Is Cosplay Just Dressing Up?
In one sense, there really is no difference between cosplay and things like masquerade balls and fancy dress parties – which have been around for centuries.
The word cosplay itself originates from the 1990s anime culture of Japan, but fans have been wearing costumes based on characters for as long as there have been science fiction conventions. Star Trek fans have been dressing up as Kirk, Spock, and McCoy since the 1960s. Even in Japan, wearing costumes at conventions was a thing since the 70s, even before the word cosplay was ever coined.
Kosupure: The Birth Of The Cosplay Trend
Cosplay as a cultural phenomenon really picked up steam when one Japanese animator, Nobuyuki Takahashi, wrote about a US convention he attended and coined the term kosupure or cosplay, which is a combination of the words ‘costume’ and ‘play’. His term caught on, and by the 1990s cosplay became a hot trend in Japan. Nowadays cosplaying is near-universal in the realm of Japanese anime; from Sailor Moon to Attack on Titan, almost every popular franchise has its cosplayers.
From Japan, cosplay caught on all over the world, covering not just anime but comics, movies, TV shows, and games too! Thanks to the magic of cosplay, you can attend conventions to see imitations of your favourite fictional characters interact in the real world in unusual combinations, such as Spiderman and Spider Gwen duking it out with Quinn and Poison Ivy, or Bowsette sharing a drink with 2b from NieR: Automata.
The Hot New Geek Scene
Cosplay started out attached to other fandoms, like sci-fi or anime, but it soon became a hot fandom of its own, with its own international conventions and competitions. Some examples are Cosplay Mania, an annual cosplay-focused convention in Manila, Philippines, the “End of Year” Cosplay Festival in Singapore, and the World Cosplay Summit in Nagoya, Japan, where the best cosplayers from around the world compete.
If you attend some of these conventions, you’ll find certain popular characters being cosplayed often. Harley Quinn from Suicide Squad has been popular ever since Margot Robbie brought the character to life on the big screen. Deku, the green-haired protagonist of My Hero Academia, has a variety of different costumes that cosplayers like to switch between. And popular cosplay pics Raven and Starfire from DC’s Teen Titans are often seen on the convention floor, on solo missions or teamed up.
Why Do People Cosplay?
Talk to any cosplayer, and they’ll tell you why cosplaying is a liberating experience. Wearing a costume allows a person to set aside their ordinary, everyday identity and adopt another personality, often wildly different from their normal selves.
Some people simply want to feel more connected to their favourite fandom. Whether it’s dressing up like Rey from a galaxy far far away, or donning a platinum blonde wig and a Daenerys Targaryen costume, cosplaying provides fans with an outlet to keep experiencing the magic of their favourite movie, game, or tv show.
One group of cosplayers, sometimes called ‘cosplay models’, actually make a living from their cosplay appearances at conventions. In some countries, these cosplay models can even transition to a more mainstream showbiz career, leveraging their crossover appeal.
How Do You Cosplay?
Anyone can cosplay! All it takes is some imagination and ingenuity, and you too can dress up as your favourite character. Of course, some characters are easier to cosplay as than others.
For example, the character L from Death Note requires only tousled hair, a long-sleeved white shirt, jeans, and dark circles under your eyes. Others characters take considerable more time, money, and effort to pull off, such as Shego’s costume from Kim Possible or Green Arrow’s costume from the Arrowverse.
An Expensive Hobby?
Cosplay can become very expensive for serious hobbyists. While retailers and online shops such as EZCosplay exists for casual cosplayers who just want to dress up as their favourite characters, dedicated cosplayers often create their own costumes.
That’s probably one incentive for cosplayers to turn their hobby into a business, in order to recoup their expenses. Apart from the financial cost, creating elaborate costumes take a lot of time and effort as well.
Sexy Cosplay and Gender Issues
Cosplayers often make use of social media to increase their exposure and many cosplayers double as online celebrities. One famous example is Jessica Nigri, who began cosplaying ten years ago and has since made various TV and video game appearances.
Enji Night is a cosplayer known for her spot-on depiction of 2b from NieR: Automata. Another cosplayer with a massive following is Hana Bunny, well known for her renditions of Mei and d.Va from Overwatch and Tifa Lockhart from Final Fantasy VII.
Cosplay Is Not Consent
Clearly, some cosplayers are not above leveraging their sexuality in order to get more followers. ‘Sexy cosplay’ has grown as a trend in the past few years and while this has brought a lot of well-needed attention to the medium; unfortunately it’s also brought a lot of unsavoury behaviour. Cosplay has recently been accused of objectifying the performers and even exposing them to potential harassment and even harm.
The recent “Cosplay is not Consent” movement highlights the fact that although cosplayers often portray highly sexualised characters, this does not mean that they are “asking for it.” Other cosplayers find themselves getting slut-shamed online, or banned from conventions altogether.
Another cosplay subculture is crossplay, which consists of cosplaying as a character of the opposite sex. While females cosplaying as male characters are quite common, recently the male to female crossplay phenomenon has been gaining momentum. Ladybeard is an Australian wrestler famous all over the world for crossplaying as Sailor Moon and as Chun-Li from Street Fighter.
Anyone Can Cosplay
Cosplay is a red-hot trend right now, and anyone can get into it. As long as you have a passion for the fandom and the willingness to step out of your comfort-zone; you too can be a cosplayer!