For a long time, uniforms have always been part of anime whether they would be school related or not. The reality is uniforms are a part of Japanese school, work culture, and society as a whole. How did this come about? Steve Jobs actually shares this story in an interview on how his black turtle neck sweater and jeans were influenced by the Japanese style of uniforms, and how in extension, also influenced in anime.
During a visit to Sony, Jobs asked the chairman why employees wear uniforms. After World War II, not many people had any clothes and companies like Sony provided their employees something to wear to work. Eventually, the uniforms became a way for the employee to show they are part of the company. In addition, school uniforms are also meant to symbolize this notion as the student is a representative of that school, too.
However in recent times, many schools have been changing from the traditional gakuran for boys and sailor style for girls, in order to actually promote their schools more openly. This is why anime, in the past few years, has been transitioning to blazer style uniforms (as seen in the Parasyte and Wangan Midnight anime series, where the uniforms are changed from gakurans in the original manga to blazers in the anime).
So what are the most iconic uniforms for males in anime? Let's see and find out.
10. Sexy Commando Gaiden: Sugoiyo!! Masaru-san(Sexy Commando Side Story: That’s Amazing!! Mr. Masaru)
- Episodes: 48
- Aired: January 1998 – April 1998
Despite being unknown to a huge percentage of western audiences, it actually has a large following in Japan. In this anime, Hananakajima Masaru, a martial arts expert comes back from a spiritual journey in mastering the greatest martial art of all. This fighting style is called the Sexy Commando, the ultimate art in distracting your opponent for an easy win. As a condition of membership, they must wear the official club uniform.
The uniform consists of a long sleeved shirt and jeans while with Masaru, he wears two golden shoulder rings. It is easy to cosplay and the concept equally reflects the ridiculousness and strange effectiveness of the Sexy Commando fighting style. It is also an accurate representation of Masaru’s easy going and eccentric personality.
So go to your local retail store and get yourself a sexy commando unicorn and train to defeat the likes of Ronda Rousey and Floyd Mayweather right now!!!
9. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders
- Episodes: 45 (ongoing)
- Aired: April 2014 - Ongoing
This is in relation to the saga’s main character, Kujo Jotaro (and a bit of Kakyoin). As a (forgettable) 17 year old, Jotaro is still in high school but he wears an unbuttoned chouran coat as opposed to the standard buttoned gakuran and a worn out school cap (a cap with the uniform is rather outdated, and was even considered outdated when this story was published in the manga over 20 years ago).
This style of dress code, according to the Japanese education system, is the equivalent to someone gangsta sagging his pants. But for Jotaro, he doesn't care. He's tough, smart and knows how to take care of himself. The chouran just simply shows he's a bad ass and to remind the audience he is still a teenager, though his facial design (and his deep voice) makes you think otherwise a majority of the time. Even though showing up to school in a chouran will make a student get reprimanded in real life, nobody gets away with it and makes it look good like Jotaro.
8. Ouran High School Host Club (Ouran Hosuto Koukou Hosuto Kurabu)
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: April 2006 – September 2006
Serving as a “parody” to the Shoujo Genre, this series takes the concept of Host Clubs (in real life Japanese society, these are clubs for women to drink alcohol and talk with handsome men) and waters it down into a high school setting. While the real hosts wear flashy suits, this is reflected in the Ouran High School purple uniform.
It is a great color in appealing to its female audience, it blends effectively with the environment, and I think it does give a bit of a realistic night life vibe, but with a touch of sunshine. It also reflects the clubs pretty boy looks and their well-kept hairstyles.
7. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsuu)
- Episodes: 14
- Aired: April 2006 – July 2006
As stated in the introduction of this article, gakurans in anime are slowly going out of style as a result of real life trend changes. Through The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, the audience can get a first mainstream glimpse of this change to using blazer uniforms. Through Kyon, the audience sees a more casual approach to his style by having his shirt un-tucked and his tie lowered, while Itsuki is wearing it properly. I feel that the green suits bring a sense of prestige to their school and blends naturally with their brown hair whether light or dark. Gakurans have been done for years and even though some other series may have done the blazer style prior to this series, Haruhi was the first to make it main stream.
6. Saint Seiya
- Episodes: 114
- Aired: October 1986 – April 1989
In the world of Saint Seiya, the guardians of Athena are assigned battle armors called Cloths, making it something like a uniform in the same vein that the costumes in Super Sentai/Power Rangers are also considered uniforms/armor. Just like the Olympics, the Cloths are ranked Bronze, Silver, and Gold. The Cloths all represent constellations while the Gold Cloths represent the Zodiac. While the Bronze Saint Cloths tend to be thin, the Gold Cloths appropriately fit within the body frame of its bearer by not making them seem too big or too small, but enough to make an opponent feel more than intimidated. For the long haired characters such as Mu, Shaka, Saga, and Milo, without their helmets on their hair flows beautifully and radiates with the armor no matter what the hair color. In addition, it provides just enough protection and allows the right amount of flexible mobility. The designs are all pretty distinct in representing the constellations in their unarmed object form and the figures are a must buy for fans of the series.
5. Mobile Suit Gundam
- Episodes: 43
- Aired: April 1979 – January 1980
This goes mostly in relation to the Red Comet himself, Char Aznable. Appearing in two TV series, a movie, and now his own OAV series, Char has changed his uniforms in each separate installment. In the first Gundam series, he is wearing a spandex military outfit along with a mask/helmet. The design appropriately fits with how space opera/sci-if was done in the 1970's and his outfit is an effective and yet, Japanese extension of that. There is some feeling of both German soldier and Japanese samurai influences with the costume. The mask does bring a majestic and intimidating aura to the character due to his small physical frame.
However, when the character comes back in Zeta Gundam, as opposed to a mask, he wears 80's style oversized sunglasses and wears a uniform that feels like a militia version of Michael Jackson’s suit from Beat It and Thriller. It has 80's appeal written all over it. Plus, his hair grew a little longer, grew taller, and put on some muscle. In the Char’s Counterattack movie, as the new leader of Neo Zeon, he goes back to wearing a more formal uniform that also reflects his nobility as Zeon Daikun’s son and also enough to show his muscular frame. No matter what, he always makes red his color.
4. Slam Dunk
- Episodes: 101
- Aired: October 1993 – March 1996
For a hit 90's series, during the prime of the Bulls with the likes of Jordan, Pippin and Rodman, it is only natural that Shohoku’s jerseys take influence from that popularity. For away games, they wear the red and white for home games. The jerseys naturally blend in with Sakuragi’s hair, but at the same time, you don’t feel that there is too much red on him. Despite the team expressing it in their own distinct ways, the jerseys are also an excellent collective representation of how hot headed and yet, passionate the team members are, and to some people, there is nothing more iconic.
As for Sakuragi, anybody who watches this series and knows basketball can't help but feel he is based on Dennis Rodman. Not based on his hair and brashness, but on his position as a power forward specializing in rebounds, and he shares the same jersey number, 10, when he was in the Pistons.
3. Prince of Tennis
- Episodes: 178
- Aired: October 2001 – March 2005
One of the top Shounen Jump titles with a large female fan base, Prince of Tennis is home to the flashiest of uniforms. Even though in American teenage dramas, the varsity jacket is a symbol for testosterone and the character is a douche bag jock. Prince of Tennis re-defines the appeal of the varsity jacket with a sense of “I want to wear something like that and win Wimbledon,” but in reality “Mada Mada da ne.”
Seishun Gakuen, the central school of this series, the characters wear a white dominant jersey with blue sleeves and some red lining. White is a symbol of purity in Japan and I feel this is most reflected when Ryoma first puts on his varsity jersey. The moment he wears it, it does bring a mature kind of atmosphere to his character, while also showing his innocence. I feel it does bring a sense of unity to this team, but still allows them to demonstrate their regular traits.
2. Dragon Ball Z
- Episodes: 291
- Aired: April 1989 – January 1996
Taking influence from Shaolin Kung Fu monks, the orange gi with a blue undershirt, wristbands, belt, and boots are an iconic staple to the Dragon Ball franchise which originated when Goku trains under Master Roshi during his childhood. It excellently brings out a sense of power with their well-built frames, and makes the hyper paced action sequences easy to follow.
It appropriately makes the wearer (with or without kanji symbols) look like a fighter. The color scheme brings a balance of the hunger for battle but for the protection of peace with an overall masculine atmosphere.
1. Babel II (Babiru Nisei)
- Episodes: 39
- Aired: January 1973 – September 1973
This is the classic title that established the archetype in which Koichi (family name differs per version), a schoolboy who wears his uniform, or in this case the gakuran, as their foundational choice of clothes. The gakuran (and any other school uniform for that matter) is meant to symbolize youth.
For the longest time, especially during its initial broadcast and publication, the gakuran was the standard male school uniform and this series made it into a super hero outfit. Thus making it cool to wear a uniform, while to westerners such as myself, I think wearing uniforms to school would suck.
Needless to say, in most of American society, uniforms will not work due to cultural and society differences. Steve Jobs actually got the Sony uniform designer to make an official Apple uniform and employees did not respond well to it. While Americans, such as myself, tend to value individualism, the Japanese are a group oriented society and value harmony. Through uniforms, this quality is expressed in art to the Japanese, whether it would be anime, manga, games, or j-dramas.
But just like in American animation shows like The Simpsons, Japanese animation is still free to break itself from social norms in which it is expressed through Jotaro from JoJo (as well as the characters from Bebop High School). Either way, thanks to anime like Babel II, the regular Japanese schoolboy can imagine himself as a super hero every time he gets ready for school. But the question remains, in Japanese culture, does the man still make the clothes?