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Hot Looks for Spring: Rubber and Scales
Japanese geek culture is having a Moment in the fashion world.
First came the footwear of a million memes, art collective MSCHF’s $350 rubber Big Red Boots inspired by Astro Boy’s fancy feet. Then came W Magazine’s cover story pitting a Hollywood A-lister against giant kaiju, accompanied by an article that casually drops the phrase “Japanese tokusatsu,” meaning live-action special-effects fare like Ultraman or Power Rangers, right in the same breath as Valentino, Gucci, and Thom Browne. (I should confess that this is my first time ever paging through a fashion mag, American or otherwise, and had to Google all of the big brand names, and also brush up on unfamiliar concepts, like “fashion.”)
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This isn’t Japanese geek culture’s first big moment in America. That would be the post-Matrix early aughts, when Hayao Miyazaki won that Oscar for Spirited Away, the Wachowskis produced the cerebral anime-crossover omnibus The Animatrix (god, that “Beyond” segment, still so good), and Quentin Tarantino incorporated an anime into Kill Bill. Pundits told us that anime had arrived. It was no longer some kind of fleeting, lowbrow subculture, but Culture Writ Large! So many juicy capitalized declarative terms! But then, like a manga sound-effect, *poof!* Pretty much nothing for another two decades outside of nerd-circles and 4chan. Anime remained as popular there as ever, of course, but it’d take a global apocalypse to make anime fans out of us all.
Something about this moment feels different, though. Despite – or because of – living through America’s culture wars, young people are a lot more open to cultural experiences of all kinds than their predecessors were even just twenty years ago. And perhaps more importantly, the internet is now a thing. (I almost capitalized that.) Entrenched in our lives in a way it simply wasn’t in that archaic pre-smartphone era. So you have a confluence where the internet itself is culture, and a population of young adults who never knew a time when anime and all sorts of other Made in Japan goodness from life-changing magic and umami to video games wasn’t available on tap.
We aren’t going to be seeing a boom for cartoony footwear anytime soon (they’ll have to work on the whole “taking them off” part for that to happen). But seeing the current toast of Hollywood Jennifer Coolidge being showcased in a tokusatsu setting, and this is key, without being condescending (even if the dreaded adjective “campy” makes an appearance)? It’s like I wrote in the epilogue of Pure Invention: the future won’t be made in Japan. It will be made everywhere else, with values borrowed from Japan.