In case you're living under a rock, the artist behind the famous manga Akira will soon get the Supreme treatment. Artist Katsuhiro Otomo teamed up with the label for a series of tees, hoodies, and ceramics that are set to drop this week.
While it's Supreme's modus operandi to regularly work with artists and labels that are a bit against the grain, the idea of the collaboration makes total sense, albeit the final products may have received mixed reactions from fans of both Akira and Supreme. That said, it isn't hard to see the parallels between hardcore streetwear heads and weeaboos.
Nostalgia runs deep in our veins. The past is as elusive a dream as the future. Always distorted, always yearned for, and always seen as better days. As a '90s kid, peak childhood was experiencing the greatness that was the Saturday morning cartoon line up. That included plenty of American dubbed anime series, which had begun being imported in the late '80s with shows like Voltron and Robotech being translated and re-cut for American audiences.
The latter was actually a combination of three different Japanese series: Super Dimensional Fortress Macross, Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross, and Genesis Climber Mospeada. As these kids grew into teens and young adults, the images became embedded in subculture, repurposed with a more rebellious bent.
Granted, this isn't even the first time Supreme has collaborated with a seminal Japanese manga artist. Just last year, the brand teamed up with Toshio Maeda, who is credited with being a pioneer in hentai—that is, anime porn. His works like Urotsukidoji (Legend of the Overfiend) and La Blue Girl regularly feature tentacled monsters doing...things to women. A year later, they followed up with a collaboration with cult Japanese label Sasquatchfabrix, featuring risqué adult-oriented graphics channeling classic Japanese artist Hokusai, whose pieces like "Dream of the Fisherman's Wife" provide some of the earliest examples of tentacle sex in Japanese culture.
But all of this was happening way before Supreme. In the same way Malcolm McLaren and Vivenne Westwood vulgarly flipped childhood icons like Mickey Mouse in the '70s, anime characters began to inspire street and skate-oriented brands. In the '90s, Jeremy Klein's Hook-Ups brand was one of very first to crossover adding anime and manga-influenced graphics to gear for skaters.
Things came full circle in the mid-2000s, when they collaborated with The Hundreds for a 2013 project mixing Klein's motifs with The Hundreds' signature Adam Bomb mascot, reinterpreted with motion lines and highly detailed anime-style eyes.
The late '90s and early-2000s saw anime becoming more mainstream in America. Soon, entire blocks of Cartoon Network's programming were dedicated to anime, and more and more series were being dubbed for American audiences. Its Toonami franchise brought over episodes of decades-long series Mobile Suit Gundam, and began re-airing old episodes of Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon. Of course, the cult of Pokémon is a movement on its own.
By the time newer series like Full Metal Alchemist, One-Piece, and Naruto came out, they were being translated for American audiences at a much faster clip than their predecessors, while keeping the original narrative intact. Anime culture in America was beginning to reflect the hardcore otaku in Japan. So naturally, the kids who grew up watching the stuff recognize the references.
Interwined with the evolution of anime culture are video games like Street Fighter and Final Fantasy, whose visual identity also easily translates into streetwear. One brand to successfully incorporate a well established video game brand into it's design is Triumvir. Back in 2008, the now-defunct company teamed up with Capcom for a release of streetwear items covered in Street Fighter's most iconic characters. Capcom would also continue its streetwear run in a partnership with Drake vs. Lil Wayne tour to create Street Fighter-esque merchandise depicting Drake and Lil Wayne in the franchise's signature style.
“For us, that generation, Street Fighter was just...you spent your money on it every day and became entrenched with that character, and then the whole culture of hanging around at the arcade, putting your quarter up at the arcade,” Triumvir founder Brandon told Complex. “That was why I wanted to do Street Fighter so bad, because it was part of my lifestyle.”
Prada was an early adopter of anime in the realm of fashion; in 2007, the house designed clothes for the Japanese film Appleseed Ex Machina. Miuccia Prada became a fan of the series in 2004, telling Fashion Television: ”Watching the previous ‘Appleseed,’ I thought that the expression of contrast in man and machine, violence and love was wonderful. I designed something contemporary that matches the movie’s feelings.”
By 2016, more luxury brands got in on the action. Louis Vuitton also enlisted Square Enix to license Lightning, a character designed by Isamu Kamikuryo for Final Fantasy XIII, to star in its Spring/Summer 2016 campaign. Nicolas Ghesquière, then-artistic director of Louis Vuitton women's, said in a press release: “It’s clear that the virtual aesthetic of video games is predominant in this collection. If we push the reflection about heroines, or what might constitute the nature of a woman whose actions can be so courageous that she becomes superior and iconic, it becomes obvious that a virtual entity integrates with the founding principles of the Maison. Lightning is the perfect avatar for a global, heroic woman and for a world where social networks and communications are now seamlessly woven into our life. She is also the symbol of new pictorial processes. How can you create an image that goes beyond the classic principles of photography and design? Lightning heralds a new era of expression.”
That same season, J.W. Anderson's collection for Loewe featured all-over prints gleaned from art in Akira and Mobile Suit Gundam, turning Yoshiyuki Tomino-esque mecha and Katsuhiro Otomo-inspired faces into fashion statements. Prada's latest S/S 2018 fashion show returned to the Japanese art influences, tapping Taiwanese-American artist James Jean to create comic and manga-inspired graphics.
But naturally, streetwear and anime work so well together because both mediums are heavily dependent on creating a strong visual language. So when you mix both of them together, there should be some synergy there already. A Bathing Ape and Dragon Ball Z teamed up for a 2015 collection juxtaposing Akira Toriyama's heavily-muscled martial artists with the cute style of Nigo's Baby Milo.
Uniqlo's T-shirt line (which is creatively directed by Nigo) has often included anime series, including their partnership with One Piece for their 20th anniversary. And recently, Billionaire Boys Club teamed up with Dragon Ball Z for a collection of shirts and caps to commemorate the shows 30th anniversary in 2016.
There's also the fact that people obsess over both mediums in different ways, and it's not common to see fanart or fanfiction about anime characters. That manifests in the streetwear realm as aspiring artists and designers try their hand at mocking up idealized versions of non-existent products and collaborations. Or more explicitly, when artists like HMN ALNS conceptualize Akira's Kaneda Shotaro in BAPE, Raf Simons, and OFF-WHITE.
Retailer oki-ni also collaborated with Indonesian artist Angela Olivia in 2016 to create anime depictions of some of the biggest names in fashion including Rick Owens, Neil Barrett, Gosha Rubchinskiy, Raf Simons and Thom Browne.
What this comes down to is that anime and streetwear are both highly active communities full of passionate and engaged nerds. And there's nothing wrong with that. When two things you really like come together, it's as if one validates the other. So why wouldn't you want to have your cake and eat it too?
For more, check out the full Akira x Supreme collection.