Cosplay (コスプレ, kosupure), short for “costume play”, is a type of performance art in which participants don costumes and accessories to represent a specific character or idea. Characters are often drawn from popular fiction in Japan, but recent trends have included American cartoons and Sci-Fi. Favourite sources include manga, anime, tokusatsu, comic books, graphic novels, video games, hentai and fantasy movies. Any entity from the real or virtual world that lends itself to dramatic interpretation may be taken up as a subject. Inanimate objects are given anthropomorphic forms and it is not unusual to see genders switched, with women playing male roles and vice versa. There is also a subset of cosplay culture centered around sex appeal, with cosplayers specifically choosing characters that are known for their attractiveness and/or revealing (even explicit) costumes.
Cosplayers often interact to create a subculture centred around role play. A broader use of the term cosplay applies to any costumed role play in venues apart from the stage, regardless of the cultural context.
The Internet has enabled many cosplayers to create “social networks” and web sites centred around cosplay activities. Forums allow them to share stories, photographs, news and tips.
The exponential growth in the number of people picking up cosplay as a hobby since 1990 has made the phenomenon influential in popular culture. This is particularly the case in Asia where cosplay influences Japanese street fashion and popular culture. Businesses increasingly seek to cater to cosplayers’ interest in apparel, accessories, and collectibles.
Japan is home to two especially popular cosplay magazines, Cosmode (コスモード) and Dengeki Layers (電撃Layers). Cosmode has the largest share in the market. An English digital version of Cosmode has been created.
MTV has produced an episode of the documentary series True Life, focusing on fandom and cosplay.
A film titled “Cosplayers: The Movie” was released in 2009 by Martell Brothers Studios. The film explores the anime subculture in North America with footage from anime conventions and interviews with fans, voice actors and artists. According to the creator’s website the film is available for free viewing on both Youtube and Crunchyroll.
According to cosplayfilm.com, a new feature length documentary film will be released in late 2010 and will focus on the personal lives of a small band of cosplayers. As of Jan 2010, the film is casting in the Chicago area. The filmed is tentatively titled: Cosplay, Cosplay!
Cosplayers obtain their apparel through many different methods. Manufacturers produce and sell packaged outfits for use in cosplay, in a variety of qualities. These costumes are often sold online, but also can be purchased from dealers at conventions. There are also a number of individuals who work on commission, creating custom costumes, props or wigs designed and fitted to the individual; some social networking sites for cosplay have classified ad sections where such services are advertised. Other cosplayers, who prefer to create their own costumes, still provide a market for individual elements, accessories, and various raw materials, such as unstyled wigs or extensions, hair dye, cloth and sewing notions, liquid latex body paint, face paint, shoes, costume jewellery and prop weapons. Most cosplayers engage in some combination of methods to obtain all the items necessary for their costume; for example they may commission a prop weapon, sew their own clothing, buy character jewelry from a cosplay accessory manufacturer, and buy a pair of off-the-rack shoes and modify them to match the desired look.
In order to look more like the character they are portraying many cosplayers also engage in various forms of body modification. Contact lenses that match the color of their character’s eyes are a common form of this, especially in the case of characters with particularly unique eyes as part of their trademark look. Another form of body modification cosplayers engage in is to copy any tattoo or special marking that their character might have. Henna tattoos, permanent marker, body paint and in rare cases having a permanent tattoo done are all methods used by cosplayers to achieve the desired look. Permanent and temporary hair dye, spray-in colouring, and specialized extreme styling products are all utilized by some cosplayers whose natural hair can achieve the desired hairstyle.
In addition to making items specifically for use by cosplayers, the fashion industry has taken inspiration from the world of cosplay in popularising looks such as the Gothic Lolita, based on clothing worn by popular period characters.
Print media increasingly retain cosplayers as models. Good cosplayers are increasingly viewed as fictional characters in the flesh, in much the same way that film actors come to identified in the public mind with specific roles. Cosplayers have model for print magazines like Cosmode, cosplay photography studios,
ADV Films has retained cosplayers for event work previously assigned to agency models. The ability of cosplayers to re-create their chosen characters with accuracy and vitality plays a part in this trend, as does the ability of cosplayers to appeal to an already existing market. E3 was occupied by a mix of both agency girls and cosplayers.
Japan’s burgeoning anime industry has been home to the professional cosplayers since the rise of Comiket, Tokyo Game Show, and other such powerhouse conventions.
A cosplay model, also known as a Cosplay Idol, is a promotional model who models cosplay costumes for anime, manga, or video game companies. A successful cosplay model can become the brand ambassador for companies like Cospa. The phenomenon is most apparent in Japan but exists to some degree in other countries as well.