For my FMP I plan to make a documentary covering the Cosplay subculture and the personal experiences of the individuals who engage in the practice of cosplaying. The first question, one must ask are what are the personal motivations for the individuals who will dress up as their favourite characters. A quick search online can range from a sense of personal pride and creative expression to a notion of belonging to a community of like-minded people. However, my primary research has paralleled almost word for word the same ideas of these secondary sources because according to Ranellucci (cited in McIsaac, 2012) “it’s about expressing the things you love.” “the best part of cosplay is when a little kid sees you and gets excited to meet you/the superhero or whatever you’re being.”
In Dick Hebdige’s book ‘Subculture’ his work on the adoption of jazz by young white Americans and its subsequent transition into the American mainstream in the 30’s draws parallels between the adoption of the anime and manga into the Western cosplay scene. Not in how white borrowed (others say stole) the musical styles of Jazz but rather had an audience grew in relatively short span of time, “As the music fed into mainstream popular culture during the 20s and 30s” (Hebdige, 1979) and in Anime’s case it was the 90s and 2000s. As we see in this quote from Asian Avenue Magazine “Japanese animation has taken the country by storm since its boom during the 90s with hit TV series like Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball Z and Pokémon. These series opened the floodgates for anime (pronounced “animé”) to permeate American society, reaching a level of popularity in the 2000s that has propelled the Japanese government to request the aid of experts in Colorado in understanding the reasons behind North America’s love for anime.” (Velasquez, 2013). In many ways this signifies the assimilation into the cosplay subculture. One of the major appeals of Cosplay lie in the sense of otherness that it generates.
It is clear that cosplay is an active subculture from the amount of practitioners and the networking employed to connect them. Of particular interest is the transcultural appeal of anime and manga scene in the west. Thanks to Internet streaming services such as Crunchyrole, as well the numerous illegal sites, providing instant access and translations from the latest shows coming out of Japan fans have greater access to their favourite medium before even reaches western shores. For the cosplay scene several characters I’ve seen portrayed at conventions have no official English release available at the time. That language barrier has almost become a non-issue at this point. The same can be said for the Eastern fans as can be seen with Chinese Sherlock fans who stay up to 3:00am to catch the show live, despite the lack of accurate translations (Lin, 2014).
In Japan, cosplay receives a greater deal of attention in comparison to the Western counterpart and as such set several standards of which the medium is judged as a whole, for instance “In 2006, theMinistry of Foreign Affairs started their support of the summit that includes cosplay contests on TV, parades in various cities, photoshooting, and more” (Ito and A. Crutcher, 2013). However don’t take this to mean that cosplay in of itself is widely outside of its own community it is still very almost unwelcome “Despite the hobby’s abundance, cosplay is just as nerdy and taboo in Japan as it is in West, if not more so. It’s private. People generally don’t tell their families or non-geek friends that they cosplay. They give aliases at conventions, too.” (Aliasis, 2013). In a sense the cosplay and conventions are widely accepted commercially however on a personal level it still something to be kept private. It even says “And in America, cosplayers might be known to go to and from the convention in costume – don’t expect to get away with that in Japan, it’s forbidden by convention rules” Whereas in my experience of waiting at the trainstation before going to a convention I always see people already costume. This suggests a very interesting cultural difference.
In the western context, cosplayers do not receive the same type of attention outside of the product they are portraying. As in places such as in Akihabara where rows of stores and products are dedicated to the hobby, amongst other items being sold there. The main reason of this difference could be down to the difference in culture, the focus on the work is not specifically on the cultural differences, but the personal experience of the cosplayers themselves. Western cosplayers seem to be more at ease with themselves as opposed to the Japanese, I believe a key to this may self Expression as my interviews have told me despite the lack of mainstream attention, that is not to say there has been no mainstream attention devoted to the cosplay scene as Superfans, the Tom Felton’s documentary (Tom Feslton meets the Superfans, 2015) highlights this, but it is not to the same extent as what is found in Japan.
At the recommendation of my tutor I watched a documentary about a subculture of the ‘My little Pony’ fanbase, known as bronies (generally considered to be males from teenage years to above). The documentary’s tone framed the show as a positive influence on the men’s lives. It framed this through creative expression, highlighting the music producers, artists and fanfic writers. At BronyCon several of musical talents put on a show at the convention, also bringing many key figures in from the source material itself (voice actors from the show like Tara Strong). In my opinion this further legitimises the value of the creative input the fans contribute in this area.
This is all created by the networking skills of fans through the Internet and can be connected to the same sources that anime also uses. Anime itself employs all attributes that the brony culture does albeit on a much larger scale due the vastness of the anime medium. The anime fandom has many dedicated conventions in the west but also from my observations they have been amalgamated with other major fandoms in the Comic conventions (London comic con for example). However those outside of the community still posses an extremely narrow minded attitude towards this rising subculture. Lines in Daily Mail articles such as “Just as anyone is perfectly entitled to express themselves by dressing up like five-year-olds on their way to a sleep-over, so others should be free to poke fun at them” (LittleJohn, 2015) shows that there are still those with a relatively biased perspective towards the hobby, that either refuses to change their stance or cannot fathom why the cosplayers engage in the activity. Most alarming is the fact that articles like these are being published in Major Newspapers in the year 2015.
Cosplayers themselves have a very unique of their hobby and what it means to them personally. The reasons they give for cosplaying will vary depending on who you ask however there are a number of recurring elements I have noticed in my primary and secondary sources. As the title suggests self-expression is major recurring factor, as they believe it showcases their love for a given product (series and/or characters) in a creative and constructive manner. It has also been associated with improving self esteem for who may have felt ostracised from others throughout their younger years and that the costumes have helped to “bring them out of their shells” for lack of a better term. Others feel an emotional connection to the characters that they portray and see the act of dressing up as them as an extension of themselves. The conventions and communities, while not entirely bereft of harassment and bullying, are places where like-minded people can share their work with each other and find a sense of belonging that otherwise may have been denied to them. It is also the place where their hard work is rewarded by those who ask them for photographs and being recognised for the characters they portray. There are even different levels of cosplay from the budget costumes to the highly involved craftworks, which take time, money and patience to pull off. Cosplay itself needn’t solely relegated to the convention as many cosplayers (especially through sites like deviantart.com) engage in professional level photo shoots. So no matter the skill level there is something for everyone to enjoy.
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