This was a report we had to do at the begining of the year on your own popular culture consumptions in our country. So I decided to do it on cosplay. I realise that I didn't define what cosplay was so I'll do it now. Cosplay comes from "costume play" where you dress up as characters from various mediums, be it anime/manga/books/films/bands/TV programs, and not just Japanese mediums, but Western ones too. Some people even say it originated from Trekkies in America dressing in Star Trek costumes and then being brought to Japan.
The following is my own opinion and what I really think, so I realise I may sound really snobbish at times...or a lot of the time. But it's unedited and what I gave to my teacher.
Cosplay the British Way
One of my interests is in cosplay. This originated from the website DeviantArt.com, where people share, collect and comment on their own and other people’s artwork. My main attraction to the site was the individual’s professional looking manga style original artwork. After being on the site for many years I began to stumble across photographs of various characters from popular animes and I began to collect the images of some of my favourite ones.
A few months after that I began to investigate into the possible cosplay events I could go to, but living in England, out in the countryside and having no money I felt like I would never get an opportunity to try it out. A while later and I started university and was introduced to KentANIMEted, a student run anime society. Within a few weeks they were advertising a group trip to the London MCM Expo, a sci-fi, fantasy and anime convention, which most people attended in cosplay. This isn’t to say that everyone who likes sci-fi, anime and manga likes cosplay and in fact many people go to the events simply as fans of the genres.
I was so excited at this opportunity that I spent several days thinking over the possible characters I could do. I did not have much time nor any money and as the event grew closer it seemed like I would miss this one opportunity. I think that it was something so new that I had wanted to try for so long that I just could not miss the chance. In the end I managed to convince a friend to buy me a Yuuki cosplay off of e-bay (a character from the shojou manga Vampire Knight).
I had fun but learnt a lot from my first cosplay. Such as the need to stay in character; I was too hyper that the few photos I did have taken of myself were ridged and I looked like a complete newbie (which technically I was). After that I began to make my own cosplays; my first was with a friend who helped me make a custom made Final Fantasy White Mage, which I did in a group with some friends. The second I made by myself and it looked terrible. From that I learnt that you needed the material to match the colour and fit with the costume; to use proper clothes templates; how to tack, sew and use a sewing machine; good places to go in my area and further afield for materials and accessories. I would normally spend about £60 and at least 2 weeks on a single cosplay and each time I would learn something new. The best part was going to the London MCM Expo (which is held twice a year) and knowing the effort I put into my costumes was worth it, although there would always be something I would have wanted to improve about the costume.
After going to these conventions and other small University based events for 2 years, with a total of 9 different costumes of varying genres (anime, manga, games sci-fi TV and webcomics) I noticed I had not only how I gained the skill to make clothes but also developed a kind of cosplay snobbery. There were always ‘bad’ cosplayers running around and I would always judge their cosplay as much as I judged my own, critiquing in my head (and sometimes shamefully out loud) how bad they looked and why and how they could improve it. Once when I was walking through Camden in London on a normal day and I spotted a Roxas and Axel (from the game Kingdom Hearts) and my first thoughts were ‘Oh a Roxas and Axel. Wow Roxas is fat and Axel should really sort out her wig’.
I normally feel bad for thinking this way but I think it formed from the strikingly different groups that always seem to form at the Expo. The ‘Japanafiles’, people who ran around with ‘free hug’ signs, eating pocky and other Japanese snacks and shouting “kawaii” and “desU” (with no real knowledge of the Japanese language except what they obtained from the internet and anime). These are often cosplayers dubbed ‘Narutards’ and ‘Bleach Clones’, those who buy the same mainstream fandom costumes (Naruto, Bleach, Soul Eater, Vampire Knight, Death Note, Kingdom Hearts, Silent Hill etc) from the internet and who gathered in large groups from the same series. They are well known for cosplaying the mainsteam because that’s often the only anime/manga they know.
There are the cosplayers who dress up in (most likely) hand-made costumes which are not part of the mainstream, (I say ‘most likely’ because people don’t tend to ask if a cosplayer has made the costume themselves). Those cosplaying in something different would often come in groups and looked amazing together (one year there was a large group of zombie Disney princesses). Then there are the professionals, people who had been cosplaying for years and gotten it down to a fine art. They will often spend hundreds of pounds and months on amazingly detailed costumes for events where they strut around in character and are often treated like celebrities. Their photos are the ones that crop up the most often on the internet and there are forums and websites dedicated to showcasing the progress of the costume’s make and final pictures (www.cosplayisland.co.uk/ and www.mcmexpogroup.com/forums).
The ever present cosplay photographers are those who would create these final pictures of the Cosplayer in character. They get people to pose and create artbook style photographs, often copying poses and scenes from the series the character originated from. A decent photographer is able to make any cosplay look amazing no matter how bad the costume was. I am lucky that one such photographer came from the University anime society (www.manylemons.co.uk/gallery) and who is also one of the founding members of cosplayisland.co.uk.
I have found that a successful cosplay (which everyone aims to get) is one that gets lots of compliments and requests for photographs (a difficult task considering the number of cosplayers who attend). My last event was like this. I had arranged to go in a small group with 3 other girls who I had met at a previous Expo event. We stayed in a hotel to attend the whole weekend and each made 2 costumes for the weekend (one for each day). The most successful was our group cosplay on the Sunday of the one popular manga Air Gear. For that event I spent a total of around £400 (I know others who spend a lot more depending on the event and costumes), but I felt like the money was well spent considering the experience. The atmosphere at such large scale events is tremendous because of the number of people and costumes.
I’ve met many cosplay friends through going to the Expo, although I often only ever see them at the events (due to how spread out across the country they are). Many of my close friendships have also developed through the anime society and quite a few through making cosplay with them. Early this year in connection with KentANIMEted I ran a cosplay workshop to help people get into making their own costumes. Most people who cosplay (such as those I’ve met) will keep socialising throughout the year using the Expo forums, but I found that I preferred socialising with people in person rather then over the internet as most of the people on the forum were annoying ‘Japanafiles’.
The consumer culture of cosplay is strongly rooted in the fandom of American and Japanese sci-fi and fantasy, anime and manga. I don’t know any cosplayers who do not own at least one manga book, anime, DVD and sci-fi comic. The Expo itself is a geek’s shopping dream where vendors sell art, anime, doujinshi, Japanese magazine, plushies (soft toys of anime/manga characters), DVDs and advertise the latest games and films. Those cosplayers who cannot sew and just go for fun will buy their cosplay off e-bay (most often specially fitted from Hong Kong). The professional and amateur cosplayers are significantly different as they will spend most their money of materials to create the characters clothes, money which does not go into the American anime industry (most products in England are linked back to the Ameircan market rather then the Japanese one because the American’s translate and export the products for European consumption).
In conclusion my own interest in cosplay spawned from the social networks of the internet to a university club where I made new friends and learned from them before going onto teach others. The cosplay culture itself is designed to be seen by others so people are often committed to doing events with other people in either small group photo shoots, or in a large convention like the Expo. The cosplays themselves are created from the animes, mangas, TV shows, films, comics and webcomics that they are interested in. These cosplayers will consume a wide variety of these before they even think about cosplaying (I certainly did), and then at the event itself is a wide selection of products people will purchase at extortionate prices because it is linked to those interests. I am ever thinking of new cosplays I want to do, new events to go to as each cosplay is different and I feel like there is still so much I could do.