Atarashi Games’ School Uniform Design Contest

For those of you unfamiliar with Atarashi Games, they’re an independent publisher of tabletop role-playing games, best known for a psychic schoolgirl adventure game called “Panty Explosion.” PE can be kind of dark, but despite the title it’s not particularly pervy or anything. It’s earned them all kinds of extra attention, though the objections have been mainly from men (including a guy who punched one of the designers in the head) rather than women. They also put out Classroom Deathmatch, which is basically Battle Royale with the serial numbers filed off. In short, not unlike myself Jake Richmond and his associates are fans of various kinds of Japanese media and generally like messing with people.

That’s why Atarashi Games is probably the only RPG publisher that would hold a contest to design a Japanese-style school uniform for them to use with their games. I urge those of you who have some artistic inclination to consider entering, but the focus of this blog post is on school uniforms as a cultural phenomenon.

Jake Richmond is an artist, teacher, game designer, and generally has a number of pursuits that take priority over being an anime fan. Anime and related media can be surprisingly subtle in terms of the visual elements they use. For Panty Explosion, Jake mostly did a bunch of relatively generic pictures of Japanese high school girls, with an emphasis on sailor fuku style school uniforms and in a realistic style. It works, though it gives the impression that the art is based off of stills of old Japanese horror films.
Western RPGs in general seem to have a hard time really getting the “anime” look down. Steve Jackson Games got one of their staff artists to fake it for GURPS Mecha, while Guardians of Order hired a variety of fan artists, sometimes with mixed results. More recently, Green Ronin did a Mutants & Masterminds supplement called “Mecha & Manga.” Some art was very good, and some of it was kind of iffy, but even the really talented artists produced a lot of pieces that were highly derivative.

Unfortunately, it seems like the folks doing art direction at RPG publishers tend to be unfamiliar with anime. Jake is a pretty talented artist, but (and I don’t mean this as an insult) he draws in his own distinct style, even when he’s drawing anime-inspired subject matter. That brings us to the topic of school uniforms. They’re ubiquitous in anime, but designing an appropriate uniform would require at a minimum broader knowledge of anime/manga/etc. than the people working on RPGs typically have.

Among Japanese otaku, school uniforms are one of many kinds of uniforms that are fetishized to varying degrees. Western pervs don’t really fetishize uniforms very much; People recognize a French maid costume as a fetish costume and have heard about guys who get off on Catholic schoolgirls in plaid skirts, but the people who are actually seriously into such things are relatively uncommon (Though I did stumble across a Norwegian man’s page of over 800 stewardess uniforms).

Of course, this is partly because Western uniforms tend to be simpler and more utilitarian than their Japanese counterparts. Certainly, you’d be hard-pressed to find an American uniform that requires a skirt outside of those Catholic schools we keep hearing so much about. Where American public schools have started instituting uniforms, they’ve been more like a color scheme for pants and a polo shirt than a distinct outfit, and they’re unlikely to ever be fetishized. We have far fewer women working in jobs where there’s an eye candy component (which is a good thing), so there are relatively few uniforms where the male and female versions are particularly different. Nurses, whether they’re men or women, all wear scrubs, one of the more utilitarian garments known to man.

I’m not about to pass judgment on either culture’s standards, but there’s a definite difference between how Japanese people and Americans relate to uniforms on several different levels. For someone like me or Jake, those school uniforms are essentially artifacts of a foreign culture, and while I have seen some in real life (I’ve been to Japan, though only for two weeks), they certainly aren’t as “real” to me as they would be to someone who grew up in Japan. Likewise, although it’s a little embarrassing to admit, I do like those navy-blue school swimsuits, but I’ve never seen one in person, to the point where they might as well be plugsuits for all the reality they hold for me. One of the intriguing things about fantasy is how much reality people actually want varies quite a bit. Some people want their fantasy material to be possible in real life, no matter how unlikely or contrived, while others specifically prefer things that are impossible.

In both anime and in real life, Japanese school uniforms have become considerably more varied and sophisticated, and supposedly some schools even count uniforms devised by a professional fashion designer among their selling points. Sailor fuku haven’t disappeared, but my impression is that you’re very unlikely to see anyone running around dressed like A-ko, especially in high school. There are many more variations with sweaters, blazers, etc., in addition to subtler variations on the sailor fuku theme. Anime and such have also brought us some outright absurd school uniform designs, like in Muv-Luv and Revolutionary Girl Utena. School uniforms have more grounding in reality than, say, a pink nurse uniform, but it still has a foot in the realm of fantasy, doubly so if you’re not from Japan or another country that has similar uniforms.

So if you’re wondering why Atarashi Games is holding a contest (aside from Jake showing a certain penchant for contests lately), school uniforms, as well as the cultural baggage surrounding them, are a more complex and varied than they might appear on the surface.

Guy’s Note: Jake Richmond is no stranger to this blog, and a two-part interview with him had been posted, the first part deals with Panty Explosion, and the second deals with Classroom Deathmatch and the upcoming Magical Land of Yeld (Final Fantasy meets Narnia).


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4 comments on “Atarashi Games’ School Uniform Design Contest

  1. Thanks for mentioning the contest!

    I went to a Catholic school as a child and grew up around uniforms, but even with that the Japanese school uniform is still a very foreign and strange thing to me. It’s as much a science fiction object as a mobile suit.

    I’ve never been happy with the art for the original edition of Panty Explosion. Matt and I were (for some long forgotten reason) trying to get away from the idea that PE was an “anime game”. We wanted it to look a lot more like The Ring or The Grudge, but we didn’t even go that far. The illustration are just really tame. They look like stills from a fashion magazine, which is pretty much what they were.

    I’ve been thinking about “New Panty Explosion” (that, or “Panty Explosion Perfect” may be the title) and the art direction I want to take for it. You’re totally right, I work in my own style, and even when I’m doing something “anime themed” like Panty Explosion or Bliss Stage I can’t fully emulate a Japanese style. It’s just not how I draw. At the same time, I really enjoy trying new styles and new subject matter, trying to adapt myself to something that’s outside my experience. So creating the art for these games is a lot of fun. And I think I’m getting better at it.

    The reason I started this contest is that I couldn’t come up with a uniform design on my own. Nothing was sparking, and I think it’s for exactly the reasons you’re describing. My hope was that our game had some fans who were uniform… enthusiasts. People who have a better sense for this kind of thing. Who have a passion for it. Some of my students do nothing but design costumes and outfits. They have sketch books full of these intricate costume designs. That’s just not how I work, so I’ve been really excited about doing this contest to find someone who can bring that kind of attention to a uniform design for us. So far the designs we’ve received have been really amazing.

    I think the problem I’ve seen traditionally with the art for American produced anime themed games is less about the specific art style and more about how the art is used and presented in the book. Art is used pretty poorly in almost every American rpg anyway. The art I’ve seen from JRPG books is almost always used to much better effect. In the few JRPG books I have laying around the house I can see art used for instructional purposes, art used to create a movie trailer or anime opening sequence style introduction to the game, to illustrate the nature of the game world and what characters can do in that world. In most of the English language anime themed games I’ve seen the art is used to show characters standing in generic poses, show cool equipment or fight scenes and show generic character montages. It’s bad art and bad art design. And this is almost every English language anime themed game that’s ever been released (and I’m including my own games here, although I feel that Classroom Deathmatch is a big improvement over Panty Explosion).

    So, I think drawing style is important, but I think how the art is used is even more important. I’ve been looking at a lot of other sources, like game strategy guides, art books for series like Disgea and Monster Hunter, series like Robot and Style School and other visually impressive books from Japan and Korea to see how the art is used, how information is conveyed and what is really exciting about these volumes. I’m looking at using comics (err… manga, I guess) more in my games to convey both rules information and setting fiction. Showing instead of telling.

    Anyway, so far the contest has been awesome. I’m really excited about it!


  2. FaS says:

    Lol, Oyun indir’s a stupid spammer. Anyways, yeah, I like drawing also, but these days, I’m looking more for contextual pics for posts with WONDERFUL color. Jake’s definitely right on topic.

    • Guy says:

      Yeah, he somehow evaded the spam-nets, and I wasn’t home to remove him ;)

      Well, I usually look for the best photos, as in, most representative, when I cover anime/manga. I don’t go for the ones with the biggest splash, though it certainly looks nice.. can be a bit distracting.

  3. Guy says:

    Israel has school uniforms, to a degree.

    In Elementary School, we had a T-shirt with the school emblem, which we put on for ceremonies or for PE (Physical Education, not Panty Explosion ;)), and which we could only buy at one store (which made money from it, oodles!). In Junior High School we had T-Shirts and long-flannel shirts, in about 4-5 colours, and except Friday we’d have to come with them every day of the week.
    No, it was just shirts, and they had various colours, but it was something.

    In HS we had the same, except I think we also got Tuesdays with our usual wear at some point, and we also needed to wear blue or black short-pants for PE, and there were also footers with the school emblem. Of course, there were four high schools within spitting distance of one another, so it was important to some to be able to differentiate between who goes where.

    The religious schools, at least for girls, are more likely to have proper school uniforms, with specific skirts and shirts to wear (as opposed to others, where it’s just skirts and stockings). Usually they’re black on the whole with some light blue, especially for the blouse.

    My parents sometimes say how they had uniforms when they went to school, there were several hues of blue for different schools, and sometimes there were noticeable differences, but on the whole, most of the uniforms looked, well, uniform.

    Just today the Minister of Education had said he’ll be moving to get school uniforms into elementary school, but I think it’d be like what I outlined for what I have, not the proper identical looking set that my parents had, or schools in Japan (or private high class schools in England/USA) have.

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