Cosplay. To some people it’s a foreign word and they have no clue what it is. To others, they might have heard of it, but know little else, and Cosplayers themselves? Well, to them it can be a pretty big deal.
Cosplay is short for costume play, an anglicised version of the Japanese word, “Kospure” and it is exactly that. Adults dressing up as, but not limited to, characters from their favourite TV shows, movies, comics, anime (Japanese hand drawn computer animated characters) or even as characters from their own imaginations, descending in their masses to cosplay conventions that can span multi genres and is a worldwide phenomenon that dates back to 1939 when the first recorded cosplay convention, Worldcon (World Science Fiction Convention) took place in New York.
Though people dressing up in costume for whatever reason isn’t new, the word ‘cosplay’ hasn’t been around for that long, having been officially coined by a Japanese reporter attending that famous Worldcon in 1984. Cosplaying has grown in popularity over the years, partly because of the boom in ‘geek and pop culture’ and while there is a growing number of conventions worldwide from DragonCon- a convention made for cosplayers, by cosplayers and everything else from official sci-fi (science fiction) Star Trek conventions through to Horrorcon (a convention made for horror movie cosplayers and fans) you might, or might not be surprised to know that even New Zealand has a strong, growing interest with our largest and longest running popular culture convention, Armageddon, a much anticipated annual date on the calendar for any pop culture or sci-fi enthusiast, that has been held in Auckland (and sometimes Manukau) since 1995, Wellington since 2001 and Christchurch since 2007, respectively.
As a creative and unique hobby there are both veterans and beginners in the cosplaying universe and although it can be intimidating for anyone starting out, local cosplayer, Marie England sums it up more simply, adding that the community is one of the best things about it.
“Cosplaying is for people who enjoy fandoms (a subculture of fans) such as Marvel, DC comics, or Anime, and once you pick or find a character you love or enjoy, you either make, buy, beg, borrow or steal to make something that looks like that character for cosplay events or photoshoots.” she says.
Until 2016, Marie was always an ‘outsider’ looking in to the cosplaying world. With a hidden love for Star Wars and the like, she says it was always under the surface until the day she decided to take a closer look.
“One year, I decided to go alone to Armageddon, since none of my friends were keen. I had never been before and I had heard that people dressed up for it, but I had a completely skewed idea of what cosplaying actually was.”
Marie admits that she thought cosplaying was ‘quite sexy’ and promoted ‘sexualised characters’ believing that female characters needed to show skin, which lead to her first experience in full cosplay mode.
“The first time I dressed up, I went as Dorothy (from the Wizard of Oz) but cut up the costume to make it smaller and tighter. It wasn’t until I had been wandering around all day (at the convention) that I realized, maybe this isn’t what cosplay has to be.”
Fast forward a few months later and Marie attended the two day Manukau Armageddon event dressed as a relatively unknown character from the popular Marvel superhero movie franchise, Guardians of the Galaxy, that helped her to create a more memorable cosplay experience.
Dressed as a character that had only ten seconds of screen time before dying, Marie says the aesthetic of the character known as ‘Corina’ who dressed head to toe in a cute pink dress with pigtails was something she really liked and the deciding factor for making the costume. From that experience, she went back on the Sunday with new found confidence and newly formed friendships in the cosplaying community, only this time dressed as “the whitest Pocahontas you’d ever seen”.
With only ten to fifteen costumes Marie says she is a ‘small’ cosplayer compared to others, and has purchased three of her costumes, while others have been put together with different pieces to create the right look and says it all depends on what you like and how far you want to go with it.
“Some people only do one character, while others have multiples, and ‘pair cosplay’ is big too, where couples dress in costume together,” says Marie.
Some of her costumes include a fan art version of Princess Merida, from the Disney Pixar movie, Brave and a spin on the Play Bunny suit as ‘Captain Bunny’ with a stars and stripes body suit that is her “go big or go home, or go tiny, apparently” look. By far, her favourite costume she has made is her Cinderella dress, based off the live action movie as it was her first ‘big’ cosplay costume, a labour of love that took months to make. It all paid off in the end however, when she entered in her first novice competition and won.
She says it was a pretty cool experience even though she had no idea what to do onstage, but it gave her the confidence to enter more competitions and gain new friendships.
She says of her cosplaying community she knows at least four others in the Pukekohe area and is part of the Facebook Cosplaying group that has seven or eight thousand members which she says doesn’t seem a lot, but it is growing bigger and is a good community to be a part of.
“That is one of the great things about the cosplaying community, the respect for one another. There are a lot of people who have boring day jobs, so it’s a creative outlet that is open and accepting to what you want to do. If you want to do a Sailor Moon version of something, you can, and cosplayers won’t judge you. I love it because I can throw an idea out there and ask if anyone wants to help and suddenly, you have three or four people putting their hands up. Not only that, but it’s also about learning and although it can take a lot to step outside your comfort zone to begin with, when you do, there is willing hands.
“It’s a cool world, because it’s different,” says Marie.