Cosplay (コスプレ kosupure), short for “costume play”, is a type of performance art in which participants don costumes and accessories to represent a specific character or idea. Cosplayers often interact to create a subculture centred around 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 and 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 around sex appeal, with cosplayers specifically choosing characters that are known for their attractiveness and/or revealing (even explicit) costumes.
The Internet has enabled many cosplayers to create social networks and websites centred around cosplay activities, while forums allow them to share stories, photographs, news and tips. The exponential growth in the number of people picking up cosplay as a hobby since 1990 has made the phenomenon influential in popular culture. This is particularly the case in Asia where cosplay influences Japanese street fashion and popular culture.
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 1984 Los Angeles Science Fiction Worldcon. 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).
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. An English digital version of Cosmode has been created. Another magazine growing in popularity that is aimed at a broader, world-wide audience is CosplayGen.
Otaku Unite!, a 2004 documentary on otaku subculture, features extensive footage of cosplayers.
MTV has produced an episode of the documentary series True Life, focusing on fandom and cosplay.
A film titled Cosplayers: The Movie was released in 2009 by Martell Brothers Studios. It explores the anime subculture in North America with footage from anime conventions and interviews with fans, voice actors and artists. The film is available for free viewing on both YouTube and Crunchyroll.
The documentary titled My Other Me: A Film About Cosplayers chronicles a year in the life of three different cosplayers: a veteran cosplayer whom launched a career from cosplay, a young 14-year-old first-timer, and a transgender who found himself through cosplay. The documentary is expected to be released in 2012. It was a featured segment on The Electric Playground.
Animania explores the cosplay cultural phenomenon in North America. The documentary follows four “cosplayers” from various ethnicites as they prepare to compete at Anime North, Canada’s largest anime convention.
- Francesca Dani, an Italian cosplayer, net idol and model.
- Daisuke Enomoto, a Japanese entrepreneur, was scheduled to be the fourth private citizen to be taken into space by Space Adventures in October 2006. He intended to dress for the ride wearing the Gundam costume of Char Aznable but failed to pass physical examinations.
- Alodia Gosiengfiao, Filipina cosplayer and model. She was Animax’s first Levi’s “kawaii girl” winner in the last episode of Mad Mad Fun and ranked no. 87 in FHM’s 2009 poll of the Sexiest Women in the World.
- Liana Kerzner, Canadian co-hosts the talk show Ed’s Night Party. Famous for her character-based costumes, she is often a special guest at fan conventions across North America.
- Suzanne Muldowney, most famous for her Underdog portrayals, is a fixture in New York parades, conventions, and entertainment shows.
- Yuichiro “Jienotsu” Nagashima, Japanese kickboxer and martial artist. One of Japan’s top ranked kickboxers, Nagashima makes all his entrances and publicity appearances for K-1 dressed as different female anime characters, accompanied by cosplaying girls.
- Jessica Nigri, an American cosplayer.
- Lee Teng-hui, the first popularly elected president of the Republic of China (Taiwan), dressed up as the fictional character Edajima Heihachi of the anime series Sakigake!! Otokojuku.
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