Tag Archives: cosplay

Cosplay store opens in downtown Hamilton

What started as a booth at an anime convention five years ago has blossomed into a bricks and mortar store for sisters Toni and Jo Thomas in downtown Hamilton.

Toni Thomas holding a pillow in Cosplay-FTW.

Toni Thomas holding a pillow in Cosplay-FTW.

Cosplay-FTW (for the win) has finally opened its doors on King Street East after moving from its small Mountain location.

“Though there was high traffic in terms of cars and vehicles (on the Mountain), there wasn’t too many people walking in from the streets,” explained Toni Thomas. “The store itself was also really small, it was like a closet. Four people would be in there and it would be packed like a tiny elevator. We thought it was about time to expand to a bigger location.”

The store focuses on selling cosplay accessories, which is short for ‘costume play’ where people dress up as their favourite fictional/animated characters, and anime merchandise, including plush toys, pillows and figurines.

The idea of starting their own booth during an anime convention began when the pair started looking for circle lenses, which changes the colours of one’s eyes. It turned out their friends were also looking for Sharingan lenses (eyes from a character from Naruto).

“My mom actually managed to hook us up with a contact in Korea and they pushed us to Geo Contact Lens and we started buying lenses from them,” said Thomas, noting anime characters generally have large, bright or unique eyes, and it was very difficult to find special effects lenses at the time.

“We thought, if we were looking to get these lenses, there were probably a lot more people looking them too, as well as cosplay supplies and other cute Japanese items.”

Cosplay-FTW finally opened its own store on the Mountain three years later after much pushing from customers, which was aided by the large cosplaying community in Hamilton, she added.

“We were kind of pushed into it from our customers; they would ask if we had a location and we initially said no, but then thought, we may as well,” Thomas added. “So we started with the little place on the Mountain and then it grew from there. We built up a clientele – even though there wasn’t a lot of walk-ins, people would outright search for us and come down to visit us.”

When the pair noticed a vacant storefront beside Gameopolis, Hamilton’s newest board game and café, they jumped at the chance to move to a bigger location.

“We thought this would be the perfect location: it’s a bigger place and it’s right by another store that would have a similar target market,” said Thomas. “We thought the stores would complement each other.”

The sisters have already noticed more walk-ins at their downtown location and business has definitely grown since they first started out with simply a table.

In the near future, Thomas hopes they will be able to venture into providing cosplayers with prosthetic ears and fangs.

Cosplay-FTW is looking to set up a booth at Hamilton’s newest convention, the Hammer Town Comic Con to be held in October.

The store will celebrate its grand opening on Aug. 3 and Aug. 4.

Originally posted in Your Hamilton Biz.

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Cosplay: A Beginner’s Guide

It’s the end of the day and the heavily, layered fabrics weigh you down. Your prop slides through sweat-slicked hands in fading sunlight, while make-up once perfect leaves streaks on your face. The convention is over, your first cosplay is a success and you’ve tallied up the amount of times you were asked for a picture. Score for being recognized!

To best explain cosplay to the uninitiated, it is perhaps easiest — though often misleading — to mention Trekkers or Trekkies, those Star Trek fans who are well known for donning the costumes of various Federation personnel and their enemies. Essentially, cosplay is the act of dressing up as favorite characters from a favorite series, whether they be from anime, manga, novels, video games, television shows or movies.

Cosplaying can be as fun as it can be stressful. It involves much time management, learning new skill sets and the ability to adapt to unknown (and often baffling) situations.

My first attempt at creating a costume came some years back. The subject was Harry Potter. Two and a half weeks after school began, my friends and I realized Halloween was fast approaching. Every day for the weeks leading up to that spiritual, ghost-filled night, I could be found bunkered in my friend’s basement. I told my parents I was studying.

Which, of course, I was. Right.

Long flowing black fabrics, colorful ribbons, painful needles stuck in fingers and sanding of wands. There were several magical… realizations that came right off the bat. Mathematics really is a necessity in real life.

I know, boo, but true.

Finding the circumference of the bottom of a cloak, for example, required a certain lovely formula (c = π ∗ d), as did the amount of fabric required to invert towards the shoulders and the dimensions of the hood. Who knew making clothes was so difficult?

Entering this world, I learned the basics of sewing and how to use a machine, the necessity of keeping said machine oiled and greased and ready for use, how to create pleats and cloaks and ties, brushing up my 1+1 skills and that not everything has to be done from scratch. This light bulb moment came to my friends and I after completing the wands – after having sanded four of varying lengths and thickness for hours on end. Once the wands were deemed “almost done”, a friend who happened to play the drums commented that as drumsticks are already tapered at the end, it would have been much easier to buy the sticks, rather than the dowels. Insert face plant.

We did learn after that and reused old white blouses, bought knee length socks and fought dust-infested closets for old clogs. We also borrowed old ties from our Daddy Dearests. When our costumes were completed, we not only ended up winning our school costume contest (and given props for them being hand-made), but they are still frequently used for each Harry Potter premiere. Oddly, none of us ended up wearing the Gryffindor colors.

In that same year, not too long after that first successful cosplay outing, I ventured into my first anime cosplay. It would be the second time attending Anime North, Canada’s premiere anime convention, and we were absolutely psyched. A group of friends and I had fallen in love with the anime series Naruto, the year before it hit international television and the mass appeal had yet to make its way towards young teenage boys wanting to be ninjas and teen girls infatuated with emo characters.

Our group had many of the main characters: Naruto, Sasuke, Neji, Tenten, Hinata, Shino, Ino and so forth. We were young, enthusiastic and creative; all invaluable assets when beginning the journey of cosplay. After our awe-struck drooling from the year prior, the idea to cosplay lingered indefinitely in our minds. It was at this time we learned about the limitless possibilities of cosplay and a certain set of life skills that is usually hard to come by otherwise.

According the accepted conventions of ranking, a cosplayer begins as a novice, and depending on how talented you are with your fingers, a sewing needle or machine and glue, you rise to the rank of journeyman. From there your choices of anime, manga, video games or movies become more intricate; more difficult. You take another leap to become an artisan. Years pass by, bloodied fingers are a thing of norm and before you know it, the rank of master is labeled.

A master is not made by the length of time they’ve cosplayed, but by the minute details and striking features of the costume they’ve made. At least, that’s my definition. I have seen the work of masters whose costumes should be labeled as a journeyman at best.

If you’ve never cosplayed before, I recommend it. For all its challenges, it is a really fun activity to share with your friends. However, I do have some words to the wise for anyone considering starting out…

– When you’re a novice, don’t pick an anime, manga, or video game that is overwhelmingly detailed. You’ll only end up strangling yourself with the expensive (and completely unnecessary) fabrics you’ve decided to buy. Choose something that is feasible. Naruto, despite all its latest drama and confusion, was once upon a time a wonderfully exciting manga to read. The costumes are simple, yet completely unique to each character. Done properly, the cast is easily put together.

– Despite the appearance of simplicity — such as in the case of the black and white uniforms from manga series D. Grey-man — monotone colors usually indicate surprising elements of difficulty and several lurking issues. I have seen many costumes from this manga that have failed due to the lack of attention (and skill –but that’s another matter).

– Pick a character that you will have fun embodying. If you and your friends decide to cosplay as a group, as my friends and I frequently do, keep in mind the strengths and weaknesses of each person. If someone is talented at sewing and another prefers to create props, assign roles. There is always time to pick up other skills at other points in the journey of learning to cosplay.

– Now, the harsh truth. Your body and the character’s body are not the same. Do not create the costume for the character, but for yourself. Many of us are average sized, some taller, some shorter, some bigger, some stick thin. It you’re a girl, take into account your bust size. You want to accentuate yourself through the angles and cuts of the costume by altering the design. Keep the dimensions realistic and not to the character’s unrealistic body. You need to be comfortable in the costume. Not in the sense of be constricted by the collar or squeezed at the waist, but in yourself and what you’ve created.

Some more helpful tips that every beginning cosplayer should know:

– Don’t be afraid to pick up a “how to” book or surf the ever-trusty internet for forums on what to do.

– Learn the basic stitches, front and back. If stitching doesn’t work, fabric glue and fray check are your best friends when working with trim or layered fabrics.

– Don’t waste your money on expensive fabrics that you will end up damaging in your steps to learning. I’m not saying you will, but it’s always a good idea to err on the side of caution.

– Old clothes in your closet can be used as templates for future creations. They are also great for cosplaying itself, depending on the cosplay. Old Halloween costumes are fun to fix up — after all: reduce, reuse, recycle. Along with using clothes as templates, fabric paint is very useful in stenciling the intricate details. Sometimes fabrics can only be cut in certain ways.

– Especially in anime, manga and video game cosplay, you really have to use your imagination. This need is prompted by the mangaka — the writers — themselves. When they create their characters, they invent gravity-defying clothing and weaponry for them, hoping for the character to be recreated in life.

– Real hair can be a pain. Wigs are capable of being styled and flared, dyed and cut in ways that your own hair cannot. Also, it’s usually worth it to pay a bit more for a better quality wig.

– Once you’ve learned more, go ahead and add your own flair to the cosplay; if a costume doesn’t have something you think it should have, it’s okay to elaborate on it. If there are various versions of the anime, manga, game or various sequels, keep the majority of obvious signature items, but feel free to crossover various elements into your own costume.

– Always remember why you started to cosplay in the beginning and never forget that the simplest costumes can be the hardest to pull off.

– Most importantly, have fun! There will always be moments of stress, where you want to pull your hair out, or scream and hit something. Take a break. Even if it’s down to the wire, with only an hour left on the clock, take a walk. Sometimes the best approach to completing your costume is to remain objective and keeping a level head.


There is a certain sense of pride and accomplishment that comes with finishing your first costume by yourself. The straight, precise stitches done by your mother’s hand are missing, but nevertheless, those bloodied stitches are your own. Over time, you begin to feel a sense of entitlement, you develop an almost elitist attitude towards cosplaying. You can tell who put effort into their costumes, who is just beginning and who has been around for a while. And it’s okay to hold others to a high standard, but remember: you started from scratch too.

Cosplaying is fun and is a great way to pay homage to your favorite fandoms, but it is so much more than just dressing up. It can also help in revealing your own identity; it shows you who you are. It teaches you what you are comfortable doing, and being, in public, and how driven you are, how much patience you have, how much determination and ambition. It teaches you kindness, attention to detail, and life-skills that can rarely be picked up anywhere outside of Project Runway. . It also helps refresh your high school math.

But more than all of this, through cosplay you will you find new friends each year who will accept you for being the über-geek you are.

And help you dress like it.

MY COSPLAY TO DATE: Naruto, Bleach, Fruits Basket, Shaman King, .hack
franchise, Pokemon, Soulcalibur IV

FUTURE COSPLAYS: Tales, CLAMP, Dynasty Warriors

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Diary of a Cosplayer

Picture this. It’s a beautiful sunny day. The sky is blue, and white clouds stretch off into the horizon. You’re sitting in your car, leisurely making your way to a destination unknown. Looking ahead, you notice various groups huddled together on the sidewalks, posing and making strange gestures in the air. Weapons and props stand out like sore thumbs, along with the fact that people are dressed in costumes in blistering Summer weather. Vibrant orange fabric drags on the ground behind a person, like a train on a wedding dress, as parts of tattered silk material float into the air when a gentle wind breezes by. Cars slow down, either to honk or to get a closer look. You hear random phrases yelled out to random people. Frantic calls and shrills of excitement can be heard from either sides of the road. “Look! It’s Sasuke-kun! Kawaaiiiii!” Immediately after, a poor soul is lost in the midst of glomping fans.

This, my friend, is the world of cosplay.

A blend — surprisingly enough — of “costume” and “play”, the word can be traced back to the Los Angeles WorldCon in 1984. Founder of the Japanese manga house Studio Hard, Nov Takahashi, coined the term after being impressed by the many costumes worn at the convention. Cosplaying has since become a common phenomenon that not only takes place in sci-fi venues, but is also increasingly to be seen at anime conventions. Conventions (or ‘Cons ’) occur several times a year, and provide an opportunity for a bunch of overexcited, sugar-filled, star-eyed cosplayers to get together, show off their often handmade creations, and, above all, have fun. Cosplayers and conventions go hand-in-hand and can be compared with Halloween — the main differences being that conventions don’t only take place on a chilly October night, and there is no age limit.

Which brings us to today.

Neon green lights flash 5:00 A.M. The sewing machine continues to plow its way through fabric and the hot glue gun is dripping onto the floor. Colorful bolts of cloth, elastic, scissors, pins and measuring tapes are spread over every available surface, consuming the family room and making its way into the kitchen. Threads stuck to clothing follow like trailing woodsprites in Avatar.
It hasn’t happened in a while, but we’re pulling an all-nighter. FanExpo — Canada’s biggest convention for gaming, anime, science fiction, horror and comic books — starts in less than four hours, after all. With our costumes slowly coming together, me down with a cold (after passing out for several hours from my mother’s insistence on the consumption of drugs) and my friends already struggling to stay awake from accumulated late nights, we are hard-pressed to finish.

This year’s FanExpo promises to be especially big, considering the guest list. Last names only: Lee. Glau. Shatner. Cronenburg. Amano. The first alone will make you drool and the additional guest list is not to be scoffed at either. Not something any geek will want to miss.

Our plan is to leave the house at 8:00 A.M., reach the Expo in an hour and take an hour (or so) to change. For once, the first since I began cosplaying in 2005, I contemplated not cosplaying to a convention. I blame the drugs.

Without a doubt, this summer was rushed. Between part-time jobs and volunteering, unexpected sickness and home renovations, trying to complete a costume is a hard task.

Each year my friends and I choose an anime or video game to complete that we feel fits us at that time. As we attend two big cons per year (not including the smaller cons: DTAC, MTAC, etc), we choose one for Anime North, and one for FanExpo.

Our first cosplay decision was Pokemon, because we can all agree they kick ass and dominated our adul–youth. Our second, for FanExpo, is the video game Soulcalibur IV.

Soulcalibur IV has horrifically detailed costumes and characters that are varied from psychotic to noble to somewhere in between. So much so that we had to play the game to sketch out every little bit of it. The process went something like this:

Me: Sweep-kick me.
Friend: (Presses button)
Me: Pause, okay, move right, right. A little more. Nope, too far — move back.
Friend: Damn it. (Moves back.)
Me: Great! Crap, my pencil broke.

One friend has completed her costume, another is almost there and mine, I’ve decided, was going on hiatus. As Talim, I had not finished the hat, properly assembled the intricate portions of my two bladed tonfas, nor was my small pouch done to my satisfaction. The hat and pouch, small but important details, complete the overall image of my character. My costume — while everything else is great — fails to meet my expectations after many years of cosplaying.

It’s 8:00 AM, and it’s time for hair and make-up.

Now, for those who know me, I’m a huge tomboy (insert: Then why the hell did you pick Talim?!?) and I struggle immensely with putting on make-up. For cosplay, I will do many, many things. Including, but not limited to, baring skin, wearing heels, and, worst of all, learning how to put crap on my face. It’s a difficult task, I assure you, but it has to be done.

Me being me, I have a horrible tendency of unknowingly rubbing it off then cursing at myself. Repeatedly. Many times.

It’s 10:00 AM and we’re ridiculously behind schedule.
As I drive into downtown Toronto (it’s 11:00), my friends and I stare at the long line. Wondering, pondering, questioning: “Why is it so long?” and “What is it for?” and “That can’t seriously be the entrance line?” Staring intently at the patiently waiting fans (more so than the road in front of me, I have to admit), I point out a very well done throw back to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ villainous Shredder and Bebop .

We see the typical Sailor Moon group, some Browncoats, a daring Catwoman, and, oops, red light. I stare some more. Held in the arms of Superwoman, a mini-Superman swishes his cloak around. I’ve never once said Superman was cute, but the little tyke had me.

Seeing a green, I follow signs to underground parking. Despite the expense, it was the right decision. The next was looking for a washroom to change. After being pointed (by staff and volunteers no less) up and down, left and right, we finally find signs pointing in the right direction.

It’s 12:43 P.M. and we’re dressed. Sort of. My friend with the “completed” costume realized she was missing the vital cross-strings in the back to hold it up. Yes, we struggled with safety pins the entire day.

After skimming the Exhibitor Area, because it’s sardines-in-a-can and that’s all you can do, spotting a few friends, playing cosplay bingo by spotting other dressed cosplayers and posing for pictures without whacking innocent bystanders with our weapons, we squeeze our way downstairs to explore panels and booths.

When choosing a costume and its coordinating weapon, you think that it will be legen–wait for it… wait for it–dary. Logistics don’t focus on how you’re going to carry it around or avoid hitting people (because that’s a given); rather it’s more about trying to make sure it won’t break before the con is over. The bigger the weapon is, the more the eye is drawn to it. Which means it can’t be two slabs of painted wood together. The intricate details and elaborate curves need to be in place. Something mine is sadly lacking.

For one reason or another, including a terribly empty stomach, no batteries, and the need for fresh air, we head outside. Confused, the already tired volunteers ask us: “Are you sure? You’re going outside, you know?”

To which we reply: “Yes, we know.”

They shake their heads. “Well, okay.” Holding the door open and letting us out, the volunteers fail to mention that there is a long wait to get back in.

Worst. Mistake. Ever.

If you weren’t there, perhaps you’ve read about the fiasco and ridiculously long line-up that went around the corner. After paying for a deluxe pass months prior, you would think they would give priority and stop selling tickets when the centre is already over its limit.

An hour and a half later, we’re back inside. The biggest upset?

Stan Lee at FanExpo.
(Photo: Karen Santaro.)


We weren’t the only ones. Friends who stayed inside gloated.

This year’s FanExpo, due to scheduling conflicts and other political stuff, was moved from the larger South building to the North. Mistake number one. Mistake number two was continuing to sell tickets to event goers then sending them to the end of a gargantuan line. Mistake number three? Well, let’s not dwell on all the problems that arose, because there were too many.

Once back in, we check and double check the schedule and make another round of the Exhibitor Area. Less packed now, it’s more salmon-going-upstream than sardines-in-a-can. The second floor is split into sections with sci-fi, horror, gaming, anime and comics.

But what really draws my eye, besides the deals and discounts of comics and manga, are the talented hands and creative minds in the Artist Alley. It’s an array of hand-drawn fan-art posters, bookmarks, buttons (you’ve got to love buttons), model-magicked creatures, sculptures, funky gadgets and more.

Plushies in the Exhibitor Area.

While the Exhibitor Area dealers run around and pull their hair out (I’ve seen it!) during the mad crush of buyers, the artists always welcome questions, comments and are happy to chat with you. Unless they are bogged down by commissions from eager fans.

A quick glance at my watch tells me it’s time to make our way to see the much beloved vampire, Spike. James Marsters is his charming self, answering questions with humor and self-depreciation. For those who missed Marsters’ late night concert the day before, he performs an acoustic melody that gives fangirls a reason to swoon once again.

It’s 4:30 P.M. and we rush downstairs. Summer Glau is about to make her appearance.

There’s a (relatively short) line-up outside the doors to the panel and I heave a sigh of relief knowing we haven’t missed it (not another one!). As the doors open, you can see the stars light up in the eyes of many male con-goers–though the same can be said for their female counterparts.

Summer Glau.

For those not aware of Glau’s psycho/emotionally scarred (yet somehow endearing) characters, she first made her debut in an episode of Joss Whedon’s Angel before he cast her in his series Firefly. She went on to play teen Terminator Cameron in The Sarah Connor Chronicles and a fractured computer genius in Dollhouse.

In person she is sweet, quirky and fresh. She retells humorous stories of times on set and her choices in choosing her roles. Throughout the panel, Glau is cursed with bad microphones, sending the audience into (not-so-) quiet snickers when the equipment would work flawlessly for the panel’s host. After exchanging one for another, someone in the audience yells out advice to hold the microphone in the centre. The audience shares a laugh as she quickly remarks about learning new things and appreciating her fans.

Summer Glau is as lovable in person as she is in character. Sigh.


It’s near 7:00 P.M. and things are wrapping up. Dealers are closing shop and buyers make a last ditch effort to purchase longed-for items. The remaining hours continue with smaller panels, a romp through the Exhibitor Area and Artist Alley, before concluding with the Masquerade. After picking up the ticket for entrance earlier that day, we make our way to the room. Lo and behold, another (very, very) very long line. Deep breath. What’s one more for the day?

The Masquerade is always an end of the day treat. Usually two hours, it is cut down this year to include a Steampunk Fashion Show. While everyone is entertained by cosplayers of different ranks shown by the quality and state of dress, the main attraction is the amusing host, Gord.

Gord. Oh, Gord. Comfortable in his role after many years, Gord, with his sarcasm and (not-so) slight perversion, fills the empty spaces and awkward moments easily. As a women sashays her way on stage in a skin-tight suit, like many before and after her, the crowd relentlessly calls out. Not in antagonism; rather, the expectation of ga-ga eyes and a chuckled, eye-brow wiggling statement from the host: “I love my job.” Because, mentioned multiple times, he does love his job.

Beginning with junior cosplayers under the age of 13, what follows does not go by rank (novice, journeyman, artisan, master) but by who signs up first. While entertaining as always, I find that the quality of this year’s cosplayers isn’t quite up to the standards of previous years. Don’t get me wrong, there are stunning costumes that made your jaw drop, but there certainly aren’t as many that meet the mark.


However, the inaugural year of the Steampunk Fashion Show is, to my estimation, a success. Corsets, puffed dresses, feathered hats, suspenders, gears, gadgets and gizmos, it is an amazing throwback into the past, a glimpse at the Victorian and 1960s-80s era brought back to life. There are hoots and hollers from Steampunk supporters and it’s a laugh all around.

It’s near midnight and I’m exhausted.

Time to go home and get some sleep. Time to get out of my costume and take off my make-up, relieved I won’t have to wear that gunk anymore.

Not until Anime North 2011, anyway.

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The Heart of Cosplayers

Pieces of cut-up fabric of varying colours and types are scattered on the floor, overlapping to make a dangerously slippery carpet. “Pass me the black polyester.” Where is it? “Under the cookies and magenta fabric.”

It’s a beautiful sunny day. The sky is blue, and white clouds stretch off into the horizon. You’re sitting in your car, leisurely making your way to a destination of unknown origins. Looking ahead, you notice various groups huddling together on the sidewalks, posing and making strange gestures in the air. Weapons and props stick out like a sore thumb, along with the fact that people are dressed in costumes in blistering 40 degrees Celsius weather. Vibrant orange fabric drags on the ground behind a person, like a train on a wedding dress, as parts of tattered silk material floats into the air when a gentle wind breezes by. Cars slow down to look at them, either to honk or to get a closer look. You hear random phrases yelled out to random people. Frantic calls and shrills of excitement can be heard from either sides of the road. “Look! It’s Sasuke-kun![1] Kawaaiiiii!”[2] Immediately after, a poor soul is lost in the midst of glomping fans. This, my friend, is the world of cosplay.

Colourful threads stick to clothes like magnets. Strings slip between the cracks from a box, spilling out like tentacles reaching for food. “Has anyone seen the spool of orange thread?” Check in the box. “Which box?” …the one in front of you… “Oh.”

The art of cosplaying is a phenomenon that in recent years has begun to receive much attention. Conned by Nov Takahashi, cosplay is a word derived from the contraction of ‘costume’ and ‘play’. A similar term many people are familiar with in North America is Trekkies[3], fans who don pointed ears and out-of-the-world clothing to imitate their favourite character from the famous series Star Trek.

It was in 1984 at the Los Angeles Science Fiction Worldcon where it can be said the first specific origin of the word ‘cosplay’ can be traced (Associated Content). President of Studio Hard[4], Nov Takahashi, coined the term cosplay after being impressed by the many costumes worn by people whom he saw at the convention. His frequent reports in Japanese science fiction magazines triggered Japanese cosplay (Associated Content).

Since its birth twenty years ago, cosplaying has become a common phenomenon that not only takes place in sci-fi revenues, but is also increasing in Japanese animation conventions. Conventions, or ‘cons[5]’, occur several times a year, and provide an opportunity for a bunch of overexcited, sugar-filled, star-eyed cosplayers to get together. Cosplayers and conventions go hand-in-hand and can be compared with the customary tradition of Halloween. Of course, the main differences are that conventions don’t only take place on a chilly October night, and there is no age limit.

Measuring tapes are pulled out, a pad and pencil at hand. With arms spread out and back held straight, the thin plastic wraps around the torso. “Chest, waist, hips?” 32, 28, 35. “Shoulders?” 6. “We’ll add an inch to the chest for leeway, and drop an inch in the shoulder.[6]

Cosplay in Canada and United States is mainly focused on fans who dress up as characters from anime, manga and video games, where as cosplaying in Japan constitutes on a more wide spread level, such as sci-fi and fantasy.  Another term used in Japan for obsessive anime fans is otaku[7], a term whose implications are meant to be insulting. Otaku are usually people who are socially awkward, or, in other words, geeky (Marion).

Nakamori Akio, a critic and dōjinshi[8] artist, presumably invented the word otaku in 1983. He used the word otaku in a series entitled Otaku no Kenkyu (translated in English as ‘Your Home Investigations’) which was published in a low circulation Lolicom[9] manga magazine, Manga Burriko (Kinsella 549). However, since the infamous Miyazaki murder case[10], the conception of being otaku and the meaning of it has changed. “Otaku came to mean, in the first instance Miyazaki, in the second instance all amateur manga artists and fans, and in the third instance all Japanese youth in their entirety” (Kinsella 549). From these examples, Sarah Kinsella also mentions in her article that Ohtsuka Eiji “identified otaku as ‘the keyword of post-modern society’” and in 1990, Taku Hachiro suggested that while otaku was a word that previously spawned a bad image, “in the 1990s […] the meaning has changed. Now otaku refers to a high-information handling elite. It is clear, on closer examination, that otaku are deeply rooted in the current times” (550).

On the other hand, the word ‘fan’ has its own share of negative undertones. Abbreviated from the word ‘fanatic’, this has roots in the Latin word, ‘fanaticus’. Once again, translated, ‘fanaticus’ simply meant ‘of, or belonging to the temple, a temple servant, a devotee’ but it quickly assumed more negative connotations, ‘of persons inspired by orgiastic rites and enthusiastic frenzy’ (Jenkins 506). The revolution of the term ‘fanatic’ made reference to superfluous amounts of “religious belief and worship to any political beliefs” (Jenkins 506). Abridged, the first appearance of ‘fan’ is seen in the journalistic accounts of describing followers of professional sports team in the late nineteenth century. This was a time when sports moved from a “predominantly participant activity to a spectator event, but soon was expanded to incorporate any faithful ‘devotee’ of sports of commercial entertainment” (Jenkins 506). It can be seen that both words, otaku and fan, first came about with holding a negative connotation. They were words that one did not want to be associated with, solely for the implications that came with the term.

The transition from undeniably harsh terms has transferred into an idiom that fans and otaku are proud to be labelled as. When the word otaku is taken and placed in North America (and increasingly so in Japan), they wear the term like a badge of honour. Being a closet geek isn’t so bad any more, though the term ‘closet’ doesn’t apply as much now as it did then. Someone who is a fan of something is just as honoured to be labelled as such.

Nevertheless, it was in 1975 when a group of young manga artists, Aniwa Ju, Harada Terou and Yonezawa Yoshishiro, founded a new institution to encourage the development of unpublished amateur manga. The institution was Comic Market (also known by the abbreviations Comiket and Comike), a free space in the form of conventions held several times a year where amateur manga could be bought and sold (Kinsella 542-3). Since then, the Comiket has expanded from an underground market (of three days per year), to mainstream, in which it occurs twice a year on weekends in Japan, and more frequently in North America (Kinsella 543). Though the Comiket is solely focused of manga, it, along with the growth of sci-fi cons, is an example of expansion in the Western civilization of Japanese anime conventions: its slow, miniscule start, to crazy, week-end long fandom.

Fabric is spread out on the floor, as rulers, fabric pencils (also known as pencil crayons), and stencils are brought out. One person sits on one side, another across. “Instead of 150 inches we should make it 160 inches by, say 80 inches?” Yea, but we’ll need another two metres seeing as there isn’t enough fabric here to account for the sleeves and collar. “Ah, maybe three, we still need to add the hood.” And seeing as it’s us, maybe an extra half metre to go along with it.

Cosplay is fandom taken to the next step. Rather than obsessing and capitalizing on various fan merchandise, infatuation is breached to a degree where fans begin to dress up as their favourite characters, going as far as to imitate their ‘special’ moves and poses. Wigs, hair spray, temporary tattoos, props and costumes are all steps that a fan might take to enter the cosplaying dimension. There are no limitations to who can enter the subculture.

In the world of cosplay, there are two forms in which a fan can participate in: basic cosplay and Masquerade. Basic cosplay is essentially cosplaying in its simplest form. You attempt to look like a particular character by trying to recreate the character’s apparel as realistic as possible. On the other hand, masquerading is more of an interactive activity where the cosplayer takes on the identity of the character he is portraying. The final transition in becoming a true cosplayer has to do with the individual becoming the chosen character by taking on not only personality traits, but also adapting the character’s signature actions, habits etc.

Often, cosplayers, even those who only plan on dressing up, will choose to portray the character’s behaviour, because they identify with the character especially when posing for the camera[11]. With skill and compassion, the cosplayer can ‘pass’ off as the character (Polsky). At times it goes beyond the point of being infatuated with the character, as the cosplayer animate themselves to become the character. The identity of the character is so intriguing to the cosplayer that he/she will sometimes do an impromptu act, and recreate significant moments or phases of the character’s fictional life as a tribute to their dedication of the character[12].

Bent pins are poked into still bodies, adjusting the fabric to fit: a tuck here, a nip there. “Ow.” Stay still. “I am. Stop jabbing them into me.” Silence; a glare. Stay still. Poke. “I’m bleeding!”

The media inundates us with posters and advertisements. There are promotional videos, magazines, as well as pins and patches that dictate which Hollywood celebrity or politician is the next ‘hot’ item. It goes so far as objectifying and devaluing a person into a thing. Regardless of this notion, there are fans everywhere. Singers, actors, painters, exploit every capitalistic opportunity from their fans, but are still deemed ‘hot’ by the public.  Il Divo reaches out to those old and young, where Justin Timberlake brings sexy back to hip youngsters. Fandom can range from young to old.

Similarly, cosplaying has no age limit or restrictions, participation is exclusive to the public. However, unlike staring in awe at objectified celebrities, cosplay revolves around a world where fans are people who love and admire characters of 2D, (or 3D if you think of recent video games such as Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts or Metal Gear Solid). Cosplayers take a character and solidify its presence into reality by producing the characters clothing, and masquerading around conventions. Cosplaying “acts as a buffer against social aging – not against the dread of getting older…” (Thornton 190).  Age is diminished, and social barriers are dropped.

Cardboard, wood, paint, glue…stuck fingers. Drying props lean against the wall, chisels engrave designs into wood, and the waft of addicting paint enters the nostrils. “How many lines and circles is the snowboard suppose to have?” I don’t know, look. “Where’s the picture?” …under the wood…over there somewhere… “Geez, thanks.” Anytime.

Why does one cosplay? How do you suddenly decide that rather than just being a fan that collects commodities, you want to play dress up? Judith Halberstam conveys her frustration in her essay “Drag Kings” about how drag participants answer with superficial responses to the question ‘why’, the same can be said about cosplayers (405). The simplest response is admittedly, because it’s fun. Everyone remembers being a child and becoming overly excited, (without the sugar in their system), about going trick-or-treating, and wearing the newest themed costume. Pirates? Princess? You can’t forget the beloved Marvel characters such as Batman and Superman. Cosplaying is an excuse to turn back time, dress up, and be giddy. Of course, instead of doing it for candy, you pose for pictures.

In a manner of speaking, the moment you enter that weekend of fun, you’re leaving reality to enter a fictional world of anime and manga in which everyone is a character.  You become someone you’re not for those few precious moments, and in that brief lapse of time, you identify and seek out those who are similar to you. Cosplayers, as well as convention goers, reify what is fictional, to something tangible. In the act of cosplaying, the fans are able to forget the problems of the outside world.

Cosplaying is a subculture that, in its initial stages, is when anime enthusiasts buy and collect merchandise: posters, OST CDs[13], toy figures, etc. Furthermore, Sarah Thornton describes in her article “The Social Logic of Subcultural Capital,” how subcultural capital transitions to cultural capital, which is prevalent in the fans as they become more knowledgeable about anime (186).  By entering this realm of cosplaying, the fan forms another identity. You’re still you, but now you have a mask covering you, one that extends its reaches by conveying a message to the community of other cosplayers.

By pretending to be someone you’re not, it gives you a reason to hug random strangers and prance around in tighty-whitey’s. Crossplaying[14] is natural, and fans usually receive compliments on their costume. Anime conventions are the one place strangers can go up to other strangers and glomp[15] them senseless, without being charged with sexual assault. Rather, you become best friends with strangers for the duration of the event. What’s more is that “cultural critics who investigate the interplay of identity and ideology have argued convincingly that identities are formed through representation…” (Gever 199). People on the outside looking on might criticize cosplayers for their immature behaviour and wanton-like actions. They immediately label cosplayers off as weird freaks, while blindly turning away from the subculture itself. Their misunderstanding of cosplayers, however, helps to make a cosplayer’s identity concrete. This is true for the fact that each trial becomes a stepping stone in forming who you are and in creating a “collective identity, [forged] by an alliance with a community” (Jenkins 507). The trials and errors that come with cosplaying are what helps to build who you are.

Empty canisters of paint and cut up pieces of wood and foam lie scattered on the ground. Missing utensils found in random places. “Anyone have a pair of scissors?” There should be some lying around…we have six pairs… “Hey, does anyone want icecre- er…I’m not even going to ask.” A pair of frozen scissors is pulled out of the freezer. Well, there’s one.

Stuart Hall, in his first of two definitions of cultural identity, defines it “in terms of the idea of one, shared culture, a sort of collective ‘one true self,’ hiding inside the many other, more superficial or artificially imposed ‘selves’ which people with a shared culture and ancestry hold in common” (Gever 193). It’s in that first step you take into creating your favourite character’s costume, that you enter a fantasy world.

The underlying feeling you get as you step through the convention doors is the sense of community. Because everyone has similar diversions, there is camaraderie amongst everyone. Where one can be seen as a stumbling idiot who knows nothing in his or her own social group, that association with one’s self is changed when amongst people of similar traits. Everyone connects. There is homology in the bond that strings through all cosplayers and convention goers, something abstract, something elusive. Though it is not pronounced so boldly, fans, especially new ones, are surprised “in discovering how many people share their fascination with a particular series, their pleasure in discovering that they are not ‘alone’” (Jerkins 507).

Regardless of whom you associate yourself with, if there is something that you are passionate about and those around you don’t understand, there is an impression of detachment. Those around you may try to understand, but the problem is that they don’t. While they won’t criticize you for being weird and geeky, it’s hard to reach that connection if there aren’t any mutual interests. As there are subjects with deep connotations that are both intricate and socially sensitive, anime fans find it hard to admit their fascination. “Coming out, means more than individual declaration; it is also a fundamentally social process that defies social disapprobation and infuses conventional representations of sexual deviance and moral degeneracy…” (Gever 194). An example is people who like to collect obscure vintage items such as feces. As such, they might also experience hardship in coming out with their ‘hidden’ identity.

Nevertheless, for otakus and cosplayers, conventions are a place where admirers congregate, “often to draw strength and courage from their ability to identify themselves as members of a group of other fans who shared common interests and confronted common problems” (Jenkins 507). It’s a great way to meet new people with the same interests, make new friends, and if you get lucky, meet someone special. There is solidarity among the masses of cosplayers that forms in that day, or weekend, of cosplay, and “despite individual differences, the members of a subculture […] share a common language” (Hebdige 131). People who dress in similar costumes become your best friends, and you chat like long lost buddies, your mouth spewing words a mile a minute.

Ring. Ring. Ta da ta pa da. “Phone’s ringing.” We’re not deaf you know. “Anyone know where it is?” Follow the noise! A rush and flurry of movement. Got it! “Hello?” Beeeeeeep. “Eh…missed it again.” Whoever it is will phone back if it’s important. “Uh huh, like the last five times.”

Barthe’s Theory of Identification claims that as you identify with a character in a book or movie, your response isn’t to associate with the character but with how other people will respond and identify with you (Lipton 2007). As a cosplayer or fan attends more conventions over time he/she becomes knowledgeable. They are easy to distinguish from the crowd by their confident strides and easy going nature as well as their insider knowledge about the convention location. Fans visiting for their first time can be easily identified by their nervous excitement. You start to notice the gradual growth in their behaviour over time as they become common sight at anime conventions. At the same time, the fan gains social capital from other cosplayers because of the connections on has “in the form of friends, relations, associates, and acquaintances can all bestow status” (Thornton 186).  As each year passes, the next generation of cosplayers arrive. It starts with simple costumes and gradually transgresses to varying degrees of complexity. As Dick Hebdige describes the punk subculture and its rank, in cosplay, you can tell if they are newbies, or if they are senior participants “the distinction between originals and hanger-ons is always a significant one in subculture” (131).

Each subculture has a hierarchy of its own. While everyone strives to create and have authentic costumes, those who have frequently cosplayed or attend conventions religiously can clearly see the differences.  And as Hebdige puts it: “different youths bring different degrees of commitment to a subculture” (131). Yuniya Kawamura describes in his review of “Japanese Teens as Producers of Street Fashion,” the contrast in participants of Japanese teen fashion. Even though there are “the distinctive looks [that] function as a visible group identity for the teens… [it] becomes shared symbols of membership affiliation” (Kawamura 787). Between the Mamba’s, Celemba’s, Lomamba’s and Cocomba’s[16] and the various states of cosplay, it can be said that there is a sense of rankings, from seniority to fresh faces.

Pins are pierced through folded fabric, the sowing machine turned on as the fabric chugged from one end to another. With the machine’s needle holding strong, the pedal is pressed gently. Hands guide thick fabric through its course. “Done.” Think we can hem another inch? “Is that necessary? I just finished sewing this.” Please? Sigh. “Oi[17], unstitcher, you’re needed.”

On a side note, crossplaying[18], as mentioned above, is as natural as glomping in the cosplaying universe. In theory, Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the term cross-dressing, as the behavior of wearing the opposite sex’s clothing. However, in the subcultural context of cosplay, cross-dressing is adapted to fit the vernacular language of convention goers by combining “cross” and “play”.  Cross-dressing is essentially like cosplay, but rather than just becoming a fictionalized character, you turn into one that is of the opposite sex.

Halberstam writes that although male impersonations of the female sex “has been a theatrical genre for at least two hundred years, […] the drag king is a recent phenomenon” (400). Along with that, she continues by writing that “‘drag’ and ‘performance’ have recently become key words within contemporary gender theory, and they are generally used to describe the theatricality of all gender identity…” (403). In cosplay, and crossplay, that hardly matters. Anime and manga are done in such a way that many male characters have a feminine touch to them: the angled jaw, glistening beautiful hair, long lashes and so forth. These beautiful young men are known as bishōnen-ai (Kinsella 546). Many cosplays done of male characters by males, especially characters from shōujo[19] manga, are not as well portrayed as those done by females.

Cross-dressers usually hold an appreciation towards yaoi, which is also synonymous with shōnen-ai; in other words male homosexuality[20]. Yuri, or shoujo-ai, is the equivalent for lesbian content. Other times, cosplayers feel the need to feminize male characters and sexualize them, or vice versa[21]. In addition, female cosplayers sometimes feel the need to butch-it-up. They can crossplay into a samurai warrior or a gun-wielding outlaw, just as a male can tone it down[22]. Cross-dressing is as limitless as cosplaying; you can go as far as your imagination takes you.

The scent of burning fabric (accidental, of course) and baking lunch overtakes the smell of sprayed paint and drying glue. Music is playing in the background, replaying over and over. “Is lunch ready yet?” Not yet, don’t leave the iron like that! “Someone press play again.” I smell something burning…

The sudden rise of anime fans in recent years can be credited to mainstream media (YTV) and easily accessible magazines like Newtype or Shonen JUMP. Even channels geared towards music, such as Much Music, are starting to air anime series. Even with the sudden interest in Japanese animation, fans find it difficult to judge these versions as well-done, English-dubbed series. Though admittedly, fans who begin watching English-dubbed series turn to the original Japanese series, with English subtitles. With the alluring public interest in Japanese anime going mainstream, it is becoming harder to convince TV producers to follow a certain anime, or published a specific manga.

…like other popular readers, fans lack direct access to the means of commercial cultural production and have only the most limited resources with which to influence the entertainment industry’s decisions. Fans must beg with the networks to keep their favourite shows on the air, must lobby producers to provide desired plot developments or to protect the integrity of favourite characters. Within the cultural economy, fans are peasants, not proprietors, a recognition which must contextualize our celebration of strategies of popular resistance… (Jenkins 509).

With the ascension of anime, series like Naruto and Fullmetal Alchemist are becoming widely popular cosplay choices. The mainstream media have focused on its viewers and by doing so, reels in a new wave of anime fans, whom in turn eventually turn into cosplayers.

This sudden call from fans to producers has given rise to more cosplayers, and due to the increasing numbers, conventions have been bigger than ever. The convention of subcultural signs (the ever evident Japanese terminology, music, clothing, etc.) is slowly changing into mass-produced objects. Costumes that were once hand-made can now be found and bought from stores such as Ki-Ki-Wai[23].  Rather than creating your own costume, a part of what being a cosplayer is lost when a fan goes out to buy it. The act of ‘coming out’ and recognizing who you are is misplaced because of the lack of time and effort spent on sewing your costume. At the same time, this whole process helps in constructing fans and their “cultural and social identity through borrowing and inflecting mass culture images, articulating concerns which often go unvoiced within the dominant media” (Jenkins 508).

“Once removed from their private contexts by the small entrepreneurs and big fashion interests who produce them on a mass scale, they become codified, made comprehensible, rendered at once public property and profitable merchandise” (Hebdige 123). It converges to become a commodity form, leading to, as Hebdige puts it, “the subculture’s imminent demise (123). But even though cosplaying is going from and underground cult to a mainstream phenomenon, it still has its core group that makes up the spirit. Regardless of how costume’s can now be bought in stores or shipped overseas, the heart of cosplayers remain with those who spend tedious hours sewing through the dim lighting, with bleeding fingers and diminishing funds.

An array of wigs and their rainbow colours line the counter, hairspray half-full roll to a stop, some missing lids. “We need to get a blue wig.” Blue? “Blue. And purple hairspray.” Ah, we also need a pink wig. Questioning eyebrow rises. For Tamao.[24] “Right.”

What can I say? I, myself, am a cosplaying otaku. I may also add that I’m damn proud of it. It’s been five years since I first started to cosplay, and each year is a new experience in itself. The process to create a self-formed costume is tedious and at times, extremely frustrating. This is tremendously so when you have a group of friends, and as much as they are your family, the urge to strangle (or castrate in some instances) a fellow cosplayer is very likely.

Cosplayers, Trekkies, skateboarders, geeks, the preps, jockeys… Each time a person or group is labelled under a name, those who do not understand the subculture often come to misleading, and sometimes inaccurate, conclusions (Jenkins 514). The misinterpretation of these labels lead to insulting comments by strangers which then creates a divide between various subcultures. The problem many people face is that they refuse to take a subculture for its entirety. Though cosplaying is not well known, as of recent years it has gained attention. People, though at snail-pace, are becoming aware of subcultures other than their own.

Acceptance amongst others is still hard to find, but cosplayers will continue to converge at conventions to get together.

Ink cartridges are placed into printers and registration forms roll out like magic. “Is everyone’s printed?” …should be… “There’s only 15 here, we’re missing someone.” Checks. Oh, that would be me. Glare; sheepish chuckle.

It’s all about being the weird nerd reading manga in the back room…it’s all about being a proud otaku…it’s all about becoming the best of friends with anyone and everyone…it’s all about the random glomps and cross-dressing tendencies…it’s a beautiful sunny day. The sky is blue, and white clouds stretch off into the horizon. The weather has reached 40 degrees Celsius, and you can feel the sweat covering your scalp under your wig. Red polyester sleeves constrict your movements, even as the bottom of the trench coat swishes with each stride. You duck under one particularly large gun, and wave at a bunch of people who have cosplayed as Fullmetal Alchemist. Slippered feet tread across the street and you and your friends meet up with other cosplayers who are dressed as the same anime. You wave, you smile, you fawn, you glomp. Your heart stops for a moment, and you see your favourite character ahead of you… You yell, “Look! It’s Sasuke-kun! Kawaaiiiii!” Heads swivel and you see the cosplayer’s eyes widen. You, along with other Sasuke fans, run towards the short cosplayer. In the back of your mind, you feel a twinge of pity for him, but it disappears as quickly as it came. The next second you’re glomping the poor soul.

[1] Uchiha Sasuke: A young, angsty boy in the anime/manga Naruto, also a fan favourite. (Uchiha is the last name, Sasuke the first) See Figure 1.0.

[2] Kawaii: Japanese word for cute. Can be commonly heard being elongated, in shrill pitches by fan girls, and fan boys.

[3] See Figure 1.1

[4] Studio Hard: a corporation that deals with: a) Developing, editing and creating magazines and books; b) Planning and editing TV programs and recording products; c) Arranging, operating, contracting, mediating and conducting various events; d) Advertising and PR business; e) Developing the information services using the Internet and computers and; f) Planning and managing business of using commercial and public institutions. For more information, visit < http://www.hard.co.jp/ >

[5] Cons – slang for convention; used by convention goers for its simplicity: “Are you going to the Anime North con?”

[6] Needs to be dropped to account for the slope in the shoulder.

[7] See Figure 1.2.

[8] Dōjinshi: (同人誌) roughly translates into same stuff, different people. Dōjinshi are unofficial, amateur produced manga, based upon successful, well established manga or anime series. The quality of Doujin ranges in quality (Kinsella 549-50).

[9] Lolicom: or Rorikon (ロリコン) is the Japanese gairaigo term (usually short form) for Lolita complex (derived from the novel Lolita), the sexual attraction to fictional and real underage girls, or pedophilia (Kinsella 547-8; Moffat).

[10] Miyazaki Tsutomu, 26, abducted, murdered, and mutilated four small girls between August 1988 and July 1989, before he was caught, arrested, tried and imprisoned (Kinsella 548). This generated an interest in the media and stirred a frenzy over Lolicom, as Miyazaki had a large collection of Lolicom manga and had been to a Comiket (Kinsella 548).

[11] See Figure 1.3.

[12] See Figure 1.4.

[13] OST: Original Soundtracks

[14] Crossplay: basically cross-dressing; part of the vernacular adaptations of a subculture.

[15] Glomp: a very big hug; occurs at any time and place, with no warning. Another term associated with this subculture. See Figure 1.5, Figure 1.6.

[16] Mamba’s, Celemba’s, Lomamba’s and Cocomba’s: Celemba is a combination of a celebrity look and a Mamba. The Celembas tend to wear expensive brands while the Mambas do not. The Mambas use white eyeshadow around the eyes but the Celembas use silver instead. As for fashion, the Celembas look more mature and sophisticated and always have a scarf or a shawl around their neck. There is another group called Lomamba, that is a Mamba with a Lolita touch, and the label they wear must be LizLisa. Furthermore, Cocomba is someone who covers herself with the brand Cocolulu sold in Shibuya. See Figure 1.7

[17] Oi: an exclamation; phrase used to indicate

[18] See Figure 1.8.

[19] Shōujo: manga geared towards girls. Key indicators are the overly large eyes and star-like or dream-like sequences in the background.

[20] See Figure 1.9

[21] See Figure 2.0

[22] See Figure 2.1

[23] Kikiwai: a store in Ontario; can be found in Chinatown Centre (Toronto) and Metro Square (Markham).

[24] A female character from Shaman King, an anime/manga. Many anime and manga characters are known for their wild hair colouring. See Figure 2.2.



Cassandra Chin | Copyright © 2007 | All Rights Reserved

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