An Introduction To Cosplay
Everyone around the office has their own unique nerd-crutch. Mine is cosplay. While other folks at GI spend their free time table-top gaming, hunting down comics or polishing their to-scale Darth Vader helmet, I’m preparing for the next big convention. This means I often spend weekends burning my hands on hot glue, sticking myself with sewing needles and wearing shoes that greatly impair my ability to walk. But just as fun as creating costumes is appreciating the hard work of others, a truth that inspired me to create a weekly blog highlighting fantastic cosplay across the web.
Before I showcase the first costume to catch my eye, I figure a good place to start would be with an introduction to the hobby. It just so happens that I penned a piece on cosplay for GI.com, which I managed to convince my editors to let me write my first week in office. I think the guys knew it was all downhill from there.
In Real Life: Cosplayers Bring Their Favorite Characters Into Our World
Fanboys (and girls) are a special breed in the gaming world. With their zealous enthusiasm, they single-handedly have the ability to make or break games, breathe life back into flailing franchises and (if they use their powers for evil) start flame wars across the Internet. Their undying devotion for a developer, game or character has spawned Web-rings, epic works of art and the desire to participate in the ultimate fan tribute—cosplay.
The fact that you’re taking the time to read a video-game-enthusiast website means that you likely have some fan tendencies inside of you. They may manifest in many forms, such as geeking out when purchasing licensed goods or taking a field trip with friends to reserve a special-edition game months before its release.
For those interested in the art of cosplay—short for costume play—their fan tendencies funnel into the desire to step into the shoes of a character they love. While somewhat comparable to the Halloween tradition of dressing up, cosplay costumes are not always purchased. Successful cosplayers have a deep understanding of costume design, sewing, wig styling, prop making, beauty/special-effects makeup—on top of having a high comfort level in front of a camera. Cosplayers have the ability to see an image on a screen or in an art print and translate it into reality. Taking on such daunting tasks is expensive, time consuming and mentally exhausting—but cosplayers unanimously agree the results are worth it.
Cosplay is often ignored in larger gaming outlets across the Web—unless it’s the butt of some bad joke. However, geek culture seems to be embracing the practice more and more each year. When a Swedish cosplayer recently revealed her latest video-game tribute costume—Metroid’s Samus Aran—within hours her photos graced the front page of dozens of nerd-culture blogs across the Internet.
Still—despite growing awareness and popularity—cosplay remains a mysterious creature. What is cosplay? Why do people do it? Like Mario, Godzilla and hentai, we can primarily thank Japan for the phenomenon. The internationally practiced hobby has its roots in the amorphous street-fashion trends of Japanese youth.
Forfeiting any form of normalcy, fashion-forward individuals in Japan will rock bleach-blond hair, unnaturally tanned skin and enough cute accessories to make Hello Kitty vomit—among other trends less easy to comprehend. Can’t visualize it? Google the term “ganguro” for some clarification. To this day, Japanese teens are a fashion force to be reckoned with, and their influence is felt worldwide. Inspired by everything from pop artists, movies and historical dress—cosplay was a natural progression for these teens. Instead of simply looking for inspiration, they began to faithfully replicate character costumes. Teens began to assemble and show off costumes inspired by their favorite anime, manga, video game and movie characters. Currently in the Japanese Harajuku district—a youth-fashion Mecca—youth gathers simply to be seen and photographed. Cosplay cafes (the PG ones) welcome fellow costume enthusiasts to sit and relax while being served by staff in popular-culture garb.
Around the rest of the world, cosplay is still a growing hobby. Discounting Japan, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, the Philippines and many Latin American countries lead the cosplay pack. In these countries it is becoming increasingly popular for convention goers to forgo jeans and a T-shirt for thematically appropriate costumes. Sci-Fi conventions are invaded by Star Trek enthusiast in Klingon garb—or Star Wars fanatics proudly showing their allegiance to the dark side. (It's worth noting that some Si-Fi costumers don't consider what they do "cosplay" because of the western roots) At comic conventions Wonder Woman, Rogue and Batgirl bring out the inner vixen from fangirls who sufferer the effects of a monotonous desk job. Video game and anime events coax Lara Croft, Solid Snake and ever-popular Naruto characters out of hiding. Many conventions have even begun to reward cosplayers for their work, by giving out awards for craftsmanship or hosting large-scale costume contests called masquerades.
Diversifying across the globe has lead to some changes in what the term cosplay encompasses. Evolving from its original roots, cosplay now covers costumes that draw inspiration from everything including myths, music videos and books, as well as the usual list of suspects. Even historical costuming can be considered cosplay. Some cosplayers take as much pride in creating original costumes as they do in exactly replicating an existing one.
The reasons for cosplaying are as diverse as the outside influences a cosplayer can pull from. Cosplay can be a creative outlet for one person and an expression fandom for another. Others use the hobby as an opportunity to step out of their skin for a day—to not only dress as a character but to embody their mannerisms and lifestyle. Still others simply enjoy the social aspect of cosplay and revel in receiving attention for their hard work.
And attention they get. LillyXandra—best known on the Web for the phenomenal craftsmanship on her Alucard costume—knows what it feels like to be a fan favorite. “Fans of the series flip out when seeing me,” she says. “Usually they tell me how much they love Alucard and ask for a picture with me. I had one fan that had a huge crush on the character and was really upset to find out that I was a girl.”
Like any hobby, there are degrees of involvement in cosplay. Some cosplayers take a casual approach—dressing up once or twice a year for a convention with friends. They are the type that won’t lose sleep over minor discrepancies between their costumes and the original character design. Other cosplayers with more time and energy to devote plan costumes months or years in advance. Craftsmanship and details are of the utmost importance. These cosplayers will hit the gym to slim down or put on muscles for a three-day event. They pay close attention to their hair and makeup, fit and re-fit their costumes and practice character appropriate poses for the throngs of photographers they will entice.
There is still a more elite breed of cosplayer. Not to be confused with booth-babes, “professional cosplayers” are world-renown for their costuming skills. They are hired to make appearances at international conventions.
Yaya Han, a cosplayer who could easily be placed in the pro category, has been invited all over the world to showcase her work. “In the U.S., a number of conventions have started taking interested in inviting cosplayers as guests,” explains Han. “Usually after being approached by the event and signing a contract, I help out with the cosplay related programming—giving panels and workshops on constructing costumes and discussing other helpful topics for cosplayers, wearing costumes around, judging the costume contests, that sort of stuff. I think it is great when a con realizes the pull cosplay has for their event—let's face it, cosplayers are the visual community of the anime fandom. We brighten up the halls of the conventions and help make the atmosphere fun and colorful. In countries like Mexico, invited international cosplayers are sometimes even treated like celebrities and have autograph sessions and press conferences.”
The uniting factor between all cosplayers is their fandom. Cosplay is not an easy or profitable venture. Between the costs for fabric, wigs, props, armor and accessories, it’s easy to spend anywhere from $200 to $2,000 or more on a single project. The investment put into the hobby can be monumental, especially if a cosplayer works on more than one costume at a time. But ask any cosplayer—the experience is well worth it.
So while standing in line launch day for Modern Warfare 2 may be the sign of a hardcore gamer—trying to measure up to these dedicated fans will prove what you are really made of.