Regardless of what one decides to wear, and regardless of whether one is actively aware of it or not, one projects an image to those who see them. Without ever speaking, one’s clothing informs passersby of one’s personality, likes, dislikes, and even most base of nature. In “real life” so to speak, one uses clothing as a signifier of personality; however, identifying another person relies on other visual cues, namely build, height, weight, facial features, etc. These connections happen instantly and without notice.
Within the realm of animation, however, one’s mind constantly relies not only on facial features but on clothing and more easily identifiable characteristics (eye color, hair color, hair length). In transitioning from the real to the animated, facial features fall by the wayside to an overall unifying visual aesthetic. With the nuances of the face gone, the mind turns to clothing as an identifier of a character instead of an identifier of personality. The clothing reflects the personality of the character but is first and foremost used to tell the brain who the character is. One can barely take half a step into the medium of animation without finding a character who wears the same outfit in their time not spent in a school environment. This current anime season alone one sees this occurring in Tari Tari, Smile Precure, Rinne no Lagrange, Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita, among others. Even in series where school uniforms are worn, uniforms tend to differ slightly for the main characters, forcing them to stand out to the audience.
Joshiraku, another currently-airing series, does a fantastic job playing with these established connections within its audience’s minds. It then uses fashion to make further statements about the five leads’ personalities.
Firstly, Joshiraku introduces its characters in set uniforms: their rakugo costumes. These are brightly colored and each focuses on one color to assign to its particular character. For example, the girl with the stage name “Bloody Mary” is assigned the color red, “Hello Kitty” is assigned the color pink, etc. By doing this, the series allows the audience to quickly and easily identify the characters, much in the way that we identify Daria from Daria, Lan from Lagrange, or Watashi from Jintai. The girls wear their rakugo outfits in the opening skit and in the closing skit, with the former to re-establish their identities and the latter to reinforce them.
In between these, Joshiraku puts a middle skit where the girls inevitably venture outside of their theater and into the world. In each of these middle segments, they dress in plainclothes that reflect their personalities. Typically, this would mean that each girl would have two outfits: their rakugo costume and their plainclothes costume; however, Joshiraku makes an effort to dress its characters in varying outfits for each out-of-theater segment. It take until the sixth episode for these outfits to be repeated, and each outfit continues to reflect a facet of personality of the one who wears it.
In this way, Joshiraku sets a coy trap to snare its audience and keep them coming back: the first skit to establish, or re-establish the characters, the second to develop personality, and the third to reinforce the identities of the characters. By separating the connection between identification and personality to its audience, it heavily reiterates both, making its characters that much more memorable.
Additionally, as the series is wont to point out multiple times, the girls and their outfits are extremely cute.
About the Guest Author:
AJtheFourth is a dear friend who has continually made contributions on Listless Ink. Her warm personality and brilliant writing make her a favorite, and I am always honored to have her guest post. She regularly writes for The Untold Story of Altair & Vega.
My favorite way of dressing in a chef jacket, jeans and a pair of sandals with my hair done up with a white and silver flower clip because of my hair colore is dark gold blond with black with silver earrings in and red lipgloss and black masscarra and eyeliner. The other reason i wear a chef jacket is because i make pastries ^^
I too, have specific outfits I wear on my days off from work (work is business casual all the time) that express my personality. ^ ^ Unfortunately I’m a bit lazier about my appearance than you seem to be, but your “go-to” outfit sounds adorable. Thanks for the comment!
Seeing Daria’s picture brings me good old time~
It’s a great show. I need to rewatch it at some point… ^ ^
Quite like the fashion style of the girls in “Joshiraku” and their outfits indeed fit/re-enforce their different personalities. The show definitely gets a thumbs up for that aspect.
Next to character recognition, the reason most anime series feature their characters in the same plain clothes outfit or in the same school uniform throughout the whole show is simply the increased cost and complexity (in terms of continuity and such) of animating the characters in different outfits each time.
While from experience and personal beliefs I feel that for male office workers a suit doesn’t really make the man so to speak, I do wear dress shirts all year save on the hottest days simply because of the impression it makes when being in a position of some responsibility.
In the most recent episode (seven, I believe) from when I wrote this, the girls again were dressed in different outfits. The attention to detail that the series is putting into their costuming is really impressive, and one of the things I love about this show.
Cost/effort on the part of the animators is definitely a factor as well. In addition to this, most anime tend to be set partly in a school setting, which is not only a reflection of the culture, but taxes the animators less, as they do not have to expend the extra effort on outfits (which again, makes Joshiraku all the more impressive).
In the case of a business setting, I believe that dress takes on a completely different tone, as one is dressing as a representative of a company or idea, and therefore must appear professional. Unfortunately, this doesn’t allow for as much of a personality to shine through as one would like.
Thanks for the comment! ^ ^
Very interesting. In European comics and to some extent animation, it’s an unwritten rule to never change a main character’s outfit (or overall look, for that matter). How would the audience recognize them otherwise? It’s the reason Tintin wears the same pair of trousers and sweater in every adventure. I like how in manga and anime (well, some of them at least) the artist(s) make an effort to go beyond that. As an example, take my beloved K-On! Aside from their school uniform, I’ve never seen the girls wear the same outfit twice ^^
I always thought that, in western cartoons and comics, not giving the characters more than one outfit out of fear that we won’t identify them is the same as calling us morons. Giving your characters a more expansive wardrobe makes them feel more alive, instead of mere props or devices for story-telling. Of course, there are exceptions, but I like it when the characters dress differently everytime we see them. It gives me the impression that there’s much more to them than what is shown to us. I believe outfits can show small subtleties within a character, giving us impressions about their personalities in a way that we don’t have to be explicitly told what they’re like. In real life, no magic man is going to come up to you and say “Person X likes a, b and c, and acts like x, y and z”. It’s up to us, through the use of inferences and deductions, to figure out how each person acts. So, if a fictional character gives me these exact same feelings, it makes me feel that they have more dimensions than your usual cartoon character. It makes them feel more alive.
Also, you mentioned K-ON, and one thing I noticed, for example, is how Ritsu’s uniform is always the only one that is unbuttoned. It’s small things like this that give me an impression of the character, like clues in a murder mystery. Of course, this is K-ON we’re talking about, so it’s nothing too complicated, but still. It’s the kind of thing that reinforces the character’s being and self.
Also, I forgot to say that Joshiraku is absolutely brilliant. A shining star amongst a season of mediocre shows.
I will definitely watch it at some point ^^ So many shows, so little time…
Having said all this, i’ve definitely seen it changing in the last years (decades? yeesh I’m old) For instance, Donald Duck is sometimes wearing something other than a sailor shirt nowadays. Still no pants though ^^ Any Belgian or Dutch readers will remember that even Wiske (from long-running comic series “Suske en Wiske”) had started wearing jeans at some point, after years of wearing a white one-piece dress.
An example of Western animation that takes fashion as seriously as some Japanese shows is another favorite of mine: Totally Spies. It does a great job of distinguishing its main chars’ personalities by their wardrobes, which like in K-On! is seemingly endless. While squarely aimed at pre-teen girls, it wears its anime influences on its sleeve, particularly in its exaggeration of facial expressions.
You bring up an interesting point and I think it has more to do with the “unsavory” side of animation: marketing. Animation is a commercial art form. As a general rule, western animation is targeted at children and unfortunately, adults have a bad habit of assuming that children are completely ignorant. In addition to this, it’s also easier to market to children if they recognize the characters immediately. For a recent example in Japanese animation, look no further than any Precure or Gundam series, where the heroes/heroines will typically have two outfits: their fighting costume and one regular outfit to reflect their personality with ease. These are also usually color-coded.
Your argument is exactly why I love the job that Joshiraku is doing with its costuming, even with such supposedly static characters.
Thank you for the comment! ^ ^
Awww…TinTin. I have fond memories of those books since they helped me learn French. ^ ^
You mention K-ON!, as a general rule, Kyoto Animation is very good at personality costuming. When the characters that they are animating are not in school uniforms, this studio puts in the extra effort to ensure that the characters’ outfits reflect their personalities. Recently I rewatched Endless Eight from the Haruhi Suzumiya series and the job of costuming that they do there is nothing short of spectacular (although I can only imagine how bored the animators were of repeating a storyline for eight episodes).
Thanks for the comment!
Hah, they must have felt like they were in their own timeloop ^^ PA Works is another studio very good at that. just look at HanaIro or Tari Tari. But like KyoAni’s their attention to detail is stellar in all aspects, from backgrounds to soundtrack.
I find it interesting also how each colors can easily identified theier personalities, just by looking at the top picture, I can already get a general grasp of their personalities, but not going to say anything though since I haven’t even watch the anime, and I don’t wanna embarrass myself D: It’s cool that they assign their costumes to specific characters too. Bloody Mary to read, and Hello Kitty to pink.. I guess this contribues to my color point too.
You should give it a shot! In spite of being more than well aware that several of the jokes are completely beyond my understanding (due to language limitations) I am absolutely loving it.
Thank you for commenting!
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It is interesting to note a reading assignment of my friend re: work outfits. There are certainly few anime revolving around work, and there’s not much freedom in school uniform fashion in Japan either, so I see few anime where males dressing to reflect personality is thought of.
Wow, thanks for that article. I wasn’t thinking about this in gendered terms at all; however, your friend’s assignment sheds a lot of light on costuming choices for both men and women. Thank you.
I don’t often think about the relationship between clothing choices and personality in anime because, as you said, it’s used as an identifier and feels more like character design (artist’s choice) rather than the character’s decision about what to wear (character’s in-universe “choice”). But it’s hard to not think about this in Joshiraku because they change outfits so frequently and the plain clothes is significantly different from the rakugo uniforms.
So yes, it’s cool when artists think about these things. It adds an extra layer of realism and it’s a subtle method of characterization. We all know clothing choices reveal personality in real life so it’s a shame more creators don’t try to make use of that in anime, even if static outfits have their use as identifiers.
I’ve always felt that the limitations placed upon features and the need to use costumes for expression and identification of characters have led to anime being so closely associated with cosplay culture. With each anime, we often get memorable clothes that really pop. At times, we may also get quite outlandish, ridiculous wardrobes. Indeed, even with today’s higher production values where anime can afford a complete, unique wardrobe for characters with each episode, as well as quite keenly animated facial features, anime still have not gotten away from the one special, slightly over-the-top outfit, identifying associated with them. Consider K-On! Each episode, the girls wear something different and fashionable. Yet, the outfit that we most identify, say, Mio with is the one with the black frilly dress, teal and black long gloves, and the top hat in the ED. I think you are spot-on about the reasoning behind that. As with Joshiraku, we want a crutch for characterizing and recognizing the different girls and their personalities, not just within the anime, but with all the characters in all anime. After all, anime is such a character-driven industry. The clothes give that expression. Love your post!
p.s. Thanks AJtheFourth for this wonderful piece. I am always glad to have an opportunity to work with you. You’re the best. ^ ^