Anime and Manga fans express their fandom in many different ways. We may collect figures, put up posters, wear t-shirts, and even create fan art. One of the most visible hobbies within the fandom has to be “cosplay”. The word is a typical Japanese contraction of English words to make something new. It’s short for “costume play” and entails fans dressing up as their favorite characters.

Cosplay has become a pretty big deal in the general geek world, and now includes dressing up as characters who are not from anime and manga. Of course, it’s not like anime and manga fans invented cosplay, but I do feel that it wasn’t all that mainstream in the West until the influence of Japanese fandom was felt. It’s actually a rather cyclical relationship, since early American sci-fi conventions inspired the Japanese.

beautiful blonde

What Cosplayers Do

The actual act of cosplay involves many different skills and a significant time investment. A cosplayer has to translate the look of a 2D character into something that a person could actually wear in real life. Obviously, how hard this is depends on how outlandish the character is. Some characters wear clothes that can be replicated just by buying them and perhaps modifying them. Others need to be made from scratch, and then there are things like elaborate armor pieces or props such as guns or swords.

Think about what professional costume makers who work in film and stage have to go through when making the clothing for our entertainment. Cosplayers do exactly the same thing, except they don’t usually have the money or team support of the pros. That being said, the quality of cosplay varies from just-for-fun amateur costuming to dedicated professional cosplay. And yes, I do mean that people actually get paid to make and model their costumes these days.

The Convention Circuit

The place where you’ll see cosplay in person most often is the convention circuit. Both at anime conventions and, of course, more general sci-fi and fantasy conventions. Most cosplayers work on their costumes throughout the year to show them off at a specific convention or run of conventions.

Inevitably conventions now run cosplay competitions. Some of these offer some pretty serious prizes and attract large audiences at the convention. Even very specialized conventions such as Blizzard’s BlizzCON now have cosplay competitions. A convention is a place where it’s perfectly acceptable and even expected for people to show up in costume. It’s also pretty normal for people to take pictures of cosplayers and to take pictures with cosplayers – professional or otherwise.

deadpool cosplay

Cosplay and the Internet Boom

It’s really the internet in general and social media specifically that’s brought on a boom in cosplay popularity. Twitter, Facebook, and especially Instagram have become places for cosplayers to promote themselves, show off their technical skills, and even earn a living.

Some cosplayers will even sell merchandise bearing their image. As you probably suspect, many of these cosplayers are attractive girls and guys but, as they say, sex sells. If you head over to Instagram there are hundreds of professional cosplayers you can follow – think Alodia Gosiengfiao or Myrtle Sarrosa. Some even carefully document how they create their costumes so that others can learn from them.

3D Printing and Cosplay

Few technologies have impacted the quality and scale of cosplay as much as 3D printing. Thanks to these amazing machines that can turn digital designs into a plastic reality, there are now elaborate cosplay costumes that have armor, alien physiology, and more. It’s incredible how cosplayers have taken to this technology, and they are even driving forward the advancement of printed part finishing. The best cosplayers can make ABS plastic look like weathered iron, wood, or anything, really. Without 3D printing, modern cosplay would be way more boring.

Anime Cosplay Controversy

I think cosplay is probably also one of the aspects of anime fandom most fraught with controversy. There are persistent sexual harassment issues when it comes to “sexy” female characters, for one thing. Then there’s the issue of “crossplay”, where a character of the opposite sex is depicted by the model – something which makes plenty of people uncomfortable and can lead to all sorts of tensions.

There’s also quite a bit of fan backlash against “fake” cosplayers. That is, people who make and wear costumes only as a way to promote themselves or make money. In other words, these aren’t actually fans of the series or characters; they are just jumping on a bandwagon. For some it’s not right to refer to this as cosplay, but rather a form of paid modeling.

cosplay costumes

Cosplay Media

Cosplay has become its own subculture within the larger anime fandom, and so it has its own fan media too. There are websites, magazines, and even video programs dedicated to cosplay. Cosplayers are even producing videos with special effects and stunt work to bring some sizzle to their presentations.

There are blogs dedicated to showcasing cosplayers and people who have built entire photography businesses around taking professional cosplay photos. You’ll even find documentaries about cosplayers knocking about too. Crazy, I know!

Getting Into Cosplay

Cosplay can be a fun and scary venture, but thousands and thousands of fans take the plunge and try out some form of cosplay. In fact, this is probably the best time in history to get into cosplay if you are so inclined. With just a little YouTube time and the willingness to learn new skills, you too could be the darling of the convention circuit.

Sharing is caring!