Sunday, 30 October 2011

Cosplay Musings

Cosplay is one area of fandom that I'm unlikely to blog about all that much, but this weekend it feels like an appropriate topic, not because it's Halloween, but due to my own experiences. Yesterday I ventured up to the ExCel Centre for my fourth London MCM Expo, and for the second time, I was in costume. Now, before I go on, there are four things you should know about me:

1. I'm fat and while I'm comfortable with my body, I by no means like it.
2. I have very little self-confidence.
3. I'm not an exhibisionist and prefer to stay out of the spotlight.
4. I hate having my photo taken.

So considering the above, one may wonder why on earth I'd even consider going out in public dressed up as an anime character, yet back in May that's exactly what I decided to do. The initial choice to go in costume was made on the way back from the previous Expo. While on a high, myself and my best friend decided that while we loved watching the other cosplayers, we wanted in on the action and were going to go as Zoro and Sanji from One Piece respectively. I can't speak for my friend's motivations, but I personally wanted to cosplay for a few reasons. Having been surrounded by countless other fans, seeing how friendly people were and how much I felt like I belonged, I wanted to take it to the next level. I wanted to join in rather than being a simple observer. As for the specific choice of costume, I wanted to show my support for the series and my affection for Zoro.

After several months of anticipation, May rolled round, and armed with my green wig, homemade haramaki, bandana, earrings and katana, off I went to Expo and when I arrived, the sensation was bizarre. By some odd twist of fate I actually felt like I belonged more by being in costume, and by wandering around as one of my favourite characters, the whole thing felt more exciting. Additionally, I had so much fun in costume, especially when it came to fake fighting with Sanji and the One Piece cosplayer meet-up where we met others who loved the series. However, despite thoroughly enjoying it, and deciding then and there that I'd likely cosplay every time I came in future, I still felt insecure as I'm too big to be cosplaying a skinny character. I felt inadequate because I didn't really look like my character, something that wasn't helped by either the "witty" tosspot that yelled out "Oi Zoro, lose some weight!", or the fact that my best friend had the Sanji look down to a T - had the perfect build for it, and looked damn good in his costume - git.

The silly thing is, is that I think I was probably the one who was most bothered about my size. Ended up having a fairly good chat with a couple of other One Piece cosplayers and some people took my photo, though I still always felt that the only reason anyone took my photo was as an "accessory" to the awesome Sanji cosplay, rather than because I was actually a decent Zoro. But while I didn't feel good enough, it still didn't prevent me from wanting to cosplay next time, because it really was so much more fun.

Myself and my best friend as Zoro and Water 7 Sanji

My next task was to decide upon my costume for October, and this time I decided to cosplay to my size, and chose to go as Marco, the titular character from Porco Rosso and my entire cosplay experience was different.

One on the photos I had taken at the Manga UK Cosplay Photo Booth

Undoubtedly, this time around I had the ideal costume for me. having chosen a character that was closer to my actual size, any insecurity I had about being a fat version of a character instead of just the character itself was nowhere to be seen. For once, I actually thought I looked pretty decent - to the point where I willingly ventured into the Manga UK Cosplay Photo Booth to get proper photos taken (that photographer rocked - he was a Porco fan). Additionally, Ghibli cosplays seem to be few and far between, so there's generally more of a novelty factor when I see any Miyazaki creation get the cosplay treatment (I remember squeeing pretty hard at a Nausicaa cosplayer in May). From pretty much the moment I walked in, the reception I received was entirely different. As I wandered along the main hall to get to the exhibition room, I could hear many a comment along the lines of "Oh My God! Porco Rosso!", and I received multiple requests for hugs and photos and this continued inside the exhibition hall. It was so different from May as this time people genuinely wanted a photo of me in costume, I was being singled out from my friends for a photo, as opposed to being an accessory. It seemed that people were genuinely happy to see someone dressed as Porco, and two people even said that they were glad to see me as they'd never seen a Porco before - at least not in the flesh. I felt worthy of calling myself a cosplayer - especially when some random guy followed me down the hall covered in official passes and asked me to participate in a video portrait.

That I'd apparently done a decent job on the costume, was recognisable and seemed to please people not only gave me more confidence in myself, but also made me feel like I was properly contributing and I felt like yesterday was the first time I'd fully experienced cosplaying.

For me, cosplay is both an inclusive and exclusive activity. Undoubtedly, cosplaying has had a personal effect on me. I have more confidence in myself, because, no matter how sad or pathetic it sounds, I felt validated yesterday. Likewise, despite my general hatred when it comes to having my photo taken, I loved having people stop to photograph me (one guy even slid across the floor to snap me when I was doing the video portrait!). But that I wasn't camera shy comes down to one simple fact: people weren't photographing me, they were photographing Porco. That is part of what I love about cosplay, you can be someone else for a day and for a few hours you become more than just yourself.

However, despite the personal effects of it, cosplaying is also a wholly inclusive act. It becomes a conversation starter between people who are dressing up from the same series, you have a laugh with similar cosplayers and get photos taken with them, which makes for a much more social occasion. Cosplay breaks down barriers between total strangers who you'd never normally even look at, let alone approach - in no other circumstance would you hug a completely random person, or ask for their photo, but on our very first trip to Expo, I hugged a Doctor Who (Tennant incarnation) cosplayer, and my best friend ran after an Amy Pond cosplayer yelling "AMY!!!!!" so that he could get her photo. Whether you dress up or just observe, cosplay creates memories, brings people together and above all else, is damn good fun.

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