Monday, September 21, 2009

Cosplayers Bring Fictional Characters to Life

By Alissa D. Vidulich

An introduction into the world of cosplay. Cosplaying began decades ago, and has quickly become a global subculture, despite that it is still unknown to many. Cosplayers bring fictional characters to life through costuming and role-playing their favorite characters. Sometimes these characters are brought to life through an empathetic process of self-actualization where cosplayers truly transform their inner character to that of the fictitious characters’.

Have you ever been Jack Skellington, creeping through the moonlit trees toward another dimension? Have you ever been Darth Vader, lured by the dark forces of nature to abandon your authentic self? Or what about Alice, curiously sipping tea with the Mad Hatter in Wonderland? For many the answer would be, 'only in my imagination,’ but in the world of cosplay people are turning their favorite works of fiction into reality.

Cosplay, a compound of the words 'costume' and 'play,’ has become an international subculture where fans of various fiction portray their favorite characters by way of detailed costumes and live role-playing. Characters, or ‘charas’, are mostly chosen from popular anime {a Japanese-style of cartoons and video games} and manga/comic books, but can be selected from any work of fiction. In an offshoot of fictional character cosplay some even go so far as to cosplay real life individuals like J-Rock or J-Pop band members, but such is usually referred to as just ‘role-playing’.

While the beginnings of cosplay are debatable one could at least say that the Trekkies, or Star Trek fans, may have played a role, in more ways than one. In the 1970's Star Trek spawned a new breed of sci-fi fans whose love for the series inspired some of them to follow suit by donning the polyester garbs of Captain Kirk and company. The hobby spread among Trekkies throughout America and began to catch on among fans of other sci-fi works such as Star Wars.

Cosplay has since become much more refined and has given rise to a global subculture. Today's cosplayers typically make their own costumes, replicating every fine stitch of their characters' attire. From hair, to makeup, to props, cosplayers use their dedication, artistic sight and imagination to virtually become whatever characters they choose. When in costume it is not uncommon for cosplayers to mimic their characters' personality traits, facial expressions and poses

Like any culture it has its own sense of language, customs and caste. For example, the terms 'crossplay' {dressing as the opposite gender} and 'glomp' {a running hug} are frequently used among cosplayers. Both crossplaying and glomping are particularly common at conventions {though it is in poor cosplay taste to glomp without first asking permission}. Average people or non-cosplayers are often referred to as the 'mundanes', while snooty expert cosplayers are called the 'elites'.

Anime, sci-fi, comic and costume conventions held in countless numbers around the globe each year are often the highlights of cosplay life. Some of the most well-known conventions in North America are Comic-Con, Anime Expo and Otakon. The Society for Creative Anachronism, may have been the first group to create the idea of a costume convention. In 1966 the group held a party in California, and according the SCA website the invitations read “that a tournament would be held on the first of May, summoning 'all knights to defend in single combat the title of 'fairest' for their ladies'."

Cosplay events at such conventions, or ‘cons’, include skits {pre-planned theatrical or comedic performances}, masquerades {staged competitions} and photo shoots {cosplayers dressed from the same fiction series often group together}.

While American cosplayers mainly stick to cosplaying at conventions, Japanese cosplaying frequently takes place in public street settings, especially in the Harajuku {Tokyo} and Nipponbashi {Osaka} shopping districts. Cosplaying has become far more prevalent in Japanese culture than in American culture since the 80s. In Japan there are stores, magazines and even caf├ęs dedicated solely to cosplay. Yet many Americans haven't the faintest notion that such a subculture exists, and often quite close to home.

Upstate New York, for example, is mostly known for its rolling farm lands, forest preserves and the capital city of Albany. It's a far cry from Harajuku, and even those who might enjoy manga or anime may still be unaware of the cosplay group in their own backyard. The Upstate New York or UNY Cosplay group initially formed about five years ago at RPI's Genericon, and has been increasing in size over the years. The group meets at various locations throughout upstate NY and organizes events such as the annual Cosplay Picnic and the Halloween Bash where local cosplayers can meet, share ideals and of course have fun.

“I've been able to work with some incredibly motivated and creative individuals who have brought together some amazing events,” states Jen Wicks, President of UNY Cosplay. Wicks has been president of the organization for the past three years, and claims it has been an “extremely rewarding experience.”

The group recently partnered with Albany Comic Con, and will host its costume competition. Albany Comic Con is scheduled for November 1, and will be held at the local Holiday Inn on Wolf Road. At the Albany con UNY Cosplay will also hold a discussion panel about cosplay, and how it is not just for Halloween. Those interested in joining UNY Cosplay can do so by going to the group’s web site at, attending meetings, or by going to the various events posted on the site.

Though many of us do imagine becoming our favorite characters the motivation to make such whims reality seems to come from that hushed yet ever present ghost of childhood, which tells us there should be something more than that ‘mundane’ society of nine-to-fives, of cutting grass and talking small. As cosplayer and forum moderator for Rosiel says,

“I work in corporate America, I have to blend in and wear suits and be staid and serious. So cosplay is an escape into adolescence.”

Yet there are also those who, rather than seeing a fantasy-like escape in it, find cosplaying as an inspiration for their own very real “self-transformations.” forum user ‘xxdaemonxx’ explains, “Roleplaying does not always lead to an ‘escape from reality‘, it can greatly open your mind and give you more power over reality. When I was inspired by [the Fist of the North Star and Street Fighter 2] anime characters I started to take martial arts and studied various mind sciences. I wanted to be a master of my mind, body, and spirit like the anime characters that I greatly admired.” Cosplayers like ‘daemon’, beyond their costumes, their makeup, or their skits, truly do bring fictional characters to life.

Credit: photograph of Rick Lo potraying ‘L’ from Death Note, taken by ‘Slumberdoll’ of{used under creative commons}

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