Much has been said about cosplay by journalists and bloggers in the past few months. There’s no denying that the community today is different from the early 2000’s. On the eve of Anime Expo, the largest convention in North America, I’ve begun to reflect on cosplay trends and hypes. In my brother’s recent editorial for Plastic Ronins, he talks about how cosplay brought fans of the same series together. I recall meeting a ton of Lupin III fans when I played Fujiko back in the early 2000s. We cosplayed from things we generally were crazy about; it was not about being the first to cosplay from the latest series or what was currently trendy. At my second Anime Expo in 2000, I saw a variety of cosplayers from all sorts of series – Ranma 1/2, Magic Knight Rayearth, Fushigi Yuugi, etc. While those titles ended before 2000, people still rocked it. Yes, you did have Trigun and Cowboy Bebop running around, but it was genuinely a huge fan fare.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Attack on Titan. It’s one of the few new anime series that I will watch. I’m super hyped for the Attack on Titan panel at Anime Expo. However, because the series isn’t quite finished yet, I can’t really bring myself down to get started on Mikasa. It’s more of a personal choice. I’m not in a rush to be “the first” and to do it before it gets too popular. I ended up enjoying Hetalia after the massive fangirl migration to Homestuck. I loved how my Hungary and Austria turned out when I brought them to Anime Central 2011. I did the Pokemon Gijinka thing a year after it surfaced. What annoys me the most is when I get the comment, “You missed the boat” or “You should have done it when it was first popular.” Why should it matter if a series is new at the time? If you love something so much that you feel that you have to spend hours of costume creation, then go for it! We all do this for fun, not to have rights to be the first…but in the end, who cares about being first? It’s simply a hobby.
There’s that phrase again. “Cosplay is fun.” Yet, what does it really mean to have fun in cosplay?
My choices tend to be esoteric, but I enjoy them anyway. As my colleague Pocky Princess Darcy mentioned, cosplay is like walking billboards for shows. It’s like free advertising. I got into Trigun because of the many Vashes and Wolfwoods at Anime Expo 2001. They were all cool to talk to about the series. If you’re wearing something obscure, there’s bound to be someone who’ll recognize it and appreciate your costume. Example, I cosplayed as Cure Moonlight at KatsuCon 2013. I happened to stumble upon the Tokusatsu photoshoot and I had a few Captain Marvelouses fanboy over Heart Catch Pretty Cure, but the conversation also turned into “Why Pretty Cure is Better than Madoka.” It turns into these nerdy conversations that you can’t have anywhere else. When you put on the costume, you represent the very things you love in your creative way. You can share your love with other people and convert new fans. This is why I love to cosplay from Pretty Cure and Idolm@ster. The fans exist, but the fandom does not get much love. You’re more likely to see a SuperWhoLock photoshoot before you see an all series Pretty Cute shoot. As much as I can get all the Pretty Cure plushes and Idolm@ster figures at the dealers hall and throw my money at the companies, having that circle is also important to keep community alive.
The fans are still there. It does not mean this part of the cosplay is dying out, but there are pockets of them hiding. There’s people who feel that they won’t be noticed if they do an esoteric or an obscure series. To them I say, “If you love it, do it anyway.” You’re bound to catch the eye of someone who’s into the same thing and friendships can happen because of it. If you look really awesome and people ask you what you’re from, you can tell them all about your fandom. Boom! New fans are born! That’s the magic of doing for cosplay for love and fun.
And when I see this whole idea of “managing your brand as a cosplayer” and “how to network as a cosplayer,” I think of how ridiculous it sounds. Unless you plan to show a portfolio to a fashion company or costuming studio, wearing cosplay to an con alone is not a stepping stone to a career into the electronic entertainment industry. Brand management for cosplay sounds way too serious business than it should. We’re in an era where it’s a race on who has the most likes and followers. All of a sudden, female cosplayers are seen as A-list celebrities in the eyes of the geek community. It becomes about popularity than for the love of fandom. Sexy versions of characters are created. American culture has a penchant for sexy-fying anything for adult women in costume. Another market of cosplayers are created. I never quite understood of doing cosplay for (male) fans, when we were fans to begin with. I never quite understood the popularity contest when nerds are often above the idea of being popular. When actual creators of the medium get blown off for models that had little to no contribution to the industry, it’s certainly a bleak time.
On the eve of Anime Expo, the convention that brought me into cosplay, I ask is that we reflect on ourselves and our hobbies. We need to ask ourselves one more time, “Why do I cosplay?” and more importantly “What does it mean to have fun in cosplay?” Everyone has their definition of “fun.” In the end, we all can agree it’s done for love and done as a hobby. At the end of the day, it should not matter how many fans we have, but rather, the merriment and enjoyment we get making and wearing these costumes. Passion starts from you – no one can take away that. Everyone loves the spotlight, but even then a level-headed person knows when to not let it get to them. There’s a difference between enjoying attention and seeking attention for validation. Before we step into the mega dealers room or waltz off to a cosplay gathering photoshoot, let’s ask ourselves, “Why do I cosplay?”