Cosplay (コスプレ kosupure), a contraction of the words costume play, is a performance art in which participants called cosplayers wear costumes and fashion accessories to represent a specific character. Cosplayers often interact to create a subculture and a broader use of the term "cosplay" applies to any costumed role-playing in venues apart from the stage. Any entity that lends itself to dramatic interpretation may be taken up as a subject and it is not unusual to see genders switched. Favorite sources include manga and anime, comic books and cartoons, video games, and live-action films and television series.
The rapid growth in the number of people cosplaying as a hobby since 1990s has made the phenomenon a significant aspect of popular culture in Japan and some other parts of Asia and in the Western world. Cosplay events are common features of fan conventions and there are also dedicated conventions and local and international competitions, as well as social networks, websites and other forms of media centered on cosplay activities.
The term "cosplay" is a Japanese portmanteau of the English terms costume and play. The term was coined by Nobuyuki Takahashi of Studio Hard while attending the 1984 World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon) in Los Angeles. He was impressed by the hall and the costumed fans and reported on both in Japanese magazine My Anime. The coinage reflects a common Japanese method of abbreviation in which the first two moras of a pair of words are used to form an independent compound: 'costume' becomes kosu (コス) and 'play' becomes pure (プレ).
Practice of cosplay
Cosplay costumes vary greatly and can range from simple themed clothing to highly detailed costumes. It is generally considered different from Halloween and Mardi Gras costume wear, as the intention is to replicate a specific character, rather than to reflect the culture and symbolism of a holiday event. As such, when in costume, some cosplayers often seek to adopt the affect, mannerisms, and body language of the characters they portray (with "out of character" breaks). The characters chosen to be cosplayed may be sourced from any movie, TV series, book, comic book, video game, or music band anime and manga characters. Some cosplayers even choose to cosplay an original character of their own design or a fusion of different genres (e.g. a steampunk version of a character).
Cosplayers obtain their apparel through many different methods. Manufacturers produce and sell packaged outfits for use in cosplay, with varying levels of quality. These costumes are often sold online, but also can be purchased from dealers at conventions. Japanese manufacturers of cosplay costumes reported a profit of 35 billion yen in 2008. A number of individuals also work on commission, creating custom costumes, props, or wigs designed and fitted to the individual. Other cosplayers, who prefer to create their own costumes, still provide a market for individual elements, and various raw materials, such as unstyled wigs, hair dye, cloth and sewing notions, liquid latex, body paint, costume jewelry, and prop weapons.
Cosplay represents an act of embodiment. Cosplay has been closely linked to the presentation of self, yet cosplayers' ability to perform is limited by their physical features. The accuracy of a cosplay is judged based on the ability to accurately represent a character through the body, and individual cosplayers frequently are faced by their own "bodily limits" such as level of attractiveness, body size, and disability that often restrict and confine how accurate the cosplay is perceived. Authenticity is measured by a cosplayer's individual ability to translate on-screen manifestation to the cosplay itself. Some have argued that cosplay can never be a true representation of the character; instead, it can only be read through the body, and that true embodiment of a character is judged based on nearness to the original character form. Cosplaying can also help some of those with self-esteem problems.
Many cosplayers create their own outfits, referencing images of the characters in the process. In the creation of the outfits, much time is given to detail and qualities, thus the skill of a cosplayer may be measured by how difficult the details of the outfit are and how well they have been replicated. Because of the difficulty of replicating some details and materials, cosplayers often educate themselves in crafting specialties such as textiles, sculpture, face paint, fiberglass, fashion design, woodworking, and other uses of materials in the effort to render the look and texture of a costume accurately. Cosplayers often wear wigs in conjunction with their outfit to further improve the resemblance to the character. This is especially necessary for anime and manga or video-game characters who often have unnaturally coloured and uniquely styled hair. Simpler outfits may be compensated for their lack of complexity by paying attention to material choice and overall high quality.
To look more like the characters they are portraying, cosplayers might also engage in various forms of body modification. Cosplayers may opt to change their skin color utilizing bleach or make-up to more simulate the race of the character they are adopting. Contact lenses that match the color of their characters' eyes are a common form of this, especially in the case of characters with particularly unique eyes as part of their trademark look. Contact lenses that make the pupil look enlarged to visually echo the large eyes of anime and manga characters are also used. Another form of body modification in which cosplayers engage is to copy any tattoos or special markings their character might have. Temporary tattoos, permanent marker, body paint, and in rare cases, permanent tattoos, are all methods used by cosplayers to achieve the desired look. Permanent and temporary hair dye, spray-in hair coloring, and specialized extreme styling products are all used by some cosplayers whose natural hair can achieve the desired hairstyle. It is also commonplace for them to shave off their eyebrows to gain a more accurate look.
Some anime and video game characters have weapons or other accessories that are hard to replicate, and conventions have strict rules regarding those weapons, but most cosplayers engage in some combination of methods to obtain all the items necessary for their costumes; for example, they may commission a prop weapon, sew their own clothing, buy character jewelry from a cosplay accessory manufacturer, or buy a pair of off-the-rack shoes, and modify them to match the desired look.
Cosplay may be presented in a number of ways and places. A subset of cosplay culture is centered on sex appeal, with cosplayers specifically choosing characters known for their attractiveness or revealing costumes. However, wearing a revealing costume can be a sensitive issue while appearing in public. People appearing naked at American science fiction fandom conventions during the 1970s were so common, a "no costume is no costume" rule was introduced. Some conventions throughout the United States, such as Phoenix Comicon and Penny Arcade Expo, have also issued rules upon which they reserve the right to ask attendees to leave or change their costumes if deemed to be inappropriate to a family-friendly environment or something of a similar nature.
The most popular form of presenting a cosplay publicly is by wearing it to a fan convention. Multiple conventions dedicated to anime and manga, comics, TV shows, video games, science fiction, and fantasy may be found all around the world. Cosplay-centered conventions include Cosplay Mania in the Philippines and EOY Cosplay Festival in Singapore.
The single largest event featuring cosplay is the semiannual doujinshi market, Comic Market (Comiket), held in Japan during summer and winter. Comiket attracts hundreds of thousands of manga and anime fans, where thousands of cosplayers congregate on the roof of the exhibition center. In North America, the highest-attended fan conventions featuring cosplayers are the San Diego Comic-Con and New York Comic Con held in the United States, and the anime-specific Anime North in Toronto, Otakon held in Baltimore MD and Anime Expo held in Los Angeles. Europe's largest event is Japan Expo held in Paris, while the London MCM Expo and the London Super Comic Convention are the most notable in the UK. Supanova Pop Culture Expo is Australia's biggest event.
The appearance of cosplayers at public events makes them a popular draw for photographers. As this became apparent in the late 1980s, a new variant of cosplay developed in which cosplayers attended events mainly for the purpose of modeling their characters for still photography rather than engaging in continuous role play. Rules of etiquette were developed to minimize awkward situations involving boundaries. Cosplayers pose for photographers and photographers do not press them for personal contact information or private sessions, follow them out of the area, or take photos without permission. The rules allow the collaborative relationship between photographers and cosplayers to continue with the least inconvenience to each other.
Some cosplayers choose to have a professional photographer take high quality images of them in their costumes posing as the character. This is most likely to take place in a setting relevant to the character's origin, such as churches, parks, forests, water features, and abandoned/run-down sites. Cosplayers and photographers are likely to exhibit their work online, which they can do on general blog, social networking service, and artist gallery websites (such as flickr, deviantART, Instagram, Facebook, tumblr and Twitter) or on dedicated cosplay community websites. They may also choose to sell such images, or use them as part of their portfolio.
As the popularity of cosplay has grown, many conventions have come to feature a contest surrounding cosplay that may be the main feature of the convention. Contestants present their cosplay, and often to be judged for an award, the cosplay must be self-made. The contestants may choose to perform a skit, which may consist of a short performed script or dance with optional accompanying audio, video, or images shown on a screen overhead. Other contestants may simply choose to pose as their characters. Often, contestants are briefly interviewed on stage by a master of ceremonies. The audience is given a chance to take photos of the cosplayers. Cosplayers may compete solo or in a group. Awards are presented, and these awards may vary greatly. Generally, a best cosplayer award, a best group award, and runner-up prizes are given. Awards may also go to the best skit and a number of cosplay skill subcategories, such as master tailor, master weapon-maker, master armourer, and so forth.
The most well-known cosplay contest event is the World Cosplay Summit, selecting cosplayers from 20 countries to compete in the final round in Nagoya, Japan. Some other international events include European Cosplay Gathering (finals taking place at Japan Expo in Paris, France), EuroCosplay (finals taking place at London MCM Expo), and the Nordic Cosplay Championship (finals taking place at NärCon in Linköping, Sweden).
Common Cosplay Judging Criteria
|Accuracy||Resemblance to the original character in terms of appearance.||
|Craftsmanship||Quality and details of the costume and props.||
|Presentation||Likeliness in terms of character portrayal and performance.||
|Audience Impact||Stage presence and connection with the audience.||
Portraying a character of the opposite sex is called crossplay. The practicality of crossplay and cross-dress stems in part from the abundance in manga of male characters with delicate and somewhat androgynous features. Such characters, known as bishōnen (lit. "pretty boy"), are Asian equivalent of the elfin boy archetype represented in Western tradition by figures such as Peter Pan and Ariel.
Male to female cosplayers may experience issues when trying to portray a female character because it is hard to maintain the sexualized femininity of a character. Often interpretations can be misconstrued as parody, or men can be asked to change their outfits because of their scantily-clad nature. Male cosplayers may also be subjected to discrimination, including homophobic comments and being touched without permission, possibly even more often than female ones when it is already a problem for women cosplayers, as is "slut-shaming".
Animegao players, a niche group in the realm of cosplay, are often male cosplayers who use zentai and stylized masks to represent female anime characters. These cosplayers completely hide their real features so the original appearance of their characters may be reproduced as literally as possible, and to display all the abstractions and stylizations such as oversized eyes and tiny mouths often seen in Japanese cartoon art. This does not mean that only males perform animegao or that masks are only female.
Cosplay has influenced the advertising industry, in which cosplayers are often used for event work previously assigned to agency models. Some cosplayers have thus transformed their hobby into profitable, professional careers. Japan's entertainment industry has been home to the professional cosplayers since the rise of Comiket and Tokyo Game Show. The phenomenon is most apparent in Japan but exists to some degree in other countries as well. Professional cosplayers who profit from their art may experience problems related to copyright infringement.
A cosplay model, also known as a cosplay idol, cosplays costumes for anime and manga or video game companies. Good cosplayers are viewed as fictional characters in the flesh, in much the same way that film actors come to be identified in the public mind with specific roles. Cosplayers have modeled for print magazines like Cosmode and a successful cosplay model can become the brand ambassador for companies like Cospa. Some cosplay models can achieve significant recognition. Yaya Han, for example, was described as having emerged "as a well-recognized figure both within and outside cosplay circuits".
Cosplay by country or region
Cosplay in Japan
Cosplayers in Japan used to refer to themselves as reiyā (レイヤー), pronounced "layer". Currently in Japan, cosplayers are more commonly called kosupure (コスプレ), pronounced "ko-su-pray," as reiyā is more often used to describe layers (i.e. hair, clothes, etc.). Those who photograph players are called cameko, short for camera kozō or camera boy. Originally, the cameko gave prints of their photos to players as gifts. Increased interest in cosplay events, both on the part of photographers and cosplayers willing to model for them, has led to formalization of procedures at events such as Comiket. Photography takes place within a designated area removed from the exhibit hall.
Since 1998, Tokyo's Akihabara district contains a number of cosplay restaurants, catering to devoted anime and cosplay fans, where the waitresses at such cafés dress as video game or anime characters; maid cafés are particularly popular. In Japan, Tokyo's Harajuku district is the favourite informal gathering place to engage in cosplay in public. Events in Akihabara also draw many cosplayers.
Cosplay in other Asian countries
Cosplay is common in many East Asian countries. For example, it is a major part of the Comic World conventions taking place regularly in South Korea and China. Historically, the practice of dressing up as characters from works of fiction can be traced as far as the 17th century late Ming Dynasty China.
Cosplay in Western culture
The popularity of cosplay in Japan encourages the misconception that cosplay is specifically a Japanese or Asian hobby. The term cosplay is Japanese in origin, but costume play was originally a hobby from the United States where it has historically been known as costuming as opposed to cosplaying. A.D. Condo's science fiction comic character Mr. Skygack, from Mars was the subject of costuming in 1908 in the United States. Science fiction fans Forrest J Ackerman and Myrtle R. Douglas attended the 1939 1st World Science Fiction Convention in the Caravan Hall, New York, USA dressed in "futuristicostumes", including green cape and breeches, based on the pulp magazine artwork of Frank R. Paul, designed and created by Douglas. Ackerman later stated that he thought everyone was supposed to wear a costume at a science fiction convention, although only he and Douglas did. As early as a year after the 1975 release of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, audience members began dressing as characters from the movie and role-playing (although the initial incentive for dressing-up was free admission) in often highly accurate costumes.
The hobby was then later picked up by the Japanese and reinvented by Americans. For many years, costuming has had a widespread following and continues to experience growing popularity in North America and Europe, and has more recently spread throughout South America and Australia. Western cosplay's origins are based primarily in science fiction and fantasy fandoms. It is also more common for Western cosplayers to recreate characters from live-action series than it is for Japanese cosplayers. Western costumers also include subcultures of hobbyists who participate in Renaissance faires, live action role-playing games, and historical reenactments. Competition at science fiction conventions typically include the masquerade (where costumes are presented on stage and judged formally) and hall costumes (where roving judges may give out awards for outstanding workmanship or presentation).
The increasing popularity of Japanese animation outside of Asia during the late 2000s led to an increase in American and other Western cosplayers who portray manga and anime characters. Anime conventions have become more numerous in the West in the previous decade, now competing with science fiction, comic book and historical conferences in attendance. At these gatherings, cosplayers, like their Japanese counterparts, meet to show off their work, be photographed, and compete in costume contests. Convention attendees also just as often dress up as Western comic book or animated characters, or as characters from movies and video games.
Differences in taste still exist across cultures: some costumes that are worn without hesitation by Japanese cosplayers tend to be avoided by Western cosplayers, such as outfits that evoke Nazi uniforms. Some Western cosplayers have also encountered questions of legitimacy when playing characters of canonically different racial backgrounds, and people can be insensitive to cosplayers playing as characters who are canonically of other skin color. Western cosplayers of anime characters may also be subjected to particular mockery.
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Magazines and books
Japan is home to two especially popular cosplay magazines, Cosmode (コスモード) and ASCII Media Works' Dengeki Layers (電撃Layers). Cosmode has the largest share in the market and an English-language digital edition. Another magazine, aimed at a broader, world-wide audience is CosplayGen. In the United States, Cosplay Culture began publication in February 2015. Other magazines include CosplayZine featuring cosplayers from all over the world since October 2015. There are many books on the subject of cosplay as well.
Documentaries and reality shows
- Cosplay Encyclopedia, a 1996 film about Japanese cosplay released by Japan Media Supply. It was released in subtitled VHS by Anime Works in 1999, eventually being released onto DVD in 2002.
- Otaku Unite!, a 2004 film about otaku subculture, features extensive footage of cosplayers.
- Akihabara Geeks, a 2005 Japanese short film.
- Animania: The Documentary is a 2007 film that explores the cosplay cultural phenomenon in North America, following four cosplayers from various ethnicities as they prepare to compete at Anime North, Canada's largest anime convention.
- Conventional Dress is a short documentary about cosplay at Dragon Con made by Celia Pearce and her students in 2008.
- Cosplayers: The Movie, released in 2009 by Martell Brothers Studios for free viewing on YouTube and Crunchyroll, explores the anime subculture in North America with footage from anime conventions and interviews with fans, voice actors and artists.
- "I'm a Fanboy", a 2009 episode of the MTV series True Life, focusing on fandom and cosplay.
- Fanboy Confessional, a 2011 Space Channel series that featured an episode on cosplay and cosplayers from the perspective of an insider.
- Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope, a 2011 film about four attendees of the San Diego Comic-Con, including a cosplayer.
- America's Greatest Otaku, a 2011 TV series where contenders included cosplayers.
- Cosplayers UK: The Movie, a 2011 film following a small selection of cosplayers at the London MCM Expo.
- My Other Me: A Film About Cosplayers, chronicling a year in the life of three different cosplayers: a veteran cosplayer who launched a career from cosplay, a young 14-year-old first-timer, and a transgender man who found himself through cosplay. It was released in 2013 and was a featured segment on The Electric Playground.
- Heroes of Cosplay, a reality show on cosplay that premiered in 2013 on the Syfy network. It follows nine cosplayers as they create their costumes, travel to conventions and compete in contests.
- "24 Hours With A Comic Con Character", a segment from CNNMoney following around a known cosplayer while she prepared for and attended New York Comic Con.
- WTF is Cosplay?, a reality show that premiered in 2015 on the Channel 4 network. It follows six cosplayers throughout their day-to-day lives and what cosplay means to them.
- Cosplay Complex, a 2002 anime miniseries.
- Downtown no Gaki no Tsukai ya Arahende!!, a Japanese TV variety show that includes the Cosplay Bus Tour series segment.
- Super Cosplay War Ultra, a 2004 freeware fighting game.
- A large number of erotic and pornographic films featuring cosplaying actresses; many of such films come from the Japanese company TMA.
The practice of cosplaying is featured in many Japanese video game, manga and anime titles, including Ai Kora, Amagami, Aoi House, The Cosmopolitan Prayers, Dōbutsu no Mori, Fate/hollow ataraxia, Galaxy Angel, Genshiken, Girl Friends, Gunbuster, Hanaukyo Maid Team, Hyperdimension Neptunia, I, Otaku: Struggle in Akihabara, Jewelpet, K-On!, Kujibiki Unbalance, Lucky Star, Maid Sama!, Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu, Oreimo, Phantom Breaker, Popotan, Re: Cutie Honey, School Rumble, and Unofficial Sentai Akibaranger.
Cosplay Groups and Organizations
- Society for Creative Anachronism
- 501st Legion
- Rebel Legion
- Mandalorian Mercs
- Cosplay for a Cause
- The 105th Squad
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