|Related terms:||Crossplay, Costuming, LARP|
|See also:||Costume-Con, masquerade, cosplay photo collection|
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Cosplay (コスプレ, kosupure in Japanese) is short for "costumed play". The word and the activity itself originated in Japanese anime/manga fandom, where it is sometimes abbreviated even more to kosu (コス). A person who cosplays is called a cosplayer.
In common with participants in science fiction and fantasy convention masquerades and steampunk and historical recreation groups, cosplayers try to create a character or evoke a world, either alone or in groups. The costume itself can be either made by the cosplayer or obtained from another source.
Cosplay in Japan and Beyond
As the use of the word has spread to western fandoms, fannish drift has led to different meanings in Japan than in the US, and in anime fandoms than in non-anime fandoms. However, in Asia and Europe there is no appreciable difference in the interpretation of the word from that in Japan. The word 'cosplay' did not make its first appearance in British or US anime fan publications before around 1993-4, and coexisted with the older terms 'masquerade' and 'fancy dress parade' until the early 2000s, by which time both older terms had begun to disappear from fannish usage.
In Japan, cosplay from anime, manga and computer or console game sources are still the most common, but characters from SF and fantasy movies are also popular. Japan has had SF conventions since 1962 and costume parades are documented from MIYACON in 1974. Cosplay from Edgar Rice Burroughs' "Fighting Men of Mars" was documented at Ashicon in 1978, as was a Tusken Raider costume from Star Wars.
Cosplay is now taken seriously in Japan, across Asia and around the world; there are many cosplay websites, magazines and events, and the level of detail is amazing. In its early days in Japan, every article of costume had to be made or adapted by the wearers. Now, the availability of equipment and materials and the level of technical skill has increased. Novice cosplayers can find videos online offering tuition in making everything from replica weapons to elaborate wigs, masks and wings. For those who don't want to make their own outfit, a whole industry supplying readymade costumes and accessories has sprung up both in Japan and beyond.
Cosplay also offers the option of playing with established gender norms. Some characters are non-human, some are androgynous. Bishounen (beautiful young male) characters can be played by females, while males can play female characters. Cosplaying as characters of a different gender is sometimes called crossplay. For example, in British anime fandom there is a longstanding tradition of men crossplaying female characters, both in masquerade and as floor costume. This is often done as a comedic or parodic performance, but sometimes as a serious representation of a feminine character. There are also a number of male Lolita dressers within British fandom.
Cosplay was once relatively rare at western fan-run conventions that have no paid guests, except at formal masquerades or dance parties. When The Phantom Menace was a popular slash fandom, several fans showed up at US convention Escapade wearing Jedi robes and caused quite a stir. However it is now common.
Cosplay in Western Fandom
In the US, the word cosplay has started to be applied to existing costuming activity in SF fandom (the first CostumeCon was in 1982); The most common costuming seen at western SFF conventions are costumes from Star Trek, Star Wars, other science fiction and fantasy worlds, Renaissance-era characters, historical re-enactments such as the Society for Creative Anachronism, and of course, all kinds of vampires.Since the early 2000s costumes from computer games have become massively popular. Naturally, Japanese-influenced anime/manga cosplay is common as well.
All costumes at conventions and events vary in quality and ambition, from award-winning costumes at Costume-Con to casual "hall costumes" at SF cons. However many, even those worn simply as hall costume (known as floor costume in the UK) display enormous effort, talent and skill. The level of performance, whether simply striking a character's signature pose or taking part in a skit or dramatic presentation, often shows great commitment and polish.
LARPers, Live Action Role Players, often dress like their characters when they play. This can be considered cosplay, but often the costuming is very casual. Historical costume made for wearing during historical events, or at at historic sites, is usually considered re-creation rather than cosplay.
Some people like cosplay best for the "freaking the mundanes" aspect of it; other people are in it for the costuming; some are in it for the excuse to wear as little clothing as possible; and like any group, still others are in it for the community.
Morojo and Ackerman shook the newly developing geek culture to its core with those costumes, laying the foundation for a hobby that would become a majorly significant expression of fandom before the 20th century was out. But here’s the thing: while towering Ackerman made a great model for his costume, he had nothing whatsoever to do with its construction. Both of the costumes were envisioned, designed, and laboriously hand-made by Morojo! [...] Morojo was the person who single-handedly brought fantasy into real physical space when she created and wore her own costume. Given modern cosplay’s intense focus on individual creativity and craft, it’s bizarre that Ackerman is the one most often credited as being the O.G. cosplayer in fan literature. Morojo, who made the futuristicostumes, deserves the bulk of the credit. To crush the next few decades of history into a single sentence: the idea of dressing up like your favorite fictional characters caught on and gained traction. After 1939, costume contests became an annual tradition at Worldcon, drawing more and more participants with each passing year. Morojo herself wore at least two more costumes to subsequent cons: in 1941, an A. Merritt-inspired frog face mask designed and created by the then young and unknown visual effects master Ray Harryhausen, and in 1946 another Merritt-inspired "Snake Mother" ensemble, which reportedly "created a sensation."
According to some American sources, cosplay started after a Japanese fan, Nov Takahashi, attended the 1984 Worldcon in Los Angeles and reported on the costuming activity there in Japanese SF magazines. The Costuming.org site states that
The idea took hold in the minds of the Japanese readers and they in turn adapted the idea by dressing as their favorite anime characters. In a matter of a few short years, fans began to dress up as characters at comic book and sci-fi events in Japan. Then in the mid-1990s, as anime, manga and all things related started to catch on in America, cosplay was reintroduced, this time on a much large scale. This has led to many North American cosplayers being totally unaware of their hobby's history, believing it was invented in Japan.
However, as more scholars explore documentary evidence from Japan, this reading of cosplay history appears less valid. It has been widely quoted in media sources across the world, but it is not supported by the evidence. There was indeed influence on Japanese SF conventions from the USA in the post-Occupation era, but cosplayers were active in Japan long before the summer of 1984 and the term 'cosplay' was in use in Japanese media long before cosplay was allegedly introduced from America.
The Space Cruiser Yamato Fanclub Magazine #9 shows male and female fans getting together at events and dressing in costume from 1978. Nov Takahashi was already using the term "cosplay" as early as June 1983 in My Anime magazine in an article with photographs showing Japanese fans in elaborate and technically accomplished costumes. Takahashi's corporate website also notes that a public costume parade of manga characters was held in Tokyo in the summer of 1977, and that costuming activity was written about in Japanese fan magazines.
American anime and manga scholar Rachel Matt Thorn reports that Japanese SF scholar and author Mari Kotani staked a claim to be Japan's earliest convention cosplayer when she appeared at Ashicon in 1978 dressed as the lead character from Osamu Tezuka's manga Umi no Triton. At the Stitching Time symposium at Yamanashi Gakuin University in Kofu, Japan in March 2017, Prof. Kotani clarified that she was part of a group cosplaying characters from an Edgar Rice Burroughs story at Ashicon, although "Umi no Triton" cosplay was indeed popular at that time. In a fascinating subtitled video interview she explains how the confusion arose, and the links between Japanese SF fandom and cosplay.
The "Let's Anime" blog documents Japanese reaction to American cosplayers in the late 1980s and 1990s, with pictures from the March 1987 issue of Animage magazine and later publications.
The principal cosplay event worldwide is the World Cosplay Summit held annually in Nagoya, Japan. Cosplayers from all over the world come to try their costuming and presentation skills against their peers, or just to watch and learn. Comiket is a primary venue for Japanese cosplayers - around 15,000 of them gather twice a year for the three-day event in Tokyo, which attracts over half a million attendees.
Other Asian nations have also taken up cosplay. Malaysia has had cosplay events since Comic Fiesta in 2002. Singapore has a number of cosplay events. In China, cosplayers are known as 'cosers' and some have been active for well over a decade. They get together at a number of events all over the vast country, the biggest of which is the annual ChinaJoy Expo in Shanghai, with about 200,000 visitors.
The Arab world has a growing number of cosplayers, with the Middle East Film and Comic Con in Dubai, TGXPO in Riyadh and a number of other events. Hijabi cosplay, in which Muslim women and girls design costumes incorporating the hijab, is a growing subculture in cosplay.
In the United Kingdom, the twice-yearly London MCM Expo has become the largest cosplay venue, with over 70,000 attendees, thousands of whom attend in cosplay or take part in cosplay events.
Germany has many bigger and smaller conventions aimed at anime and manga fans, many of them fan-run. Cosplay is pretty common at all of them and it’s not unusual to wear cosplay at meet-ups or even have special or private meet-ups for cosplayers or privately organized photo shootings. Nearly all conventions have at least one cosplay competition. Cosplay is also worn at different events outside of animanga fandom, like for example the fantasy convention RingCon, the book fairs in Frankfurt and Leipzig and different more media fandom oriented events. The most public cosplay event in Germany is probably the finale of the German Cosplay Championship (DCM) at Frankfurt Book Fair, although inside the cosplay subculture there is also buzz about the German Preliminaries for the World Cosplay Summit.
In France, Japan Expo is the major cosplay event and hosts the finals of the European Cosplay Gathering. A separate stage allows anyone to parade their costume out of competition. Almost 250,000 people attended Japan Expo 2018. There are also a number of regional events across the country.
In Belgium the FACTS convention is the major venue for cosplay, with its own cosplay contest as well as a preselection contest for the C4 competition in the Netherlands. A cosplay catwalk and mini-parades allow novices to gain experience and confidence.
In the Netherlands, cosplayers have a number of events to enjoy. Animecon hosts the Euro Cosplay preliminaries and the C4 Cup. Heroes Dutch Comic Con also offers a cosplay contest, informal cosplay catwalks, cosplay meet-ups, and floor cosplay
In Italy cosplay first became popular in the early 1990s. The principal event is Lucca Comics and Games where cosplayers have grown from just 300 at the 2002 event to over 3,500 in 2018.
Nowadays, photos of cosplayers in character are often uploaded to DeviantArt, Flickr, and elsewhere online.
- Cosplayers Archive
- cosplay category on DeviantArt
- cosplay tag on Tumblr
- Cosplay Category on Animexx.de (German)
- Masquerade: The Magazine of Science Fiction Costuming, a cosplay zine
- Doesn't This Outfit Just Scream for Accessories..., a cosplay zine
- WoMEN’s Work: Representing Fan Labor on Heroes of Cosplay; WebCite, In Media Res (May 2015)
- Meet the Woman Who Invented Cosplay - Myrtle R. Douglas, otherwise known as Morojo, rarely gets the credit she deserves for the worldwide phenomenon by Jennifer Culp (May 9, 2016)
- Textile Technoculture Creations and the Early Days of Women's Cosplay at "Lady Science" (August 14, 2019)