Thursday, June 30, 2011

What is Cosplay?

The first cosplayer I have ever taken a picture of at Anime Expo 2004
(Meroko from Full Moon wo Sagashite)
Anime conventions are great events that has guests, panels, dance, kareoke, and have a wide variety to offer to the fan. The first thing one notices in a convention are the people dressing up in outfits, and how seemingly normal it is to the person dressing up and the people around them. What they are doing is called Cosplay, short for Costume Play. In this short introductory piece, I will examine the culture of cosplay and the popular vernacular used for cosplay and among cosplayers.

Cosplay is very popular among anime fans across the world, go to a convention anywhere in the world and you will see people dressing up in outfits. There are two main divergences in cosplay culture, Japanese Cosplay Culture and Western Cosplay Culture.

Japanese cosplay culture is unique in that most outfits are not handmade by the person cosplaying it. In Japanese cosplay culture, most cosplay is bought from a professional tailor who makes beautiful and exquisite outfits. In general, Japanese cosplayers pose for friends and people they are familiar with. They also emphasize being the character, trying to look as much like the character as much as humanly possible.

Western cosplay culture is quite a contrast compared to Japanese cosplay culture. A disproportionately high number of cosplayers create their own cosplay. When going to an anime convention, most of the outfits worn is handmade creations by the creator. There is a sense of pride among people who create elegant and well-done cosplay. Generally speaking, western cosplayers pose with friends, and they are more likely to pose for people they do not know as long as the photographer has good intentions. In western cosplay, I would like to use three different classifications to determine the type of western cosplayer:
  • Casual Cosplayer: This cosplayer's focus is on the outfit itself. The person may not be familiar with the character or series the character is in, and in some instances they cosplay as a character they dislike. A casual cosplayer focuses more on the aesthetic design of the cosplay. They find the outfit appealing in some form and they want to express themselves through the cosplay outfit.
  • Hardcore Cosplayer: This cosplayer's focus is a much stronger focus on the character. In general, they do the signature poses. They would choose the character because they can relate to the character in the series they are in. The focus is not on the aesthetic design as much as it is showing the love of the character or the series the character is from.
  • Character Cosplayer: This is one of the unique cosplayers who is the most hardcore of the hardcore. What they do is closer to acting in that they practice the character, and they imagine themselves as the character. They would practice for many hours until they think they got the spirit of the character and they start acting and thinking as a character would think. These cosplayers would do the signature poses, but they would also do original poses in the spirit of the original. A character cosplayer could also say dialogue that character would say. They basically view the convention environment as their stage, and they don't break character unless they are eating lunch or talking casually to make friends. This kind of cosplayer is rare, but meeting them during Anime conventions are a treat because they passionately care about their character and they have deep love of whatever franchise they are from.
When one goes to an anime convention, you will see a combination of these three types of cosplayers. This is not a hierarchy, one is not superior over another. In the end, they are all people who cosplay because they want to and we have to respect them for doing it.

When it comes to cosplay outfits, they normally are bought, modified, or made from scratch. I am a person with no sewing skills whatsoever, and there are lots of people like me. People such as myself are more than likely going to buy cosplay outfits. There are a variety of great outfits and wigs you can buy online, I will make some suggestions in a later blog post. For people who have some sewing skills, they typically modify bought cosplay. They would get a bought cosplay and they would modify the outfit to fit them better, add some personal touches, or to use it as a base to create a much more complicated cosplay outfit. The last one is those that are handmade from scratch. There are cosplayers who are very good at making outfits from scratch (like Crystal G). They basically have to have good knowledge in sewing and can use basic household materials and turn them into magical material. In the West, people take pride in handmade cosplay.

When going to an anime convention, you hear some cosplay vernacular that is being used that may sound odd at first. I will explore the vernacular used by cosplayers during a convention:
  • Cosplay Gathering: Normally in a convention, the cosplayer walks around by themselves or with a friend and poses for pictures when someone recognizes them or likes the outfit. In other instances they would meet up with other people cosplaying from the same series and they would pose together in a gathering. A gathering goes between 30-60 minutes depending on the number of cosplayers and the variety of poses they can come up with.
  • Genderbent: This person is cosplaying as the opposite sex equivalent of the original character. For example, Mio is a female from K-On who has long black hair and is known for her proportions. A genderbent equivalent would be a guy with short black hair and wearing a male school uniform.
  • Crossplay: A person who is crossplaying is a person who is cosplaying as a character of the opposite sex, but they wear the original outfit. In many instances crossplayers go all out and they try to look like the character as much as humanly possible. There are others who are famous for not even trying like Man Faye or Sailor Bubba.
Cosplay is a fun aspect of anime conventions, and once you get over the initial shock of seeing it for the first time it actually gets quite addicting. There have been many instances where I have pined for doing it myself, but I do not have the talent, nor do I think I am a good fit for many characters out there. It is a great hobby, and I admire the people who have the courage to do it.

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