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,|
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 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.
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)
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|
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,  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. 
|Original Ultraman and an Ultra Odin |
palette swap (Odin edit by Luntakesalla)
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?
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
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.
|CLICK/TAP HERE FOR TOKUSATSU UBIQUITY!|
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. 
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) 
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
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.
|"I come not to bring peace but a |
sword"... wait, that's the other guy
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. 
|Dreamlanders: Maitreya with Matsuko Deluxe, |
Divine, and John Waters
|At second glance, it actually seems to be|
spelling out "GGGGGIGUNGNIR"
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?|
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
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|
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|
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
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.
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
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.
|"I am thou, thou art I"|
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.  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|
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)|
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 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.
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
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. 
|Aki's Yamato Takeru|
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.'” 
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|
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)"  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
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. 
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|
|Left: the Adramelech found on Japanese Wikipedia;|
Right: the recent reproduction
|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.
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.
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|
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. 
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)|
|The epitome of stupid|
and abstruse combined
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|
[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.’ 
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. 
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 |
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.
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.
B. Odin's Mask: Persona Pressure
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: 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.
|DAGDA'S GROSS INNARDS AWAIT! (Unless you already read it last year)|
|Danu's mask and... whatever |
is happening with Inanna
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.
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|
|Chironnuppu and Vishnu-Flynn|
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. 
|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 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?|
|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
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 ), 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"  for evidence of deliberate modification.
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:
|Try to imagine "fat" Dagda saying this, then |
laugh, then laugh at the original anyway
|"Pretty Maitreya" concept|
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.”  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.”  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.”  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|
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.”  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. 
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|
- 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. 
|One Piece's shonen body types|
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|
|Like Demeter, Cleopatra might |
reconcile "sweet" and "bitter"
in her own strange fashion
|Danu and her pregnant concept|
|The GREAT PUMPKIN has risen out of the pumpkin patch!|
|Anahita: fertility or fornicatory?|
|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 1,186. How do we know this? It’s because we put Kaneko’s demon compendium to the same test as Doi’s, compiling all 1,186 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:
|WE'RE SERIOUS: COMPARATIVE DATA FOR OVER 1000 DEMONS HERE!|
- Given gender: 58.6% (695) male, 21.5% (255) female, 19.4% (230) unspecified, 0.5% (6) incorporate both male and female.
- Majority body type: 78.3% (929) 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 1,186 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% (723) 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. 
|Tlazolteotl and her|
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|
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… 
|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
|SMT2'S BAPHOMET: MISFIRE OR MISREADING OF INTENT?|
|Tlazolteotl marries the old|
and the new seamlessly
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”
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.
|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. 
- Quote 2 is Masayuki Doi, refiner of Lucifer, Merkabah, Medusa, Tenkai, etc. 
- Quote 3 is Tamotsu Shinohara, designer of Minotaur, Sanat, Chemtrail, etc. 
- Quote 4 is Kyouma Aki, designer of Yamato Takeru, Kuebiko, and Astaroth. 
- Quote 5 is Keita Amemiya, designer of the archangels, Merkabah, and Lilith. 
- Quote 6 is Yoshihiro Nishimura, the modeler behind Omoikane, Yaso-Magatsuhi, and the Plutos. 
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). 
|Bikkuriman Super Zeus|
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
...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. 
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
|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!|
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|
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")
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” ) 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
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
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.  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
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|
|Loki from Frølich's Lokasenna compared to Kaneko's Devil Summoner Loki|
|Diaper Revival Odin|
(edit by Luntakesalla)
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
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!|
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
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!|
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
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!|
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|
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.
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|
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"|
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.
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!
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:
Sources cited for "Who is Odin?":
- Miranda Bruce-Mitford. Signs & Symbols: An Illustrated Guide to Their Origins and Meanings. DK, 2008.
- Ray Dunning. "Northern Europe," Mythologies of the World: The Illustrated Guide to Mythological Beliefs and Customs. Hodder Wayland, 2001.
- Mircea Eliade; Philip Mairet, translator. Images and Symbols: Studies in Religious Symbolism. Princeton, 1991.
- Hilda Roderick Ellis Davidson. Scandinavian Mythology. Hamlyn, 1969.
- P. Grappin. "Germanic Lands: The Mortal Gods," Larousse World Mythology. Hamlyn, 1965.
- Carolyne Larrington, translator. The Poetic Edda. Oxford, 1996.
- John Lindow. Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs. Oxford, 2001.
- Ami Ronnberg, editor-in-chief. The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images. Taschen, 2010.
- Philip Wilkinson. DK Illustrated Dictionary of Mythology. DK, 1998.
Other sources cited:
 "The Other Face of the Demon Artist, Kazuma Kaneko." Kazuma Kaneko Graphics: Digital Devil Apocalypse. Translated by Dijeh.
 Shin Megami Tensei IV Final/Apocalypse Official World Setting Collection + Journey Towards the World of Mythology. Translated by Dijeh.
 Dengeki Nintendo, July 2013. Interview, Kazuyuki Yamai. Translated by Dijeh.
 Shin Megami Tensei IV: Official Artworks. Udon.
 Interview, Hirohiko Araki and Kazuma Kaneko. Translated by Dijeh.
 Famitsu 2/25/16, #1419. Translated by Nintendo Everything.
 Apollodorus, The Library, Book 1. Translated by James George Frazer. Accessed at Theoi.com.
 "Atlus Discusses Desire to Grow Within the Industry, Persona 6 Needing to Surpass Persona 5, Studio Overview." Persona Central.
 Interview, Katsura Hashino. 4Gamer.net. Translated by Tom James. (screenshot of relevant comment)
 Shin Megami Tensei LAW & CHAOS DISC liner notes, commentary by Kazuma Kaneko. Translated by Tom James.