To commemorate the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, a group of Japanese artists banded together to create an unofficial promotional campaign for the event. Naturally, this involved designing anime samurai characters based on each participating country’s flag.
The “World’s Flags” project, which started in 2018 to build excitement for the Tokyo Olympics, consists of a series of samurai character designs and profiles for each country’s character, who have fleshed out personalities and backstories that contribute to a manga (comic) series that is also hosted on the website.
The profiles of each character are both celebratory, humorous, and historical. America, for example, is represented by “Justin” (design seen above). The youngest samurai of the bunch, Justin’s weakness is raw fish. Comically, he uses “defense spending” to acquire more Samurai weapons. He also wears cowboy boots.
Each character has a unique aesthetic that makes their country of origin recognizable. The designs expertly blend components of Samurai armor with the silhouette and ornamentation of each country’s traditional fashion.
For example, Spain stands flamboyantly in a Toreador outfit, which is outfitted by golden Sode and Kusazuri (or shoulder and waist armor). The website calls him Iniesta, named after Andres Iniesta (considered one of the best Spanish football midfielders.)
France’s character, Alain (named after the philosopher), sports his Samurai armor over a jacket ensemble. It resembles the National Guard uniforms worn during the French Revolution. For those who are curious, his weak point is English.
Malaysia’s representation incorporates the country’s flag into a stunning silhouette. Near the bottom of the design, some of the patterned fabrics common in traditional Malaysian attire are included, wrapped around the armor.
Each of the characters have a special samurai move, as well. Spain, for example, incorporates flamenco dance in his attacks.
Vietnam’s character, meanwhile, can use his five-pointed star to summon animal spirits.
While the World’s Flags project is a whole lot of fun on the surface, it does call into question where the line is drawn between a celebration of a country’s culture and stereotyping.
For example, the character representing Mexico (named Guillermo) has a design that references some of the traditional fashion of Mesoamerican culture. It also highlights the symbols of the Mexican flag. The art obviously had a lot of thought put into how it presented Mexico. However, the character description lists his “special skill” as “making quesadillas.” In comparison, it seems very surface level.
Considering that there have already been controversies surrounding stereotyping countries at this year’s Olympic games, we should take perceptions that Japanese culture has of other countries into account while consuming the art. Proper enjoyment comes from proper criticism.
Though it can get a little bit silly at times, the project is a love letter to the collective energy of the Olympics, to the cultures of each of the countries involved, and to Japan’s own artistic aesthetic.
See all 84 character designs at https://world-flags.org.