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Fashion In The Japanese Imaginary

Fashion is a big thing in Japan. And I’m not even talking about alternative street fashion like Lolita or Decora, mind you, although I’ll probably make a post about that at some point. This time, however, I’ll be referring to mainstream notions of fashion as seen in two different anime series: Kuragehime and Paradise Kiss.

What These Two Series Have In Common

These two series are adaptations of manga titles from the josei demographic, which is aimed at adult women and a very unpopular choice for anime adaptations. Usually lacking both the neverending love dodecahedrons of shoujo and the action/adventure combo of shounen, josei manga tends to focus on more mature and realistic relationships between believable characters. A prevalence of stories about college-aged people and adults having either their first or their tenth job is common.

When it comes to fashion, both Kuragehime and Paradise Kiss treat it as a way for self-expression. The main cast from Paradise Kiss as well as Kuranosuke Koibuchi aren’t dressing flashy to obtain acceptance or recognition: they want to exist on their own terms, something that isn’t as easy as it sounds in the homogeneous Japanese society they live in. Even letting aside the fact that Kuranosuke is a man with a very easygoing approach to gender roles and Isabella is a trans woman (a gender category that’s still misunderstood in Japan to this day), standing out in any way from the norm is something most Japanese people tend to steer away from.

Self-expression is not as intrinsically tied to art in Japan as it is in the West. From poetry to painting, the suppression of the ego has been historically practiced and even encouraged by artists; observing the world has traditionally been far closer to the concept of art in Japan than self-expression. However, acknowledging one’s own ego as a Western practice, once introduced, wasn’t rejected. Shiki Masaoka, one of the most influential haiku poets Japan has given birth to, once said that Japanese poets who incorporate Western techniques to their work aren’t becoming “less Japanese”. They’re making those techniques their own, which is something Japanese folks have a lot of experience with.

In short, there is a “Japanese individual ego”, which is celebrated (among other things) through fashion.

What These Two Series Don’t Have In Common

All of this isn’t to say there’s no room for different approaches in josei manga or its adaptations. While Paradise Kiss is a coming of age drama about making your own choices and being responsible for them, Kuragehime is a comedy about a group of female otaku who need to stop hiding in their shells and become adults.

“Becoming an adult” is an interesting theme to analyze, particularly because of how differently these series treat it and tie it with fashion. In Paradise Kiss, it seems like becoming an adult is an endless stream of suffering and renouncing your will for the good of another person; a tragedy, without a doubt, and the beauty of the clothing Yukari wears is only a mask. An excuse, if you will, to show how talented George is and how (for most people around him) this somehow justifies his horrible treatment of women.

As far as I’m concerned, the characters in Paradise Kiss never truly become adults.

Kuragehime, on the other hand, presents us with a far more realistic approach: fashion is a tool, a way of looking appealing and/or reliable and of getting what we want. Yes, Kuranosuke definitely finds a lot of solace in the clothing his mother used to love, but he eventually learns how to avoid losing sight of the people inside those clothes. The comically tragic “fear of fashion” the Amars have speaks of a society that doesn’t care for people as much as it does for appearances, too. And in the end, I think it’s the reconciliation of ego and appearance that makes the Amars and Kuranosuke grow as people. Knowing by yourself when to yield and when to stand your ground; that is what it means to become an adult.

In conclusion…

These two series are great if you want to watch something unique. Perhaps ironically, the lack of “anime trends” (for male otaku) is what makes them this way. And if you want to see gorgeous fashion animated, they’re of course two of the best choices you could make!

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Space Juliet

Space Juliet

A philosophy student who's been watching anime since the tender age of 5. Loves fantasy, science-fiction, villains and good character development in general. Started playing videogames just to test the medium and became enamoured with interactive storytelling.
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