When you were younger how much did you wish for your own adventure? Whether you longed to fly through the sky with Peter Pan, or help Frodo deliver the ring to Mt.Doom, we’ve all had similar childhood fantasies. While reality hits most of us like a truck, many of us still hold onto these dreams. We’d still love to go exploring, or gain a superpower. How can we get a little step closer to this dream? Just like how children feel like adults by copying the actions of their parents, gamers and fantasy fans can feel closer to their beloved characters through cosplay.
Cosplay is essentially a fancy name for ‘dressing-up’. It has the extra meaning however, of the wearer, at least attempting to, become and act like the character they are dressing as. Normally cosplayed characters come from manga, anime, and comics, but plenty are also from other forms of media like films and books. The term comes from Japan, and is literally a combination of the words ‘costume’ and ‘play’. In a Kotaku article the creator of the term, Takahashi, explained that, “Cosplay is a fan’s expression of his or her love for a favourite character. Drawing a piece of artwork, writing a story, animating a movie and showing this to others is a manifestation of that love. And cosplay is one of those expressions in which fans use their entire bodies.”
There is something very childish about the concept of dressing-up. It’s something children do before they’ve lost their imaginations, and while they still believe it possible to be literally anything and anyone they want when they grow-up. Most of us therefore reach a sad age when we decide we have to be more serious than that, we push away our toys and dreams into a draw and close it. While everyone keeps this draw in some form or another, some people manage to open it from time to time. For me, and many others, cosplay is a world that gives the opportunity to open the draw for a bit.
So, why do people cosplay? It’s not exactly a cheap hobby, and whether the costumes are made or bought it can be very time consuming. When thinking about this question I actually found it very difficult to put into words. The idea of dressing as a favourite character, of gathering the different parts of their clothes, weapons, jewellery is fun, and seeing it coming together is satisfying. Then when wearing it there is both a pride at having put everything together, and a freedom at being somebody different. (Yes I have traveled to and around London in cosplay to attend conventions.) Finally, there is the community. It is warm, welcoming and supportive. A huge crowd full of geeks and artists that want each other to be happy in being themselves.
It is perhaps the community that surrounds the cosplay world that makes it so special. It is very happy and free, and full of an appreciation for each other. On my second MCM I dressed as Maya from Phoenix Wright and got noticed around 11 times. While this is a small amount for really good cosplayers, the people that knew who I was dressed as were so sweet. One woman asked, very excitedly, if she could have a hug, as she was so happy that I had dressed as one of her favourite video-game characters. It is very difficult to explain the joy felt because someone recognises and loves your cosplay, and the character you’ve chosen to dress as.
A close friend of mine, Steph Mallett, has been a passionate cosplayer for far longer than myself, and has some impressive costumes in her collection. When talking to her about attending cosplay events she exclaimed, “I love the atmosphere at conventions and how everyone gets stuck in. It’s an elation I can’t truly capture with words. It’s amazing to feel so accepted.” When first seeing people cosplay she admits that she thought it was a bit odd, but after attending an MCM event she couldn’t shake the feeling of wanting to join in. She made her first cosplay, Rinoa from Final Fantasy 8, out of a blue bed sheet, and despite it’s simplicity was “over the moon with how I looked at the time.” After buying a few cosplays but struggling with the price tag, Steph asked her Grandma to teach her how to sew and made a number of pieces with her. When I asked what advice she’d give to anyone thinking of cosplaying for the first time she said, ‘Go for it. Don’t be ashamed if you can’t make it, it’s still cosplaying if you buy it, and if you want to make something that’s great too. Good luck, and enjoy the fun.’
Ultimately, cosplay is a freedom from the pressures of society, and a way to just have fun as another character. In our day to day lives we constantly feel like we must attempt to be human in the way that society has deemed worthy, although the truth is that most of us don’t really know what we’re doing and just get wrapped up in the flow. Cosplay is allowing yourself time to be someone else, an adventurer, a hero, a companion. For me it is remembering how to see the world like I did when I was a child, and simply having fun.
Picture taken by Steph Mallet of herself and fellow cosplayers cosplaying characters from the Kingdom Hearts series. Thank you to Steph for chatting to me about her cosplay, and allowing use of the photo.