Encyclopedia

What Is Cosplay?

Cosplay is a social hobby where fans portray themselves as their favorite characters. Fans attempt to emulate the characters by wearing elaborate costumes and copying their personality. The costumes are either purchased or hand-made. In Japan, people who cosplay are called (レイヤー) “layer” while photographers are called (カメラ小僧) “camera kozou” or “camera boy.” The other term for people who cosplay is called cosplayer. It is widely believed that the majority of cosplayers are women. Fans and cosplayers gather in comic books, manga, anime, or video game events. In those environments, they socialize with others, join activities, purchase merchandise, meet like-minded individuals, and express their love for their fandom.

 

Etymology

The word cosplay or コスプレ is wasei-eigo, a Japanese term that appropriates English words. It is an abbreviation of the English words (コスチューム) “costume” and (プレ) “play.” The term cosplay first appeared in a magazine article by Nobuyuki “Nov” Takahashi. Takahashi and his colleagues in Studio Hard Co., Ltd. were searching for a term equivalent to the Western term “masquerade”. Masquerade has an aristocratic tone and translates differently from Japanese. This prompted Takahashi and his colleagues to develop a new term. Some of the other terms prior to cosplay were “Costume Show,” “Kasou Show,” and “Hero Play”.

 

A Brief History

The concept of dressing up in fancy costumes dates back from the 14th century. In the west, people call it as masquerade. Masquerade was part of the French carnival for socialites and took place in the evenings to celebrate weddings and social affairs. Traditional masquerades involved songs, pagan rituals, and extravagant merriment. Masquerade is still practiced not only in France but all over the world.

 

Halloween or All Hallows Eve is also a social gathering event before cosplay was popular. The Celtic festival Samhain influenced Halloween, where people celebrate the end of harvest and the arrival of winter. Halloween was later Christianized by the Church to eliminate any notions of pagan culture. Catholics commemorate Halloween by praying for the departed and the saints. The notion of dressing up or “guising” as supernatural beings began in the 19th century in Scotland and Ireland. Children would ask for treats while adults have fun pretending as creatures of the night. Halloween is still a favorite holiday in the west.

 

In Japan, the concept of dressing falls under the term (仮想) “kasou” or “virtual,” “imagination”. Dressing up as fictional characters appeared in colleges during the 1970s. Students and fans wore costumes based on manga and anime characters. Science fiction conventions did take place in Japan, but cosplay was not that prevalent at the time. The 1975 Comic Market or Comiket propelled the fan culture including cosplay. Self-publishing authors and cosplayers gathered in Comiket to celebrate their fandom. Takahashi coined the term cosplayer in the My Anime magazine in June 1983. He took inspiration from the 1984 Los Angeles Science Fiction Worldcon and Comiket Convention when conceptualizing the term cosplay. Cosplay soon went widespread in the 1990s in television and magazines. Nowadays, cosplay is a common social event that media companies would host to promote themselves.

 

Cosplay in Modern Times

Comic books, manga, anime, and video game fans all over the world enjoy cosplay. It allows them to express their love for their favorite characters and fandom as a community. Cosplay is prevalent enough in public and popular culture, it’s no longer a niche hobby or social activity. There are some fans that take cosplay as a full-time career or occupation. Some examples of professional cosplayers are Enako, Yaya Han, Jessica Nigri, Stella Chu, and Alodia Gosiengfiao. They earn from cosplay by connecting with companies, selling merchandise, and promoting brands. The difference of simply dressing up and cosplay becomes narrow as fans can freely portray as their favorite characters in public.

 

References:

Theresa Winge. Costuming the Imagination: Origins of Anime and Manga Cosplay, Mechademia (2006):pp. 67-74, Project MUSE, Tisch Library, Medford, Ma. 17 April 2010

Plunkett, Luke, Where The Word “Cosplay” Actually Comes From, Kotaku, https://kotaku.com/where-the-word-cosplay-actually-comes-from-1649177711, 22 October 2014, Retrieved 04 May 2020.

Pixiv Encyclopedia, https://dic.pixiv.net/a/コスプレ, Retrieved 04 May 2020.

The History of Masquerade Balls, Avas Flowers, https://www.avasflowers.net/the-history-of-masquerade-balls,  Retrieved 04 May 2020.

All Hallows’ Eve, BBC, http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/holydays/halloween_1.shtml, 20 October 2011, Retrieved 04 May 2020.

Leslie, Frank, Frank Leslie’s popular monthly, Volume 40, November 1895, pp. 540-543. Retrieved 04 May 2020.

Ellard, Amanda, Professional Cosplayer Enako Reveals Her Lucrative Income, Anime News Network, https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/interest/2016-09-15/professional-cosplayer-enako-reveals-her-lucrative-income/.106485, 16 September 2016, Retrieved 04 May 2020.

EasyUni Staff, Professional Cosplayer: Yes, it’s a Career!, EasyUni, https://www.easyuni.com/advice/professional-cosplayer-yes-its-career-1304/, 11 November 2017, Retrieved 04 May 2020.

 

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