I welcome you to the magical world of cosplay. You might have heard about cosplay from your local newspaper, TV, or social media. Maybe you’ve even seen a Naruto or Luffy cosplayer screaming and running around your community park or school area. The word cosplay (コスプレ kosupure), is a contraction of the words costume and play. It is a performance art in which participants, called cosplayers, wear costumes and fashion accessories to represent a specific character. The activity was popularized by Nobuyuki Takahashi, who coined the term ‘cosplay’ in 1984 at the 42nd World Science Fiction Convention. However, the art of cosplaying started long before that.
One of the oldest records of performers dressing as fictional characters dates back to the 15th century when masquerade balls were popular during ‘carnival season’, which included events such as elaborate, symbolic pageants, royal entries, marriages and birthdays. Also, during the renaissance period, costume balls were in fashion. At these gatherings, high nobles and members of royalty would dress as famous characters in popular fiction novels like; Romeo and Juliet and Don Quixote.
Surprisingly the act of cosplaying now, in the modern age, still has similarities to its past. These days cosplayers typically meet together at conventions. If you aren't familiar with the term convention already, a convention or a ‘con’, is a themed event that usually occurs at a large venue. Many people come, in and out of costume, all over the area to partake in these events. Different activities occur during conventions, like stands selling anime merchandise, independent shops, maid cafes, cosplay competitions, and even convention parties. Dressing up adds a whole other element to the convention. Cosplaying itself is an art form of many art forms. Being in character requires the craftsmanship of creating a costume, the artistry of putting on make-up, the performance skills of acting as someone else, and the strength to stay in character throughout the day.
Cosplayers can take days or even months to create a costume. Since the costumes and weapons don’t typically exist in the real world, many cosplayers make their own patterns, layouts, and materials out of conventional items. However, other cosplayers buy their costume ready-made or have their costumes commissioned. Unmistakably, cosplaying costs a significant amount of money. Other than their costume and props, cosplayers must pay for other expenses like makeup, wigs, transportation, and convention tickets.
The first time I dressed up in cosplay and attended a convention was in 2012. I went as my favorite anime character at that time. I had on a blond bob cut wig, tight blue pants, an old t-shirt I had cut into a tank top, and more make-up than any 13-year-old should have been wearing. In my group of friends that came with me, I was the only newbie in the group. I was extremely anxious for the convention; my palms were sweaty, my voice became squeaky and high-pitched, and my nails became stubby from all the abuse I was putting on them. Arriving at the con was like entering another dimension. Everywhere you looked, there was something different and interesting to look at. Every sight would seem out of place if it were somewhere else, but they fit right in at that convention. That is one of the many charms of conventions, creating a space where fantasy and the unconventional are entertained. Personally, I cosplay because freedom of expression is like no other. It’s what drives me to come back, to feel liberated from the constricting norms. It makes the world more colorful and exciting.
Cosplaying has become more than a hobby of dressing up as fictional characters. It has grown and given a sense of meaning to cosplayers. For some, it could be a pathway to temporarily escape from reality, a form of self-expression, an outlet for creativity and craftsmanship, and for others, it can even be their primary source of happiness. Nevertheless, cosplaying is definitely extraordinary, and within this subculture, there is also a strong sense of community. Ultimately, what all cosplayers have in common is that each person goes into this hobby because it’s fun. It requires time and dedication, but it is rewarding to see the results.