Cosplay (コスプレ kosupure?), short for "costume play",[1] is a Japanese subculture centered on dressing as characters from manga, anime, tokusatsu, and video games, and, less commonly, Japanese live action television shows, fantasy movies, Japanese pop music bands, Visual Kei, fantasy music stories (such as stories by the band Sound Horizon), and novels. However, in some circles, "cosplay" has been expanded to mean simply wearing a costume.

The most specific anecdote about the origin of the word "cosplay" was that Nov Takahashi (from a Japanese studio called Studio Hard) coined the term "cosplay" as a contraction of the English-language words "costume play" while she was attending the 1984 Los Angeles Science Fiction Worldcon. He was so impressed by the hall and masquerade costuming there that he reported about it frequently in Japanese science fiction magazines. This point is debatable, however, as the word fits in with a common Japanese method of abbreviation: combining the first two syllables of one word with the first two syllables of a second word (or, more precisely, the first two moras of each). Other examples of this include Pokémon (ポケモン? short for ポケットモンスター, or "Pocket Monsters") and puroresu (プロレス? short for プロレスリング, or "professional wrestling").

Cosplay venues

File:Harajuku bridge 02.jpg

Cosplay can be seen at public events such as video game shows, as well as at dedicated cosplay parties at nightclubs or amusement parks. It is not unusual for Japanese teenagers to gather with like-minded friends in places like Tokyo's Harajuku district to engage in cosplay. Since 1998, Tokyo's Akihabara district has contained a large number of cosplay cafés, catering to devoted anime and cosplay fans. The waitresses at such cafés dress as game or anime characters; maid (or meido) costumes are particularly popular.

Possibly the single largest and most famous event attended by cosplayers is the semiannual doujinshi market, Comiket. This event, held in summer and winter, attracts hundreds of thousands of manga otaku and many thousands of cosplayers who congregate on the roof of the exhibition center, often in unbearably hot or cold conditions.

Cosplayers in Japan refer to themselves as reyazu; pronounced layers (by writing the word cosplayers in katakana, it is possible to shorten it in this way). Those who photograph players are called cameko, short for "Camera Kozo" or "Camera Boy". The cameko give prints of their photos to the players as gifts. Tensions between players and cameko have increased due to perceived stalker-like behavior among some obsessive males who push female cosplayers to exchange personal email addresses or do private photo sessions. One result of this has been a tightening of restrictions on photography at events such as Comiket.

While Cosplay arguably originated in Japan, one should not be confused with the idea that Cosplay is considered typical behavior in Japan. While some do attend Cosplay functions that are held in districts such as Akihabara, most Japanese people find Cosplay to be rather silly [2]. In addition, because Cosplay in Japan has adapted such a negative sexual connotation, many Japanese have come to feel that Cosplay is reprehensible. In addition, North Americans who Cosplay typically refer to themselves as "otaku", which is essentially the Japanese word for "geek", but wrongfully use this word in an attempt to embody themselves in a sociological group that they can be proud of. To contrast, in Japan actual otaku refuse to admit that they are otaku because the idea of otaku it is not looked at as a group of people who are engaging in activity that may seem "just a little different". In fact, being an otaku in Japan entails standing on one of the bottom rungs of the Japanese social ladder.


Cosplay costumes

Cosplay costumes are radically different from typical Halloween costumes. Because the object of cosplay is to literally become one's character, the intricate details of the costumes are critical. Costumes must meticulously adhere to the designs of the characters' attire, and even more generic costumes are often elaborately artistic.[3] Rigorous attention to detail may include ensuring the seams are aligned properly, thread colors are appropriate, and fabric colors precisely match the character and their attire. Some cosplayers will buy their costumes from talented artists, while others may spend months creating the perfect cosplay outfit.

Because the costumes are so elaborate, like-minded people gather to see others' costumes, show off their own elaborate handmade creations, take lots of pictures, and possibly participate in best costume contests at different cosplay events.

Cosplay trends


A recent trend at Japanese cosplay events is an increase in the popularity of non-Japanese fantasy and science fiction movie characters, perhaps due to the international success of such films as The Matrix, Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. Characters from the Harry Potter films have a particularly high number of female fans in Japan, with female cosplayers playing either male or female characters, Draco Malfoy being an extremely popular choice.

The act of cosplaying as characters of the opposite sex is called "crossplay", whereas the act of cosplaying as characters who dress as the opposite sex as the cosplayer is called "cross-dressing". Crossplaying and cross-dressing may be the same in some cases; however, they could be different. For example, a female cosplayer cosplaying as a male character who dresses as a normal male (such as Kira Yamato from Gundam SEED) would be cross-dressing and crossplaying; a male cosplayer cosplaying as a female character who dresses as a normal female (such as Lacus Clyne from Gundam SEED) would also be cross-dressing and crossplaying. However, a female cosplayer cosplaying as someone like Mana (male artist from the Visual Kei band Malice Mizer known for dressing in female clothes) would be crossplaying, but not cross-dressing (since the cosplayer is cosplaying someone of the opposite sex but is wearing clothes of her own sex); a male cosplayer also cosplaying as Mana would be cross-dressing, but not cross-playing (since the cosplayer is cosplaying someone of the same sex but is wearing clothes of the opposite sex).

A small niche group in the crossplaying field are dollers, a subset of kigurumi cosplayers; usually male, they wear bodysuits and masks to fully transform into female characters.

Another recent trend in cosplay is a blurring of the distinction between costumes based on characters from games and anime, and "original" costumes based upon a general theme or existing fashions. In particular, the Tokyo teen-fashion trend of Gothic Lolita has attracted some cosplayers who might not have the inclination (or possibly courage) to wear such distinctive clothes around town, but who would like to dress in such a manner on some occasions. Other popular trends include the "original Visual Kei cosplaying", "original punk cosplaying", "original Super Dollfie cosplaying", et cetera.

Cosplay magazines

In Japan, there are 2 cosplay magazines, Cosmode(コスモード) Dengeki Layers (電撃Layers). COSMODE has the largest share in the market.

There are also 2 emerging cosplay magazines outside of Japan, USA's AniCoz and Mexico's Cosplaymix.

An English digital version of COSMODE is also in the making.[4]

Cosplay and the sex industry

In Japanese, the term can also mean — and may originate from[citation needed] — the use of costumes for sexual purposes, in which case the "play" refers not to dressing up, but sexual play while dressed up. The term hence overlaps what would usually be known in English as sexual roleplaying or sexual fetishism: for example, wearing a schoolgirl uniform before or during sex would be known as seifuku cosplay (制服コスプレ?), and many Japanese love hotels offer costume rental services.

In the Japanese sex industry, sex clubs that specialize in sexual cosplay are known as image clubs. In addition to standard fetishistic standbys (schoolgirl, nurse, policewoman, etc), an increasing number, pioneered by the now defunct Wedding Bell chain, cater to otaku with staff dressing up as anime characters.

International cosplay

File:Wikipe-tan (Cosplay).jpg

Cosplay in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom differs from Japanese cosplay culture in some ways. Cosplay concerning Star Trek, Star Wars, other science fiction worlds, Renaissance-era characters, and historical re-enactments (e.g. Civil War battles), especially at science fiction conventions, are far more popular in America than they are in Japan. Alternatively, some costumes that might be seen as in bad taste in America (such as Nazi uniforms from certain comics or games) may be seen at events in Japan.

For almost 50 years, costume fandom has had a consistent and widespread following with costumers in the west, from the first Worldcon onward, with the influx of anime costumes, the word cosplay is becoming a more and more commonly used term to describe costumes of specifically Japanese media origins.

An issue with cosplaying anime and manga characters is that these characters generally do not have bodily proportions that can easily be mimicked by many typical cosplayers (e.g. incredibly long legs, huge muscles or giant breasts), and there is debate among fans about how important or not this element is when cosplaying.

In Mexico, cosplay is commonly seen inside conventions that can be video game, science fiction or anime themed. It is common that cosplayers will also organize their own reunions which can be themed or free for the sake of taking pictures together. Cosplay in Mexico is competitive in a healthy level, with well established representatives. This phenomenon also can be viewed in other Latin American countries, like Brazil, Argentina and Chile.

In Australia, the trend mirrors the American in that the subject costumes may be selected from sources other than manga or anime. Sources include American comics, computer games, science fiction/fantasy movies and TV shows, animation shorts or features, period drama, novels - any source that provides vivid and graphic inspiration of a character and their costume. Usually the term "cosplay" is not used to cover historical recreation as the focus is on representational accuracy, not historical accuracy. In general, Australian cosplay is most commonly seen in the larger population centers such as the capital cities and major regional centers, as these have the population base to support the diversity among fringe interests. The display of the costumes is not limited to conventions, although it is not unusual for dedicated cosplayers to travel extensively throughout Australia following the convention trail during the year. In addition to the social convening at conventions, many smaller social groupings exist, hosting their own local events.[5]


In France, cosplay is a widespread activity in anime and manga conventions. Large conventions like Japan Expo can attract more than 500 cosplayers. While the majority of French cosplayers choose anime and manga for inspiration, many people like to dress like movie characters, famous singers or even TV show actors even if it's not directly related to the theme of the convention. Unlike the Japanese, French cosplayers use almost exclusively hand made costumes which are often used only once. Buying or reusing costumes is seen as unfair competition (in some contests they can't compete). French cosplayers are mainly focused on the cosplay contest, which take place in nearly all manga, science fiction, fantasy or role playing game conventions. They are not really competitive, they're more of an occasion to show off the costume and appear as good as possible instead (e.g. scene, lighting, soundtrack, etc.). Acting and singing skills are highly valued in contests, and some groups reenact fighting or musical comedy scenes also. For example being able to do a cartwheel stunt in costume is part of the Japan expo tradition and one of the most valued figures in the contest.

In Belgium, cosplay plays an increasingly important role in the F.A.C.T.S. convention with hundreds of people dressed up in costume from different anime series. Also B.I.F.F.F., Asianim and even Hypercon are organizing competitions as it gives conventions an unique additional value.

Cosplay is rapidly entering the mainstream in the Philippines[6][7] , where cosplay events are often held within an anime, manga, gaming, or sci-fi convention. More often than not, these conventions and events are sponsored, and debates have raged on whether or not judges' perspectives are influenced by the organizers of a cosplay event. Also Filipino cosplay rules overlook and allow professional fully commissioned costumes to participate in competitions.

Cosplay also has followers in other parts of Asia such as South Korea, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, and Indonesia. As well as attending comic festivals and events, cosplayers there also frequent districts popular with teenagers.

Cosplay in North America


Anime Convention activity in the United States and Canada has become a much larger and much more popular trend in the 2000s. With the added public attention coming from such popular animated series imported from Japan (see anime) including Naruto, Fullmetal Alchemist, Death Note, Inuyasha and Bleach, cosplayers and the anime world have peeked their heads into the world of mainstream pop-culture, on at least a relatively underground scale. More and more convention goers cosplay as their favorite characters from their favorite anime, and thus, the cosplay and anime subcultures have been able to have enough influence to further the creation of anime conventions to accommodate for the increasing number of cosplayers.

Conventions in America often include both cosplay and costume contests.[8] The cosplay or "masque" (masquerade) is a skit contest done in cosplay costume. The costume contest is often a test of skill, design, and audience reaction. The contestants are judged either before hand or on stage and then walk across said stage while the audience cheers. The increased popularity of convention costuming has led to the addition of several relatively new cosplay-based events, adding to the traditional masquerade and hall costume contests. Such events include the Anime Dating Game, and Cosplay Human Chess, where participating cosplayers act out their characters' role in the game accordingly.

Competition has led to the development of many cosplay groups that plan for conventions months in advance.

Non-competitive cosplay can often be seen at opening nights for science-fiction and fantasy movies, especially those with an established following. Even in small towns, some cosplayers wait in line for hours before showings of movies in franchises like Star Wars, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. Even cult hits like Serenity have drawn opening night cosplay.

In the UK, US and elsewhere, fans of The Rocky Horror Picture Show attend screenings of the cult film in the costumes of its characters. This tradition began soon after the film's release in 1975.

The annual Bay to Breakers footrace in San Francisco has been a favorite cosplay venue for decades. A large number of cosplayers run or walk in their favorite costume amongst serious competitive runners.

Cosplay by notable persons

Australian notes sourced from: *Kirstin McLean (2004). [4]. Retrieved October 20, 2005.

See also


  1. Stuever, Hank (2000-02-14). What Would Godzilla Say?. The Washington Post. Retrieved on 2008-01-03.
  2. Super-Gaijin '76: Now Let Us Praise Famous Cosplayers
  3. Cosplay Costumes at LoveToKnow Costumes
  4. COSMODE Online - A Costume & Style Magazine for the Eccentric - About COSMODE
  5. McLean, Kirstin. "Screaming Lord Byron resources", Screaming Lord Byron, 2004. Retrieved on 2005-10-20. 
  6. Alarilla, Joey. "Cosplay away!", CNet, 2006. Retrieved on 2006-07-25. 
  7. Consunji, Bianca. "Not just child's play", Philippine Daily Inquirer, 2006. Retrieved on 2006-08-16. 
  8. Kelts, Roland. "Japanamerica", Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. Retrieved on 2007-10-24. 
  9. See [1]. See also [2]

External links

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