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The Fashions and Art of ‘Persona 3′ Designer Shigenori Soejima [Exclusive Preview]

I grew up on cape comics, where fashion is largely a simple and backwards affair. That’s not a problem, exactly, so much as a result of the focus of superhero comics. Characters wear things like loose t-shirts, ambiguously baggy jeans, and no-name shoes at home, and fantastic costumes when they’re out and about. There’s a distinct lack of modern — or even acceptable – fashion in a lot of the books I grew up reading, so now I can’t get enough of great — or at least wearable — fashion in my entertainment.

On sale later this month from UDON Entertainment, Persona 3: Official Design Works is a collection of design material for the video game Persona 3 by Shigenori Soejima. Soejima definitely knows his way around fashion. After the jump, we’ve got an exclusive preview and some quick thoughts on exactly why his work is so nice.My favorite part of Shigenori Soejima’s art is how he approaches fashion. I never get the feeling that he’s just given someone cool clothes just because they look cool. There’s always a connection to the character’s personality or motivations. Soejima understands that in fiction as in life, everything counts. Our clothes are the first salvo in terms of how we want to be perceived. They communicate a specific point. Someone who wears baggy comic book t-shirts and cargo shorts is sending a different message than someone in skinny jeans and a halter top, just as someone who keeps a cell phone in one of those dumb-looking hip holsters is sending a different message than someone who keeps a pocketknife in the same position. Fashion, when viewed in this light, is as much a language as anything else.

Soejima’s characters are extremely well designed. One of my favorite characters in the game is Akihiko Sanada, an upperclassman and member of your party. Here’s a page from Persona 3: Official Design Works that features his costume models:

I like how the dominant colors for him are red, white, and black. He’s not a particularly flashy character. In fact, he’s fairly reserved and definitely focused on the mission. The lack of flair makes sense for him as a character, but a lack of flair doesn’t mean that he can’t look good. His personal style is very handsome, and even a bit distant. There’s something about him that suggests that he doesn’t want you to pay too much attention to him.

The only two flash aspects of Akihiko’s design are his gloves and bandage. They put the lie to his casually preppy look. Akihiko is a fighter, a boxer to be specific, and he regularly puts his talents toward the goal of defeating demons. The bandage and almost ever-present gloves hint at that aspect of his character, on top of making perfect sense in terms of character development. It just makes sense that he’d want to protect his hands, since they are the tools of his trade.

Fuuka Yamagishi, seen below, is a nice counterpoint to Akihiko. Akihiko is focused on the job and a little distant, but Fuuka is something else entirely. She’s extremely shy and more than a little lacking in self-esteem. She hates confrontation, as a result of her controlling parents, and prefers to keep to herself rather than experience the full spectrum of pleasure and pain found in the world.

Fuuka is stylish despite being so subdued. Black and green, in that order, dominate her palette. But there’s definitely a flashy subtext to her sense of style, too. The green is distinctive and stands out on a team that’s largely composed of blues, blacks, reds, and pinks. I think it’s fascinating that her greens peek out from behind her school uniforms, and that’s definitely related to the fact that she slowly comes out of her shell over the course of Persona 3.

I love that her yukata and kimono both include detailed flower patterns, too. Her face is wonderfully expressive, too, despite her demure default expression. The combination of the two makes it seem like there’s this vast reservoir of playful happiness lurking just beneath her surface, and this is her only time to show you.

Soejima’s skill at design lets you make instant judgments about the characters. You can look at Yuko Nishiwaki’s outfits and instantly understand that she’s sporty, as opposed to being a “girly-girl.” Bebe’s severe expression, dark clothes, and fan suggest snobbery. The hero and his female counterpart are neutral, as far as design goes. He wears a basic school uniform, with the only personal detail being the presence of an mp3 player. It’s easy to imprint on him as you play, because he’s just enough of a blank slate.

Soejima isn’t just good at this one thing, but it’s by far my favorite aspect of his work. Persona 3: Official Design Works is a 144-page volume of a lot of his work, including commentary on his own designs, and great to flip through for inspiration. It arrives in better comic shops on 06/20, and hits bookstores, including online retailers like Amazon, on 06/26. As far as art books go, it strikes a nice balance between showing off great art and explaining exactly why the art works so well.

Below, check out our exclusive preview of the book. The images have been resized, but click for larger versions and to read the text.

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