At the turn of the millennium, Japanese people artist Ai Yazawa introduced the original goth girlfriend: 21-year-old punk Nana Osaki graced the pages of serialized shōjo and josei manga magazines (young female-aimed publications) as the protagonist of Nana. Each new issue following Osaki’s starry-eyed fantasy of rising to musical stardom in early-2000s Tokyo, a colorful metropolis of rejected demonstration Cd albums and bleached ganguro girls. Amongst her surroundings, Osaki was a beautiful anomaly with her unkempt black bob, smudgy eyeshadow, and wine-hued lipstick that would put Met Gala Grimes to shame anime inspired clothing store, while her wardrobe epitomized stylish conspiracy a la Vivienne Westwood or late-90s riot grrrl. And though her artistic dreams were relatively too ambitious, by the end of Yazawa’s manga-turned-anime series, Osaki’s inimitable image eventually awestruck all of The japanese. Indeed, the small-town girl with a inciteful aesthetic and too much emotional luggage rose to nationwide fame as the frontwoman of Japan’s biggest rock-band.
But on a more intimate and nostalgic level, Osaki described the kind of misfit chick that would frighten assimilating yet inspired real-life teenagers – those fanatical about balancing their outward self-expression with social acceptance – into an jealous and observant silence. Born and raised in the banal suburbs, I was one of those many young, confused baby millennials stuck in a place where uniformity equated to social acceptance. Contrary to what 80s teen films starring Molly Ringwald highlighted, there wasn’t always an permanently present clique distinct from the normie culture that my past self or surroundings represented. And with the absence of creative-looking peers serving as direct fashion inspiration, many of us harboring the desire to present distinctly had to depend on artful media to fuel our own creative minds. For millennials, that content was film and television programs packaged into VHS tapes and published to illegally copied video websites. More specifically, it was anime like Nana that proficient an aspirational Generation Ymca with something stylishly inspirational whenever reality disappointed our mind and cabinets.
Yet, despite Nana being eat instance of a fashion-centric subculture being embodied in popular anime, the most eminent works of Yazawa (like Nana and Paradise Kiss) are only two femme-targeting instances of Japanese people animation’s overt commitment to expressive personal style in its character projects. An enthusiastic eyeing of then-new anime from the heyday of millennial youth — circa the late 80s to about a half-decade ago — reveals even the most famous mainstream films and programs to be either trendsetting or trend-adopting. 30 years after its theatrical release, the dystopian classic Akira usually has a presence in talks on cyberpunk fashion, while ruby-red leather biker ensembles are now tantamount to the disobedient, heated personality of protagonist and young biker-gang leader Shōtarō Kaneda. Along with perhaps most distinctly, the ever-booming Sailor Silent celestial body franchise incorporated both couture and everyday fashion in its distinct, changing designs by creator Naoko Takeuchi. Pulling directly from designers like Thierry Mugler, Chanel, and Dior, the quite successful series — beloved by all genders — embodied high fashion, despite tween audiences likely being bored with the particular inspirations behind the gorgeous hand-drawn looks. On the other hand, the casual wardrobes of Sailor Silent celestial body characters strongly mirrored the trendy, preppy pieces that 80s and 90s teens lusted after at their local malls: colored high-rise denim matched with teeny cropped sweaters, or color-blocked school jackets and warm, knitted turtlenecks.