Cosplay Conversations #1: Knowing Your Character

Anime conventions are a singularly unique type of event. At once a celebration, meet-up, training session, marketing tool, and pilgrimage, cons are perhaps the prime occasion through which this generation of anime fan expresses its fandom, with many choosing to do so through cosplay. I’ve never participated, but I feel an affinity toward cosplayers. We both outwardly express our love for anime; I do so through writing and they through countless hours developing and obsessing over cosplay.

Continuing along that line, when I choose to write about a series, it’s usually regarding some episode or series that speaks to me, that connects with me on a personal level. I wondered if it was the same for cosplayers, and so the initial post in “Cosplayer Conversations,” a series of articles built out of interviews I conducted, will focus on that—what connection should a cosplayer have to the character he’s imitating? Is it critical to know that character inside-out?

I can’t help but reference Genshiken when it comes to how to cosplay. Ohno, the club’s resident cosplayer, isn’t someone that I would call an elitist, but still, she takes her art very seriously. As the members of Genshiken get to know her, they realize that her hobby is more than that—it’s something sacred. Ohno refuses to cosplay a character she doesn’t feel a connection to, and even while she obsesses with getting Kasukabe to cosplay, she feels divided over her actions because her friend isn’t an anime fan.

But that need to connect doesn’t mean that Ohno has to have an emotional connection to the character; sometimes a physical resemblance creates enough of a bond. Kanri, who was cosplaying Coconut from Nekopara when we met, chooses characters along that same line. “I like to focus on the most accurate character for myself. I like characters that fit my body type.” A physical match is not something that I would have conceived as being of utmost importance, but for Kanri (and Ohno), it is.

Mel as Donald from her Instagram account (@dahmelimelon)

Mel, a super talkative and friendly cosplayer, also echoed the sentiment that an intimate connection with a character isn’t absolutely necessary. She looks at a variety of factors, including what’s trending and how complex the cosplay is, though ultimately she needs to have at least watched a series before working with it. I thought her ideas were demonstrated really well by who she cosplayed the day we spoke—Donald Duck as part of a Three Caballeros effort with her friend, Aaron.

But others do look for a deeper connection with the characters they imitate. Fade, who was cosplaying Bakugou at San Japan, said, “I think it’s a lot more fun and worth your time to cosplay a character you like.” Almost like a method actor in a film, her personality morphs when in costume. Almost naturally, she starts to display the characteristics of Bakugou or Kagome or whomever she cosplays. That becomes part of the experience.

Koh and Jimmy, part of a team that won “Best at Show” at San Japan for cosplaying Shiketsu High School students (Boku no Hero Academia), also love that experience. “I like the feeling of embodying the character I love,” Koh explained. “I love the feeling of people being excited to see you.” Jimmy agreed and added that it makes a real difference if one connects with the character.

Anna, a new cosplayer, certainly felt that way when she started dressing as Harley Quinn. She felt an immediate connection to that character when watching Suicide Squad—a kinship with her. To enhance that, she started to dress as the antihero, which eventually led to her involvement in the con scene. In one sense, Anna’s journey is unique and and the opposite of others, with cosplay being an extension of her love for a particular character. For Anna, that bond is critical, and without it, she wouldn’t have found this hobby at all.

The award-winning trio, including Jimmy (@lelegacycrafting) as Inasa and Koh (@kohcoz) as Camie

And speaking of superhero cosplay, a different group of cosplayers demonstrate yet another approach to selecting characters. The three women behind Pocket Size Cosplay put on costumes and attend conventions for fun, but they also do so for a living and for charity. Taylor, one of the group members, mentioned that “it’s fun to become the person you watch,” but sometimes, for the “work” part of their job, they may have to cosplay characters with whom they’re less familiar. In those cases, they conduct research, as another member, Paris, explains, because if they don’t, kids at birthday parties and other events they attend are sure to entrap them!

Ultimately, the reasons behind character choice are as varied as the people who cosplay them. And that choice reflects something very important in the increasingly popular and growing cosplay community—differences are celebrated, diversity is encouraged, and “do it your way” is embraced. And that’s all part of what makes something that’s potentially very scary into something deeply personal, and something outrageously fun.

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