Anime is Showing Up in Every Corner of Men's Fashion
Anime has long been nerd territory. And why wouldn't it be: towering mechas, the art of universe-saving, and unrealistically proportioned women are but three common tropes of Japanese animation.
That's not to say it's devoid of substance, of course. Films like Perfect Blue and Ghost In The Shell have earned rave reviews for their sophisticated symbolism, subtext, and plot lines that put Hollywood to shame. Still: in Britain anime has only ever really enjoyed acknowledgment from die-hard film buffs, or when the West fancies itself a remake (and the less said about that the better).
Until now. A series of menswear collaborations have shown that fashion is increasingly looking towards anime for inspiration. And not a diluted or warped runway take, but pieces emblazoned with anime heroes of the darker variety: Studio Ghibli tribute, this is not.
It makes sense, first, to understand anime's suitability as a menswear trend. In the West, cartoons are mostly for kids. But in Japan, anime is a genre just as popular with grown-ups; for every show of the Pokémon variety, there are titles like post-apocalypse drama Akira which grapple with incredibly adult themes.
It was the latter film that first collaborated with Supreme—and thus signaled a natural fit between anime and streetwear. 2017's Supreme x Akira drop featured iconic images from the cult classic on a collection of polo shirts, worker jackets, and accessories. Of course, there had been similar collabs before, but few earned the same level of hype. Such is the power of Supreme. And, while there's an argument to be made that the cult label will partner with almost any fandom on the fringes, the Akira hook-up was a genuinely handsome crossover—and one that captured the collective menswear consciousness.
Other brands followed suit, the most recent being Thai retailer CARNIVAL's partnership with Dragon Ball Z and Undercover's hiring of Akira creator—that film again—to design an exclusive Isle of Dogs T-shirt. This growing relationship with anime has been felt by the wider industry, too. Streetwear—once a niche interest of hip-hop connoisseurs and ardent collectors—has now found itself within the mainstream, bringing an untapped reservoir of references to fashion at large. Anime is sure to be one of them.
All the while, luxury has enjoyed a slow dance with anime, too. A quieter romance than that of streetwear, sure, but a long-winded one beginning way back in 2007. It was then that Prada designed clothes for Appleseed Ex Machina—a computer animated action film focused upon a counter-terrorist operative and her trusted cyborg partner, with head designer Miuccia Prada even credited as an official costume designer.
Then, it was onto Japanese video games for Prada—often considered an extension of anime thanks to a similar style and narrative. In 2012, the Italian label outfitted the cast of Final Fantasy XIII-2 for a spread in men's magazine Arena Homme+—a move designed to mark the gaming series' 25th anniversary. What's more, the same game attracted the attention of Louis Vuitton, who duly selected the game's protagonist Lightning as its frontwoman for the Series 4 campaign in 2015. Cue billboards, glossy magazine spreads, and a campaign trail that saw an 'exclusive interview' with the warrior-turned-supermodel. Uncanny valley doesn't cover it.
Both show anime's potential, but a direct tribute on the clothes themselves didn't really occur until SS18. Again, it was Prada to take the plunge, hiring Taiwanese-American artist James Jean to provide comic prints and illustrations to bomber jackets, boiler suits, and bags. After marketing gestures and movie tie-ins, anime proper had finally made it to the runway.
Which means a high street iteration was always inevitable. Uniqlo—a brand founded in Japan itself—only just released a line of Naruto and Dragon Ball Z T-shirts in the US, with each design more of the retro comic strip variety as opposed to computer-aided, technicolor wizardry. It won't take long for others to play catch-up.
Anime references aren't always as obvious as a character on a T-shirt, though. The sneaker world—an industry crammed full of Japanese influence—has grown accustomed to futuristic sneaks that wouldn't be out of place in the technicolor, cartoonish worlds of Akira, or that of Cowboy Bebop: a show focused on a spaceship flying bounty hunter. You wouldn't have a hard time imagining the Adidas x White Mountaineering collab on the feet of a grizzled, impossibly acrobatic anime hero.
The genre-as-menswear-influence is also a way for western brands and consumers to explore eastern culture without the risk of any clunky cultural appropriation. Akira and the rest are works of fiction. Of course, the Japanese influence is obvious. But they're a world apart from Tokyo.
All of which has produced anime-inspired fashion that actually looks good. We just need more of it. As design teams scramble for new ideas for ever-swelling collections, the genre may well be the sleeping giant of menswear trends. Of course, anime will always truly belong to nerds of the traditional kind. But it may well be an obsession-in-waiting for those of menswear, too.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.co.uk. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.