Cosplay is often dismissed as a hobby for anime fans who try to live a fantasy world in this one by dressing up as fictional characters. But the reality is far from it. Most cosplayers are average men and women who want to have a bit of fun.
Cez is your typical young 23 year-old trying to make her way in the world. With short black hair, a few facial piercings and wings tattooed on her back she would not stand out in the crowd. She watches DVDs and reads when she isn’t trying to find a job. Unlike most young jobseekers she has a hobby that has enabled her to develop skills that are lost to most of today’s youth.
“I’ve picked up a lot of sewing skills that I didn’t have before. I couldn’t sew a button onto material but now I can sew large sections of fabric together that give me a top as an end result. That and it’s really boosted my social skills,” Cez laughs, “I loved dressing up as my favourite Disney characters when I was a kid but when I attended my first MCM Expo I saw so many amazing costumes being worn that I had to know about it. So I asked around, researched online and found out it was something called cosplay. From then I knew I had to be part of it.”
Cosplay was previously known as costuming before the Japanese coined the term Cosplay, a mash up of the words Costume Play. But what is cosplay? Traditionally cosplay is where individuals dress up as their favourite comic book, game or anime characters, often in costumes made from scratch. “Cosplay is a serious hobby compared to normal fancy dress. It is done to express the fun side of an individual’s personality,” She tells me enthusiastically.
People who partake in cosplay, known as cosplayers, create costumes that are often extravagant to the point of ridiculous. These costumes are then put on show in masquerades at conventions and anime expos where the best cosplayers, those who created costumes that are the most accurate to the source, are awarded prizes. The most prestigious of these is winning the masquerade at the MCM Expo in London. This expo, which is held every October, is the contest where cosplayers from all over Europe compete to become the European Cosplay Champion. The winner is taken on a tour of Japan where they become the European representative at the Japanese cosplay tournaments.
A psychologist at UCL, London, tells me “People often chose to cosplay as a means of escape from real life. Like the internet allowing social outcasts to socialise without meeting face to face, cosplay allows those who are socially awkward to interact with others. It is a way for them to make friends, to boost their confidence and to step outside of their comfort zone without feeling too much stress.
“Those who partake in the hobby often choose strong, powerful characters,” she added, “this means that they are able to become someone they are not and as they are in costume they are able to hide behind masks, make up and hair. Even though they are pretending to be someone else they gain courage from the interaction and they can apply this to their real lives.”
Ashleigh, a student from Scotland, agrees with our psychologist, “I think I have learned to accept myself and be happy with who I am. There are people out there who have the same way of thinking as I do and I’ve discovered that I’m not weird.”
“My favourite characters to cosplay tend to be characters from the Final Fantasy Saga or from Disney’s The Little Mermaid,” Says Cez, “It is mainly because I feel some kind of connection to the characters, particularly Yuna [from Final Fantasy X and X-2]. I feel connected to her complex personality. She comes across as weak but inside she is extremely strong willed and that is what I find so admirable and compelling.”
Cez started cosplay four years ago and since then it’s popularity within the UK has grown into a small and friendly community, “I kind of dived into it on my own and the only guidance I got was from people on forums. Surprisingly it wasn’t as daunting as I thought it could have been.
“My first cosplay was Tifa from Final Fantasy: Advent Children and I really enjoyed it. The friends I have in the cosplay world have been made from people I’ve met at conventions and expos. They gave me hints and tips on how to make costumes better. They really encourage me with my cosplays and are always willing to help me if I get stuck or become unsure of myself.”
Outside of the cosplay community Cez gets plenty of support from her brother and her mum, who helps to fund some of her costumes, but Cez tells me that not everyone in her life is so accepting of her hobby. “Some of my friends don’t understand it really so they kind of pretend that I don’t cosplay so they don’t have to try and understand why I do it.”
Many people have the impression that cosplay is for freaks, middle aged or fat socially awkward people. This is due to a bias coverage in TV shows and movies that often portray cosplayers in a poor light. Duskatnight* tells me that he thinks this is because the media does not cosplay. They label cosplayers as freaks because they do not participate in the activities as those in the media.
“People don’t understand it and think that conventions are just for sad freaks,” says Ashleigh, “I think it’s wrong! I think it’s just an outdated stereotype that should be binned. Everyone has a hobby. Take people who love cars, they know everything about the cars they like and they go to car conventions and they are classed as cool,” says Ashleigh, “I have been slagged off for being too fat for cosplaying. It particularly hurts when people I have known for a long time turn around and say that my cosplay friends are freaks.”
Despite this negative view on cosplay Cez remains optimistic about her hobby. Her main motivation is overcoming the technical challenges that come with it. “Trying to plan out how to make certain parts of a costume in my head has been difficult but making tops from scratch has proven to be the most difficult challenge I’ve come across so far! It’s really flattering, though, when someone recognises the character you’ve brought to life. It shows that you’ve done a good job in creating the costume.”
If you’re interested in getting into cosplay get your ass over to Cosplayisland where seasoned cosplayers are happy to welcome newbies into the hobby. With forums filled with tips, tricks and even outfits for sale there is nowhere better to start.
We are always looking for events to cover so if you know a cosplay event you would like us to cover send us an email.
*A big thanks to members of Cosplayisland.co.uk for taking part in this article. We love your work.
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