Sunday, April 25, 2010

Shoujo Fashion

Whoa! Our first Spotlight in four years! I never thought I'd see the day when we'd revive old features like this, but I think there are still a lot of things worth noting in the world of Japanese animation and manga. One of them is shoujo fashion.

Ever since I've read Paradise Kiss and Nana, I kept thinking about shoujo fashion.  I have never read manga or seen anime with such glorious fashion aesthetics as displayed in these two titles, so one can imagine how amazed I was at seeing so many delightful assortment of clothes on characters with just as colorful personalities.  And I'm not talking about stuff for cosplay here; I'm talking about stuff real people can wear on a daily basis.  A bit of reading on author Ai Yazawa's biography revealed that she studied in fashion school but ended up dropping out.  That seems like a good move, though, because she became very successful as a mangaka.

In Nana, I noticed Yazawa's versatility when it comes to fashion design. Protagonist Nana Osaki is a punk singer with a very tough persona and this shone through in her Vivienne Westwood inspired getup. The other protagonist, Nana Komatsu, exudes an air of cheerful naïveté that often gets her heart broken. Komastu's style is exactly the opposite of Osaki's -- her evolution from preppy to mature is always delineated by classic, timeless pieces. I didn't think it was possible to love two contrasting wardrobes seen on manga characters but that's exactly what I feel when I look at these two Nanas! I would raid both their closets if I could! (I actually spent about $170 on a pair of Vivienne Westwood Melissa shoes, thanks to this manga series.)

Now here's the thing: Ai Yazawa is a rarity.  I thought long and hard about all the anime and manga titles I've gone through and I couldn't identify another one that had Yazawa's fashion sensibilities.  It seems like every other shoujo heroine would either be dressed like a miserable spinster (those fashion-forward single ladies out there could hardly be called "miserable spinsters") or be buried under piles and piles of laces and flowers that make them look like walking wedding cakes.  The only time I actually like looking at a teenaged anime character is when she's wearing her school uniform.

One day, I decided to ask my sister Thundersenshi, who is currently shifting careers from being a multimedia artist to a stylist.  "Can you name one other mangaka who doesn't deck her characters like a Christmas tree? You know, who's not exactly like Ai Yazawa, but comes pretty close?"

She named Naoko Takeuchi, author of Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon.  I balked at first.  I didn't exactly like what Minako Aino (Sailor Venus) would wear in the anime series and the bubblegum sleeves of the senshi's final costumes in the manga kept reminding me of Dragon Ball. Don't even get me started on Usagi Tsukino's (Sailor Moon) over-usage of floral themes.

Then my sister said, "Look no further than your favorite senshi."

It hit me.  Haruka Ten'ou (Sailor Uranus) may be butch, but heck if she didn't make butch seem like the pillar of ultra femininity.  Before accessory piling became an international trend in the mid to late 2000s, Haruka was one of the first ones to do it. Before boyfriend shirts became cool in this decade, she was already sporting them in the previous decade. Her clothes -- whether she's in a suit or a gown -- are always making statements, characterizing her trailblazing attitude that not even the awfully conservative DiC dub was able to downplay.

She can switch from Power Dyke, with androgynous pieces that invoke Katharine Hepburn and which Takeuchi imbibes with a postmodern twist (low décolletage, bold accessories), to Fairy Princess, with minimalist gowns that gently follow the feminine curves ala Carolyn Bessette Kennedy. I would've loved to dress like her...except, I look more like Michiru Kaiou (Sailor Neptune), her partner.

As you can see, I'm still on the lookout for great, wearable clothes in anime and manga. With just two mangaka on my list, that's like searching for a needle in a barnyard full of ruffles.

Share your thoughts? If you know any other fashion-forward mangaka or manga titles, please let me know. It would be nice to find more of them.

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