigenori Soejima. They begin with asymmetrical flaring that gives Satan the impression of having extra-wide birthing hips and compare directly with nearly identical flaring on Persona 5's Arsene; while Persona 5's release post-dates SMT4A's in every region, Arsene's design had been a known quantity since the beginning of 2015 at least and certainly well before that within the Atlus offices. But the flaring is merely a funny coincidence compared to the legs’ sharp, pointy ends: Satan's terminate in acute tips akin to a host of Soejima persona designs including but not limited to Konohana Sakuya, Kala-Nemi, Kanzeon, Thanatos, and Cerberus. Even if they aren't pointed, Soejima seems to be generally opposed to giving personas feet as seen on the blunt objects possessed by Orpheus, Take-Mikazuchi, and their respective evolutions. And when they actually have feet, some personas like Izanagi or Arsene balance themselves on bladed footwear. But Doi's Satan might actually outdo them all in the tapering category, his absurd legs looking more like a pirate's peglegs than something that would actually aid the locomotion of any real or imagined being.

If Legs Could Kill: Satan's stilts slot right in next to Soejima's personas

SMT4A wants its Satan to be seen as "the epitome of chaos and order combined," but, let's be honest, if the design were represented by a Venn diagram it would just be a single red chaotic circle, mostly thanks to Doi's insistence on a Revelation Satan. But even if the heads contradict the game's own objective, remove them and you would be left with a monotonous blob of charcoal, reinforcing the claim that the heads and the contrast they provide are the only interesting part of the design--and even they got hit with a mild case of the persona bug. Instead of a perfect mix of law and anarchy, Doi’s Satan is a model amalgamation of the overbearing influence of the Persona series.

C. Odin's Thunder: The Limits of Doi’s Creative Freedom

Shigenori "GunCon" Soejima
and Masayuki "Chuckles" Doi
Here and in the preceding Kaneko's Crib Notes volume, we've repeated ad nauseam our belief that Doi sits relatively low on the Atlus totem pole, causing his hands to be sometimes tied by his superiors--meaning that certain questionable creative decisions aren't entirely his fault. There are quotes that allude to this being the case such as the one reproduced in Section A, where Doi says that he “[sketches] out details that could be used in designing the demons and characters” then “[discusses] which is the best design amongst the team” which decides “whether their designs remain faithful to the original mythologies or certain aspects are exaggerated.” [6] However, this very hierarchical nature of Japanese office politics and the fact that all available commentary we have from Doi on the subject is published in promotional interview fluff and official books means we probably aren't getting the whole truth. But there's far more to it than just words--and aren't pictures supposed to be a thousandfold more valuable, anyway?

After SMT4A's dust fully settled and Doi's new demons were disseminated, reaction to them was... well, let's just agree that it was mixed. Most (us included) agreed that they were at least more consistent in style to Kaneko's (i.e., "heavy brush") than the Shin Megami Tensei IV guest artists', albeit with some blunders. This apparent ceasefire lasted until the game's artbook was released the following summer, showcasing what we didn't see in the game: Doi's superlative demon concept art. Fat Dagda with a club instead of ersatz Skeletor. Danu with a face and actual skin. A much more human Inanna. Without listing them all, the common theme between most of the concepts is they look like actual Shin Megami Tensei, Kaneko-era demons; it's an absolute tragedy that none of them were used. So why weren't they? Our guess is that they were judged to lack that Persona-influenced “cool” factor and Doi was forced to conform; in a word, “money.”
Not cash enough: skull 'n snakes Satan, husky Dagda, and a reasonable Inanna

Dagda is a good example, as he represents the multiple dimensions to the problem that may be in play here. In Dissecting Dagda, the theory offered was that Fat Dagda, accurate to the mythological figure as it may have been, would not a particularly bankable face for a game undeniably marketed towards adolescents (in Japan; all marketing talk here is with Japan specifically in mind because Atlus' games are still made to cater primarily towards their home market [13]), while "cool" Dagda would have that general appeal to the majority who don't know what he actually is supposed to look like. Look no further than Doi’s own comment on Dagda that “role-wise there was a discrepancy in the game with the generally transmitted image of a good, food-loving god, so I broadened the definition" [2] for evidence of deliberate modification.
Try to imagine "fat" Dagda saying this, then
laugh, then laugh at the original anyway
So if Dagda, a central character, looks completely different (persona-like, as it were), it's naturally going to have a rippling effect on other designs. If he’s a monstrous abomination, then it makes no sense for his mother Danu to appear demure and human-like. And if these two major demon players have that inorganic look, then it follows that others in the new roster would adopt it as well for consistency (and they largely did). Dagda's design was also limited by the requirements of the scenario and script. Simply put, Dagda is one dour and depressing dude and his dreary dialogue wouldn't sound right coming from the mouth of, well, anything that doesn't have a skull for a face; likewise, this is a topic explored in greater detail in Dissecting Dagda. Nonetheless, these scenario restrictions likely negatively impacted Doi's work by imposing upon him incongruous demon characteristics and attributes. Here are more examples from Doi's own comments:

"Pretty Maitreya" concept
Maitreya: Here, Doi expresses a wish: "I'd still like one day to try my hand at drawing an androgynous pretty Maitreya.” [2] Many Buddhist statues have an androgynous look, so this is certainly a great starting point. There's just one obvious problem: he already did design multiple androgynous Maitreya concepts! Certainly he didn't forget about his own recent work, so here he must mean simply that he wishes to see such a design actually included in a future game. As to why the effeminate angle wasn't chosen, it's due to what we talked about above in relation to Odin: the need to achieve a "balance" among the Divine Powers, whose leader, Krishna, adopted the "anime cel" style with human traits with a lithe body type, leaving a slender Maitreya apparently out of the question. Thus Maitreya would be defined by a bulky silhouette, though there might be another bull-headed reason for it, as well.

Mitra-Buddha: "I used Miroku as a base and collaborated on finding a design for Mitra with the staff that was more well-versed in mythology.” [2] As already reviewed in the research section, Doi was served a rotten plate of nonsense with Mitra by the scenario and we suppose he did his best given the circumstances. But since Mitra is just a minor reworking of Maitreya's own design, and if we assume this was always going to be the plan, Doi's longing for an androgynous Bodhisattva was probably never in the cards as plopping a bull's head on a skinny, meditating body probably would not communicate the threat intended by Mitra's appearance in the narrative.

Chironnuppu: "A mascot was wanted in the game and this is how Chironnup's first design came about.” [2] That explains everything, really.

Inanna: "The original idea had her as a sky goddess, but her role as a birther of gods evolved in the story so her appearance came to reflect this.” [2] By "sky goddess" we assume Doi means the literal meaning of Inanna's name, "Lady of Heaven," or the identification of her in Mesopotamian astronomy as the planet Venus, as she is not literally a sky goddess; of course, the game frames her as a mother goddess, something else Inanna isn't, so just assume Doi was forced to eat another hot plate of nonsense. Regardless, this innocuous-looking comment provides a tantalizing window into what could have only been an improved role for Inanna in the narrative.

YHVH questions Atlus
YHVH, Second Form: Well, we had to mention it somewhere. While Doi's comments on this truly awful design don't imply any narrative obligations but instead reiterate the game's facile and nonsensical justification for YHVH's chimeric makeover, the entire YHVH's Universe segment is so sudden and empty that it feels like it was appended late in the game's development, much like the related concept of observation. This all culminates in the Bonds path, the alignment path heavily favored by the game itself and thus the development staff, where the party trash-talks YHVH until he is reduced to a demonic state. The contradictory ontological implications of this aside, the idea of a "fallen" YHVH seems to stem from the scenario planning, not from Doi's own mind.

Demeter: "Demeter’s image is widely regarded as that of an adult woman, but this game portrays her as a little girl. Her unusual appearance was for me a glimpse into the appeal of the game’s setting, but since this isn’t really a traditional look of hers, I had quite some trouble coming up with a design… Looks-wise, I was expected to give her more of an actual character touch than have her look like a demon, similar to SMT4A’s Krishna.” [7] Doi appears to be on the same page as most of us regarding a collective bewilderment (or worse) towards child Demeter, and at the same time he indicates responsibility for the design goes to "this game," i.e., the scenario planning and overall direction. On that topic, and in another tragic instance of material tailor-made for Identity Crisis but not translated in time, Demeter’s appearance can possibly be explained by additional commentary from current series lead Kazuyuki Yamai in a 2013 post-SMT4 interview where he describes a gulf in tastes between older and newer staff members, with the newer preferring things to be “sweet” as opposed to SMT’s traditional “bitterness”:
Demeter, Sour Patch Kid
Yamai: ...When female characters appear in contemporary games, they tend to say nice things, a lot of them are ‘sweet’, so the creators used to this kind of thing want to add this ‘sweetness’ no matter what. The content Megami Tensei has been nurturing so far has been in accordance to the times and, no matter how you look at it, ‘bitter’, so you wouldn’t be able to add ‘sweetness’ to it. This actual type of ideological conflicts were really troublesome.
Were there discussions among the staff regarding the meaning of ‘Shin Megami Tensei’?
Yamai: Obviously, and as expected, each member had their own image of Shin Megami Tensei. If you were to ask me if in the end the opinions coincided, then I would have to say no; but I figured the good parts of these differing views should go into the maps, scenario and so on, where each person in charge would base them on their own views. Basically, you more or less go with the flow, but still should not deviate too much from the ‘bitter’ parts.
I could feel the Shin Megami Tensei spirit in the harshness of IV’s battles, but there was also a certain mildness to be noticed….
Yamai: The character parts, with the voice acting and peaceful conversations do make for a milder feeling than the previous titles. [3]
Demeter may in fact represent a compromise between both camps, with the “sweet” faction earning her “cuteness” and the “bitter” side fighting for her completely mystifying role in Strange Journey Redux’s additional story. Doi also mentions he "was expected to give her more of a an actual character touch," i.e., the “anime cel” look similar to Krishna as opposed to the "heavy brush" technique that defines most of the other demons, and while that is similarly a directive it's something that would only affect shading and texturing.

This evidence suggests that Doi operates separately from his directors, producers, and writers, and in certain cases produces artwork stemming from their provided keywords and outlines, similar to the direction given to the Shin Megami Tensei IV guest artists, uncannily so. While he lacks complete autonomy, he certainly appears to have greater artistic freedom in other cases, like Odin, Adramelech, Mephisto, or Satan. And though we are in favor of a Doi unrestricted by poor writing that forces the worst possible results, Satan in particular is a good example of why a lack of supervision could be bad for him, as he produced a design unfit for the scenario. Ruminate on that for a second: while some demons were designed to match the tone of scripts and narratives, a Doi left to his own devices promptly delivered a Satan that contradicts SMT4A's plot. Whether a communications breakdown or just ignorance of symbolism on the part of his superiors, the whole situation weaves a rich tapestry of stupid. Doi will undoubtedly gain greater autonomy with time but whether that's actually good or bad looks to be as predictable as a coin toss.

D. Odin's Body: Shonen Sexual Dimorphism

MegaTen Maniax 2004
In Identity Crisis and elsewhere we’ve mentioned that modern Shin Megami Tensei seems to be gunning for a younger demographic compared to past titles. It’s always been challenging to back up that claim without statistics but the 2004 Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne Maniacs Abyss of MANIAX fanbook contains data from contemporaneous online polls, revealing much about the Japanese fanbase at that time, probably the height of this first era of SMT. Of special note are two charts (seen adjacent) that show that 42% of respondents were female to 58% male (top chart) and, more importantly, their age groups, which require some translating:
  • 10代前半 = “first half of the 10s,” i.e., ages 10-14 (3%)
  • 10代後半 = “second half of the 10s,” ages 15-19 (29%)
  • 20代前半 = ages 20-24 (38%)
  • 20代後半 = ages 25-29 (23%)
  • 30代前半 = ages 30-34 (7%)
A whopping 68% of this representative slice of the Japanese SMT fandom in 2004 were at least 20 years old while another 29% were 15-19, i.e. high school age. If you don’t think things have changed in recent years, then here’s a snippet from a Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse Famitsu interview where Doi and Yamai talk about the significance of the cast’s ages:
Famitsu: Is there anything on your mind when designing characters for SMT4A?
Doi: In the prequel, we wanted to have a realistic gap between the cultures of Tokyo and Mikado, so the art style was more realistic. Here in SMT4A, since we lowered the average age of the main characters, and it takes place more in Tokyo, we’re making it more pop-like, and make children look more like actual children.
Yamai: 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. [8]
One Piece's shonen body types
Even older than SMT4’s”... you mean SMT4A’s main character could have been 19 instead of 18? (Don't worry, we know the idea was for him to be the 30-something design that ended up being Asahi's father.) But this sarcasm, Yamai’s parroting of the prevalent Japanese idea that you stop changing once you’re an adult, and the dire insinuations of “it’s much better for [main characters] of current-era Megaten to be incomplete children” all aside, it’s much easier to see that Atlus deliberately lowered the ages of their characters not as a stylistic choice, but to chase the shonen demographic in Japan. Made for young boys (though not exclusively consumed by young boys), the shonen genre’s action-oriented stories tap into juvenile power and sexual fantasies. Dragonball and One Piece are preeminent examples of shonen series and the genre’s archetypes of character design: plucky male heroes (with whom the boys will self-identify), “badass” male rivals, and monstrous male archvillains; women aren’t entirely absent but are usually limited to the monster mash roster and to be supporting eye candy to ignite the boys’ gonads and keep them coming back for more.

Granted, “Shin Megami Tensei has always had the makings of a boy's power fantasy with its computer-aided summonings of gods and demons,” to quote Identity Crisis verbatim, and even if the pessimistic tone and symbolic themes of past games prevented the series from spilling over into full shonen territory, it was really only a flip of a switch away from being a “full service station” with the optimistic party dynamics and teen love triangles that young Japanese boys fancy. So if that’s the market Atlus is after nowadays, then it follows that Doi’s demons would imitate those same shonen design tendencies of heroes, villains, and pandering sexuality. Accordingly, we produced a handy spreadsheet for Doi’s current 24 demons to see not only how they compare to general design archetypes but to crunch the numbers for various other categories including gender, body composition type, conformity to source material, and place of origin:

Again, we count Vishnu-Flynn’s forms twice because they are treated as distinct designs in official materials; one form also has a pop culture reference the other lacks. Here’s a brief rundown of each category:

  • Given gender: By “given,” we mean “stated by the game.” As these are mythological entities, discrepancies or variations are possible in the source material. For example, the demon Gemori looks like a woman but the Goetia still describes Gemori as “he,”; however, SMT always portrays Gemori as female. Genderfluidity is probably not present (read: intended) among Doi’s demons currently, even though it could apply to the one demon we’d rather avoid talking openly about out of concern for Strange Journey Redux spoilers.
  • Body type: Whether the demon’s body is majority organic or inorganic.
  • Form/archetype: Where the demon falls along a spectrum of design paradigms and tropes.
  • Source conformity: The design’s adherence to source material, whether visual or descriptive, according to four types (wholly original creations are marked as “Not Applicable”); please note that these types are NOT necessarily holistic appraisals of a design’s effectiveness:
    • Type I (High Conformity): The main form of the design (i.e., the demon’s body) is faithful to source material with few or no major stylistic embellishments. Kaneko examples for this type: Abraxas, Belphegor.
    • Type II (Source Form + Embellishment): The main form of the design is is faithful to source material but contains major stylistic embellishments that are thematically appropriate for the demon (or otherwise). Kaneko examples for this type: Baldur, Metatron.
    • Type III (Original Form + Thematics): The main form of the design is not faithful to source material but is itself a thematically appropriate embellishment for the demon OR the design contains major thematically appropriate supporting features. Kaneko examples for this type: Mara, Kanbari.
    • Type IV (Nonconformity): The main form of the design is not faithful to source material and lacks major, defining thematic features of the demon. Kaneko examples for this type: Pabilsag, Seth.
  • Origin: The demon’s provenance. If a demon could have more than one origin, form may be used to determine it, such as with Doi’s Satan. Generally, priority is given to major religions (Christianity, Buddhism, etc.) and their related subgroups (like Occult), then to local myth systems, followed by general regions, and finally local regions (if applicable/warranted).

Discounting the “Origin” category, the tabulated results of the remaining four categories place Doi’s demons in line with shonen expectations:

  • Male bias: 17 male demons to 7 female demons, an unsurprising ratio that, on its own, is nothing out of the ordinary for the series.
  • Inorganic bias: Here the inorganic majority body type prevails 13 to 11. After all, inorganic traits help emphasize that demons are unnatural; 11 out of the 13 inorganics are also antagonists in some form. But what’s more interesting is the gender split between inorganic and organic: female demons are majority organic with 4 out of 7, while male demons remain majority inorganic with 10 out of 17.
  • Circumscribed archetypes: The 24 demons conform to relatively few design archetypes and naturally form two major groups proximate to overall design quality. The best demons of the lot are the 5 that hew close to the source material: “cultural deity,” “demon,” and even Chironnuppu’s “mascot.” Sure, Adramelech might be a monster, but he’s not grotesque in the same way YHVH’s second form is; similarly, Krishna and Sukuna-Hikona are so close to the source there’s really no other way to describe them other than that they are representative of their respective cultures. Conversely, the worst demons are the 16 that belong to the “tokusatsu,” “monstrous,” and “pandering” categories. Odin and his costumed or armored ilk are a given, “monstrous” is really the only way to describe the exaggerated likes of Inanna and co., and the “pandering” gals are all obviously there to light some crotch fires. Our effulgent “fat guys” are split between the two camps: while it’s wholly appropriate for Maitreya to be rotund, inheriting that jelly belly doesn’t do the same good for Mitra-Buddha, not that anything would, really. The remaining category, “void,” does describe the design of its demon and is not meant to express our reluctance to mention her identity.
  • Unremarkable source conformity: As expected, high source conformity is not a priority for modern demon design. That said, the tally of Doi’s demons that adopt source forms versus original forms is dead even at 11 to 11.

The inorganic male battlers might be the favorites of Doi and the Atlus circle, but there’s something going on with the female demons, too, considering they are mostly organic--and that’s where the idea of a demon sexual dimorphism comes into play. Fulfilling shonen tropes perfectly, while male demons get to be warriors and villains, Doi’s female demons so far are only villains and sex objects; they don’t get to be Ultra Odin “cool” or even “normal” like Krishna or Sukuna-Hikona. With the unsexy Inanna and
SJR’s final boss already sufficiently reviewed, here’s how the chosen designs of Doi’s Pandering Five negatively affect their portrayals:

Mermaid and one of her concepts
Mermaid: Barring the flaming skulls, poor Mermaid here is possibly the most pandering demon of them all. It begins with Doi’s admission that she was chosen from his “desire to have a cute girl demon,” [2] another instance of his limited design freedom. Prominent is Mermaid’s yet bifurcated tail, which leaves her thighs and butt contour exposed, intimating the “absolute territory” of the zettai ryoiki otaku fetish--there's no ambiguity as to whether or not she has the parts one needs to fulfill one's private headcanons. However, there’s something amiss with her left leg as its presentation under the right makes it impossible to connect to her waist in an anatomically correct way; Dx2 Liberation's 3D model very obviously adjusts its positioning for a more natural result. Her almost entirely exposed torso is particularly troubling in tandem with her face, drawn in the same clean "anime cel" style as SMT4A's protagonists despite her "heavy brush" scales--in other words, she appears to be as young as 15, i.e., underaged. Not only that, the expression on her face is not so much sad as uncomfortable, as if she is ashamed or forced to be put on display against her will. This Mermaid design contrasts in almost every way with the best of her concept designs; though much of the skin exposure is the same, not only does concept Mermaid appear to be much older, she wears a neutral expression on her face, almost a smile, a simple yet critical change in body language that makes her appear less like an object and more confident in her sexuality. To top it all off, Mermaid (and Medusa) apparently earned Doi some notoriety around the office as he says, "I have a feeling I’ve been called a pervert more often since this Medusa and Mermaid were revealed.” [2] One look at either tells you why. Mermaid and Medusa are also notable for being among the first shown of Doi's new SMT4A demon illustrations, for reasons easily surmised. Correspondingly, the two also serve as the poster demon girls on the top page of the Japanese SMT4A website; it's convenient that one is a refinement of an SMT4 design and the other a SMT4A original but especially that both show plenty of skin.

Image from the official Japanese SMT4A site
Like Demeter, Cleopatra might
reconcile "sweet" and "bitter"
in her own strange fashion 
Cleopatra: Ol' Snake Arm is in one of those unfortunate twisted spine poses you often see in "sexy" art of female characters no matter the region, ensuring we're allowed a view of her breasts and butt at the same time--it’s probably a good thing, then, that Doi depicted this incredibly famous historical personnage as floating because contorting herself probably paralyzed her from the waist down. But even though she's clearly supposed to be sexy, Doi didn't do the best job at communicating how her breasts work. Miss Cleo's bizarre and literal boob sack is almost an optical illusion for how difficult it is to parse between the lines of her top and any intent of cleavage since her garments and skin are almost the same pale shade; however, comparing it to the concept design probably reveals that the top is meant to be open down the middle, cupping the breasts as far as those naughty nipples. It's obviously the intent once you realize it but between her torso-twisting and that the cleavage line is pathed off-center but parallel to those on her top, it all blends together. Her butt fares better, odd as that is to say, as her impressed skirt leaves a subtle line between her buttocks, of which two of her phallic arm-snakes clearly have a vested interest. But all this anatomical Twister wasn't just for the sake of horniness, it was for the sake of horniness and money: Cleopatra is a DLC demon, meaning that she and her bikini-peddling partner Mephisto literally sold sex for a premium. That's nothing new for the video game industry at large but it was a first for mainline Shin Megami Tensei.

Danu and her pregnant concept
Danu: Despite how it may seem, we are pro-demon nudity of any gender as long as it’s in the right context. Danu is supposed to be a fertile mother goddess (in both the game and source material for once), so large breasts are just part of the natural symbolic package. Problem is, her design is posed to relish every curve of her hourglass figure, turning her into another sex object. But isn't sex the whole point if she’s associated with fertility? Yes, but in the sense of propagating the species and not serving as masturbation fodder for adolescent boys. Danu’s concept design understands this distinction perfectly, as she is depicted in a simple flowing gown with an ample bosom but also with another feature that’s difficult to discern from the rough sketch: a visible baby bump, with her hands folded on top of it. It’s conjecture but this could imply an early SMT4A scenario draft allotted Danu the mother goddess role since, according to Doi, Inanna was originally meant to be a “sky goddess.”  

Demeter: We hate that we even have to talk about this one. But despite some evidence that her grievously inaccurate child form may have been out of Doi's hands, it doesn't excuse that he coded her to be “moe” cute (in other words, otaku fetish) and also that her dress is distressingly low-cut. Just… focus on the pumpkin. Boy, is that... one incredible gourd, huh?

The GREAT PUMPKIN has risen out of the pumpkin patch!

Anahita: fertility or fornicatory?
Anahita: We're ecstatic that Doi's rendition of Anahita, the Persian river goddess, incorporates flowing water into her otherwise human-like body, creating an interesting organic and inorganic mix that's akin to, say, Kaneko's Pele, who has a furnace for an abdomen to communicate that she is a volcano goddess. We're a bit less jazzed about the rest, a buxom and essentially naked dose of capitalism that purports to reflect Anahita's fertility niche, similar to Danu. However, there’s a conflict with Anahita’s specific brand of fertility: as the embodiment of rivers, she represents water that fertilizes the land and allows crops to flourish; she also served as the purifying aspect of water, including sanctifying men's semen and women's wombs--overall, not the kind of job that warrants such provocative imagery. It would be like if Saint Gerard Majella, Catholic patron saint of children and motherhood, were depicted wearing a banana hammock, arms behind his head and thrusting his pelvis. Doi explains in Anahita’s commentary that she was designed to emulate the original Strange Journey's then-new goddesses Asherah and Maya, who are both busty demons in curious hunched positions remarkably aligned with the aspect ratio of the Nintendo DS's screen. [9] But even if Asherah wasn’t literally a mother goddess often (if not exclusively) depicted in the buff, Kaneko provides the pair with features not aimed squarely at the goolies such as their inhuman skin patterns, Maya’s cyclopean jewel eye and haute couture fashion, and Asherah's imposing flint knife and dead stare. Anahita's playful modesty, on the other hand, looks flirtatious, like Bettie Page in a pin-up photoshoot. While not an utter disaster, Anahita represents another failure to understand proper context.

Asherah in Dx2; though equally as naked as Anahita, her armed pose and
cold gaze prevent her from achieving the same type of crass pandering

Spurred by this evidence for shonen pandering and demons’ sexual dimorphism, we expect the common rebuttal against it to be “it’s nothing new!” And it’s true, Kaneko has designed more outright pandering demons than Doi, 14 by our count. Thing is, that’s out of 1,187. How do we know this? It’s because we put Kaneko’s demon compendium to the same test as Doi’s, compiling all 1,187 into a similarly categorized spreadsheet. Click/tap the banner below for a sub-article that includes links to Kaneko’s and Doi’s spreadsheets (and the SMT4 guest artists’ for good measure) and full breakdown of the data, with charts:

Here’s a quick summary of the relevant Kaneko data:
  • Given gender: 58.6% (695) male, 21.5% (255) female, 19.4% (231) unspecified, 0.5% (6) incorporate both male and female.
  • Majority body type: 78.3% (930) organic, 21.7% (257) inorganic.
  • Forms/archetypes: High diversity, with the largest group being “cultural deity” with 134. And for a man said to be obsessed with penises, we counted only 8 “genitalia” demons out of the 1,187 and only 5 of those are distinct demons (Mara, Arioch, Tiamat, Rahu, Mishaguji); throw in the non-majority-genital Cthulhu, Master Therion, and Ometeotl to make it a party, but even those additions don’t make “genitalia” anything but one of the lesser archetype categories.
  • Source conformity: 61% (724) Type I (High Conformity), 18.6% (221) Type II (Source Form + Embellishment), 5.3% (63) Type III (Original Form + Thematics), 1.1% (13) Type IV (Nonconformity), 14% (166) N/A.
No doubt about it, there’s a male bias in Kaneko’s work, too. But contrast that with the overwhelming organic and Type I conformity majorities and the large variety of design archetypes and you find a situation completely apart from the present. For one, the female demons belong to more than just “sexy” and “monstrous” categories, many as the standard “cultural deity.” Kaneko himself touches on the importance of the human form and high design conformity in his Digital Devil Apocalypse interview when asked about the anthropomorphization of fears:
Kaneko's Jeanne D'arc
Many of the demons I draw have the human shape at their base. If I go too wild though, they won’t look scary anymore. If I mix them up too much, they might end up looking interesting, but not frightening. If there actually were beings of the underworld, then the Angels of Evangelion would work, and laughing at them would probably be natural thing to do, but they wouldn’t be scary. In the end, I have the feeling it’s not going to work unless you use humans as motif to transmit fear or awe. Putting a human’s likeness in a costume is the same as in reality: doing things according to my own likes and dislikes, trying all sorts of looks, changing my hairstyle. Here’s an old and embarrassing story, but I think Jeanne D’Arc’s design is a good example. Her category: Hero. By putting her in a good costume, she gains that identity and becomes that person. It’s a motif found since long ago among the image of French revolutionary heroes, so it was easy. [1]
Tlazolteotl and her
"artificial component"
Following the comments on the human form, Kaneko mentions usage of the inorganic, saying, “then there were beings like Tlazolteotl, who is a goddess of the bathroom, where I needed to add some artificial component to show their function.” [1] Tlazolteotl is also practically naked, but is she sexy and pandering when hoses connect her body to a toilet? There are plenty of examples of naked or nearly-nude demons (male and female) in the Kaneko compendium, even pandering ones like the Nekomata designs, but not all of the nudity is meant to be titillating--like Tlazolteotl, Kaneko often juxtaposes undress with elements or patterning that evoke the demons’ actual functions in myth or the fear or consequences of stepping outside of boundaries, unlike what we see with Doi’s spine-busters and pin-ups.

Between the dimorphism, exaggerated forms, and ambivalence to source material, the new Shin Megami Tensei demon represents an amalgamation of Japanese boys’ entertainment with “awesome” suited hero types, imposing aberrant villains, “hot” women, some chunky stereotypes as “muscle” (quite literally in Maitreya’s case), and even a mascot! Emulating the tropes of the shonen or tokusatsu genres, almost everything is black and white, its heroes and villains clearly delineated (a notable exception being Krishna, who is nonetheless immediately cast as a villain by SMT4A’s script). Yes, there are a handful of demons that would have belonged in Old Shin Megami Tensei but as the data and rejection of Doi’s wonderful concept art attest, the modus operandi of modern demon design is all about checking off as many boxes on the shonen checklist as possible in order to pander to adolescents and those who still think like them.

E. Odin's Belt: Once You “Pop,” You Can't Stop

Amon in Strange Journey Redux
With only 24 demons under his belt so far, Doi has already infused more than a few with pop culture references, which, on paper, is a totally Shin Megami Tensei thing to do. Besides Odin, we've mentioned Maitreya multiple times as being a rough equivalent; Doi has never confirmed the latter's stimulus being Matsuko Deluxe but it seems to be a given based on the Japanese reactions. Vishnu-Flynn's second form brandishes red lightsabers in a deliberate callback to how the Samurai costume was influenced by Jedi robes. There's another potential tokusatsu design in Zeus, but he represents a separate trend of Doi's we'll get to below. That leaves only the Lucky Number Seven of the Goetia himself, Amon.

The first new demon revealed for Strange Journey Redux, Amon is not unrecognizable; he retains the serpentine body, owl head (though not the wolf's teeth), and wolf's legs (albeit in a vestigial fashion) of the original Dictionnaire Infernal print by Louis Le Breton. While those are all fine and good, what will ultimately win your eyes' attention is the pair of conspicuous, blood-red arms bursting out of his body in a manner similar to Satan's heads and textured with the same peculiar segmented musculature. In his design commentary, Doi coyly admits that the arms are a nod to Devilman's Amon, a creation of comic artist Go Nagai who otherwise has no relation to the Goetia’s Amon:
The main point of the design are the red hands. According to legend, Amon can offer his summoner knowledge about the past and the future and is known as an intellectual and erudite demon, so I thought I would be able to express this aura by adding those posing arms to an animal body. The design of his arms is based on Shin Megami Tensei if…’s (Akira route) homage to a certain work, but I’m not too sure how obvious it is (laughs). Nevertheless, respect for older works and imagination will always be important and the positive feedback received by this Amon makes me think this is a pretty good formula… [10]

Kaneko's Shin Megami Tensei if... Amon sprite

It doesn’t change anything, but note how Doi filters the reference through Shin Megami Tensei if…’s own Devilman homage (or shameless rip off) of its character Akira’s fusion with Amon and that, in spite of this blunt “tribute,” Kaneko’s Amon sprite follows Le Breton’s work (see just below) exactly. But with the inspiration confirmed, we can form an accurate cross-section of the Doi’s Amon’s two poles of influence, the traditional and the modern:

When a Dictionnaire Infernal illustration and an anime demon fall in love...

Before explaining why Doi's direction for Amon is a poor one for Shin Megami Tensei, it would be instructive to take a Kaneko-era demon and subject it to the same artistic license. Luckily, there's a convenient parallel to Amon: Baphomet. Baphomet has two Shin Megami Tensei designs, the first the bizarre Shin Megami Tensei II appearance that can be traced to Clive Barker's 1990 film Nightbreed while the second is Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne's more palatable design based on the famous sketch by Eliphas Levi. While they are two distinct designs and not one, what’s important here is that one is traditional and the other modern. With a little imagination, applying the method behind Doi’s Amon to Baphomet would net you a combination like this:

Nocturne's traditional Levi Baphomet and the tentacles of SMT2 Baphomet as a proxy
for Nightbreed's combine to produce a demon of similar derivation to Doi's Amon

While it might have been more accurate to use Nightbreed Baphomet's tendrils rather than SMT2's tentacles, you get the picture, which is that said tentacles would protrude from the head of the Levi goat-man. Not only does it look silly, this hypothetical combination would fail to accurately represent the "actual" Baphomet as Clive Barker's version is an original take that doesn't include the rituals or symbolism associated with the figure from occult tradition, so the tentacles inspired by it would completely devoid with meaning (other than Kaneko must have been fond of Nightbreed in 1994). Including them would only be a distracting superfluity that diminishes the design's effectiveness. As an aside, Kaneko’s SMT2 Baphomet appears to be one of his worst designs judging by how little it resembles the source material, but evidence suggests it might actually be depicting the Nightbreed deity and not the occult goat; click/tap the below sub-article banner for a separate discussion.
But unlike SMT2's Baphomet, Strange Journey Redux's Amon is definitely intended to be the demon of Christian occult tradition, based on official descriptions. And so, continuing the line of reasoning from Baphomet's example, those gargantuan arms that are a direct Devilman reference according to Doi (and supposed to make him look "erudite," which doesn't follow) are completely meaningless to the real identity of Amon and only serve to be a reflection of Doi's personal tastes and nostalgia. But what's worse is that even if the arms somehow weren't an empty reference, they'd still be out of place spoilers of an otherwise fine design.
Tlazolteotl marries the old
and the new seamlessly
It's a pity in this case because unlike Ultra Odin, the modern aspect of King Marquis Crimson Amon is technically supplemental (by our criteria, as Doi clearly states the arms are "the main point of the design") to a traditionally demonic body, even though what primarily arrests your gaze will belie that fact. And if he absolutely, positively needs to include a pop culture reference, Doi only need look right under his nose for examples in the Kaneko compendium of how to seamlessly incorporate seemingly incongruous modern concepts with mythological figures like the aforementioned Zaou Gongen and Spawn. For some other examples, Heqet wears a Drew Barrymore wig primarily because the Egyptians wore wigs. Our favorite example Tlazolteotl emerges from a toilet because she’s a goddess of filth and STDs who also purifies; of course, a flushed toilet expels waste, making it an ideal symbol for her. Tlazolteotl is particularly germane to this discussion as while of course the Aztecs didn't have contemporary commodes, her toilet is in the shape and style of a typical head from Aztec art, a supporting motif that both spruces up a most lowly piece of hardware and confirms her provenance. The implementation of the modern also doesn't actually affect the appearance of Tlazolteotl herself, whose mouth, hands, forearms, and haunches are designed with an encroaching darkness to represent her religious significance. In demon design, the modern is there to support the traditional, not blot out its identity.

Conspicuous, unbefitting pop culture elements are likely to be a permanent fixture of the future Shin Megami Tensei demon design landscape as Doi ends his Amon commentary by saying, "respect for older works and imagination will always be important and the positive feedback received by this Amon makes me think this is a pretty good formula…"; considering that the recent Netflix Devilman revival, Crybaby, was a hit is likely only to validate Doi’s position. Also remember that series spearhead Kazuyuki Yamai pushed for the tokusatsu aesthetic in SMT4 and could plausibly encourage this “formula” further. Plus, despite our laundry list of criticisms, Ultra Odin is doubtlessly one of Doi's most popular demon designs. In an environment where SMT fans on both sides of the Pacific yet lament Kaneko's absence from the series, such positive feedback must surely seem like a huge win to Doi and will only reinforce this direction and its “respect for older works and imagination,” be it Ultraman, Devilman, or anything in-between.

F. Odin's Whole: “Our Demons Are a Bit Different”
It's time for... WHO'S THAT ARTIST?

To switch things up a bit, we have a little guessing game for you to play. What follows are unattributed quotes from all five of
SMT4’s guest designers and Doi, but all you need to do is see if you can guess which of the six is Doi’s. So, read each quote carefully and try to distinguish between the approaches of the much-maligned tokusatsu designers and Doi’s current demon design philosophy. Answers immediately following.

(1.)When it comes to these demons with origins in mythology, I made an effort to use their traditional elements, but only after deconstructing them and putting them back together again. ...In that sense, these aren’t necessarily the mythological creatures everyone is familiar with.”

(2.)Each god’s and demon’s descriptions depend on their region, era, and religious background. But if we only base on those it’ll be hard to make them fit into Megaten’s concept and originality. So like many folklore in the world, I tried becoming the ‘observer’ and designed the gods and demons based on my own memory.”

(3.)Most of my demons have their origins in myths and legends from around the world, so it was up to me to emulate those templates while adding to them with my own, new interpretations. I was provided with text descriptions and basic materials right from the start, so all of a sudden I was expected nail down my own materials to the greatest extent possible. I was sometimes expected to prioritize certain elements in my designs, but by no means was that always the case. I also never had to research new materials, at any rate.”

(4.)In the event that there was some motif from real-world mythology to use, I would create a 1/6 or 1/7 scale model (either a single one or multiple) and then give them clothes or CG effects to fulfill the necessary requirements until the image was sufficiently distanced from the original inspiration. What that distance should be really varies from design to design, but I can tell you that it’s hard to stick the landing when you’re talking about a G-level difficulty (the highest difficulty level in competitive gymnastics).”

(5.)The idea that machines, weapons, and other man-made things could be included in the ‘gods and demons’ umbrella really whet my creative appetite. Needless to say, Kazuma Kaneko - the father of form and design - really dealt the coup de grace, but it was nonetheless a successful team effort that I was happy to be a part of. “

(6.)First off, mythology has always been a source of inspiration for my imagination. Legends come about when a tale is passed down and embellished over the generations. So for this project, I would start with the source material and then ask myself, ‘How would my grandmother describe this in a bedtime story?’ and ‘How do I patch together these interpretations?’ That was my design process.

And those are the six. Last chance to guess on your own!

Here are the answers:
  • Quote 1 is Yasushi Nirasawa, designer of Lucifer, Asmodeus, Medusa, Masakado, etc. [4]
  • Quote 2 is Masayuki Doi, refiner of Lucifer, Merkabah, Medusa, Tenkai, etc. [8]
  • Quote 3 is Tamotsu Shinohara, designer of Minotaur, Sanat, Chemtrail, etc. [4]
  • Quote 4 is Kyouma Aki, designer of Yamato Takeru, Kuebiko, and Astaroth. [4]
  • Quote 5 is Keita Amemiya, designer of the archangels, Merkabah, and Lilith. [4]
  • Quote 6 is Yoshihiro Nishimura, the modeler behind Omoikane, Yaso-Magatsuhi, and the Plutos. [4]
So if you guessed that quote 2 is Doi’s, congratulations! Your prize: another harrowing revelation about the future of Shin Megami Tensei demon design.

To be specific, there’s a theme common to all of the above quotations. Shinohara emulated myths but added “new interpretations.” Aki intentionally added extra layers until “the image was sufficiently distanced from the original inspiration.” Nirasawa used “traditional elements, but only after deconstructing them and putting them back together again.” Nishimura’s approach was to view source material through the lens of bedtime stories. Amemiya was more smitten that he could work with “machines, weapons, and other man-made things.” To spell it out, the general, prevailing sentiment is the impetus to add the veneer of “originality” to designs; being different for the sake of being different, because simply copying a statue or ancient artwork would not be creative enough or would be below their talents.

Doi’s own quote starts off promising. “Each god’s and demon’s descriptions depend on their region, era, and religious background.” See, he does understand, right? But then, “if we only base on those it’ll be hard to make them fit into Megaten’s concept and originality.” And there it is, the “need” for Ultraman or Devilman. To be fair, a charitable reading of this statement, that demons need that extra modern “spark” to vivify them in accordance with Shin Megami Tensei’s style, is perfectly in line with numerous classic Kaneko designs that incorporate non-mythic elements, including ones we’ve already talked about like Zaou Gongen and Tlazolteotl. But that would be charitable indeed, as our Kaneko spreadsheet data proved that the majority of his designs hew closely to source materials, embellished or not. The less generous, likely more realistic take on Doi’s intent is, like the guest artists, an emphasis on originality over accuracy; if old depictions are merely copied, then Shin Megami Tensei’s artwork will not be distinct (nevermind the series’ own history). While this attitude is apparent in most of Doi’s designs thus far, it is perfectly encapsulated by one design in particular: Zeus.

Eminently inexplicable, Strange Journey Redux’s Zeus left us completely flabbergasted upon reveal and to be honest, we still are! Like Odin, the whole piece seems to be tokusatsu-influenced, especially the inorganic black-and-white body with the same bizarre, stylized musculature on his obliques as seen on Amon’s arms and on Satan’s body. It carries recognizable Greek motifs in only two specific places, the marbleized head and sandaled foot of the white side. To glean anything else, we’ll have to leave the explaining to Doi himself:
As the main god of Greek mythology, Zeus, has been the theme of a great number of sculptures and paintings ever since Antiquity. He’s such a prominent god, even people who aren’t too familiar with mythology know him. Now that I think about it, Greek mythology was the very reason I fell in love with myths as a child. Back then, there were quite a lot of TV programmes about various mythologies, civilisations and relics, the most popular chief god was Zeus and manga inspired by Greek mythology were also very successful. He is the God of my mythological roots, so I obviously decided to design him as well as I could.
But once I started drawing him I fell prey to indecision, since I had a feeling that drawing him normally would have made me add a ‘Super’ before his name… . The first image that comes to mind is that of an old man wearing a toga and an ancient Greek style armour, but I had some doubts about drawing the type of figure that had already appeared in other works. Therefore, I challenged myself to emphasise originality and display lesser known mythological facts or obscure anecdotes.
With that in mind, the first thing I wanted to draw was Zeus’s duality. Zeus is a chief god, so the image of justice is strong, but in truth he also had quite the malicious and sleazy side (laughs). I’m going to leave out why that side appeared, but there are various interesting theories, like it being the fault of humans and so on. If anyone is interested in this, please do check it up.
So, I tried to adapt these two sides to the descriptions found in legends and figured I should apply the concepts of good and evil to Zeus’s armour. The good side is symbolised by the figure resembling a sculpture with the armour of ‘brightness’ and the kerauno. The wicked side is represented by the beast-like figure wearing the armour of ‘fear’ and the adamantium sickle. This is how the Zeus of this form was born, as a sort of final form you can glimpse in battle. By the way, I also subtly emphasised his crotch, since it’s part of who he is (laughs). [11]
Bikkuriman Super Zeus
There’s an incredible amount of stuff to pick apart here but what best explains the Zeus disaster are the remarks in the second paragraph, namely that Doi “had some doubts about drawing the type of figure that had already appeared in other works” (i.e., the standard image of Zeus as “an old man wearing a toga and ancient Greek style armor”) and “challenged [himself] to emphasize originality” via “obscurities.” In other words, it’s the same type of artistic distancing displayed by the guest artists: if a particular image of a god is too ubiquitous, it’s not an standard for design but rather a creative obstacle to be overcome. With results like Zeus, this approach alone is bound to have catastrophic ramifications for demon designs going forward.

Another peculiarity is that Doi “had a feeling that drawing [Zeus] normally” would have caused him to add a “Super” before the god’s name. What he’s talking about here is Super Zeus from Bikkuriman, a famous Japanese brand of snacks that exploded in popularity with kids in the 1980s thanks to mythologically-themed sticker pack-in prizes. Super Zeus is one of Bikkuriman’s original and brightest stars (and is typically bearded and “normal” as far as Zeuses go and thus communicates precise identity better than Doi’s), but, as Doi implies, this fame was another hurdle that had to be jumped in order to create something “original.” Well, he certainly succeeded at “sufficiently distancing” himself, but we’re left wondering an obvious rhetorical question: why can a children's sticker collection have a reasonable facsimile of one of the most famous deities in the world but Shin Megami Tensei, the game series about mythology, can't?

Dzolob: proof that arm blades
can't make everything cool
The rest of Zeus is just tokusatsu-based, with mythic elements like the “cool” lightning and adamant arm blades merely an extension of that aesthetic. The lightning of the sky god requires no explanation, but the adamantine sickle is one of those “lesser-known mythological facts” mentioned, so much so that it only appears associated with Zeus in a single notable account, that of Apollodorus’ version of the the struggle between Zeus and Typhon. The former does indeed wield an adamantine sickle against the latter, albeit with a self-deprecating twist:

...Zeus pelted Typhon at a distance with thunderbolts, and at close quarters struck him down with an adamantine sickle, and as he fled pursued him closely as far as Mount Casius, which overhangs Syria. There, seeing the monster sore wounded, he grappled with him. But Typhon twined about him and gripped him in his coils, and wresting the sickle from him severed the sinews of his hands and feet, and lifting him on his shoulders carried him through the sea to Cilicia and deposited him on arrival in the Corycian cave. [12]
So, this sickle that Doi thought was a great accessory to have permanently attached to Zeus’ body is actually stolen from and used against him. Also, any actual sickle will have the cutting edge on the inside rather than outside, so does Zeus’ even still qualify as one? Maybe he should have had Mt. Etna attached to his arm instead, as it being hurled on top of Typhon is what ultimately subdues the monster. But since that’s a common method of defeat for Typhon, it probably wasn’t the “obscure anecdote” Doi craved.

This ancient Zeus statue's raised
arm depicts power and wrath in
a much more natural and nuanced
way than Doi's attempt
Zeus’ staggeringly dull akimbo pose fails to represent the dynamism inherent in the god, even though that is what Doi is attempting to communicate with the literal, Jekyll and Hyde body/personality split; the white side is “heroic,” the black “monstrous.” Make no mistake, Zeus is an almighty deity who also commits terrible acts but promoting the idea that Zeus uniquely has two opposing “sides” displays a reductive understanding of not just how Greek mythology related to Greek society but of the meaning of mythology in general. The archetype Zeus embodies is that of the chief of the gods, the “sky father” of the Indo-European lineage, the one who presides over the order of the universe. From the human perspective, this order may have begotten civilization, but it doesn’t preclude war, natural disasters, or other misfortunes that upset the divinely ordained balance. Different societies have interpreted the problem of evil and suffering in different ways, but in the Indo-European context, Zeus inherited the fickle characteristics of nature itself, equal to Odin’s own lesser-known transgressions. Thus, to imply a split personality is to misinterpret Zeus’s function, as the good and the bad are merely part of his whole.

The perfect contrast to tokusatsu Zeus is Kaneko’s Persephone. Even though this daughter of Zeus has an identical black-and-white split body (which makes you wonder if Doi or anyone else on staff realized the similarity in their scramble to be "different"), hers has actual meaning related to her mythological function: being divided over the course of the year between the darkness of Hades and the verdurous embrace of her mother Demeter. The Zeus design has very little to say other than “please think I’m cool,” and maybe “laugh at my little penis nub” because penises are Shin Megami Tensei’s greatest joke. And even if Zeus does have a body hidden under his “armor,” his overall slender frame means he would be one scrawny guy, which is ill-fitting for such a powerful god. In his zeal for originality, did Doi ever stop to look at the extant Olympians in Shin Megami Tensei like Pallas Athena, Ares, or Dionysus and consider how his Zeus would look among them? Or did he look at Greek deviants like Hecate and Thanatos and think, “hold my beer”? To beat a thoroughly dead horse, it’s almost like modern Japanese superhero costumes aren't the best at representing a diverse range of world cultures and symbols!

Lessons not learned: Among the series' popular (or at least "frequently reappearing" in
the case of Ares) and successfully designed Greeks and those less beloved and
effective like Hecate and Thanathos, Doi's Zeus fits among the latter

Pabilsag and Cu Chulainn, together at last!
As this article has been open to Kaneko criticism, are there any designs of his that are also intentionally “different”? We can think of a few. Maybe the most glaring is Pabilsag, who looks like one of the Girtablilu scorpion men instead of approximately a centaur; for an explanation, Kaneko not only candidly admitted he just wanted to draw a scorpion monster, in the same breath he mentioned none other than Yasushi Nirasawa’s tokusatsu monster works as an influence. [1] Absolutely outrageous… or is it just only one design out of well over a thousand?

However, very few give a damn about Pabilsag. Cu Chulainn, on the other hand, is beloved by us and Shin Megami Tensei fans in general and while Kaneko always depicted him as a knight in pale or silvery armor, the current set’s black gloves and boots with purple accents look more sci-fi than Irish. But the thing is, the art still portrays Cu Chulainn as the young (organic) Irish warrior he’s supposed to be and despite how weird his protectives may seem, they don’t negate anything about Cu Chulainn’s mythic form or function. This also being his fourth (counting Megami Tensei II) attempt at Cu Chulainn, Kaneko here was channeling a similar uniqueness as Doi tried with Zeus, only Kaneko succeeded at creating a distinct design by showing artistic restraint with stylized armor where Doi failed by incorporating contrived elements that forsake the mythical figure.

Kaneko's "strange ball" Zeus
In fairness, there’s probably not another Zeus like Doi’s, but it’s not actually creative when prominent tokusatsu shows and murder mystery visual novels use identical motifs; i.e., ideas inbred from the same pop culture “gene pool.” Creating a distinctive product is of course a noble goal, but when your subject is the most famous god outside of Abrahamic religion and he generally looks the same everywhere, sometimes you have to let go of your artistic ego and roll with the collective interpretation. Kaneko found this out with his own failed attempt at Zeus, which he makes fun of by saying, “I once drew a strange ball with lighting around it and put a face in its middle, then added all kinds of details, but in the end this made me realise the human form is still the best.” [1] The lesson is that when you try too hard to make something unique, it may end up looking generic or indistinct; piling on arm blades, some of the tritest “cool” modifiers ever scrawled on the notebook pages of bored 13-year-old boys, doesn’t produce distinctness. Doi’s Zeus is not immediately recognizable, which is quite an ignoble accomplishment all things considered.

All told, Zeus is certainly in the running for Doi's worst demon yet, his best competitor being Demeter. Granted, it’s a real Sophie’s Choice between the two, but while Demeter may be depicted as a child for whatever heinous reason, that is really her only problem--it’s of course a huge, glaring, obvious, terrible problem, but just age her appropriately into an adult and the design is workable; on the other hand, everything about Zeus is not only just wrong, it’s awful. And if you absolutely demand something a little spicier than the established form, some simple effort with the stylization of lightning, clothing patterns, or the addition of Zeus’ symbolic eagle open up countless creative possibilities that arm blades immediately close. Even if he’s been done a thousand times before, there are still yet another thousand ways to give Zeus a distinctive appearance--all without drawing from the same shallow tokusatsu well.

G. Odin’s Quintessence: The Future of Shin Megami Tensei’s Demons

Before we close, here’s a quick recap of what we think are the most important topics across this article and its character-focused older sibling:

  • Masayuki Doi is a good artist, but his work is dictated to an extent by the current creative direction at Atlus
  • Doi is better suited to original character design than mythic/religious characters that have established forms
  • Ultra Odin and most modern demon designs forsake the source form
  • Tokusatsu and shonen design elements have crept into the modern compendium
  • The distinction between the flat “anime cel” and textured “heavy brush” shading styles
  • Empirical evidence shows the modern demon design direction is in stark contrast to the majority organic, source conforming Kaneko oeuvre

Rare photo of Japanese students enacting their
strange midday ritual called "lunch," where they
 utilize specialized tool-sticks to insert various kinds
of nutrition substances (called "food") into the
largest hole in their craniums (called "mouths")
There’s really not much else to say other than if you’ve liked the modern demon output so far and have not been convinced by any of our arguments, then you’re probably in store for a hell of a good time going forward. But if you’re like us, don’t expect things to change until it hits Sega’s bottom line, which is unlikely to happen for some time. The low-risk, formulaic product that is Persona 5 is now Atlus’ best-selling title, so those expecting progressive change or representation in its follow-up will probably disappointed. Atlus officially stated that it is “not specifically aiming to create games that will sell worldwide” but that “the overseas audience is seeking the games for their Japanese nature” including “depictions of Japanese school lunches and school excursions, which might be difficult for the overseas audience to understand” and that because of these exotic elements like school lunches and field trips, this overseas audience “[assesses] that Atlus represents Japanese subculture.” [13] So unless you really like things that are definitely exclusive to Japanese culture, these games aren't being made with you, the overseas statistic, in mind.

The same goes for Shin Megami Tensei, as the three games of the modern era (SMT4, SMT4A, SJR) have all sold well respective of their budgets and in spite of the art we’ve lambasted up and down in this article. Basically, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it--and keep in mind that one of Identity Crisis’ main points was that Atlus’ games were “broken” from a sales standpoint up until the release of Persona 4, especially SMT-branded games. To that end, noted nostril-hater and now Atlus Studio Zero head honcho Katsura Hashino criticized Kazuma Kaneko’s art style (as the “Atlus house style[14]) as being one factor in why the company’s experimental Dreamcast title Maken X failed to become a bigger hit. A heartbreaking realization has been that more mainstream tokusatsu designs (et al.) seem to be part of the intended “fix.”

Finally achieving "cool," Maitreya
shows off SMT's design future
On the subject, it is strange that after the backlash against the tokusatsu designs in SMT4 (in Japan and elsewhere) that Doi would reply with designs in that mold. Why remove most of SMT4’s new demons when SMT4A merely added more from the same inspirations? This paradox and Yamai’s self-professed love of and mandate for Ultraman imply that the backlash was understood not as against their incongruity to source material but rather that the guest artists’ general styles were too different from the Kaneko demon standard. Thus, in the minds of Yamai, Doi, and the rest, a “correct balance” has been struck with demons like Dagda, Odin, and Zeus that are atypical compared to most in the Kaneko compendium but yet have that hallmark “heavy brush” style of his later years.

Honestly, Doi and the boys are likely justified in their thinking, as, more often than not, demon designs are judged purely by aesthetic style and “coolness” and not adherence to sources; for example, SMT4’s Medusa was loathed because of her cartoony face in spite of her being one of the few SMT4 demons that resembled their cultural form. We would add that it’s perfectly valid for people to approach art solely by aesthetics and that the pop culture ecosystem even trains people to engage with it superficially, as any given series’ designs and illustrations are to be understood as proprietary and merely emblematic or distinguishing features; Shin Megami Tensei used to be one of the few properties to challenge the viewer’s expectations of what its art truly represents, but that story didn’t end so well. So really, it makes all kinds of (business) sense to cast the widest net possible with demons that are sleek or "badass" instead of slavishly mythologically-accurate designs that may require actual research (or better contextual writing/more effort on Atlus’ part) to appreciate. In other words, the future of Shin Megami Tensei demon design is now.

But hey, at least Ultra Odin is an improvement over that naked purple diaper rash, right? Well, about that...

Kaneko’s Ultimate Crib Note: Exonerating the Diaper

Diaper: Origins
Western fans' introduction to Odin in Shin Megami Tensei happened via Nocturne, where he has possibly one of the most poorly rendered models in the game, with a chunky frame, a featureless purple body, and that embarrassing swaddling diaper (hence his nickname). Nocturne may have been a relatively high budget game for Atlus at the time but they still stretched its budget when it came to demon models, as many bodies and body parts are reused across demons; this is why Diaper Odin was chosen for 3D rendering over, say, Rune Odin, as he shares a body type with Loki, a situation almost identical to the sprite edits of SMT1. What exacerbated things was not just that the Diaper kept appearing throughout the PlayStation 2 era but that it was present in the Megami Tensei games the majority of people became familiar with: Persona 3, FES, and Persona 4 (though in P4 the model was finally updated and improved--but still the same SMT1 Odin). A bad rap was inevitable, really.

It’s also striking just how bland Diaper Odin looks compared to some of the other SMT1 designs that were more obviously inspired by their traditional looks, like Shiva or Bael. However, there's a evident pattern to the designs of Kaneko’s Norse gods. Take a careful look at the following collage of all the major Norse figures featured in the series and you’ll be sure to spot it:

Beginning from the left on the top row, here we have:

  • Odin (SMT1 sprite)
  • Loki (SMT1 sprite)
  • Thor (SMT1 sprite)
  • Surt (SMT1 sprite)
  • Tyr (Soul Hackers)
  • Heimdall (Soul Hackers)
  • Norn (Soul Hackers)
  • Hel (NINE)
  • Skadi (Nocturne)
  • Baldur (Devil Survivor)

With the inorganic Norn clock an exception, indeed all of Kaneko’s Norse deities have been naked or practically naked in some form, with only a cape as the common adornment. Most aren’t purple other than Odin and Loki (except Soul Hackers Thor), but all of them have unnatural skin colors (except, again, for Thor, who usually just looks like a ruddy white dude apart from Soul Hackers). Thor is really a strange one here because the only au naturel depiction of him (or close to it, at least) is his SMT1 sprite; this sprite differs greatly from the final artwork, the latter of which is much more heavily armored, but we know from Kaneko's comments that his spritework for the old games came before most illustrations. [15] Nonetheless, the Thor sprite closely matches the look of SMT1's Odin and Loki, even as it is a palette swap for beefy boys like Atlas and Giant. Odin’s other son, Baldur, the latest and probably last Kaneko design of a Norse god, wears cuirass-style armor plating, likely referring to his mythic invulnerability, over ashen skin that is shared with his underworld landlord, Hel.

Odin casts his spear (in the nude) during the
Aesir-Vanir war, Lorenz Frølich; review the
"Who is Odin?" section for more Norse nudes
Skin color doesn’t matter, however. Strange as it is, what does matter is that nudity and capes are the unifying themes Kaneko chose for the Norse pantheon; even the superlative Rune Odin is all cape and almost no body. So why opt to depict Odin and the others as birthday suited caped crusaders? As random as the billowing in the buff might seem, it turns out the idea actually has a precedent.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Germanic culture went through what has been termed the "Viking Revival," where traditional Northern European myths were reevaluated and romanticized in terms of an indigenous culture with intrinsic value, much like what the Italian Renaissance did for Roman and Greek myths. While the Ring Cycle of Richard Wagner is probably the most famous product of the Viking Revival, more applicable to this discussion is the movement's impact on artistic depictions of Norse gods, where Odin, Thor, Loki and others can be seen wearing capes and little (or nothing) else; for examples, see Henry Fuseli's Thor Battering the Midgard Serpent or the works of Lorenz Frølich, some of which we used above with even more viewable on Odin's Wikimedia Commons page. This probably shows the Viking Revival's Renaissance inspiration, equating the Norse gods with their Greco-Roman counterparts often seen naked in statuary. The similarities between Kaneko’s Norse nudists and the Viking Revival art are too precise to be coincidence.

Megami Tensei's purple Loki
That said, there’s a wrinkle in this narrative that suggests Odin wasn't the model for his SMT1 sprite but rather Loki, specifically that his purple skin and wild mane were informed by the purple body/fur and similar hairstyle featured on Loki’s bestial appearance in the original Megami Tensei game and anime. It's definitely something to consider, as it wouldn't be the only one: why else was the series saddled for so long with a one-headed Cerberus if not an explicit callback to the original story? Even the "Shin" series' hexagram logo features Loki in the center in reference to his central importance to the plot of the Megami Tensei novel and everything that initially spun off from it. While it’s unlikely the fuzzy, capeless Megami Tensei Loki is responsible for the general look of the “Shin” Norse pantheon, more plausible is its influence on SMT1 Loki's hairstyle and the purple and other dark skin tones of his ilk.

Loki from Frølich's Lokasenna compared to Kaneko's Devil Summoner Loki

Diaper Revival Odin
(edit by Luntakesalla)
Regardless of Viking Revivals or series callbacks, there’s something missing on most Shin Megami Tensei Odins that’s crucial to the god’s identity: a beard. If Odin is indeed a wise “sovereign magician” then a full grey or white beard, the kind attached to his face just about everywhere else he appears, is the ideal status symbol--something the bewhiskered Rune Odin demonstrates flawlessly. As the trendsetter, Diaper Odin went beardless possibly because, as previously noted, the game’s sprites were drawn before the full illustrations and the dinky size of the Odin/Loki sprite meant that a beard would be too hard to read particularly with its white cape, but that’s just a guess. Still, a beard would only improve the babyfaces of Diaper, Blankie, and Ultra and make their art seem more like Odin the god instead of Ren Faire Streaker, Bedtime Protester, and Generic Spaceman-Warrior respectively.

We’re not going to go as far as to say this knowledge retroactively makes the Diaper and Blankie Odins more exciting to look at, much less “cool” or “badass.” Nevertheless, the Viking Revival artwork (if it is truly Kaneko’s influence; it seems likely but is still unconfirmed) provides some important context and definitions for the Norse designs that was hitherto missing. Doi’s flashy, sleek, yet shallow battler may win the beauty pageants but the potential of the Viking Revival connection lends Kaneko’s lesser Odins a cultural authenticity Ultra Odin severely lacks, meaning that, in the end, the naked truth is that Diaper and Blankie alike are still superior representations of Odin the All-father, god of magic, death, wisdom, and battle and rider of Yggdrasil.

Conclusion: The Wisdom of the Ages

1. Shin Megami Tensei Reminiscences

Eirikr: So, a few years ago I said the following: “the most disappointing part of [the SMT4 guest artist debacle] is that Atlus already employs an artist aware of what makes Kaneko's designs tick: Masayuki Doi.” A bit of egg on my face but at least we know now that not all the crumminess was Doi's fault after all.

Masayuki Doi after being told to draw
Jesus as a little girl for SMT5
Soren: Yeah, and I'm sure a lot of people shared that sentiment. If you were to look at those concept designs alone then that statement would pretty much bear out, but there was another direction there.

Eirikr: It's also interesting to go back and look at our impressions of Apocalypse's designs in Kaneko's Crib Notes Volume XXV.

Soren: Man, we're about two and a half years out from those. For Odin I mentioned that Doi "did his homework," so... my impressions haven't aged too gracefully. Goes to show that it's really one of those designs that crumbles under scrutiny.

Eirikr: (laughs) I guess that's quite the understatement. Though his "homework" could have been sucking down cans of Suntory The Premium Malt's. Me though, I was definitely holding back. I said the design was "...fine." With an ellipsis! Clearly I was suppressing my animosity.

Soren: Of course, the storm was raging. Speaking of storms, even that Gungnir assessment hasn't held up! At least you nailed it with the superhero remark, which was more prescient than we could have imagined.

Eirikr: It's the story with most of these designs. The cheers we handed out didn't last but the jeers stuck.

Soren: Yeah, Dagda was even waiting on an article of his own. Thank god we had at least course-corrected on Mermaid by then.

Eirikr: Yeah, last year’s Dagda exposé was finished relatively quickly, then I had the idea to make a follow-up on Odin in the same format. Easy peasy, right? 16 months later…

Soren: Unfortunately the task at hand proved to be neither easy peasy nor lemon squeezy.

Eirikr: The general praise the design received also drove me to consider the design from more angles, evident in this article. There had to be more to it than just "it's cool"... but that turned out to not be the case, really.

Soren: Going back and pouring over reactions has been enlightening in that respect. The sleek appeal of a tokusatsu hero just happens to be a bigger crowd-pleaser than we expected. Considering the role that style plays over design has made things clearer as well.

Eirikr: And the same can be said for many of the other designs, as well.

Soren: Some patterns have certainly emerged, as you can imagine having read this far, especially with the reveal of Doi's contributions for Strange Journey Redux. Patterns that don't exactly encourage consistency.

I Want to Meet That Dad!
Eirikr: This all led me to a theory that didn't really fit anywhere else, that demons are perceived internally at Atlus Japan as a way to cater to different demographics. Like in SJR, we have a traditional demon (by their reckoning, anyway) with Amon to appeal to old fans, young girl and busty girl to charm every kind of Japanese male imaginable, and the hot-blooded tokusatsu Zeus to get the attention of the kids playing Monster Hunter or Yo-kai Watch on their 3DSes (or dads that love Ultraman-themed restaurants, an underserved niche).

Soren: Yes, it's clear enough where the demographic intent of bouncy childhood friend archetypes lies with regards to the character roster, but the compendium is there to pick up the rest of those Japanese boy's media checkboxes, apparently.

Eirikr: And though SMT4A's youth-focus and shonen design tropes could have been limited to that game’s themes, the fact that it still bled into Strange Journey Redux, a game that didn't originally chase the shonen audience, says a lot about where the series is headed. In other words, the "traditional demon" is a thing of the past. You know, the majority Type I and Type II pie charts.

Soren: Can imagine that trend will hold going forward, yeah. I think the comparison to mobile games like Puzzle and Dragons is apt. Obviously not to the extent of SMT4 and its star-studded guest pool, but it's disappointing to think that same spirit has managed to stick even under the vision of a single designer.

Eirikr: Funny you said that, as I just searched in Japanese for Demeter (デーメーテール) and the fourth result is a moe version from some godforsaken mobile card game. No clue what it is and it is not entirely similar, but still pretty hilarious that their attempt to be "unique" with her is anything but.

Soren: (laughs) Oh boy, yeah, that's the primo stuff. Design tendencies bend inexorably toward the bottom of the mobile barrel.

2. Predicting Shin Megami Tensei V and Beyond

Eirikr: Writing this article took almost a year and in the interim that Japanese SJR demon popularity contest was held on Twitter, with the predictable victors being Mara, Alice, and at least Cu Chulainn in a not-too-distant third.

Soren: God willing there'll always be room in that trifecta for hot bishonen guy appeal. And in that same time-span we were graced with everyone's favorite $300 punchline. Atlus has thrown themselves head-first into that indomitable craving for the funny penis monster, and I'm amazed we haven't seen a new Alice figure to round things out. Basically, we shouldn't expect Atlus (or Sega) to encourage a more thoughtful perception of demon design in the series any time soon.

Eirikr: Mara and Alice are gimmicky designs to begin with and if they are what people want, gimmicks are what we're going to get. That and a narrow spectrum of color. Something that didn’t fit into the main body above--it’s something that was noticed fairly late--is the limited scope of Doi’s color palettes. It was especially evident when Amon, Satan, and New Pitchfork Demon are seen side-by-side. All three “traditional” demons, all of them with approximately black/red bodies.

A better look at Pitchfork Demon
from the latest SMT5 trailer
Soren: Yeah, and seeing them all lined up together has been pretty illuminating. Doi seems to fall back on a red/green/gold scheme almost constantly in his demon design work, with plenty of brown to measure it out. We’ve seen him apply a limited palette in the past (see: New Blood), but this has a less deliberate feel to it.

Eirikr: Check out that collage of faces that led off the “Patterns” section to see these limits in action. But mentioning that new demon from the SMT5 trailer, it looks just like Satan. Red head mass, black everything else.

Soren: Right, even in the context of Doi’s limited palette, it’s a dead match. It’s a much more specific design than, say, the generic figures from this SMT4 promo piece.

Eirikr: Oh yeah, I completely forgot those existed! But for Pitchfork, its identity is still a mystery though considering how much it looks like Satan--a deliberate derivative, in fact-- it might just be a generic “Demon” to match the generic “Angel” unit, as was mentioned in the previous article. Depending on the name they give it, this could cause localization problems as a demon called Demon probably wouldn’t jive. Hopefully there is some awareness of the localization of critical terms like that in the Atlus Japan offices. But still, even if it does end up being “Demon,” Atlus USA could pull a switcheroo and dub it “Devil,” like how their “akuma” is typically rendered in roman script in the Japanese games.  

Soren: So based on what we know, and extrapolating from the general source conformity of Doi’s infernal demons discussed above, let’s hope that we’ve got another Type I on our hands here.

Eirikr: Yep, it all depends upon its actual identity but right now it seems to be a promising possibility. All this said, want to make some predictions for Shin Megami Tensei V?

Soren: Sure, now should be a good time, since I don't see any theorizing being quashed in the immediate future.

Eirikr: Indeed, shouldn't matter until late 2019 at least. So let's take a moment to write down some predictions for how many demons you think will be added (or a range), and as many of the spreadsheet categories as you feel like doing. Except maybe Origin as that isn't really conducive to guesswork.

Soren: Boy, let's see here. SMT4A introduced roughly 20 new designs, including alternate forms, right? So for their first console release in over a decade, I'll play it safe and say... ~30 new designs. Actually, writing that out somehow makes it feel generous, but I'll stick with it.

Eirikr: Yeah, SMT4 had 31 new designs, so I’m guessing 34. I was going to estimate around 30 as well, but decided to try for something exact.

Remember to keep score in 2019/20!
Soren: Then just for fun, I'll throw in an exact estimate of 32. As for categories, how about majority Type III and IV (around 40-55%) for the inevitable monsters and tokusatsu boys, some Type II (20-30%?) to cover that Amon formula that Doi will probably pursue, and the remainder for those rare knockouts a la Adramelech and Sukuna-Hikona.

Eirikr: Yeah, I think that's close to mine. I went for 6 Type I, 10 Type II, 8 each for Types III and IV, and 2 N/A. Like, no doubt, he is going to design a few Adramelechs and Sukuna-Hikonas. But based on current patterns, they will be in the minority. I’m expecting a number of aggravating near hits like Amon or Demeter.

Soren: Yeah, I think he'll always be tempted to throw in a few straight from the source, even if just to balance things out. I'm sure the actual quotient will be up to the overall creative direction. Won't dig too deep into Forms, but beyond what I mentioned above, let's say 1 mascot, a few demons, and... 3-4 pandering. God I hope I'm not low-balling that one.

Eirikr: I don't even have a guess for them, but I'm also going with a 23 male, 9 female, 2 unspecified gender ratio. I think we'll be getting a couple robots or something this time. And 20 inorganic, 14 organic.

Soren: Yeah, the gender ratio seems like a lock going forward. I'll go with 18 male, 10 female, 3 unspecified, and 1 Maverick Vote for androgynous. Hedging my bets on more beasts of indeterminate gender myself. And that's about what I'm thinking as well, 18 inorganic, 14 organic.

Eirikr: Ah, yes, some beasts. I can see maybe one or two, but I'm not going to alter my HIGHLY official entry. For those races, it really depends on how many new demons end up being random encounters rather than bosses. SMT4 had Napaea and Centaur and SMT4A had Mermaid, so I guess it's plausible to expect around that, two more likely. Probably front-loaded, again, with at least one intended to be an “iconic” starter demon like Centaur apparently was. Uh, yeah.

Soren: Yes, new random encounters have been complete non-entities following Nocturne, even. Maybe there'll be more if there are more new additions than we're expecting overall, but we'll see.

Eirikr: And a final question to the crystal ball. If Kaneko produced over 1,000 demons over the course of 17 years, how many do you think Doi will design in his career?

Soren: Good question--it really depends on how long it takes for Doi himself to be replaced by a lesser talent, but assuming we’ve got another decade or so ahead… maybe 150.

Atlus Art Team's Terry reacts to the
possibility of Atlus Art Team demons
Eirikr: Yeah, there are a few release types to consider: new, major titles released approximately every six years that include 30+ new demons; follow-ups to those new titles released 1-2 years later that heavily reuse assets but can include a healthy 20-some new demons for “freshness”; and super low budget games from new titles like Devil Survivor to “enhanced” re-releases of older games like Strange Journey Redux (and the original SJ certainly counts as low budget, for that matter) that can release every 2-3 years but reduce new entrants to about single digits. Over the course of 20 years and including the current 24, I’d say Doi will end up with about 200 demon designs. And that’s a generous estimate for his trajectory with the series. Part of me believes the “Atlus Art Team” is being groomed for demon design.

Soren: That might stand to reason. Doi is approximately the same age as Kaneko was when he completed his final substantive role with Strange Journey, and it’s no coincidence that the extent of the latter’s output declined as the years piled on--by that point he had worked on the series for the entirety of his adult life, as is nearly the case with Doi at the moment. An exhausting proposition no matter how you slice it. If the likes of “Atlus Art Team” represent younger blood that can be entrusted with a steady production of art assets into the future, regardless of quality, then we might expect to see more of them in the years to come. Enough of that sobering train of thought, though!

Eirikr: Yeah, really. And I lied, I have one more demon-related prediction. There’s a conspicuous tradition in the series, that being Judeo-Christian (+Zoroastrian) final bosses, that should help narrow down the identity of at least one of them. SMT1 had Michael (on Neutral and Chaos at least; Asura-oh, the other possible final boss, has now been retconned to be an “evil” version of Zoroastrian supreme god Ahura Mazda, turning Asura into a monotheist proxy), SMT2 YHVH, NINE Yaldabaoth, Nocturne Kagutsuchi (who represents an avatar of YHVH), Maniacs Lucifer, SJ the Jewish mysticism-inspired Mem Aleph (and Redux had _________), SMT4 Lucifer and Merkabah, and SMT4A YHVH again. The one exception being if…, itself an outlier of the series’ usual content and structure. The question then becomes, “which supreme Ancient Near East character are we going to kill this time?”

Soren: Those examples narrow it down to an extent. Judging from the most recent targets this team has busted out, we can probably count on another esoteric concept. The trailer may have even dropped some hints with it’s flashing text of “Daath” and the nonsensical “Shekinah Glory”.

Eirikr: Ah yes, Shekinah Glory. Which, according to Yamai, means “miracle of God,” even though it, you know, doesn’t.

Soren: Kazuyuki Yamai, scholar of the Hebrew language.

Don't worry, it's platonic
Eirikr: You can tell he’s read a book or two. But on what it’s hard to tell. But as far as major emanations of monotheist or even dualistic religions and their deities, YHVH and Yaldabaoth have been getting all the attention lately, so they’re unlikely to double (or triple) dip. “Shekinah Glory” indeed means nothing because of Redux, though it probably ties into what this game’s literal interpretation of “Megami Tensei” will be. Probably your girlfriend or something inhabiting your girlfriend. Or, sorry, your “close female friend from high school.” Gotta make sure she’s still “available” for the player. Like damn, in the trailer Petal Suit Boy is shown rudely walking ahead of her and the two don’t even touch other than when she slaps him.

Soren: Don’t worry, just 40-50 hours of uninterrupted playful tussling. But yeah, I think now is exactly the time that they’d implant the heroine with some sort of supernatural significance in that regard, which would be potentially more interesting than having her like a manga.

Eirikr: I might eat crow on this one but I feel that could only be an improvement. Back to final bosses though, I’ve got two ideas. First is Ein Sof, the Kabbalistic conception of God as an absolute, infinity who exists outside of the universe and is the emanator of the Tree of Life. It’s not just the hint of “Daath,” the hidden node on the Tree of Life that spiritually encompasses all the others and thus in a sense reflecting Ein Sof, but also that Ein Sof as a concept has yet to appear in SMT and is a term you see pop up in Japanese RPGs and media from time to time; it’s a known quantity in certain circles Atlus would be privy to. The other is Zurvan, the mother-father figure of heretical Zoroastrianism and parent of Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu. I’ve predicted Zurvan to appear in other games if only because I think such a low-hanging dualistic fruit will be irresistible to a story with SMT’s alignment structure; Zurvan did actually appear in a Shin Megami Tensei if… mobile game (in the process folding if… into the mono/dualistic schema!), though I don’t think that would be an obstacle to a contemporary appearance in a normal game. But, barring a curveball like Kagutsuchi, I think something like Ein Sof is more likely.

Soren: It’s incredible that SMT has only ever dipped its toes in the Zoroastrian pool, and unfortunately I doubt the folks in charge at the moment will be the ones to change that. Ein Sof is as solid a guess as any, and while I don’t have one of my own, I encourage the audience at home to start a betting pool among friends and family to see which name from this Wikipedia page squeaks its way in this time.

Eirikr: (laughs) Yeah, that page should serve nicely as a proto-FAQ for SMT5. But as far as possible repeats from recent games go, I can see the reintroduction of “proper” Louis Cyphre Lucifer as a heralded “return to form.” Louis will appear in a late Famitsu spread three weeks prior to the game’s release. “Hey! It’s this guy! He’s BACK! And he no longer looks like Squidward from that one episode of Spongebob!” they will definitely say.

Soren: I’m sure he’ll be there in some form, foaming at the mouth about morning stars or something. If they’re really on a Nocturne kick then perhaps they’ll just transplant the True Demon Ending in its entirety, prompting YouTube comment sections the world over to collapse into themselves like neutron stars.

Eirikr: And speaking of Nocturne, the trailers make it very clear that it's their inspiration. Even the guitar riffs in the last one are similar.

Yikes, not platonic! Thanks to @smtnetwork
Soren: Certainly checks out for the team that has been billing itself as MANIACS since day one. But my gut reaction is that they'll limit themselves to superficialities: desert landscape, red petals that are functionally identical to Magatsuhi, maybe even another protagonist selected by a demon sponsor if they haven't had their fill after SMT4A.

Eirikr: Yes, my advice is not to be fooled by outward appearances. The Maniacs Team pedigree is not a great one and even if it emulates the look and feel of Nocturne, it won't have its substance or artistic integrity, no matter how hard some members of the community “intelligentsia” may grasp at straws over alleged influences from long dead philosophers or the omnipresence of certain cosmocrators.

Soren: Yeah, barring a cataclysmic shift in market tastes, Atlus will never produce another game in the same contemplative, atmospheric mold or with a similar economy of narrative as Nocturne. Instead I would guess the tone lands somewhere in between SMT4 and SMT4A, with evidence so far in the apparent age of the protagonist, i.e somewhere in between the college and high school freshmen of the former.

Eirikr: Think about what Identity Crisis was about and keep the content of this article in mind. There's not going to be any course correction, because it won't be perceived as needed. It'll be a Nocturne-flavored SMT4/A. What if... Chiaki had “feelings” for you? Those are the kinds of questions it's going to ask.

Soren: Hashino's comments on the direction Atlus has taken since the PS2 era are instructive in this sense. In other words, expect SMT5 to contain an abundance of exposition delivered by an eclectic array of chattering shonen tropes, and ZERO nostrils, motherfucker.

Eirikr: Damn, that's right. It will be nostril Armageddon up in here. And we already talked above about Atlus Japan not giving a shit about catering to overseas but wasn't there a comment of Hashino's where he said he didn't pay attention to any reactions or comments other than Japan's as well? ...Yes, he said of the Persona series, “living in Japan, I can’t get direct feedback, so it’s hard for me to fully understand the overseas popularity.” This struck me as a bit naive considering there are notable Japanese developers like Yoko Taro and Hideki Kamiya regularly interacting with (or blocking) non-Japanese fans on Twitter. There’s literally never been an easier time in human history to get direct feedback on your work from fans across the globe. But sure, keep living in that cloistered cloud like, uh, the Demiurge, Hashinostrils.

Kaneko's "Chronicle" art
Soren: Hashino is the crown prince of embarrassing pull-quotes, if nothing else. But yeah, those cavalier musings on the absolute taint known as the old Atlus house-style are indicative of the directional shift that solidified at the end of the last decade. The perfect environment for Kaneko to shed his prime creative and artistic role at the company, as it were. On the other hand, maybe he got out while the getting was good.

Eirikr: Yeah, he took his bow at the right time. It’s hard to imagine Kaneko characters speaking the quality of dialogue in the recent entries, particularly SMT4A’s. About the best parallel is the endgame of Digital Devil Saga 2, where it gets a bit heavy-handed, or Raidou 2, with its sheer quantity and repetition. Then you look at games like Devil Survivor and the lack of Kaneko human character designs is probably part of a deliberate initiative of conformity to “anime” mainstream.

Soren: It’s hard to argue that his exclusion doesn’t feel orchestrated at a tonal level. And come to think of it, the shift in Kaneko’s style starting from King Abaddon presaged his departure at the artistic level. And it wasn’t the more natural flesh tones or fuller facial features that did it, no sir. It was those foul, rotund nostrils that started stinking up the place. Just look at this cover for the “Chronicle” release of Nocturne, my god. I take it Hashino had to be hospitalized at some point in the process.

Eirikr: And look at all those petals the Demi-fiend is bleeding!

Soren: You can practically smell those bad boys from here!

3. Moving On from Shin Megami Tensei

Eirikr: Honestly though, all this red and black is making me sad. No, not because of Doi’s Satan but rather his strange palette bedfellow, Rune Odin.

Soren: The cream of the crop, the Grand Poobah of Odin designs this side of the Atlantic and back. And a design destined for melancholy associations, of course.

"Behold the Ultraman"
Eirikr: And if no one else will say it, I will: Rune Odin is one erudite and fucking awesome old man. In comparison, its certain forever replacement in Ultra Odin feels akin to the “restoration” of the Borja Ecce Homo. Still, years of pining for that design to reappear in some capacity made writing this article a particularly cathartic exercise. And in many ways it feels like a breakup with Shin Megami Tensei.

Soren: You’re looking at a real last hurrah here. I can’t imagine SMT5 will contain anything worthy of this level of examination, or at least there won’t be the same drive to make it. But while our relationship with the series has cooled to a chill, it isn’t necessarily an ugly scene, and it certainly isn’t the end.

Eirikr: Absolutely. The fiery passion may have long died out but it was a long enough affair that it’ll be impossible to break off contact completely. I see us remaining decent friends. I, uh, am talking about Shin Megami Tensei, by the way.

Soren: Yeah, we’ll probably always stay in touch with the series. But one thing that makes Odin so fascinating as a deity, and why his Rune incarnation is so successful, is the extent to which his character is oriented around wisdom.

Eirikr: The acquisition and/or exaltation of wisdom is a pervasive motif throughout world mythology. To many cultures there is no higher ideal and is often personified by or attributed to the most supreme (or popular) deities. Take Athena, whose associated animal, the owl, also became a wisdom symbol. Sadly, our favorite owl, Stolas, has yet to earn that designation. He needs to branch out from his herbs, stones, and astronomy. But his mythic commander, King Solomon, is yet another wisdom figure.

Soren: It’s hard to understate the importance of wisdom as a dominant theme across cultures. Looking eastward, we find plenty of singular figures such as Kuebiko who personify wisdom through form and function, as well as entire orders of deities like the Wisdom Kings of esoteric Buddhism; the lack of a prescribed pattern allows for a stationary scarecrow and a crew of fierce guardian deities to embody the concept with equal potency.

Eirikr: Universal themes of age, experience, and growth. Perhaps no wisdom image better personifies the latter better than Gnosticism’s Sophia, as she rebounds from her moment of cosmic hubris. As with nearly all mythical figures, they have a boundless, everlasting quality. You might even call it “eternal.”

Soren: You sure might! Which leads us into our final point for today, and a prelude for another, yet more sizable undertaking.

Eirikr: Yeah, I guess it’s time to cut to the chase. I can’t even remember when I first started mentioning it on Tumblr but here and there I talked about a certain secret project that went by the provisional title of “Pleroma.” But with our dissatisfaction with Shonen Mythological Title at an all-time high, now’s the ideal time to remove the veil and, on this July 4th, to declare our independence from poor mythological and religious writing. That’s why I am proud and excited to present, especially to those who have been loyal followers over the years, this project’s real form: Wisdom Eternal.
Soren: Yes, Wisdom Eternal. So glad we can dispense with the ambiguity.

Eirikr: For real. Wisdom Eternal’s name has already been more or less explained, but what exactly will it be? As both a “brand” and website, its primary purpose and focus will be to explore mythology and religion, particularly through the human perspective (i.e., more about how myths and rituals are or aren’t relevant to us in modern day than discussing which god could beat up whom). Really, that should come as no surprise. But that’s only its basic mission.

Soren: Right. There are three intended branches of Wisdom Eternal as we’ve discussed.

Eirikr: Yep. First, and what’s essentially the namesake of the whole thing and its identity as a “brand” (in quotes because, hey, nothing really exists yet except in my mind and notebooks) is the narrative aspect, planned to be written as a novel (and NOT a game). This is a story I’ve been developing and refining for years (the original idea dates to 2012) and is tentatively subtitled Wisdom Eternal: 1973 or WE1973, as that’s the year it takes place. I’ve never written anything like this before, so expect it to be a ways off yet. But I feel a narrative adaptation of Wisdom Eternal’s basic concepts and definitions of myth and religion will make for the best starting point; really, it could be adapted into any format.

Soren: And we’ll be discussing these concepts and more topics related to WE1973 on the site and around social media in the future.

Eirikr: No doubt about it. The second major feature of Wisdom Eternal will be Roasting in Hell, where a human damned to the Fiery Pit and their demon colleagues, moderated by none other than Amon, will take pop culture’s often poor utilization of myth, religion, occult, etc. to task, hopefully with entertaining results. This infernal crew will have plenty to roast as Shin Megami Tensei is far from the only series to misrepresent things. I don’t think we know what format Roasting in Hell is going to take yet, but it was created as a reaction to to super long critiques like the one you just read; frankly, they require a ton of work and totally drain you.

The projected cast of Roasting in Hell, sans human

Soren: Pointed, succinct adventures in criticism with the infamous demon pals we know and love (with special guest stars!) should be a lot more fun to create and experience.

Eirikr: Damn straight. And the third branch of Wisdom Eternal will be community-based, at least that’s the hope. This will include the much-requested myth/religion book recommendation list and could possibly include some kind of monthly lesson format framed around a selected book. Something instructive (and enjoyable, of course) will be central to Wisdom Eternal’s own identity; just look at this article for myriad examples of what happens when you try to utilize myths without proper sources or comprehension.

Soren: Don't expect it to include any sightings of loli Demeters and arm-bladed Zeuses, in other words.

Eirikr: If it ever does, you’ll know we’ve sold out. But all that said, also expect the rollout on Wisdom Eternal’s site content to be a little slow at first. As implied above, this whole Odin thing has dominated most of my free time for the past few months and I think I need a short break from writing and monitors for the sake of my health. But the time was right for a “soft launch.”

Soren: And things will get rolling before too long, for certain. But that about rounds it out for the Wisdom Eternal slate as it currently stands, though.

Eirikr: The best thing Wisdom Eternal can offer is its potential. Of course, I have laser-focused ideas and goals in mind, but those should only be the beginning. And note that things won’t change drastically on our blogs. Sure, still ask me about SMT stuff. But Kaneko’s Crib Notes is likely to go into semi-permanent hibernation and this Blogger is likely never to be updated again (thank god, what a pain). Wisdom Eternal, as both concept and website, is the way forward. If you're interested, please check it out

Soren: The thought of never having to fiddle with Blogger’s uniquely delicate constitution again is almost as liberating as anything. But yes, the big shift is set at this point, and if you’ve followed us up till now we hope you’ll stay on board for what’s to come.

Eirikr: It feels good to be optimistic about myth’s place in pop culture again. We hope Wisdom Eternal will (eventually) make you feel the same way! 

Special thanks to:

  • Dijeh, for the bevy of translations and the idea of Odin not fitting observation
  • B-reis, for the stuff about Yamai and toku and some image help
  • Luntakesalla, for the image edits
  • Tom James, for translations 
  • and YOU, for your patience and patronage

Sources cited for "Who is Odin?":

Other sources cited:

[1] "The Other Face of the Demon Artist, Kazuma Kaneko." Kazuma Kaneko Graphics: Digital Devil Apocalypse. Translated by Dijeh
[2] Shin Megami Tensei IV Final/Apocalypse Official World Setting Collection + Journey Towards the World of Mythology. Translated by Dijeh
[3] Dengeki Nintendo, July 2013. Interview, Kazuyuki Yamai. Translated by Dijeh
[5] Interview, Hirohiko Araki and Kazuma Kaneko. Translated by Dijeh
[8] Famitsu 2/25/16, #1419. Translated by Nintendo Everything
[12] Apollodorus, The Library, Book 1. Translated by James George Frazer. Accessed at
[15] Shin Megami Tensei LAW & CHAOS DISC liner notes, commentary by Kazuma Kaneko. Translated by Tom James.


  1. this is a nice article!

    .....but I just want to say, for me. It's alright to use pop culture reference (be it tokusatsu or other shit) for demon designing. But I don't think tokusatsu would be great to represent the image of "old european sky father archetype". (That's where Doi fails, lol). But it'll probably work for Japanese folk hero of some sort...

    For me, I think Kaneko designed demons with some key words in his mind. If I remember correctly, Kaneko talks about Morax and said "I couldn't remove the bull head element blablabla"

    You can't remove the bull head, but you have the freedom to make him dressed up in space suit etc.

    I guess that's where Doi's Demeter (kinda) fails too. "Since Demeter is a "mother goddess", you can't just remove the "Mother" part, or that wouldn't be Demeter anymore--"

    ...I just think that instead of ripping design outta original, newer Kaneko demon seems to take a new spin on it without removing the key words. (Moloch, a deity depicted as furnace with bull head. Original design from devil summoner just rip outta his usual depiction, IMAGINE's design have Moloch's furnace upgraded + double body)

    ....sorry for rambling too much. Since I also love to design characters and I posted pictures of yokai and gods in talking time forum, I guess I'll ended up getting fired when someone starts commenting on character/demon design :(

    1. Yes, there's absolutely a way to mash Ultraman and Odin together and have it be appropriate (maybe with the Father of Ultraman as seen with the kid Ultra in the commentary). Keywords are part of it, but even keywords should just be thought of as "crucial aspects of definition," like with Demeter as you say.

      But don't worry about rambling too much, this whole article is rambling too much. :p

  2. When a children's card game depicts Odin better than SMT...

  3. Great discourse!
    It made me think deeply about the matter and I think I found a solution for all our collective problems.
    Specifically about Dagda, Danu, Inanna, ie the 'main demons' of 4Final. If in that game Dagda is portrayed much differently than what's known of him - 'perception' - then I would like to posit the theory, or rather, that we all enter the line of thought that that Dagda is not the 'real' Dagda, that that Dagda is like a renegade demon that somehow got free of the shackles of 'perception' and that's why in that game he acts so opposite of 'normal'.

    Obviously, those demons were 'changed', 'modified' from their original roles to fit 4Final's demon personality roles that were required by the game scenario. So, with that in mind, it is quite easy to remedy this situation, by simply putting Dagda and the others on a future SMT entry, only now in his 'usual' appearance (the fat guy with a club) and with his 'usual' behaviour in demon conversations, side quests and the like... I think that's a perfect
    solution and honestly the only one moving forward because, you see, SMT plots don't centre around demons anymore, that's the conclusion I came to after analysing each entry progressivley with time, the biggest clue being 4Final's modification of the demons' roles to fit its scenario and even more jarring, to fit the protagonists' motifs, counterbalance, etc...

    In summary, I have no doubt in my mind demon lore will continue to be disfavoured when put against 'cool' design choices and to fit the scenario/party balance, I believe that to be SMT's future, but I also believe people would be more accepting of this 'butchering' if with every new game they updated the previous entry's misdoings, hell, they could even add a touch of comedy to it, imagine meeting 'future' Dagda and he's all like: "A few years back
    there was this downtrodden guy calling himself Dagda, but he was nothing like me, don't you think so, MC? All this talk's making me hungry, hahahaha!" Or something like that (I'm terrible with demon conversations). Anyway, those are my thoughts.
    Great work on this to all involved, I was thoroughly enthralled throughout the 2 hours it took me to read it!

    1. It's funny you should bring up Yugioh Odin, as an idea left on the cutting room floor was a gallery of Odin designs from other properties.

      As unlikely as I think your idea is to come to be, it's certainly an appealing one. Actually fessing up to mistakes... well, they sort of did that in SMT4A with that nationalism quest, turning the National Defense Divinities into the monsters of a racist Dr. Frankenstein. I just think too many people actually like the new "modified" demons too much, plus they are already established.

      Super happy that you liked it! And two hours... now that's entertainment! :p

  4. This was a very interesting article, and extremely well-written too! It really nailed down the on-going problems with Megaten demon designs (which sadly is just one of the franchise's current problems).

    This entire discussion about tokusatsu influences in demon design made me realize something. Couldn't the P1 designs for Gozu-Tennō and Susanō also be based on the Dada like Asherah? I must admit that my knowledge of tokusatsu is extremely small (and before reading this article I knew nothing about Ultraman other than "it's the name of a toku franchise"), but Gozu/Susanō's designs both have the "black lines on a white body" motif going on.

    Assuming that the Dada reference on Asherah's design are because of her status as "queen of *heaven*" and the Dada being aliens, it would make sense for Gozu to be the same since Tennō means "heavenly king" and for the design to overlap with Susanō since Gozu became associated with many different Shinto gods, one of which is Susanō.

    1. Brain fart: Susanō's P1 design has white lines on a black body. My point still stands because it's the same motif, just with the colors inverted.

    2. Thanks for liking and commenting! :)

      You know, it's entirely possible Dada is a reference there. Ultraman is not just extremely popular in Japan, it's omnipresent. While I was still over there I bought a bottle of tea that had a little Ultraman keychain toy attached to it--of course, it was none other than Dada (before I even knew what a Dada was). But since Dada is named after the art movement and inspired by it, I have yet to find a black and white pattern artwork that matches his body pattern.

      And this a different topic unrelated to your comment but as an aside to the above topic of certain designs mandated by producers, particularly attractive female characters, I was watching the NHK show Imagine-Nation last night, an episode about the manga "The Box of 5 Centuries" by Ikumi Miyao: (this video will eventually die, thanks NHK)

      At 15:08 in the video, the narration pivots to explain why Miyao had difficulty breaking into the industry, which I'll transcribe:

      "While Miyao has exceptional talent in coming up with innovative themes, there was a major reason behind her late debut: she wasn't very good at drawing cute female characters.

      Miyao: From time to time, I was told that my female characters lacked charm. Since the reader base of the magazine is predominantly male, I thought about what an attractive female character would be like from their perspective.

      Miyao then drew the heroine girl in numerous different styles and asked people which was most appealing. That's how Mana, the manga's heroine, was born.

      Miyao: She has slightly drooping eyes, a soft, easy-going look, and braided hair. From my research, I found that girls who take great care of their hair tend to be more appealing to men, so I included this in my character."

      God, typing this up made me so sad. But it's a great example of how media conforms to demographics for money.

  5. >Now since observation didn't technically exist in Shin Megami Tensei IV proper, it is hard to fault Aki and Yamato Takeru for not adhering to its perplexing laws before the fact.

    I think you are glossing over that observation is just slapping a name on something that the idea of has been in the series for a long time. By at least smtii we get both yhvh and lucifer tell you that past their death their recreation will happen if human thoughts will it. Since multiple demons tell you it it already sounds like a facet of the world itself, rather than unique to only yhvh. By devil survivor we get mention of how demon power in the world is essentially like voting, and human thoughts are what upholds them. By SJ we get mention of how even the form of demons are shaped by humans, and in an interview they spell it out more clearly. And in IV the white mention how yhvh was a god created for the humans' convenience, doubled down by gabriel saying that the expanse is created by the thoughts of man and lucifer saying that the demons are. So this has been an idea that has been around for a long time in various forms. Since even SMTI is based heavily on jung and the idea of archetypes its not inconceivable that it was around even earlier.

    >the entire YHVH's Universe segment is so sudden and empty that it feels like it was appended late in the game's development, much like the related concept of observation.

    Which is why I think this is backwards. Observation doesn't feel tacked on late in the game. Rather, what in earlier games was more vague ans subtle was made more clear because heavy elements of the plot rely on it. Dagda feels trapped in his body, because he seeks to return to nature. However, observation keeps him in existence. So in a weird contrived plot point, since collective human thoughts uphold gods, he wants to make humans into ubermenschen whose thoughts and ideas are individual and function as their own god, so that collective thoughts don't hold up gods as much. Thus, with nothing holding him in existence he can return to nature. This entire plot arc is based on taking observation super literally, which required it being spelled out in-game. Likewise, the divine powers needing flynn is also based on the idea.

    For this reason, while dagda poorly matches his lore, in his case I think that was more intentional. Most of the gods in iva at least try to match their lore, to varying degrees of success, or token dialogue. But dagda's entire ideology is based around being free from outside influence. He as an individual didn't want to be the dagda of lore, and that was something observation was forcing on him. So his rejection of his lore was in essence a rejection of fate. He disparages the fairies who are depicted as heavily composed of remnants of tuatha de because he doesn't want to be affiliated with them, seeing it a a role he doesn't choose, but was born into. Which is why when he dies the "new dagda" suddenly talks about being their high king. The new one is more compliant with the role. Mind you, the new one still looks nothing like dagda, but that's probably out of laziness / or a desire to make them look the same so as not to be confusing.

    To a demon observation would be like the equivalent of outside influence. Since a big theme of the endings in iva is the distinction between working together and working alone, his element in the path dedicated to working alone is wanting a goal that seems to necessitate being free from influence. There are various ways that that is questionable, but put together with his overall goal of fostering a world of individualism it is consistent with his character. Although it does strangely seem to be making the point that the only way to be totally free from influence is to be dead.

    1. >Satan's torso is downright bizarre. Consisting of seemingly random veiny and other subdivided segments, it certainly counts as convoluted if that was the type of “cool” Doi was aiming for here.

      I thought that that was a potential reference to how bizarre and bad some of the anatomy in the great red dragon paintings was.

      >But unlike SMT2's Baphomet, Strange Journey Redux's Amon is definitely intended to be the demon of Christian occult tradition, based on official descriptions.

      SMT2s baphomet was meant to be the figure of tradition too. Its part of a theme in SMTII. Since the messians in the game affiliated with the church are "corrupt," this was depicted by linking it to times abrahamic religion itself was seen as corrupt by its own internal logic. Shortly after you fight baphomet you fight belphegor, with zayin commenting on the fact that a chaos demon is working with the church. This is a reference to the old testament stories of the jews being led astray and following baal peor. Baphomet in II also seems to be working with the church, since he is guarding the sealed kunitsukami that the church sealed there. As such, this is a reference to the accusations that the templars, (who the messians in game seem to be somewhat based on) were worshiping some foreign god called baphomet. Its part of a consistent theme present in II. Notably of course, the design later associated with baphomet didn't exist at the time of the accusation against the knights templar, so if that is the association then the lack of using it isn't a violation of anything.

    2. Also, the other thing I was going to say is that observation in iva closely parallels the explicit delineating of an idea called cognition in persona 5. That is also a plot device there. I didn't play the early persona games, but they may also have aspects of this, since they tie the overall world of the games to the world of mind, and the early games had demons as enemies instead of more often shadows from what I understand.

    3. Bunker, thanks for replying! I appreciate the depths of your insights but I can't say I really agree with them nor do I understand the point you're trying to make with most of them re: an article about design work. But if you're saying we should judge Yamato Takeru by the rules of observation anyway... I mean, I'm game! :)

      But come on, "bizarre and bad" anatomy on Blake's Great Red Dragon series? You are talking about Blake's, right? Nothing out of the ordinary there for idealized nudes of the period and certainly nothing that resembles Doi's lukewarm plate of spaghetti al nero di seppia. Similar with SMT2 Baphomet, you fight him way, way earlier than you imply and in a completely different context--he's definitely an outlier that fits better in the game's existing pop culture strain than a conspiracy theory. Conjecture can be fun, but I prefer it to be backed up with dev quotes or proper context.


  6. I'm not going to comment on the larger message of the article, since I'm sure there are people more personally invested in the subject who will do a much better job than I could. Instead, I'd like to point out one fairly minute and inconsequential detail that bugs me for some reason. The article criticises the Odin design for putting just a single raven near Odin instead of two. But I personally saw it as a really clever little detail. The raven bizarrely has four eyes, which is seemingly inexplicable, has no basis in mythology and would, at the first glance, appear to be an attempt by the artist to make a boring basic bird design more interesting. But I don't think it's that simple. What could have happened was that the artist was originally planning to put both birds into the design, but saw that it wasn't a good idea: it would ruin the focus with superfluous detail, put too many characters into one art, or otherwise fail to work. So instead, he opted to combine two birds into one and give it two pairs of eyes to hint that it's really an amalgamation of two ravens. It could even be justified conceptually: as eyes as the mirror of the soul, two pairs of eyes symbolise two souls; and eyes are already significant as a symbol of knowledge in the Nordic myth, where Odin traded one for wisdom. While I don't think the artist was thinking that deeply, I do believe that four eyes were meant to symbolise a fusion of two ravens.

    1. First and most importantly, thanks for reading!

      I'd seen similar comments about the eyes before I published, but I personally don't think it was intended by Doi. Considering the focus of the design is "alien superhero", it was probably just an attempt to make an otherwise terrestrial bird seem extraterrestrial.

      And think of it this way--if Huginn and Muninn represent "thought" and "memory," two processes of the mind, it's probably more appropriate to double up on heads than eyes. Doi likes to add superfluous details to designs sometimes; some don't quite mesh, like Demeter's pumpkin, others are mostly innocuous, like the raven eyes. Also, this is the same design where he thought enough to write "Gungnir" in runes on the spear blade, but didn't think to draft another filling pattern for it that didn't look like an "X" rune and thus extra G's.

  7. >Sexual pandering.
    I mean I started playing SMT because of Tiamat's huge tits and many vaginas. If anything Doi is trying to keep the old fans happy! /s
    I loved Cleo's design fight me.

  8. You missed Shekinah. Since you also commented on YHVH so...

    1. We mentioned we didn't want to talk about her due to spoilers; Redux didn't come out long before we published this. The verdict is that... she's okay? It's designed around the 3WM, which is proprietary and hurts her messaging and chances of ever returning.

  9. Very well written article, its amazing how much work you put into this that I could never put into anything lmao.

    Good point, too, as I think modern ATLUS has a lot of problems and the desire to make demons pander to certain demographics for the sake of sales is definitely one of them. However, I don't agree with your diagnosis of the problem being the desire to make them not adhere to the source material because I think you are probably a bit too fundamentalist or maybe rose-goggled in your interpretation of the general tone of the series in the past as well as what Kaneko and the scenario writers at the time did with their depictions. I'm actually probably sadder than you that Kaneko and Okada are no longer the creative minds behind the series, but for a different reason--I'm sad to lose the particular brand of "punk" that they brought to the series, especially how they mashed together all these insane aesthetics to create stuff like the messian machines seen in 1 and 2, the gloomy feel of Digital Devil Saga, or the robo-nazis from Persona 2 (I want Kaneko to design a Wolfenstein game). In other words, I really liked the weird stuff that goes off of source material in order to fit a particular role in the story when it is done well.

    SMT 2's Satan, for example, fits squarely into your category IV, but it is such a good design that it is in your blog header. There's nothing at all about a Jewish figure of deception and judgement that talked to God in Job or Tempted Jesus in the desert that says "Xenomorph," but it works because it fits into Law's alien theme and thus represents Satan well for SMT. So I think it is actually really good that Yamai, Doi, and company are going for these themes of observation and subversion of mythological designs, its just that they aren't doing it with Kaneko's creativity, and they are making things more like Persona, which is definitely a concern that can also be seen in 4A's just basic plot structure. But liking demon designs because of adherence to source material, I think, is just wrong for SMT. There are breaks that Doi does that don't work, sure, just because they have weird roles in the story or just look wrong like Amon with his little legs, but that doesn't mean that SMT doesn't have a pround history of doing what Doi does, and it doesn't mean that Kaneko's most source-faithful designs (Ares, Oberon, Moloch) aren't often some of his dullest ones. I really want Kaneko back for V, since he still works for Atlus, but I think even he would say that SMT has always been a kitchen sink of generalization about ancient religions and often bold revisionism of their ideas: that's what alignments are, after all--huge generalizations about what figures represent that often isn't really explained in the games.

    So, I think you are sort of fundamentalists about demon design, but oh well. You are wrong about the Ein Sof not appearing in SMT, though--it is clearly the basis for the great will as mentioned in 2, Nocturne, SJ, and 4A.

    1. Great comment and thanks for reading it all! (And engaging with the subarticles, too!)

      It's definitely a shame that the Kaneko/Okada brand of punk is essentially not around anymore (or at least in a form that doesn't feel like a pale imitation), but I have to hard disagree that its attitude extends to all the best "weird" shit in SMT. Not to repeat myself from the article, but it's pretty clear that Atlus intends its demons to be the actual gods or beings from myth or else they wouldn't bother to include profiles (whether the info is 100% accurate or not) for the demons in-game, always include myth profiles in artbooks, release two barely interactive CD-ROMs with this information as a key feature, include relevant sidequests for demons and so on and so forth. They do this to set themselves apart from the competition--the likes of Final Fantasy and co. for whom source adhesion doesn't matter. In a way, retaining source designs fits the punk attitude, because no one else was (or is!) doing it. But they don't all have to be boring--since you're aware of the design subarticle classifications, I think a Type 2 (mostly the original form with some appropriate embellishments) is probably the sweet spot for SMT. Rune Odin, Persephone, ones like that.

      I mean, you're right, I love the Satan design and the Kaneko Works 2 art that's in my header is probably my favorite piece of Kaneko art ever. Why do they not make posters of this stuff? But anyway, great point at the xenomorph elements hinting at the "alien"--I'd never thought about it in tandem with the Metatron and original Ophan design, which Kaneko says he designed around UFOs, so it makes all kinds of sense. But even here Satan represents a lot more than just an alien. Kaneko designed him with a "666" element--six arms, six wings, six boobs. Satan also gave rise to Kaneko's depiction of certain Zoroastrian demons, particularly Ahriman, though inversely to real life; Ahriman copies the insectoid elements of Satan in both the if... and Nocturne versions. Satan is creative but still works as intended and even echoes a real correspondence. At the very least, that correspondence is likely something to be missed as Maniacs Team continues chugging along.

      So that's why we're design "fundamentalists." :p I feel like if you don't understand the basics of what these gods are, you'll completely miss what they mean or symbolize (enter many of the demons discussed above). By instantly subverting this symbolism, you miss out on it entirely--making the designs meaningless in the process.

      Oh, and the Great Will is probably not supposed to be Ein Sof specifically, else they'd state that outright. They aren't shy about that. Many other religions have an "unknowable" god or aspect of god, like the Monad in Gnosticism, Brahman in Hinduism, the unknowable in Hermeticism, etc. It's either a synthesis of this idea or just some cosmic aspect of the human collective unconscious.