Moments before the scooper aliens descend on Harajuku, the three heroines of URAHARA plot out a safe escape. Kotoko triangulates the alien's arrival in a near deadpan monologue that's so straightforward it could also be interpreted as sarcastic, an ambiguity that I believe is purposeful. We know that these three girls will eventually transform in some way to fight the aliens, which requires them to come face to face with the scoopers eventually.
"I wonder why I don't want to leave Harajuku," Rito says.
I wonder why, indeed.
Before Harajuku burst into the international collective consciousness as the go-to place for Tokyo street fashion in the early 2000's, it was known in Japan as a site for emerging youth fashion and open-air street performances starting in the 1970's. Takeshita Street specifically—shown several times in this first episode—was, and continues to be, the location of street dancers and independent fashion boutiques. The name URAHARA itself comes from "Uraharajuku" or "behind Harajuku," the name for a series of streets that are technically off the beaten path of commercial Harajuku proper, and the source material, PARK Harajuku: Crisis Team!, is a collaboration between Crunchyroll's own Patrick Macias, Japanese artist Mugi Tanaka, and Harajuku's PARK store. Already, there's an odd push and pull between emerging commercialization and highlighting the essence of Harajuku street style.
Colorful Harajuku street fashion was first widely documented by Japanese photographer Shoichi Aoki. He later created the magazine FRUiTS, highlighting different people from the streets of Harajuku with full-page photographs detailing various pieces of their outfit of that day and specific points of inspiration or applicable brands. The outfits themselves were often overly complex with numerous layers and seemingly mismatching bits taken from assorted complete ensembles.
Above all else, Harajuku fashion was, and remains, transient. These designs and outfits were often of the day they were worn only. The next day, various pieces would be repurposed into an entirely new outfit with a different theme or aesthetic.
Perhaps the wearer was a high school student who felt stifled by societal pressures and the monotony of their everyday life. In Harajuku, they could shed their school uniform, a uniform that tied them to a specific institution as its student—which brought with it the reputation of the school itself—and put on an outfit that stood out.
Dressing differently, after all, is the easiest way to establish yourself as an individual, especially in a society that values homogeneity. This is the essence of Harajuku street fashion.
"Much in the same way that language differentiates between two groups," Aoki said in a 2012 interview with The New Yorker. "Fashion was born from the desire to create a clear distinction between oneself and others. The act of people wearing clothing has value as art, and it has become my life’s work to document this phenomenon."
This isn't to say that URAHARA is specific and incisive commentary on how Harajuku should push back on fast fashion and continue to be it's own thing rather than becoming a shopping area to Tokyo like what Myeongdong is to Seoul, South Korea. It's still a charming but clumsy and colorful series that's ultimately aimed at children, based on its timeslot, and is designed to sell merchandise.
Yet, in this specific context of fashion and the evolution of Harajuku, URAHARA is fascinating, especially with recent mutterings that the youthful, transient nature of Harajuku is dead, pushed aside by the fast fashion of Uniqlo and larger Western commercial brands (H&M, Forever 21, Topshop) which have begun to crowd into Shibuya as a whole and the Harajuku district. Fast fashion, meant for all aspects of life, from work to a weekend date, is another mass-produced uniform. Uraharajuku is supposedly a response to this: the backstreets of Harajuku, the last bastion of independent street fashion against the drab styles of fast fashion. With this framing, the scooper aliens—who are looting the world for culture and creativity since they lack their own—take on a more relevant, somewhat clever role.
Although Rito's family appears to own a dry goods store of some kind, she remarks that the store isn't busy at all on the weekends since only locals come in. It's another reminder of how many people feel that Harajuku has been overrun with tourists—something that the URAHARA girls themselves later touch upon in conversation—and how independent stores rarely see the same upswing in sales that larger fashion chains do, a few more well-known outliers aside. Yet when the girls remark that they should go somewhere less culturally-relevant to avoid the alien onslaught (they decide on PARK, naturally) the unspoken joke is that there isn't such a place and all of Harajuku is still culturally relevant.
There's more than a bit to unpack in the individual styles of Rito, Kotoko, and Mari. Additionally, the fact that the formerly kidnapped Misa shows up in a multilayered number that looks like it could appear in a glossy FRUiTS photograph—fried shrimp boots to match her talking fried shrimp companion!—is hilarious. However, the outfit that stood out to me the most in this first episode was the one worn by the scoopers scout who pays a visit to the girls at PARK early in the episode.
Our alien appears in comparatively drab farmer's attire with a conical hat draped on his back and a shachihoko ornament on his head. It's an awkward mismatch of Japanese traditional clothing, and his movements resemble the stiff, unnatural gestures of one of Yaichirou Shimagamo's inhuman stewards in The Eccentric Family. There was no better way to present an alien appearance that says, "Hey, fellow kids" in the most awkward way possible than this outfit.
Emily Rand is a writer who usually covers esports. You can find her personal anime ramblings at the blog Atelier Emily.