I have worked as a freelance designer and illustrator for numerous fightwear companies. I have collaborated with Scramble in the past. I have had no personal involvement with the design of either product.
Scramble are a UK company who have been producing Japanese influenced lifestyle and fightwear designs for the past couple of years. Their latest rashguard design incorporates the specially commissioned artwork of Bong Abad, who runs his own line of gear under the Gawakoto brand. Fuji Sports have been operating for much longer (since the 1980's) and are known mainly for producing martial arts uniforms, notably their karate, judo and jiu jitsu range. They have recently launched a series of high concept art based rashguards of which this, the Sakana, is one.
I'll begin this review with a discussion of the artwork on display since the boldness of each design is pretty much the main draw of these products.
Bong Abad is a comic artist and fightwear designer of growing repute. I featured his work last year on my blog - you can read it here. The artwork depicted on the Shadows rashguard was inspired by Frank Miller's comic book work, hence lots of rain and deep, contrasting light effects. It's a very dark piece and a big departure from Scramble's previous offerings. As far as I know, the entire work on the front panel was hand drawn using good old fashioned paint.
The back panel features Japanese text for the seven virtues of Bushido and the sleeves features the Scramble logo treated with a distressed style of texture.
The Fuji Sakana rashguard features vector drawn 'tattoo' style artwork. It composes together an assortment of popular old school Japanese elements from the main koi fish to the samurai warrior, big waves, Mount Fuji and demon head. The artist who created this design is not credited.
Both rashguards are printed using dye sublimation. You can read more about this process here but the short of it is print that does not fade, peel or crack (compared to heat transfer or screen printed rashguards).
Dye sublimation allows designers to print a whole ton of colours and produce results in ultra sharp resolution. But there are drawbacks as I noticed with these two items.
For example, the ink on the Shadows rashguard looks to me like it has bled a wee bit into the fonts. The characters just look a bit thin and eroded more than was intended to me. The stretchiness of the fabric probably doesn't help the printing process either.
It's not a big deal and only something I noticed when viewing the design up close.
At the other end of the scale, the ultra sharp resolution of dye sublimation printing can expose a whole ton of artist flaws and errors. On the Sakana for example I noticed a number of end points that were clipped (see the second from bottom outer wave point) - a side effect of hastily produced vector work. Again, it's only a minor detail and not something you will notice at normal viewing distances, but as a person who uses Illustrator myself, it's just something I notice.
Despite the tiny design faults, the overall designs of both products are still very tastefully put together. One is very painterly and the other is very digitally styled, it's a matter of personal preference which you prefer I guess.
Construction and quality
I can almost hear the keyboards of a dozen computers hammering away to tell me I am spending way too much time bleeting about the design when I should be talking about the important stuff - the construction quality. Absolutely!
The Sakana features a blend of polyester (88%) and spandex (12%) and is made in China.
The Shadows does not state the blend but feels quite similar in thickness and stretchiness. Country of manufacture is not stated.
Close examination of the two rashguards reveals slightly differing types of flat lock stitching. The Scramble stitching (below) appears to be tighter and more dense than the Fuji one. Neither product had any problems with the stitch strength, quality or durability during rolling. Neither were they 'itchy' or remotely noticeable on the skin (I have read reports of the stitching of some rashguard brands causing intense skin irritation - for example this review.) But more about rolling comfort and performance later.
Note the screen printed inside 'label'. This is infinitely preferable to a woven label (which I find annoying) however it began to peel and disappear after just one wash! Pilling Test
Rashguards and velcro go together like water and hot oil - just one touch and it spells disaster. So what better way to treat two expensive and quality garments to my pilling/bobbling test. Eek, here we go...
The photo above shows what happened to each of the rashguards when I placed the velcro from my earguards and agitated it to simulate the friction of the two items making contact in a kit bag or washing machine. I only did it for a few seconds each to see which would bobble and pill the most easily. Clearly the Sakana shows the worse damage but the Shadows does not escape undamaged. I doubt any rashguard would escape such an attack unharmed.
I'm not sure if this proves anything other than simply to NEVER let velcro touch the surface of the rashguard.
Fit and Cut
If the two rashguards feature similarly inspired artwork, then fit and cut is where they differ markedly. Both products are a size small, but as the photo below shows, the torso of the Sakana is narrower but longer than the Shadows.
One of the first things I noticed with the Shadows is the fact that it does not lay flat. I concluded that this was due to the highly contoured cut of the various panels that make up the rashguard causing uneven tension.
The photo below shows the underarm panel of the Shadows rashguard, note the upper curve of the bottom panel.
The Sakana on the other hand has a more regular cut (straighter) and does not extend as far down the length of the sleeve.
Both rashguard side panels are cut in such as way as to avoid the seam lying directly underneath the armpit - a known bugbear for some rashguard users. Both rashguards have a front and back panel that is gently contoured to reflect the shape of the torso.
The sleeves of the Sakana are very narrow yet very long - the cuff is noticeably smaller than the Shadows. I discuss how this affects me in the rolling performance and comfort paragraphs below.
Rolling performance and comfort
I rolled in these rashguards during gi and nogi class for a period of around two and half weeks, each product having been washed over a dozen times.
The Scramble Shadows rashguard in size small fits me adequately. I do have long arms for a short person (I am 59Kg and 167cm tall) and the sleeves extended towards my wrists at just the right length without any slack or extra material folding up.
I did feel however that the underarm contouring was intended for a person with beefier arms than me. I could feel a minor degree of slack around this area and it is visible as wrinkling and folding of extra material around my shoulders and upper arms (as you can see below). The width around the waist region was also a wee bit loose, again, you can clearly see how loose it is there. It's not a criticism, just an observation and did not affect the functionality nor the comfort of the product.
The body of the Sakana rashguard is tighter and longer than the Shadows and I could feel the difference in all regions of the item. You can see how fewer wrinkling and excess looseness there is in the photo below. The whole rashguard felt very figure hugging - almost compression like. The sleeves are really long though, longer than even my arms are used to. There was a lot of excess material bunching up around my wrists. Another observation is that the sleeves are very very narrow. It was a struggle to pull the rashguard on over my arms. And my arms are very skinny! Despite that, once on, they felt tight and pleasingly limb hugging!
There is no outright winner here. If I could take the best elements from both rashguards then the end product would actually be perfect. Both the Scramble Shadows and the Fuji Sports Sakana rashguards offer attractive and bold Japanese inspired artwork - I slightly prefer the Shadows artwork over the Sakana. The Shadows is cut for a more athletic physique while the Sakana is cut much tighter fitting. I love the tightness of the Fuji yet the ease with which it bobbles and pills on contact with velcro worries me plus the long arms are slightly annoying. The Shadows rashguard carries a lovely piece of original art but is a bit loose on me in some parts. I found both rashguards to be great to wear for gi and nogi work and both are made to the very highest manufacturing standards. If I had to choose in a rush, I think because of the better fit (on me), the Sakana just edges it above the Shadows but if I could swap artwork designs, the Shadows I feel nudges it.