Decked out in a checked one piece and black jacket, Misa Kondo marches through Nagoya’s shopping streets, along with hundreds of other cosplayers, occasionally posing for photos.
“When I’m in cosplay, I feel really good,” says Kondo, who’s wearing a bandage over her right eye as part of her cosplay of Rikka Takanashi, a character in “Love, Chunibyo and Other Delusions.”
Kondo, who has been a cosplayer for more than six years, says it “brings out strength in me.”
Like Kondo, a growing number of cosplayers, mostly young women, are packing such events across Japan, wearing outfits inspired by their favourite animes, movies, video games, TV series and comic books.
Going to these meet-ups is a way for cosplayers to expand their circle of friends and acquaintances with similar interests, in addition to social media. “I really enjoy sharing the experience of being an anime fan and cosplayer with others,” Kondo says.
Kokoa, another cosplayer in a revealing costume, agrees, saying she has made more friends since starting to cosplay two years ago.
Dressed as Trish Una in “JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure,” Kokoa says that she is a huge fan of comic books and anime characters, and that she likes transforming herself into such characters.
“I’m very happy when people praise me and my costumes,” she adds.
Kokoa, who has 10 cosplay wigs, says she usually dresses as a male character in winter because it’s too cold to wear revealing outfits. She adds that some men feel that they can come very close to her at cosplay events due to her scanty costumes. “It’s scary,” she says. Some Japanese anime have been criticised for sexualising women.
Just outside the Aichi Arts Centre, where the World Cosplay Summit is being held, hundreds of Japanese cosplayers pose for photos by a throng of amateur photographers.
A number of photographers are lining up to take photos of Ruri, who has on a long, silver wig and wears a dark purple dress. “Today, I’m Yukina Minato,” a character in “BanG Dream,” Ruri says.
“I was not so interested in make-up before. However, since I started to cosplay, I have learned more make-up tips and techniques, and cared more about how I look in order to resemble a certain character,” Ruri says. She considers herself fairly reserved, though these days she says she likes being photographed more than before.
In Japan, where the importance of self-esteem is not emphasised, young people feel pressured into conforming to the majority view.
“I’m comfortable when I’m someone that I am not. I also feel relieved at a cosplay event held outside of my hometown because I don’t have to worry about being seen by someone I know,” Ruri says.
“Many cosplayers are introverts. But when they are not themselves, transforming themselves into a character by wearing costumes, that helps them open up to others,” one male cosplayer in his 30s says.
The man, wearing oversized sunglasses, declined to give his name because he is a company executive and does not want his clients and employees to know that he is passionate about cosplay.
He does cosplay because he likes it, rather than because he wants to relieve his stress, he says. “I really enjoy being a cosplayer and hanging out with cosplay friends,” he says.
Cosplay is popular not only in Japan, but in many other countries.
The World Cosplay Summit in August 2019 involved about 300,000 participants from around the world, according to its organisers. Felizitas Harder immediately fell in love with cosplay two years ago when she saw cosplayers dressed in elaborate costumes perform at the Leipzig Book Fair in Germany. “It was amazing. I loved it,” says the 11-year-old, who was visiting Nagoya to attend the World Cosplay Summit with her mother, Kirsten Harder, from Germany.
Felizitas, who cosplays as a character from “Fate,” says: “I feel more empowered now and more confident” since becoming a cosplayer.
The daughter’s words surprise her mother. Kirsten Harder says she believes that cosplay has helped Felizitas “read more books, make more friends, expand her view and stimulate her imagination”. – dpa