To celebrate the fact that I have finally got round to playing “Shin Megami Tensei Strange Journey” on the DS, I thought I would write something about its wonderful illustrator Kazuma Kaneko – namely his potential fashion pedigree.  He has been illustrating the Shin Megami Tensei series almost since its inception and it is largely thanks to his stunningly imagined apocalyptic worlds that this is one of the few games I bother with at all these days, even though they are very time-consuming.

In short, before I wrestle this on to the subject of fashion, I do love the series as one of the few examples of difficulty in games (I am not counting the comically easy Persona games in that), and they are one of the few games that I would describe as for adults.  On the other hand while they are good, given the effort required to play them, they are not for the casual gamer.  So a mixed recommendation then, but what I can convince you of is how brilliant Kazuma Kaneko is as an illustrator and how brilliant he would have been as a fashion designer.

Continue reading for a breakdown of his aesthetics, including visits from Gareth Pugh and my musical hero Klaus Nomi.

Whereas the Final Fantasy worlds are rife with street style trends, Kazuma Kaneko’s Shin Megami Tensei is definitely closer to the high-fashion end of the market.  Starting with the basic precept of creating demons, he finds ways of deforming and convoluting the human and animal form and it is that re-forming of human bodies which is too at the heart of ground breaking fashion.

By abandoning elements of the human bodies he manages to create things that are truly grotesque, but that challenge us to change the way we think about the body – as should fashion.

He is also clearly a fan of cyber-punk and finds clever ways of incorporating punk ideas into his work – like the stud-like scales above.

I have chosen Gareth Pugh to relate his work to here.  Whereas a designer like h.Naoto would reflect his work in a more literal way, conceptually I think someone like Pugh is that bit closer.  Of course I would be very surprised if Pugh even knew of the Kazume Kaneko’s existence, I just think it is just interesting that dispute the disparate mediums, they are clearly quite close as designers.

When Kazuma Kaneko does constrain his design to literal human forms, his clothes are patterned and formed to add that same exaggeration and uncomfortable jutting that Pugh also does.

But at the core of good fashion should always be an awareness of the body – somewhere in the ensemble.  In this way both designers are very similar, that no matter how outlandish their designs, you can always see the body tucked away in their somewhere!

This image above is taken from Digital Devil Saga, which despite its overall dark post-apocalyptic theme features the brightly coloured character above.  I think this is one of the many elements that constitute Kazuma Kaneko’s genius, that he is able to create deeply dark gothic worlds that include vivid colour palates like the above.  To my mind there are only a handful of fashion designers that have managed to create gothic fashion effectively in these kinds of colours.

This is usually what happens when goth goes fashion.  No bad thing, but it just goes to show what a wondeful genre game illustrators are in, that they can design beautiful virtual clothes free of contraisnts of skin tone and market value, and it is this which Kazuma Kaneko does well to embrace.

Now in terms of inspirations I am going to put these all in together and let you pick out the themes in common.  See you on the other side…

The obvious similarity is the use of organic structures and geometrics to exaggerate the human body, and I do think that if Kazuma Kaneko was contained by the limits of physics his designs would be fairly close to Gareth Pugh’s above.  It also helps that Kazuma Kaneko’s worlds are either post-apocalyptic or apocalyptic which is a thematic simularity right from Rick Owens, to Julius and Yasuyuki Ishii – hence the similarities.

I can’t fail to mention fetishism in his designs as well, which I would regard as a separate fashion subculture in its own right.  I do wonder if Kazuma Kaneko did design clothes, which element would win outright?  His focus on changing the body through structure or through fetishism?

I suppose a similar thematic approach to design was taken by the wonderful Klaus Nomi who played with proportion, not through the body but the clothes themselves.  Klaus Nomi was also free from having to conform to fashionable credibility because his artistic creation was himself and not the clothes.  He was then able to become a true individual, even while being influenced by fashion of the time.  So too does Kazuma Kaneko create his individual designs primarily because he is not constrained by the fashion world.  In effect it is those who are on the very edge of the fashion world who are able to do things that literal fashion cannot.

I suppose my vague conclusion would be that whether Kazuma Kaneko shares the same influences as designers or is directly influenced by their fashion output, is very difficulty to determine.  But what is clear is that he is doing very similar things but in a very different media.  As a fan of both him and fashion I do wonder what his clothes would look like if he were to make them reality, but maybe there really is no need, he has already shown us and I can’t imagine him compromising.

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11 Responses to Kazuma Kaneko if…

  1. Adam Primaeros says:

    Lovely article, and excellent selection of images. There really should be more like it where Kazuma Kaneko’s aesthetics are examined in the context of fashion.

    I have to mention, however, that the image named “Kazuma-Kaneko-7.jpg” is actually by Shigenori Soejima (it is Hermes for Persona 3). Just wanted to clear up on it. Cheerio. =)

  2. Tokyo Telephone says:

    Ah I bow to your superior knowledge, I thought that he was responsible for the persona designs and just not the characters in Persona 3. My mistake.

    Anyway, glad you enjoyed it.

    S

  3. Emmie says:

    It’s strange how much this relates to my fashion coursework haha. A very interesting article~

  4. […] the spate of apocalyptic articles on Tokyo Telephone, I thought I would take it right back to the start with a look at how Mad Max […]

  5. Tokyo Telephone says:

    Thank you Emmie, out of interest, what is the theme of your coursework?

    S

  6. hello. says:

    Late in commenting this, but this really is an amazing article. I was working with an academic professor of mine a year ago understanding the relationship between videogames (at large) and fashion (the theatrics). It’s definitely a relationship that fuels my entire work (as an illustrator)!

  7. Tokyo Telephone says:

    Thanks for getting in touch, glad you liked it. I think that the Japanese videogame industry is pretty unique in its proximity to fashion – and I am definitely keen to let those influences go full-circle and come back to into my fashion. So many people seem to have an ironically passive relationship with such an active medium, if you don’t let games influence you then you aren’t playing them the right way!

    (Really love your work by the way – your Dita Von Teese is stunning)

  8. hello. says:

    Sorry for the late reply! Started interning last week. Thanks for the input, I’m actually pretty amazed that this same idea that inspires my work (at its core) is mentioned in your blog.
    Would be great to continue this dialogue because this relationship has an impact in the world of contemporary illustration, graphic design, motion graphics and fine art. Videogame definitely does have a passive effect on a person (as far as exposing people to obscure imagery) and for fashion to mimic that image (or vise-versa) in physical reality- it’s almost as if cosplay and haute couture speak the same visual language. There’s a definite relationship shared between Japanese videogames/anime/counter culture and that of “high” fashion and it’s association with elitism and past royalty- they both sort of talk to each other visually!

    Will e-mail you soon- it’s hello @ tokyotelephone.com, correct? I live in L.A., so it feels as if I work in a vacuum and my only source of refuge is Anime Expo lol

  9. Tokyo Telephone says:

    Sounds great, feel free to get in touch anytime.

    And don’t worry I know that “vacuum” feeling only too well!

    S

  10. […] fashionable character designs of Kazuma Kaneko (Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, Strange Journey, […]

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