People about cosplay...
I have already emphasized elsewhere that I count cosplayers into the pretty small circle of subcultures that I consider “my tribe”. And that I will never hesitate to defend them from detractors and ridicule, be it online or offline, wherever the need arises.
That said, my personal stance regarding the enjoyment of cosplaying is a bit more complicated than that. Because… well… personally, cosplaying doesn’t really “work” for me. At least not in a certain sense.
See, right from the beginning of my anime career, I have always had this habit that I keep anime and real life strictly separate in my mind. In all sorts of ways, and for all sorts of good reasons.
As a result of this, I can admire the people and their awesome costumes, but I have a really, really hard time seeing the actual character “in it”.
Mind you, it’s not the fault of the people. Originally my authenticity demands when it came to character reproductions were insanely high, anyway. Never mind cosplaying. For the longest time, I couldn’t even accept 99% of the released anime figurines because deep down, I felt that “they didn’t look right”.
These days? Well, as far as authenticity is concerned: you only need to look at my shelf with several figures on it to realize that this demand has dropped at least somewhat… but yea, I still keep the worlds apart so strictly that it prevents me from emotionally accepting the “cosplay illusion”.
Needless to say, I never discuss this with cosplayers. Because I fear they could misunderstand it as me disregarding their efforts. Or worse, as criticism of their designs or even their hobby. Which couldn’t be further from the truth. On the contrary.
Because I find it awesome what they do. I always have and always will deeply respect cosplaying for the amount of underlying fandom that it expresses, as well as for the effort people put into it.
Whenever I see someone with an elaborate/authentic/cleverly made costume, I cannot help but doff my hat at the driving passion behind it. Perhaps I’m even a bit envious about it. Either way, if I see that someone is willing to invest that many hours into designing and creating something like that… then that gives him/her my respect and a boatload fan cred. In short, it basically earns you the status of “card-carrying elite fan” in my book.
So no, when I look at cosplayers, I don’t see the character. But it still makes me happy – because I see a fan whose passion and efforts I wholeheartedly support and admire.
Ancient peoples dressed up as animals and gods. They dressed up as powerful characters of myth and reenacted stories that were important to them.
Modern people do the same. On Halloween, people dress as archetypes of many kinds, At Christmas, you see people dressed as Santa Claus in the US, reminding us to be kind to others, even if we don’t put change in this particular pot.
Once, I was in an Indian restaurant and as I waited to be seated, I looked at pictures of a party at the restaurant. They had two people cosplaying Krishna and Radha.
I attend anime/manga gatherings and I know from talking to many, many people about this, that the drive to dress up as characters you love comes from wanting to participate more deeply in the narrative.
At Renaissance Faires, I was quite often told by people “this is my real self,” as opposed to the normal worker bee they were during the week.
And then there is cosplay as a sales technique. Booth babes are hired at tech and industry shows because getting a dorky guy over to the table takes work. Geeky folks are cynical folks, but a pretty girl will draw many men without working at it. Once they are there, they must of course be engaged and thrilled by the tech, but the hook is the girl. Or in a maid cafe in Tokyo, having someone be kind to you, call you “Master” and do your bidding feels good, even if you’re paying by the hour.
So, why cosplay? To engage with our mythical/narrative roots; to take on skills and powers that we don’t normally have, in the context of ritual – or fun; as a visual hook to drive commerce; to enjoy, for a moment, the thrill of being something else than we are or who we feel that we really are.
We may not all cosplay, but we all play dress up from time to time. Next time you slip into tux or a really nice dress, think about the cosplay you’re engaging in – what are you projecting? What makes this you different than the everyday you? What powers, skills, qualities are you pretending to have?
For me, cosplay is the art of bringing a fictional character to life using yourself as a medium. As people have already mentioned, cosplayers put a lot of money, time, and energy into their craft. Some will go to extremes to lose weight or learn a technique outside their skill level just to try and cosplay that character.
I really love cosplay and I find it is a mirror of how you will treat a lot of things in life, whether that is your job, your relationships, etc. The typical time and project management questions always appear (“Can I finish this in time for this convention?”, “Do I have the resources?”, etc.) but also some that you may not expect (“Should I just stitch this poorly to save time?”, “Will cutting a corner here affect the project later on?”, “Should I invest the time in learning this new technique and apply it to the costume?”). The way you answer these questions are exactly the same way you will answer these questions in real life.
That’s why cosplay is such a great way to make friends than other activities. Not only do you have a great excuse to geek out to like-minded people about your passions, you also can see whether or not they do as they say. You really get to know the people and can truly bond with them.