|See also:||LARP, Costume-Con, costuming, 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 Eastern Fandom
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.
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 starting to show up as well. Cosplay is taken seriously in Japan; there are a couple of magazines dedicated to it, and the level of detail is amazing. Bishounen characters are frequently played by women; cosplaying as characters of the opposite sex is sometimes called crossplay.
Cosplay in Western Fandom
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.
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. These vary in quality and ambition, from award-winning costumes at Costume-Con to casual "hall costumes" at SF cons. Japanese-influenced amime/manga cosplay is common as well.
LARPers, Live Action Role Players, often dress like their characters when they play. This is considered cosplay, but often the costuming is very casual.
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, 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 showing Japanese fans in costume. American anime and manga scholar Matt Thorn reports that writer 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.
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.
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.
Cosplay is relatively rare at 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 Escapade wearing Jedi robes and caused quite a stir.
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.
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)