The art of dressing up as characters from anime, manga, video games or TV shows has evolved into a global phenomenon. A popular culture not only in Japan, cosplay has been making waves abroad since its inception. It has now become more common to see people dressing up as their favourite anime characters in the streets.
A world where you can be someone else
Originating from Japan, cosplay is a portmanteau of “costume” and “play” — which first emerged 1984. The term was coined by journalist Nobuyuki Takahashi in 1984, and the sheer volume of manga, games and anime that the country produces has kept cosplayers inspired for decades.
Malaysia is no exception when it comes to creative, detailed cosplayers who put in a lot of effort to resemble their favourite characters. Sarawak-born Shirley Wong said that despite cosplaying being a challenging hobby, she still enjoys scouting for costumes to match her characters.
“When you are focused on something that interests you, and you made friends through the same hobby, you can easily forget the stress that you confront in real life and at work,” she added.
Famously known as Nessarose in the cosplaying world, Shirley also said that she loved cosplaying because it provided her with the chance to be invited to foreign countries and make new friends. “Cosplaying gave me special memories and experiences. It is also a challenge to enhance my creativity. Overall, I am proud and satisfied that I can garner support from people who appreciate my work,” said the 25-year-old.
Hailing from Kuching, Shirley currently has over 195,000 followers on her cosplay Facebook page. She also shared that it all started with her brother, who influenced her to watch anime in 2007.
“I became interested in cosplay after watching a few of my favourite anime shows and had become engrossed in their stories since secondary school. So I wanted to challenge myself as I love acting and dressing up,” she said.
However, her interest grew further in 2015 as she joined her university’s Japanese Culture Club where most of the members were cosplayers. “I bought my first costume and wig from an online store and my seniors in university were very helpful and encouraging, sharing their experience with make-up, hair-styling wigs and others with me.”
Shirley also recalled that the same seniors brought her to several large local events where she met more cosplayers and photographers. “That helped widen my view of the cosplay community in Malaysia.”
Remembering her first costume in 2015, she said it was the character Kasugano Sora from the series ‘Yosuga no Sora’, which has a visual novel, game and anime adaptation. “I was playing the game and was touched by the story. I also felt Sora’s character design was very cute. The story was well-written in a beautiful way, and that was how I became interested in the character to cosplay her.”
Naming herself Nessarose, Shirley revealed that the name stemmed from her favourite blogger during her teenage life. However, the blogger no longer writes, and as she likes how it is a beautiful name, she kept it as a remembrance.
As an avid cosplayer, Shirley revealed that she likes to cosplay characters that are either ‘chuunibyou’ or ‘yandere’.“ ‘Chuunibyou’ involves characters who are caught up in their own fantasies or delusions — they have a very strong imagination.
“And ‘yandere’ characters are often those that are in love or are obsessed with someone/something to a very unhealthy extent that it often takes a dark or twisted turn,” she explained.
Elaborating, Shirley said that she enjoys ‘chuunibyou’ characters as they can be cute and funny. “Whoever says they have never experienced a ‘chuunibyou’ period in their life are lying! Especially in their early teens,” she chuckled.
Meanwhile, she likes dressing up as a ‘yandere’ character because it needs a significant amount of acting and make-up skill to bring out the craziness or insanity portrayed by the characters. “It’s not easy to do, and that’s why I love challenging myself to cosplay them. I feel very satisfied and content when I successfully did so.”
Asked on the budget for each costume, she disclosed that it depends on how complicated the costumers are. “I mostly just purchased them. A simple costume can cost around RM100, but the most expensive one I have gotten cost me RM800. However, certain simple ones I would sew them myself.”
Known as an international cosplayer, Shirley was often invited as guest and judge to numerous events in Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Kuching, as well as in Indonesia, Singapore and Japan.
However, her proudest moment was when she completed the photo book that she had worked on for months. “From concept and creation, making sure all my original ideas come to fruition, when I held onto the physical copy the first time, it was a special moment for me. “
She also loved when her peers would praise how well she managed to bring out the character to life. “They would tell me how accurate my costume was or how much I looked like a particular character. It was a wonderful feeling to hear each time.”
However, despite all the good times, there were also bad times. She lamented that there were times when her hobby was not respected by others. “I would get teased and mocked by people who do not understand or appreciate cosplayers. Just because I dress differently, it doesn’t give you the right to be rude.”
Recalling a time in Singapore, Shirley met an elderly taxi driver who was shocked by her appearance. “He kept asking rude questions and implying that I was just seeking attention and doing it because of money. I had to keep my composure as I was travelling with the event organiser at the time but I was so angry and frustrated.”
Elaborating on how she would handle the negative perception towards cosplaying, she said that she would start by recommending an anime series that she opined as good and interesting. “I admit that there are some shows that are childish or nonsensical, but there are many shows that have fascinating storylines, beautiful character designs and animation.”
Passionate about her hobby, Shirley explained how the cosplay community worked hard to achieve what they have today. “It’s not as easy as society think when it comes to creating a quality cosplay. I feel that if some people remain close-minded and don’t even put any effort to try to understand something they don’t, then they will miss out on a lot of things.
“All they have to do is broaden their minds. They may not agree or like certain aspects of it, but at least they will be able to understand why we love this hobby so much,” she said.