Forms of Fandom: Part Six – Masquerade! Paper Faces on Parade!

This ongoing series looks at the various ways people get involved in fandom. This issue, we’re looking at cosplay.

Hello, my dear Wanderers, and welcome to the next installment on what format your fannish behaviour can take. … Sorry, we don’t have fireworks or anything, the budget couldn’t stretch to them – but I do have this little noise maker which I shall blow for you now. There. Wasn’t that nice? Right! So, forms that fandom can take, what is on the list for us today? Well, we’ve looked at fan-fiction, and fan-art, hm. I suppose fan-video would be the next logical step, but my video program just crashed, so I don’t think I’ll be able to walk anyone through that fun but incredibly frustrating world today. Okay, got it. Let’s take a look at the wonderful world of cosplay!

Cosplay literally means costume play, and yes it probably would just be easier to say dressing up but the term is generally used when a person is using a costume and accessories to depict a character from an already pre-existing media. Plus, it sounds quite cool, don’t you think? Now, according to Wikipedia, the term cosplay was first coined by Nobuyuki Takahashi of the Japanese studio, Studio Hard, while he was attending the 1984 Los Angeles Science Fiction Worldcon. Try saying that ten times fast. No, actually, thinking on it, don’t. That was not a challenge. The story goes that Nobuyuki was impressed and reported on what he saw in Japanese science fiction magazines. There. Don’t say history isn’t interesting. No, seriously, don’t, I study it in my student life, it is deeply interesting and haven’t you read the Horrible Histories review to know how hilarious it can be? Actually, the Japanese origins is where the term comes from; from the words meaning costume (kosu) and play (pure) in Japanese placed together to make a word for this new, and fun, thing that Nobuyuki had reported on.

So what, I hear you ask dear Wanderers, makes cosplay so different from just plain old dressing up? Well, if you hang on a second I’ll tell you. Honestly, people these days, next to no patience. I was just getting a cup of tea. Right. Tea gotten. Here we go. The difference between cosplay and dressing up comes in the details. Those who cosplay are more likely to be interested in having an accurate depiction of their chosen character’s outfit, rather than trying to fit with a theme – like say, having a spooky costume for Hallowe’en. But it’s this intention to accurately depict the character they have chosen to emulate that will often see cosplayers developing their latent drama skills when in costume, to affect the mannerism or vocal characteristics of their chosen character. For example, someone cosplaying at the Tenth Doctor would be very bouncy, and say “Allons-y!” a lot, while in comparison a Sherlock cosplayer would be bored with everything unless presented with a case that happens to take their interest.

Cosplay is a hobby that will help to, as I’ve sort of already mentioned, develop talents within a person, so in that respect it can be a very educational hobby indeed. Most cosplayers will make their own costumes, to ensure as much accuracy as they can possibly get. So you’ll have them being brilliant as costume design, at being able to build replica of show weapons or jewellery, there’s a whole list of skills that cosplaying brings to the table. Could argue that it’s good for a CV in that case, but that would be an odd argument to make. If anyone manages it, let me know – I’m dying to hear of fandom creating “real world” success. The idea of cosplay being able to help harness and develop these skills in already pretty creative people is really kind of pretty awesome when you sit and think about it for longer than a couple of seconds.

Not that you can’t just buy costumes. There are many sites online that, via the wonderous help of Google, cosplayers can comission and purchase costumes for their next upcoming convention from. Yeah, cosplays tend to happen at conventions, it’s a thing, always fun though. Conventions, for their part, tend to welcome the cosplayers with open arms. Many cons nowadays will have some sort of cosplay competition where the cosplayers can show off their awesome costumes, and the most awesome on the day will win a grand prize. Or the most adorable. If there is a baby Batman among you, expect baby Batman to win. That is just the most adorable. And adorable will always win because adorable steals people’s hearts. Maybe we should bottle that power, it’d be a great energy source.

Here’s the main thing about cosplay though, that sometimes seems to get forgotten amongst the stress of making/purchasing the perfect costume, and trying to aim for the most accurate depicition ever. Not that these aren’t good things, they are, but there’s something else that can be easily overlooked in your attempt to be the best there ever was. Cosplay, first and foremost? It’s meant to be fun, people. You’re dressing up as a character you love! And you get to play at being them! It’s one of the best things ever. Any child could tell you that. … Okay, that sounds a little rude, I didn’t mean to be rude, I apologise for being unintentionally rude.

But, my point stands. Cosplay, like all types of fan participation in their fandom, is at the heart of it meant to be a fun way for the fans to interact and explore the boundaries that their chosen fandom allows them. It’s about self expression in a different form to writing or drawing but still as legitmate as those more conventional past times. It’s all about the having fun being this character you like.

Pretty cool, huh?

Z. McAspurren

Forms of Fandom continues next issue with a look at fanvids – assuming Z’s video editing software doesn’t throw another wobbly and cause undue distress…

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