Cosplay is a combination of the words “costume play”. It’s a performance art in which participants called cosplayers wear costumes and fashion accessories to represent a specific character. Cosplayers often interact to create a subculture and a broader use of the term “cosplay” applies to any costumed role-playing in venues apart from the stage. A favorite sources include manga and anime, comic books and cartoons, video games, and live-action films and television series.
The rapid growth in the number of people cosplaying as a hobby since 1990 has made the phenomenon a significant aspect of popular culture in Japan and some other parts of Asia and in the Western world. Cosplay events are common features of fan conventions and there are also dedicated conventions and local and international competitions, as well as social networks, websites and other forms of media centered on cosplay activities.
Cosplayers obtain their apparel through many different methods. Manufacturers produce and sell packaged outfits for use in cosplay, with varying levels of quality. These costumes are often sold online, but also can be purchased from dealers at conventions. Japanese manufacturers of cosplay costumes reported a profit of 35 billion yen in 2008. A number of individuals also work on commission, creating custom costumes, props, or wigs designed and fitted to the individual. Other cosplayers, who prefer to create their own costumes, still provide a market for individual elements, accessories, and various raw materials, such as unstyled wigs or extensions, hair dye, cloth and sewing notions, liquid latex, body paint, costume jewelry, and prop weapons.
Cosplay represents an act of embodiment. Cosplay has been closely linked to the presentation of self, yet cosplayers’ ability to perform is limited by their physical features. The accuracy of a cosplay is judged based on the ability to accurately represent a character through the body, and individual cosplayers frequently are faced by their own “bodily limits” such as level of attractiveness, body size, and disability that often restrict and confine how accurate the cosplay is perceived. Authenticity is measured by a cosplayer’s individual ability to translate on-screen manifestation to the cosplay itself. Some have argued that cosplay can never be a true representation of the character; instead, it can only be read through the body, and that true embodiment of a character is judged based on nearness to the original character form. Cosplaying can also help some of those with self-esteem problems.
A cosplay of Raiden at Anime Expo 2013
Many cosplayers create their own outfits, referencing images of the characters in the process. In the creation of the outfits, much time is given to detail and qualities, thus the skill of a cosplayer may be measured by how difficult the details of the outfit are and how well they have been replicated. Because of the difficulty of replicating some details and materials, cosplayers often educate themselves in crafting specialties such as textiles, sculpture, face paint, fiberglass, fashion design, woodworking, and other uses of materials in the effort to render the look and texture of a costume accurately. Cosplayers often wear wigs in conjunction with their outfit to further improve the resemblance to the character. This is especially necessary for anime and manga or video-game characters who often have unnaturally coloured and uniquely styled hair. Simpler outfits may be compensated for their lack of complexity by paying attention to material choice and overall high quality.
To look more like the characters they are portraying, cosplayers might also engage in various forms of body modification. Cosplayers may opt to change their skin color utilizing bleach or make-up to more simulate the race of the character they are adopting. Contact lenses that match the color of their characters’ eyes are a common form of this, especially in the case of characters with particularly unique eyes as part of their trademark look. Contact lenses that make the pupil look enlarged to visually echo the large eyes of anime and manga characters are also used. Another form of body modification in which cosplayers engage is to copy any tattoos or special markings their character might have. Temporary tattoos, permanent marker, body paint, and in rare cases, permanent tattoos, are all methods used by cosplayers to achieve the desired look. Permanent and temporary hair dye, spray-in hair coloring, and specialized extreme styling products are all used by some cosplayers whose natural hair can achieve the desired hairstyle. It is also commonplace for them to shave off their eyebrows to gain a more accurate look.
Some anime and video game characters have weapons or other accessories that are hard to replicate, and conventions have strict rules regarding those weapons, but most cosplayers engage in some combination of methods to obtain all the items necessary for their costumes; for example, they may commission a prop weapon, sew their own clothing, buy character jewelry from a cosplay accessory manufacturer, or buy a pair of off-the-rack shoes, and modify them to match the desired look.