What is cosplay? Cosplay is the short for “costume play,” that is strict definition, but in practice cosplay is getting into costume and having fun while doing it, which is pretty obvious as at many anime conventions and other such cosplay events. So how do you define cosplay? In the age of the internet, you can google “cosplay” and get the definition from Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosplay) and Urban Dictionary (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=cosplay). In each of these there is a lot of interesting things said about cosplay, but instead of reiterating what they say, I will give a little history, and a lot into the global appeal, events, and potential and future.
Many people believe cosplay started in Japan, when it actually did not. While it is true that cosplay in the most recent years has been more Japan media centric, i.e. taking costumes for anime, manga, and video games mostly from Japan, it did not start there. It actually started in America.
In America, cosplay, though it was not called that yet, has been around as long as people have been getting in costumes and going to events. Before anime hit it big in the US, there was Cosplay in America. In fact, you can say that the first cosplay was done by Forrest J. Ackerman (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forrest_J._Ackerman) where he wore his “futuristicostume” (which was designed and created by Myrtle R. Douglas) at the 1st World Science Fiction Convention in 1939. Then there were those who got in costume from Star Wars and Star Trek, and there were renaissance fairs, and even Civil War re-enactors. Moreover, all of these are still around today. What people overseas observed, were people getting into costumes from Star Wars and Star Trek (mostly Star Trek), and they were captivated. This is where cosplay started in Japan; they saw what Americans were doing. You can see this from all the Star Wars and Star Trek fans and cosplayers who live globally. Cosplay itself however is more than just a USA and Japan phenomenon, is it global.
Now the appeal comes from all the penetration of anime, manga, and comics all around the world, and in almost any free country and in some that are not, you can almost always find at least one anime convention or event, and as such cosplayers. The map on http://www.animecons.com/events/map.shtml shows a sample of just the sheer number of conventions around the world, it is by no means complete. It does not list such Brazil (http://www.youtube.com/user/cosplayersnet, http://www.cosplayers.net), or a few of the other countries that participate in the World Cosplay Summit (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Cosplay_Summit), and other countries such as Israel which have anime conventions and as such cosplay.
Cosplay.com and ACP/ACE/ACS (www.acparadise.com) (two of the major cosplay sites in the United States) show just a sampling of how many cosplayers there are from all over the world as not every cosplayer creates an account on these two sites. In addition, there are many country specific cosplay sites that serve more local markets, such as the above Cosplayers.net, and the UK’s Cosplay Island (http://www.cosplayisland.co.uk) and the most popular cosplay site in Japan is Cure (http://en.curecos.com/) which many people internationally also have an account on.
For many major cosplay sites, at least those started in America, is that to use them the knowledge of English is very important. To quote ACP/ACE/ACS: “While the site is named American Cosplay Paradise [American Cosplay Experience], we allow cosplayers from other countries to join too, as long as they can understand our English!” The above Cure, obtained a big bump internationally when they opened an English version. While anime is global as are many aspects of Japanese culture are now international, the language of Japanese (while growing in the amount of people who know it) is not a global one (at least not yet), especially not for web interfaces and periphery such as keyboards, whereas English is. (See here: http://www.coscom.co.jp/japanesefont/inputjapanese/installime.html for some text about typing in Japanese).
There are a lot of cosplay sites all over the world in which people show their costumes, I do not have a complete list and it continually grows, and many sites especially those that cover Jpop culture feature cosplay and/or cosplayers such as Japanator (http://www.japanator.com) in some way, shape, or form. Furthermore, there are many cosplayers that create websites of their own based on their costumes if they do not already include them in their own websites (this assumes they use their websites for more than just costumes and things related to cosplay). Social networks which include Myspace, Flickr, Livejournal, DeviantArt, and Facebook are among the places where people show off their costumes and their props. However, they do not just show off the costumes, they show off themselves (or sometimes others) wearing them, being in groups, and using props, all while having fun, which is one of the points of cosplay. This in turn begs the question, how does one get involved in cosplay?
Getting involved in cosplay is very easy, all you have to do is pick a character that you want to do from basically anything, get in the costume, and have fun. There are many ways to do this: Many people make their own costumes, or have them commissioned, or even buy them from a costume store (which is either a stand brick-and-mortar store or an online retailer). It is even possible to buy costumes directly from Japan via services (if you do not speak Japanese) or from the sites themselves (if you do speak Japanese). As a cosplayer, myself I have done a mix of the above, as do many people. What this means is that they would possibly make parts of their costume, commission another part, and buy another part from a store. What each person does (and does per costume) is different, but many cosplayers are very happy to tell you how they made their costumes and some even post tutorials as to how to make parts of, if not the whole costume. I will give a fair warning here: Cosplay can be a very expensive hobby.
I was once asked by a client of mine “How much do you and your friends spend on costumes?” I replied: “While it is series and character dependent, we can spend anywhere from $200 to $400 or more a single costume.” Some of my friends, who are very prominent and well-known cosplayers, have spent over $1000 on a single costume. However, you do not have to spend this much, many of my cosplays have been under $50 dollars. What I do a lot of is “casual cosplay” which is generally doing casual versions of characters, with them usually wearing clothes that you can buy at a store such as J.C. Penny, Wal*Mart, etc and continue to wear as real clothes. In fact, I have experimented wearing a few of my casual cosplays outside of anime and cosplay events (Saito of Ghost In The Shell, Lupin III of Lupin III, and Lasse Aeon of Gundam 00), and have gotten no reaction from people around me. Now some may say that doing “casual cosplay” is more being creatively resourceful, than cosplaying but I would offer a different opinion. Many series are full of casual cosplays all of which are canon, and as stated if you are in costume as a character you are cosplaying (and as another note cosplay is all about being creatively resourceful). A great example of this all the Light Yagami’s and L’s (both from Death Note) that you see at conventions, and there a lot of people who do them well in their main outfits, the same with Kamina of Gurren Lagann. Now there would be some detractors who say that (and I am keeping that as pleasant as possible) because you are not this (such as being a particular nationality), or do not have this or that (such as lacking certain physical characteristics) you could not cosplay as that character. Now this is not true, a lot because of a big aspect of cosplay not covered yet which is mukokuseki.
Mukokuseki translates as “without nationality” and while watching anime, you can see how this applies. How many characters in anime, especially popular series, look Japanese, or Asian, or even Caucasian for that matter? There is nothing usually that states they are one or the other just by appearance. You can sometimes tell which characters may be of African descent and Indian (or in some cases Middle Eastern descent as well) by their skin tone, but that is it. This is notable in some series such as Cowboy Bebop. However, it should be noted that other aspects such as hair and eyes could be completely different from any “real world” representation, as many animes have. The names are a better indicator of any implied nationality, as well as the scenario of the story. A popular example from a recent anime is Rakshata Chawla who is Indian, but she has long blonde hair (http://codegeass.wikia.com/wiki/Rakshata_Chawla). Now what does this have to do with cosplay? It shows that there are many possibilities for cosplay from all ethnicities. I have seen Indian descent cosplayers who look great as Rakshata, as well as African descent cosplayers who look awesome as well. One of my friends who is of African descent will be my Rakshata in a Code Geass group and she looks great in the outfit (FYI, I will be Lloyd Asplund). However, it does not end there. One thing I think about when cosplaying (and what many other cosplayers think at least subconsciously) is what is important to make this character, this character, and not think about your own ethnicity. To be many characters it is about their clothes, their style, and any important marks. Now this can complicated to explain, but think about it visually, and I will use an example of a cosplay I have done, Shūhei Hisagi (http://bleach.wikia.com/wiki/Shūhei_Hisagi). Now take a look at Hisagi, and let us assume that that you want do him as a lieutenant, and now think what is important for Hisagi to be recognizable as Hisagi? The answer is the scars on his face, the blue tattoo, and the 69. This is the main part that makes Hisagi, Hisagi, and as such starting with this you are cosplaying as Hisagi. The rest such as the Soul Reaper Uniform and even his weapon just make you a potentially better looking Hisagi, but without those core features, you are not Hisagi. But as I stated there is no consideration on your own ethnicity here, only what is important for being the character of Hisagi, and this applies to so many cosplays. As stated if you want to cosplay as a character, look at the character, and determine what makes that character that character. This may make someone think what is the future of cosplay?
In the future, I see cosplay expanding especially as there are more characters in popular series who match the ethnicities of more people in countries such as those in the Middle East and India. In the past, there have been characters in Oh My Goddess! (such as Urd [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urd_(Oh_My_Goddess!)]) and Revolutionary Girl Utena (such as Anthy Himemiya) among many other examples where there are characters who go beyond the just Asian and European looks, and the sheer number of multi-ethnic casts in shows, especially popular shows, continues to grow. I see that many people will see a character in other countries as they do in the US, and say “I can do that” and use it as a starting point to do all sorts of characters, including combining their own cultures to make even more cosplays. I also think that all over the world as more and more people participate in cosplay we will see things that will simply amaze everyone. Which is something I find at every convention, I go to is that I see things that amaze me. And the same online, I can see a costume that is just wow. I see many people saying the same and they like I did would want to participate as well. Cosplay is participatory and the number of people participating continues to grow. Cosplay is becoming more and more mainstream, and people are creating their own cosplay events, such as meet ups, picnics, and so many more things.
Always remember that cosplaying is about having fun, and fun it is.
This article was originally published on: http://www.staticmultimedia.com/print/features/cosplay~_anime_dress-up