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Going pop

After the flurry of closures that coincided with the end of the fiscal year for many fashion companies last month, if you look in the right places there is now an air of positivity.

Film-focused fashion: Jun Takahashi’s latest runway line for Undercover features some not-so-subtle references to the anime series 'Neon Genesis Evangelion.' | ©️ KHARA
Jun Takahashi’s latest runway line for Undercover features some not-so-subtle references to the anime series ‘Neon Genesis Evangelion.’ | ©️ KHARA

For all the difficulty some sectors have been experiencing over the past year, others have charted a skyward trajectory. In particular, pop culture-themed merchandise has been a real success story.

The sweet spot seems to be pop culture commodities that hit the nostalgia spot for young adults with disposable income.

Case in point: the de facto symbol for Japan’s so-called lost generation, the anime franchise “Neon Genesis Evangelion,” whose long-awaited final opus in the “Rebuild of Evangelion” film series is currently doing well in theaters nationwide. To mark the occasion, there has been a whole host of merchandise and collaborations, not least of which came from Jun Takahashi, who presented his Undercover collection in Tokyo to coincide with March’s Rakuten Fashion Week Tokyo.

Right from the first look, ensembles inspired by plugsuits, mecha and even the Angel antagonists from the iconic series stalked the runway. The designs showcased a humbling level of technical patterning prowess, as well as outright whimsy.

Even better, if you cut the headsets produced for the runway and nixed the blacklight gimmicks, the collection is surprisingly wearable, even with its more literal manifestation of the anime’s aesthetics than designers would have attempted in the past decade. From 2010 to 2020, designers generally aimed for the subtlest references to the source material possible, but recent market success has them emboldened.

But not all success is equal. Unfortunately, when anime or video games begin to collaborate with brands toward the upper echelon of the fashion hierarchy, there is usually a chorus of “How much?!” or “What a rip-off!” and so on from people who love the original media, but hate feeling that there is a part of the community now off-limits due to the cost of entry.

Blood and blooms: Anna Sui combined the brand’s classic rose and butterfly motifs with lances for a mecha-centric accessories lineup. | BANDAI
Anna Sui combined the brand’s classic rose and butterfly motifs with lances for a mecha-centric accessories lineup. | BANDAI

The first culturally significant example of this backlash was most likely in 1999 (pre-social-media-driven outrage) when Square Co., now Square Enix, produced the ensemble for Squall Leonhart, the hero from the video game Final Fantasy VIII, in real leather.

The combination of craft and quality — with a hefty price tag to match — was a breakaway moment for “geek chic” overall, but not everyone was pleased to learn that an outside force could change their fandom’s playing field. This phenomenon continues, but as more and more value is quite rightly assigned to pop cultural mementoes, hopefully we will start to see fashion as an enrichment to the source material, and not an unwelcome guest.

At-home adornments

Undercover isn’t the only brand getting involved with the new “Evangelion” film. Bandai’s in-house label Bandai Fashion Collection — who thought those words would ever be arranged in such a manner — has teamed up with Anna Sui for a surprisingly dark collection of franchise-inspired accessories. Throughout, Anna Sui’s signature butterflies and roses collide with bloody lances and the battered face of the series’ titular mecha. The collection’s pieces are set to drop throughout the year, with several up for pre-order on the Bandai online store now.

Order soon: If you want to snag this Anna Sui 'Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba' capsule collection, pre-orders are essential. | GOTOUGE KYOHARU / SHUEISHA / ANIPLEX / UFOTABLE
If you want to snag this Anna Sui ‘Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba’ capsule collection, pre-orders are essential. | GOTOUGE KYOHARU / SHUEISHA / ANIPLEX / UFOTABLE

Anna Sui is also matching the anime of the moment, “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba,” for a mini collection that is expected to be so popular pre-orders are your safest bet to ensure ownership. Again, the Bandai online store is your friend.

Even those two capsule collections barely scratch the surface of pop culture paraphernalia up for grabs. “Harry Potter” is being paired with ultra-cute accessory brand Q-pot for a collection of themed collectable ornaments (as opposed to garments you can wear out and about). The series is capped off with a chocolate bar-themed Hogwarts randoseru backpack priced at a staggering ¥110,000 (including tax). Again, if this is something your grade schooler (or you) wants, expedient pre-ordering is all but required either online or at Q-pot’s Omotesando flagship store.

This separation of shopping from a physical store, and even the need to be worn, is an overall loss for fashion, but a fitting strategy for brands aiming to outlast the current stay-at-home status quo. These well-crafted pop culture artifacts can play their part sitting in display cases for now, but hopefully they will get their day to be worn, and celebrated, out and about someday soon.

Bandai Fashion Collection: bandai-fashion.jp (Japanese only); Q-pot: bit.ly/harrypotter-qpot (Japanese only)

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