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Cosplay (コスプレ kosupure ), short for "costume play", is a performance art in which participants wear costumes and accessories to represent a specific character or idea. Cosplayers often interact to create a subculture centered on role play. A broader use of the term cosplay applies to any costumed role play in venues apart from the stage, regardless of the cultural context.
Favorite sources include manga, anime, comic books, video games, and films. Any entity from the real or virtual world that lends itself to dramatic interpretation may be taken up as a subject. Inanimate objects are given anthropomorphic forms and it is not unusual to see genders switched, with women playing male roles and vice versa. There is also a subset of cosplay culture centered on sex appeal, with cosplayers specifically choosing characters that are known for their attractiveness and/or revealing costumes.
The Internet has enabled many cosplayers to create social networks and websites centered on cosplay activities, while forums allow cosplayers to share stories, photographs, news, and general information. The rapid growth in the number of people cosplaying as a hobby since 1990 has made the phenomenon a significant aspect of popular culture. This is particularly the case in Asia, where cosplay influences Japanese street fashion.
The term cosplay is a portmanteau of the English words costume and play. The term was coined by Nobuyuki Takahashi of the Japanese studio Studio Hard while attending the 1983 World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon) in Los Angeles. He was impressed by the hall and the costumed fans and reported on both in Japanese science fiction magazines. The coinage reflects a common Japanese method of abbreviation in which the first two moras of a pair of words are used to form an independent compound. Costume becomes kosu (コス), and play becomes pure (プレ).
Cosplay costumes vary greatly and can range from simple themed clothing to highly detailed costumes. Cosplay is generally considered different from Halloween and Mardi Gras costume wear, as the intention is to accurately replicate a specific character, rather than to reflect the culture and symbolism of a holiday event. As such, when in costume, cosplayers will often seek to adopt the affect, mannerisms and body language of the characters they portray (with "out of character" breaks). The characters chosen to be cosplayed may be sourced from any movie, TV series, book, comic book, video game or music band, but the practice of cosplay is often associated with replicating anime and manga characters.
Most 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 in order to further improve the resemblance to the character. This is especially necessary for anime and manga 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 excellent quality. The process of creation may then be very long and time-consuming, making it a very personal journey and achievement for many. This taxing and often expensive process is known to unite cosplayers and is considered a part of the culture of cosplay.
Cosplayers obtain their apparel through many different methods. Manufacturers produce and sell packaged outfits for use in cosplay, in a variety of qualities. These costumes are often sold online, but also can be purchased from dealers at conventions. There are also a number of individuals who work on commission, creating custom costumes, props or wigs designed and fitted to the individual; some social networking sites for cosplay have classified ad sections where such services are advertised. 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, shoes, costume jewellery and prop weapons. 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 costume; for example, they may commission a prop weapon, sew their own clothing, buy character jewelry from a cosplay accessory manufacturer, buy a pair of off-the-rack shoes, and modify them to match the desired look.
In order to look more like the character they are portraying, many cosplayers also engage in various forms of body modification. Contact lenses that match the color of their character's 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 that cosplayers engage in is to copy any tattoos or special markings that 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 utilized by some cosplayers whose natural hair can achieve the desired hairstyle.
The cosplayer's purpose may generally be sorted into one of three categories, or a combination of the three:
Some cosplayers choose to have a cosplay photographer take high quality images of them in their costumes posing as the character. This is most likely to take place in a setting relevant to the character's origin, such as churches, parks, forests, water features and abandoned/run-down sites. Such cosplayers are likely to exhibit their work online, on blogs (such as tumblr), social networking services (such as Facebook), or artist websites (such as deviantART). They may also choose to sell such images or print the images as postcards and give them as gifts. What is more, some cosplayers choose to take photos themselves and become cosplay photographers too.
The most popular form of presenting a cosplay is by wearing it to a fan convention. Multiple conventions dedicated to anime and manga, comics, TV shows, video games, science fiction and fantasy may be found all around the world. The single largest event featuring cosplay is the semi-annual doujinshi market, Comiket, held in Japan during summer and winter. It attracts hundreds of thousands of manga and anime fans, where thousands of cosplayers congregate on the roof of the exhibition center. The two highest attended events in the United States featuring cosplayers are San Diego Comic-Con and New York Comic Con, which both had over 130,000 attendees in 2013. The biggest event in the UK is the London MCM Expo, while the biggest event in all of Europe takes place in France at Japan Expo in Paris, with an attendance of over 200,000 in 2012. The biggest anime convention in North America is Anime Expo, currently held in Los Angeles. The biggest anime convention is Canada is Anime North, held in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The largest event in the southern hemisphere is AVCon in Adelaide, Australia.
As the popularity of cosplay has grown, many conventions have come to feature a contest surrounding cosplay that may be the main feature of the convention. Contestants present their cosplay, and often to be judged for an award, the cosplay must be self-made. The contestants may choose to perform a skit, which may consist of a short performed script or dance with optional accompanying audio, video and/or images shown on a screen overhead. Other contestants may simply choose to pose as their characters. Often, contestants are briefly interviewed on stage by an MC. The audience is given a chance to take photos of the cosplayers. Cosplayers may compete solo or in a group. Awards are presented, and these awards may vary greatly. Generally there will be a best cosplayer award, and best group award, with runner-up prizes as well. Awards may also go to the best skit, and a number of cosplay skill subcategories, such as master tailor, master weapon-maker, master armourer, etc.
The most well-known cosplay competition is the World Cosplay Summit, selecting cosplayers from 20 countries to compete in the final round in Nagoya, Japan. Some other international events include European Cosplay Gathering (finals taking place at Japan Expo in Paris, France), Euro Cosplay (finals taking place at London MCM Expo), and Nordic Cosplay Championship (finals taking place at NärCon in Linköping, Sweden).
Groups of cosplayers may choose to hold small gatherings at any number of venues, including cafés, parks, nightclubs and amusement parks. They may join to have an excuse to cosplay, to compare work, share tips or any other personal reason. Sometimes cosplayers will go out individually in their costumes in character for fun. Along the way, they may encounter other people that are interested in doing cosplay. In doing so, they meet more people in their community and form groups where they can meet new people in the world of cosplay and discuss their work and experiences.
Portraying a character of the opposite sex is crossplay. The practicality of crossplay and crossdress stems in part from the abundance in manga of male characters with delicate and somewhat androgynous features. Such characters, known as bishōnen (lit. "pretty boy"), are an Asian version of the elfin boy archetype represented in Western tradition by figures such as Peter Pan and Ariel.
The animegao, or "dollers", represent a niche group in the realm of cosplay. Their approach makes them a subgroup of, what is called in Japan, kigurumi; that is, mascot-style role players. Animegao are often male cosplayers representing female characters. Female animegao are also found to represent male characters, especially male characters that lend themselves to the treatment, such as robots, space aliens and animals. Animegao wear bodysuits and masks that completely hide their real features so that the original appearance of their characters may be reproduced as literally as possible. Their costumes display all the abstractions and stylizations of the cartoon art, such as the oversized eyes and tiny mouths so often encountered in manga.
The appearance of cosplayers at manga events makes such events a popular draw for photographers. As this became apparent in the late 1980s, a new variant of cosplay developed in which cosplayers attended events mainly for the purpose of modeling their characters for still photography rather than engaging in continuous role play. Rules of etiquette were developed to minimize awkward situations involving boundaries. Cosplayers pose for photographers in designated areas removed from the exhibit hall. Photographers do not press them for personal contact information or private sessions, follow them out of the area or take photos of exhibits in the hall itself without permission. The rules allow the symbiotic relationship between photographers and cosplayers to continue with the least inconvenience to each other. The late 2000s has also seen a rise of cosplay music videos.
Cosplayers in Japan used to refer to themselves as reiyā (レイヤー); pronounced "layer". Currently in Japan, cosplayers are more commonly called kosupure (コスプレ); pronounced "ko-su-pray," as "reiyā" is more often used to describe layers (i.e. hair, clothes, etc.). Those who photograph "players" are called cameko, short for "camera kozō" or "camera boy". Originally, the cameko gave prints of their photos to players as gifts. Increased interest in cosplay events, both on the part of photographers and cosplayers willing to model for them, has led to formalisation of procedures at events such as Comiket. Photography takes place within a designated area removed from the exhibit hall.
Cosplay at fan events likely originated in Japan in 1978. Since 1998, Tokyo's Akihabara district contains a number of cosplay restaurants, catering to devoted anime and cosplay fans, where the waitresses at such cafés dress as video game or anime characters; maid cafés are particularly popular. In Japan, Tokyo's Harajuku district is the favourite informal gathering place to engage in cosplay in public. Events in Akihabara also draw many cosplayers. In Iga, Mie, an annual festival Iga Ueno Ninja Festa draws thousands of people dressed up in ninja costumes.
The popularity of cosplay in Japan encourages the misconception that cosplay is specifically a Japanese or Asian hobby. The term cosplay is Japanese in origin, but costume play was originally a hobby from the United States. A.D. Condo's science fiction comic character "Mr. Skygack, from Mars" was the subject of cosplay in 1908 in the United States. Science fiction fan Forrest J Ackerman attended the 1939 1st World Science Fiction Convention dressed in a "futuristicostume", including a green cape and breeches, based on the pulp magazine artwork of Frank R. Paul. Ackerman later stated that he thought everyone was supposed to wear a costume at a science fiction convention, although only he and his girlfriend, Myrtle R. Douglas, wore one and he rarely wore one to any future convention.
The hobby was then later picked up by the Japanese and reinvented by Americans. For many years, costuming has had a widespread following and continues to experience growing popularity in North America and Europe, and has more recently spread throughout South America and Australia. Western cosplay's origins are based primarily in science fiction and historical fantasy fandoms. It is also more common for Western cosplayers to recreate characters from live-action series than it is for Japanese cosplayers. Western costumers also include subcultures of hobbyists who participate in Renaissance faires or the Society for Creative Anachronism, LARPs, and historical reenactments.
Competition at science fiction conventions typically include the masquerade (where costumes are presented on stage and judged formally) and hall costumes (where roving judges may give out awards for outstanding workmanship or presentation). The increasing popularity of Japanese animation outside of Asia during the late 1990s led to an increase in American and other Western cosplayers who portray Japanese characters. Anime conventions have become more numerous in the West in the previous decade, now competing with science fiction, comic book and historical conferences in attendance. At these gatherings, cosplayers, like their Japanese counterparts, meet to show off their work, take photos, and compete in costume contests. Convention attendees are frequently seen dressed up as Japanese animated characters, but just as often dress up as Western comic book or animated characters, or as characters from movies and video games. Differences in taste still exist across cultures. Some costumes that are worn without hesitation by Japanese cosplayers tend to be avoided by Western cosplayers, such as outfits that evoke Nazi uniforms.
Cosplay has influenced the Japanese advertising industry, in which cosplayers are often used for event work previously assigned to agency models. Japan's burgeoning anime industry has been home to the professional cosplayers since the rise of Comiket and the Tokyo Game Show. The phenomenon is most apparent in Japan but exists to some degree in other countries as well.
A cosplay model, also known as a cosplay idol, cosplays costumes for anime and manga or video game companies. Good cosplayers are viewed as fictional characters in the flesh, in much the same way that film actors come to be identified in the public mind with specific roles. Cosplayers have modeled for print magazines like Cosmode and a successful cosplay model can become the brand ambassador for companies like Cospa.
Japan is home to two especially popular cosplay magazines, Cosmode (コスモード) and Dengeki Layers (電撃Layers). Cosmode has the largest share in the market and an English-language digital edition. Another magazine growing in popularity that is aimed at a broader, world-wide audience is CosplayGen.
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