Raging Rant: Dressing for the Occasion

So in my recent post about Arslan Senki, I bitched at length about the disparity between the quality of Farangis as a character and the quality of her skimpy costume, this is going to be a broader expansion on that topic.  There will be scattered spoilers, you have been warned.

Let’s start with the basics, good character designs are a huge plus to any series and costume design in one of the main facets of character design.  This applies to all forms of entertainment.  I remember, back in the days when I did highschool plays, how much of a pain in the ass our costume director was because she was so picky, and everything had to be just so.  But her pickiness paid off and we won costume awards.  This becomes exponentially more important in media entertainment though, because in a play you implicitly understand that you’re watching real people playing fake parts so their ability to become this fictional character through their acting talent is much more important than the costume, though the costume helps.  In media though we are trying to watch fake people and worlds come to life as though they were real and their outfits are one of the immediate visual sources of information we can get about a setting and characters.  If you see a generic high school uniform, odds are this setting is modern day Japan and the characters are highschoolers, get a world full of characters with wacky, intricate and over the top character designs and odds are you in for something a little more unique, whether it’s batshit insane or stupid and awesome.  Likewise a good costume can tell us a lot about the person wearing it.  Take a look at Boku no Hero Academia, All Might has this very bright, bold and colorful (and American as fuck) outfight that makes him pop out of the background, and this reflects his desire to be seen as the Symbol of Peace.  By comparison, Aizawa “Eraser Head” has a bland unassuming design save for his googles, which reflects his fighting style and preferences to avoid being seen, avoid media attention and get the work over with quickly.  Point is, costumes are important, they make fictional characters more real by adding life and detail to said characters and often communicating something about said characters.  Now let’s get to the ranting.

I understand, as I believe most people do, that there are always going to be a lot of boring, cut-and-paste, costumes in anime.  I mean there a million shows taking place in highschool, and while the uniforms have some variation the overall look is pretty standard and generic.  Likewise a lot of harem shows will have uniforms where the skirts are really short so we can have panties flashing frequently because that’s what’s expected in a harem show.  That’s not what I’m here to complain about, because frankly the main reasons why those kinds of costume designs are so prevalent is because highschool shows are so common, and harems are so common, and unless those things change first arguing about costume design improvements in those kinds of shows seems like a moot point to me.  I’m here to complain about the costume design fuck-ups in shows I like, on characters I like, and where  feel such poor costume designs are unacceptable.  Let’s get back to Farangis.  In case you never read the Arslan Senki post I linked above, here’s a recap.  Farangis is an aloof, dignified and proud woman, who possess considerable martial skill as well as important knowledge like her ability to hear the Djinn thanks to her profession as a priestess.  All of these aspects of her character would suggest that she would wear pretty normal, practical clothes, maybe on the fancier side, possibly with a military bent or a slightly less practical and more ornate bent thanks to her profession as a priestess.  The outfit she has in the anime though is basically a bikini and a cape, which doesn’t suit her at all.  In fact she looks far more attractive in the scenes and arc when she’s in full clothes because then she looks like a real person not a 15 year old’s horny fantasy approximation of a person.

And like I said in Arslan Senki post it’s not like the skimpy outfit gets you much fanservice anyway.  Sure you get plenty of shots where you can see cleavage or part of a boob, but it’s not like the camera is showing Farangis’ body off for you to drool over (and thank fuck for that).  Instead most of the time you see Farangis’ full body, and by extension the full skimpiness of her outfit, is in battle scenes where she looks hilariously out of place, at that point she is a literal cartoon character trying and failing to look natural in a story full of more realistic characters and scenarios.  To hammer this point home further let’s do a quick comparison of Farangis and Maura Chester from Rokka no Yuusha, the character I mainly focused on in my discussion on hot mature women and why anime desperately needs more of those.  Both Farangis and Maura appear to be in their late 20’s or early 30’s, both have roughly the same body type, they’re fairly tall, not too skinny or too fat and they’re very very well endowed.  Both women have very pale skin and dark hair, though Maura’s is dark blue while Farangis’ is black.  Both have similar professions and similar airs of dignity and authority though I would say Farangis places more emphasis on dignity whilst Maura places more on authority.  Both also have impressive combat skills and some kind of supernatural power and knowledge of other supernatural powers, though Maura is much more blatant about that kind of thing while Farangis is more subtle.  The biggest differences between the two women are that Farangis takes a subordinate role to the main character in her group while Maura generally holds a position of superiority over her group, and that the former wears next to nothing while the other is wearing full clothes.

See here’s the thing, you don’t need a character to be half naked to have sex appeal.  Both Farangis and Maura are stunning, and that has more to with their faces and hair than their cup size or state of dress.  Now I, connoisseur of fine anime women that I am, can tell the you the subtle differences in appeal that both these characters have but setting subtlety aside here’s the big picture, both of these character’s faces are designed to be so hot that they would still be gorgeous regardless of breast size and costume, that’s how well their facial features, hair, eyes, and so on work together to make the overall attractive design.  The only reason I’m ranting about Farangis at all, is because her costume is such a bad match for personality and in-universe background and adds so little sex appeal in exchange for being out of place that I am absolutely stunned that design even got made by any creative, even if I can understand the more cynical reasons why it might be approved by a more business-oriented person.  This attitude I have applies to all characters, and especially strong women, who I feel got shafted in the costume department, because honestly it’s not that hard to get right.  Yes it’s hard to make a great costume but I’m not asking for that, I’m asking for one that fits the character, and that’s pretty simple.  I mean for fuck’s sake most professions have a uniform or semi-uniform look to them, neither Maura’s outfit nor Farangis’s outfit from the Shindra arc (where she has more clothes despite going to a hotter region of the world) are amazing outfits, but they work and they work because they fit the character properly and don’t distract me and mess with my immersion in the story.

And just to clear up any potential misunderstandings this is not about the skimpy outfit in and of itself.  You can have strong and interesting characters who wear revealing outfits and have that work out just fine, it just has to be in character for them to do so.  For example Revy from Black Lagoon never wears much and there are several scenes when we catch her in nothing but her undies, and none of that is a problem because a, it’s consistent with the more adult tone of the show, b, Revy works in a tropical climate where it’s consistently shown to be hot, humid and otherwise unpleasant place to wear lots of clothes unless you want to strike an imposing figure a la Balalaika, Mr. Chen or Roberta, and c and most importantly, it’s in character for Revy to dress like that.  She doesn’t give a shit about what other people think most of the time, she never freaks out when Rock catches her barely dressed for instance, her lifestyle is intensely casual when she isn’t gunning people down, she basically just drinks, smokes, eats, and otherwise makes a mess, and her outfit is relatively practical in combat and comfortable to wear.  And let’s face facts here, Revy owns that look, she owns that outfit and nothing about it distracts from my immersion in the story or detracts from her character or look in the slightest.  Which is really what this is all about, it’s not about nudity or crudeness, not about covering up or being classy, it’s about art and making good art by not fucking up something as basic and relatively easy as costume design.

Look I love it when a show comes out and the outfits are amazing and I would encourage creators to put more thought into costume design than say breast physics, but at the same time it’s not what I really care about.  I care about the story, world and characters and watching those come to life, and as long as the costumes just fit the character then everything is fine.  If you want a character who wears skimpy clothes, maybe make the character someone who likes to be open with their sexuality or enjoys being seen as dirty by his or her peers.  For example Kurokami Medaka from Medaka Box has a personalized uniform that shows off a lot of her generous cleavage and it works because Medaka is pretty proud of her body and she willingly gets into revealing outfits all the time, sometimes just for the sake of it, it’s just a part of who she is and her outfit reflects that.  But when you put a proud, dignified woman, from an honorable and famously prudish profession, in clothes that barely count as clothes at all, and then you throw her into battles where those clothes are totally impractical, it just gets unbearably off-putting.  Looking at Farangis’ outfit without any character context, she looks like the kind of character who should be kind of oblivious to the fact that all the dudes around are staring at her all the time while other women glare or freak out at her for her lack of common sense.

Alternatively, what she really reminds of is Myers from Magi, the half naked whip wielding magic instructor who had some badass scenes but was mostly a comic relief character paired with Aladdin, who was constantly willing to put up with her harsh training and insults because he was really into her boobs.  Neither of those scenarios  happen though.  Instead Farangis is played totally straight as a serious character and is treated as such by those around her, even when it doesn’t really make sense for anyone to behave like that except maybe Gieve and Arslan.  It would make more sense if Elam or Alfreed or Etoile especially freaked out about Farangis outfit, even if that’s not a great way for the characters to interact when you consider her personality.  See that’s the problem, the way you should respond to someone in this outfit and the way you should respond to Farangis the character are totally fucking different, and this disparity is why her outfit is so ill-fitting.  You could conceivably make this work if Arslan Senki was an inherently silly series, then putting a serious character in such a mismatched outfit could be funny and reflect the silly tone of the show.  But Arslan Senki is more serious, sometimes solemn even, war drama epic, and in the context of a serious war drama epic the only kind of character who should be wearing a skimpy outfit would be a stereotypical whore/courtesan or female slave character who is picked up by the main characters along the way.  It doesn’t make any fucking sense for it to be on Farangis though.

I’ve been talking about Farangis and Arslan Senki specifically too much in this post, but the same concept applies to all kinds of characters.  Costumes should, at the bare minimum match the character’s personality, occupation and/or background.  They should also hopefully tell us something about that character’s beliefs or personality, like I talked about with All Might and Eraser Head.   Ideally the character should own their outfit, own their look because that’s part of what makes a character really stand out and seem natural, part of the reason characters from shows like Black Lagoon or Cowboy Bebop seem to come alive so much more effectively and are so much more iconic than more generic, if appropriately dressed characters, is because they so thoroughly own their look, they have created their own kind of brand if you will.  The best example would probably be Kamina from Gurren Lagann with the cape and the rad glasses, you see a fucking outline or silhouette of those glasses and you instantly think Gurren Lagann, that’s mostly because Kamina’s a great character and Gurren Lagann’s a great show, but it’s also because Kamina so owns that look that it has become as iconic as it is.  So let us all burn with rage at bad costumes which fail to fit the characters they are attached to.  Thank you all for reading, I hope you enjoyed it, and I’ll see you in the next one.

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