Children all over America will have their photos taken on Oct. 31, trapped in stuffy pumpkin outfits while adults attend parties posing as pirates or witches for Halloween. While most of these costumes will be boxed away on the morning of Nov. 1 – not to be seen again for another 12 months – for Tufts cosplayers, dressing up is much more than an annual holiday tradition.
For those who may not be familiar with cosplay – a term derived from the union of “costume” and “play” that originated in Japan – Tufts Anime Brigade Chief Officer Katherine Labella explains that people who cosplay (also called cosplayers), “dress up as a particular character from anime, television, books or other areas [of fictional popular culture].” For many cosplayers, the coming weeks will likely be an exciting and busy time.
Halloween festivities and other fast-approaching events, including the Rhode Island Comic Con convention set to take place the first weekend of November, present Tufts cosplayers with much-anticipated opportunities to premiere new cosplays (the common term for a cosplayer’s outfit, or costume) or revive old favorites. Halloween events, in particular, provide a fun way for cosplayers to test-drive new ideas, props or partially completed cosplays before introducing them in the more formal setting of a convention, where they may be subject to regulations and the high expectations of other convention attendees.
However, while Halloween may be an eventful time for cosplayers, it is important to understand the difference between a cosplayer’s finalized product and a typical Halloween costume. Labella, a senior, notes that specificity is a defining characteristic – or perhaps the most important element – of cosplay. Specificity of character is emphasized, and often – though not always – a single individual is selected instead of a general category. It’s the difference between making a costume for Daisy Buchanan of “The Great Gatsby” versus a vague flapper-type figure.
Once a character is selected, the cosplayer will work diligently to reproduce that character’s iconic look as precisely as possible. Junior Leonna Hill exemplifies this exactness. Hill is in the process of creating a cosplay of Mikasa Ackerman from the manga series “Attack on Titan,” which requires Mikasa’s mahogany colored scarf. For Hill, neither dark red nor plain brown will do.
“I’m a detail-oriented person, and if I’m going to do a cosplay, I want to do it right,” she said.
Cosplayers also frequently seek to incorporate the personality and traits of the character into the cosplay, combining appearance with behavior to achieve something akin to role-play. Intense attention to detail and a high regard for character set cosplay apart from average Halloween apparel. In addition, of course, cosplay events are not simply restricted to Halloween weekend but occur year-round.
Cosplayers often invest a great deal in the creation of a cosplay. Labella admits that “cosplay is an expensive hobby.” Though “closet cosplay” – when cosplayers construct an outfit entirely from items they already own, such as the contents of their wardrobes – is popular, it is not surprising that larger projects requiring everything from an elaborate helmet to a set of fairy’s wings may quickly dry up college budgets.
An experienced cosplayer, Labella stresses that time management is also critical to produce a quality cosplay. The creative aspects of cosplay can consist of time-consuming processes. From the general design stage to more tedious tasks, such as learning to style and maintain a wig, cosplay requires both planning and effort. Luckily, cosplayers are generous about sharing the methods of their magic, and online message boards and manuals can often assist with even the most complicated challenges.
Nevertheless, a complicated cosplay may take anywhere from months to years to construct – a sustained time commitment which can be challenging for teens and young adults, groups which have traditionally formed the core of the cosplay community. As Hill points out, young people’s continuing enthusiasm for cosplay, in spite of its challenges, is telling of the dedication that so many cosplayers possess.
Unfortunately, there are a few individuals in the greater cosplay community who go too far in their quest for accuracy.
“There’s a lot of flack in the anime community,” Hill said. “People [getting] offended if you’re not racially in line with the character’s race is the biggest thing, and after that, [it’s] body type.”
Because many popular cosplays come from anime, which tends to feature white or light-skinned characters, people of color are left with few options for portraying characters with similar skin tones. As a result, they are forced to either confine themselves to a relatively small range of characters or potentially face criticism for having the “wrong look” for the role.
As a black woman, Hill had hesitated to do cosplay in the past for this reason. However, according to Hill, the Tufts cosplay community is very open and accepting, and with the support of other Tufts Anime Brigade members, she has recently begun work on her first two cosplays. The fact that she plans to premiere Mikasa as part of a group cosplay, in which another participant will also cosplay a character of a different race, has given her confidence.
“If I didn’t have these people to help me?I wouldn’t be doing it,” she said.
Despite occasional biting criticism, other marginalized groups are finding ways to break into the greater cosplay community by adapting their cosplays to fit individual, cultural and physical needs. Though women who wear hijabs have been (and, in some cases, still are) criticized for not accurately portraying the hairstyles of their chosen characters, many others appreciate creative attempts to incorporate the head scarf into the cosplay itself. While cosplaying Hatsune Miku, an anime character with long, bright blue hair, a Muslim girl named Deanty M. Muchtiarsyah wore a teal head scarf that perfectly matched the color of Miku’s long locks. Her example, along with others on websites like the Tumblr blog, “The Hijab Closet,” provides inspiration for those who want to cosplay with the hijab.12