For a dedicated few, fandom runs deep. Season after season, once civilized fathers, sons, and brothers turn into crazed beings. Fueled with a mixture of pure adrenaline and beer, they flail about in matching jerseys, body paint matched to sacred team colors, foam arms and headgear, or some ridiculous combination of the bunch. Men aren’t the only ones subject to this type of frenzied fan worship. Not long ago, packs of teenage girls dismantled store fronts and movie theaters over the phenomenon known as Team Edward versus Team Jake. Young girls worldwide clutched the popular Twilight series books like an adolescent bible.
Now what is I told you this uncompromising devotion could be applied to say…My Little Pony? Don’t worry, I won’t offer you any red or blue pills, but I will guide your trip down the rabbit hole.
In the 1960s, Japanese culture made its way into U.S. mainstream with series such as Speed Racer and Astro Boy. Since then fascination with everything Far East has steadily grown. Over time, knowledge of Japanese schoolgirls, karaoke, and gigantic monsters has seeped into America’s consciousness, along with the institution known as cosplay. During the ‘90s, cosplay or “costumes” for “play,” originated from Japanese cartoons and comics known as anime and manga. Fanatics, known as “otakus”, began dressing up like their beloved characters. Though recreational, crafting of an authentic cosplay costume can take much labor.
So where does the cosplay journey begin? First, choose a character.
Choosing a character to model can be tough. The cosplaying world is immense, what, with more than 4,000 total anime and manga series worldwide and steadily growing. Thanks to growth in industry, cosplay is constantly evolving. Though originating with Japanese based series, cosplaying has grown to include an array of genres such as video games, American and Import cartoons, comics, cult classic movies, science fiction series, and popular book series.
It’s common to start with a series you’re familiar with but selection doesn’t stop there. Believe it or not, there are several criteria which make a character let’s say, cosplay-worthy. This is usually governed by skill, budget, and popularity.
You may be into a very elaborate character like many found in the videogame franchise Final Fantasy. If you don’t have the costuming know-how then you would probably have to change ideas. You may also see a breathtaking kimono, worn by characters such as Ai Enma from Hell Girl, but don’t have the coin to spend. You my friend, would need to edit again. It’s never suggested to go with a series merely because of its mass appeal but it can be useless to choose a character that you enjoy but no one can recognize.
Character Monkey D. Luffy, a teenage boy possessed with the power of elasticity who hopes to become King of the Pirates, from series One Piece is a great option for those starting out in cosplay. His costume is composed of denim cut-away shorts, plain red vest, no shirt beneath, and signature straw hat. Luffy’s outfit is closer to everyday clothing. Not surprisingly, this makes the costume much cheaper to purchase and makes Luffy a more popular character among cosplayers.
Next, research your character by watching or reading past volumes of the series. Analyze not only the character’s look but also their mannerisms and common catchphrases.
Popular series, Naruto, garners many admirers with the main character’s larger than life spirit. To easily be recognized, a cosplayer simply sports the character’s signature orange jumpsuit. Impersonators go further by imitating the sprite’s ninja poses but, nothing garners more attention than giving his trademark pose. With both arms raised towards the heavens, each hand sporting a peace sign, the cosplayer spouts out the phrase every Naruto fan is sure to recognize, “Believe it!”
You can continue your study with cosplay geared websites. Lauren Rapciak of Geek Girl Chicago suggests the following aids, “great resources to consult [are] cosplay.com, acparadise.com, arda-wigs.com...many fan forums, Facebook pages, DeviantArt accounts, etcetera.”
When research is done, it’s time to construct your costume. By far, one of the notable goals of cosplay is to meticulously match your character. Friends with relatable skills such as seamstresses, actors, or experienced cosplayers can really help you stand out.
Speaking of sewing, one of the great debates of cosplay enthusiasts surrounds topics, “as is” or stitched. Merely buying an outfit from a costumer is often frowned upon by diehard cosplayers. Though, for the domestically challenged, buying garments is the best way to ensure maximum results. Buying character specific pieces can take weeks to collect. Sewing a costume usually takes several months but for some serious cosplayers it can take up to a year to construct. After your costume is ready you must strengthen your details.
In cosplay, makeup can be the signature piece of your costume. A common tip for your foundation is to be sure it is matte, or very smooth and even. Your foundation should never be too shiny, covered in sweat, or have missed spots. White eyeliner is often used to make the cosplayer’s eyes seem wide and more expressive. Don’t be afraid of looking cartoonish, you want that! So feel free to put on a little more blush than usual.
Many cosplayers create or purchase cool weapons and accessories. Often times, dressers will get really elaborate and don wigs to match the psychedelic colors of many anime characters such as cotton candy pink. Many build model rocket boosters, carry replica weapons like Legend of Zelda’s Master Sword, and even wear furry mascot versions of a character.
Many accessories are usually built out of foam and covered with hard materials such as leather or hard plastic. Those on a budget or lack constructing experience often use card board or padded gear as the base of their structure. There’s an array of materials to use from artificial bone to the multi-uses of duct tape.
So, you’ve bought the duds. You’ve constructed all the cool weapons and accessories. You’ve even decided to go with the brave task of nearly poking your eye out with cartoonish white eyeliner and fake lashes. What’s left? Take your role to the show.
Nearly every major city in the U.S., and even some of the smaller ones, hosts their own annual cosplay convention. In Chicago, C2E2, which is Chicago's premiere Comic and Entertainment Expo, is a comic nerd's paradise with almost yearly visits from Marvel's mastermind, Stan Lee. For the anime lovers, Anime Central, which has been running now for 17 years, is the big event for career cosplayers. Just like any organized event, cosplay conventions or “cons” have their own rules and customs. One of the most common rules is being open to photography.
In the article, 2 Simple ‘Do’-s and ‘Don’t’-s in Cosplay Conventions, elaborates on this issue, “when you wear a costume, you bear the responsibility of representing the cosplay community…If someone asks you for your photo, try to say yes. If you are in the middle of touching up…tell them to come back later, but remember to honor that request!”
Likewise, be sure to be friendly to others who cosplay. Don’t gawk and be rude. Be respectful of other people’s space. Don’t step on or assume it’s o.k. to touch someone else’s costume or prop.
Though excitement will practically be vibrating around the “con,” make sure your group doesn’t get too rowdy. Also, be sure to respect the grounds the convention is held on. Don’t leave garbage everywhere because it may affect future rebooking for event organizers.
In the same cosplay dos and don’ts article, it goes on to give the most treasured advice among cosplayers, “The best tip to remember to always have fun at conventions and remember to make more friends.”
Cosplay does have a dark side. Like performance drugs in baseball, there are plenty of dubious practices in cosplay. In a community driven by visually pleasing animation, image has been cause for division. There are actually some cosplayers who believe others should stay within their physical limits when choosing characters.
Once again, Lauren Rapciak of Geek Girl Chicago offers her input on this issue, “I believe that any person, regardless of body type, gender, etcetera, should be allowed to cosplay whatever they want. Problem is, there are a lot of evil people out there who will shame folks for cosplaying the ‘wrong’ weight and skin color.” She goes on to say, “The harsh reality is that convention-goers are a lot more likely to compliment and photograph someone who physically looks like a character, even if it isn't exactly fair.”
This shouldn’t change your excitement for cosplay but it helps to be aware. Luckily, with more cosplay seepage into pop culture, this is slowly changing.
Like the invention of “The Wave” at sporting events, I’m sure your trip through cosplay has caused confusion and anxiety. It’s important to remember popular staples like American football, were initially met with criticism. One person’s freak show is another person’s Olympics. Regardless of the activity, all true fans share a commonality. Within us all lays an appreciation for a group or object that, often, goes beyond reason.