YVONNE EPPS WRITES – Anime Expo, the biggest anime and manga convention in North America, was held in Los Angeles this July. The event celebrated the pillars of Japanese pop-culture through industry guests, panels, and premieres. But the main attraction was the thousands of attendees dressed as their favorite characters. Ladies and gentleman, cosplay has emerged!
Created by Nobuyuki Takahashi, president of STUDIO HARD Deluxe, the word cosplay is a portmanteau of ‘costume’ and ‘play.’ It describes the act of wearing costumes depicting fictional characters from a particular work. While your Halloween costume of Spiderman from elementary school is a distant cousin, cosplay is what makes anime conventions special.
The interpretation and usage of works are important, but the expectations of mainstream media complicate the craft. Today, cosplayers typically make use of social media to promote their work and connect with like-minded fans. Yet, with the rise of nerd culture in mainstream media, cosplay is getting more exposure, birthing reality shows such as “Heroes of Cosplay.” Sadly, these shows misrepresent the hobby’s culture as competitive, shallow, and catty. The result is that the ideal cosplayer is asserted to be thin, fair, and beautiful, going against the hobby’s nature entirely. The manner in which a fan interprets their preferred work, using whatever skills they have, is the original intent, and it’s something cosplayers cherish deeply.
As a cosplayer, integrating yourself with the source work and with other fans outshines the need to have a flawless body. For the past year, I’ve been preparing nine cosplays for myself and others, toiling over intricate prop work and teaching myself how to sew. As with other hobbies, there will always be someone better. But, actualizing my interpretation of a game or show and the potential friendships I could make through those costumes made it worth it.
Once you don the costume, you become a conduit for communication between the other fans of the source material. During Anime Expo 2014 I made so many connections with people who would otherwise be strangers through conversations about my costume’s game or show. These new friendships would be even stronger upon meeting fellow attendees who were cosplaying from the same work or one that I simply loved.
This trend of positivity is growing, combating the superficial modeling scene. The Cosplay is Not Consent movement fights the sexual harassment of cosplayers who, in portraying some of their favorite characters, wear bodysuits that accent too much or outfits that show too much skin. Also, an antithesis to “Heroes of Cosplay” is in the work called Real Life Cosplayers. Created by the community itself, this show aims to follow the real struggles of cosplayers leading up to a particular convention.
Cosplay has more depth than putting on some spandex and taking pictures with attendees. Conventions wouldn’t be what they are now without colorful characters walking around with cardboard props and worbla armor. Cosplayers are active in the media, whether it’s researching that one side character who appears in two episodes of the newest anime, or elbow deep in outreach to fans on social media.
One’s expectations of cosplay might be different due to the mainstream media conjuring beautiful individuals with high cheekbones and chiseled bodies, but we are ultimately all fans that love media and show it by spending time, energy, and money on a costume that becomes our beacon to an entire fan community.
For more of Yvonne’s work be sure to check mellihoney cosplay.