Cosplay is moving toward the forefront of pop culture and the peak of ultrafan hobbies, yet it often baffles my relatives and others who haven’t been introduced to the lifestyle.
To better explain the eccentric hobby, it’s best we run through some brief history. The word “cosplay” is a contraction of the word “costume play,” referring to the practice of dressing up as a fictional character from a movie, book, or video game. It was first coined in Japan in 1984, as “fan costuming” became a popular practice in science-fiction conventions in Asia and parts of the Western world. Today, cosplay is seen at fan conventions across the globe, where people gather to celebrate their favorite characters, stories, and media. The most notable convention in the United States is Comic-Con in San Diego, attended by nearly 170,000 people. But my personal favorite conventions focus specifically on Japanese anime and video games.
I remember walking into Katuscon, a three-day anime convention in National Harbor, Maryland, for the first time and feeling absolutely in awe of the masses of people donning elaborate, beautiful, and sometimes downright bizarre costumes. It was unlike anything I had ever seen— everyday people had transformed into larger-than-life personas straight from all of my favorite shows and games. Brimming with elation comparable to a child first meeting Mickey Mouse at Disneyland, I spent the entire weekend grinning from ear to ear. Everyone was radiating. There was an infectious, bubbling energy from the joy of being surrounded by people who get you. None of us thought we were odd for our interests, and we rejoiced in celebrating our uniqueness. It was this immersive aura of acceptance that prompted my girlfriend and I to hold each other’s hands for the first time in public.
Me and Kaitlyn Jones ’20 as Hayashi and Lily from Netojū no Susume. Photo by Vaughn Photography.
While cosplay has helped me develop many practical (and sometimes unusual) skills, such as prop-making and wig-styling, it has also taught me a lot about myself. I began cosplaying during the same time that my chronic illness, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, increased in severity. My sickness gradually began to reflect in my demeanor, and my self-esteem was as feeble as I felt most days. But through cosplay, I transformed into vibrant and strong characters, powerful heroes, and, yes, sometimes even devious villains.
My favorite costumes I’ve created over the years are Tracer from Overwatch, Homura from Madoka Magica, Chara from Undertale, and Akko from Little Witch Academia. For each costume that I create, I carry a bit of that character’s essence with me. While I used to shy away from cameras, I now bask in the spotlight when someone asks for a picture of my cosplay and give an unabashed smile. While many might be self-conscious wearing wild wigs and often uncomfortable costumes, cosplay has built up my confidence— not because I look like someone else, but because I’m embracing who I am and letting my inner passions reflect on the outside.
I met one of my best friends at Arcadia through our common interest in cosplay conventions. We’ve developed a small cosplay community on campus. Many of us help each other create costumes by sharing our skills, providing support, and encouraging one another to keep going no matter how much we want to gripe about the tediousness of sewing.
Faith Roman ’20 as Nozomi Tojo from ‘Love Live!’
At this year’s Katsucon from February 16 to 18, I asked other Arcadians about their experiences with cosplay and how they balance cosplay life and student life.
My roommate, Faith Roman ’20, was not only with me at the convention, but she helped me create my costumes at our apartment.
“It’s been fun working on cosplay here at [Arcadia] because it’s easier to sew a shirt when the person next to you is covered in paint, trying to paint their sneakers. There’s a sense of camaraderie. I love cosplay because it changed me as a person. I was so shy my entire life, but when I’m in cosplay, I almost feel like a celebrity, because everyone is so excited to meet you and talk to you about the thing you’re cosplaying! It really made me open up and helped me learn to be a more social person.”
Katie Fleck ’20 as Delilah from ‘Dishonored 2.’
Another student, Katie Fleck ’20, has been attending conventions since middle school and loves to make costumes that are bold and exciting crowd-pleasers.
“The best thing about cosplay is how excited people get to see characters they love in real life. My first costume was Gir from Invader Zim— it was a huge mascot head and a onesie. The head lit up and talked so I could interact with other people as the character. I have seen adults start crying when they saw a real, talking Gir, and it’s incredibly rewarding to make someone that happy.”
I also passed by first-year student Erin Apsokardu ’21 at Katsucon, and though we didn’t have much time to chat among the hustle and bustle of the con, we caught up with each other back at school.
Erin Apsokardu ’21 as Ochaco Uraraka from ‘Boku no Hero Academia.’
“I was inspired to do cosplay because I saw how other people could bring their favorite characters to life, and I wanted to do the same. Cosplaying while in college is definitely more difficult since I don’t have as much time to devote to it as I did in high school. However, I have made a few friends through cosplaying, which never happened in high school!”
The saying “Through others, we become ourselves” reminds me of my experience with cosplay. While the author of the quote, Lev Vygotsky, was referring to social psychology, it fits so well with the culture of cosplaying. Each character I embody is a representation of myself – even if their fantastical narratives reflect nothing of my real life, their personalities, struggles, and motivations often reflect who I am— whether they’re a boy or a girl, have natural or rainbow hair, or have an enchanted staff or sword. With cosplay, I can personify any character that I dream of. My only limit is my imagination.