Madison Stricklin was walking around at the annual Katsucon in Maryland on Feb. 14, 2015, dressed as Princess Luna from My Little Pony when she failed to notice the sounds of footsteps of a little boy running after her.
His mother’s voice soon caught Stricklin’s attention. Her son loved Princess Luna and Stricklin’s costume. She asked if her son could get a picture with Stricklin.
The boy told Stricklin, an Ohio University alumna who graduated in April with a degree in strategic communication, she was his favorite princess before he handed her a personal valentine and they took a picture together.
“I can just cry thinking about it,” Stricklin said. “It’s so cute.”
According to CNN, conventions focusing on comics, japanese animations and games around the United States have increased in popularity. The attendance rate at the 2015 New York Comic Con alone has increased by more than 150,000 fans over the past decade.
Originally based in Japan, the hobby of cosplaying, in which people dress up as fictional characters, has grown in popularity all over the world, including at OU.
Cosplaying as an art
Cosplay is a portmanteau of the words ‘costume’ and ‘role-play,’ according to the English language version of the 2008 book A Geek in Japan.
People who participate in cosplaying often imitate characters from Japanese comics called manga, Japanese animations called anime, video games, movies and even famous singers or personalities.
Although the hobby gained popularity in Japan during the ’80s, cosplay has spread to other countries within Asia and is now an international hobby for people of all ages, races and backgrounds, Christopher Thompson, an associate professor of Japanese language and culture and chair of the department of linguistics, said.
“There was always a tradition of dressing up as your favorite historical character at different times of the year,” Thompson said. “This kind of morphed in the anime and manga world into dressing up as your favorite cartoon character, basically.”
Halloween offers a once-a-year opportunity for people to dress in costume and is different from cosplaying, as cosplayers dress up year-round. Thompson said cosplay can still complement cultural holidays like Halloween by making it “more positive and child-friendly.”
Some people choose to cosplay because of their love for the characters and the stories, while others like the idea of bringing fantasy into real life, Thompson said.
“Everyone has one way of (releasing stress),” Thompson said. “So why not (cosplay)? It’s fun.”
Haley Brown, a senior studying marketing, said she enjoyed the hobby for its social aspects.
“I really love being able to meet new people and compliment them on different things that they’ve done,” Brown said, adding that meeting other cosplayers at conventions has given her inspiration for her own costumes.
Thompson said part of the reason why cosplaying is enjoyable for many is because there are no set rules within the hobby.
“The world of animation is an imaginary world, so it doesn’t matter,” Thompson said. “That’s liberating because you can be anything.”
The cost of cosplaying
Cosplayers have been known to spend hundreds of dollars on their costumes. In an interview with Money, cosplayer Jessica Al-Khalifah said her costume as a character from the television series Legend of the Seeker cost her a total of $1,200.
Spending a few hundred dollars on costumes isn’t uncommon for cosplayers, even on campus. Alison Smith, a fifth-year student studying music education and global studies-Asia, has been cosplaying for about four years and makes her own costumes, sometimes in collaboration with her friends.
Many times, the process of making the costume and props can be “really stressful,” Smith, who is also the president of JMAGE, a student organization that stands for Japanese Manga, Anime and Gaming Encounters, said. Even though she isn’t great at sewing, she said the feeling of completion and the experience of being in the moment is indescribable.
To Stricklin, cosplay allows people to show off their special skill sets, like sewing or prop-making, that are otherwise hidden. Cosplayers would often make their own costumes, ranging from luxurious ball gowns to functioning Transformers robot suits, she said.
“The thought that someone made that with their own bare hands is amazing,” Stricklin said. “It’s something you’ll have to stand back and your brain shuts off because of just how they made this with so little time and so little experience. It’s mind-blowing.”
Smith and Stricklin who both cosplayed characters from the anime series Symphogear, said it took them a year to complete their costumes.
Although the time needed for making each costume varies, Smith said one of the main reasons their costumes took so long was because they not only had to sew the costumes but also needed to make the armor pieces worn by the characters.
“We had to find good color schemes,” Stricklin said. “It was fabric shopping, thread shopping (and) going to find the right parts for the right pieces to make the right pieces of armor.”
It took Alexander Graham, a sophomore studying studio art, almost an entire year to make the chainmail for his costume of The Warden from For Honor, a video game that will be released in February 2017.
“I wasn’t working on it constantly, … but it was pretty exhausting,” he said.
Although the hobby can be time-consuming, Graham said cosplaying allows people to get involved with the characters and stories they love by being a part of the experience.
“For me, (cosplaying) is the ultimate form of fandom,” Graham said.
A growing phenomenon
On campus, JMAGE helps members find accommodations and transportation to attend events such as Ohayocon, which takes place in Columbus, and Katsucon, which takes place in Maryland.
Ohayocon and Colossalcon, which take place in Sandusky, are two of many cosplaying conventions that take place in Ohio. There is also the annual Ratha Con that takes place each summer in Athens, according to a previous Post report.
Although Graham’s siblings think the hobby is “geeky,” Graham believes the act of cosplaying is starting to garner more attention from the general public.
“I think more and more people are becoming interested in this kind of stuff,” Graham said. “It’s becoming a more popular thing to do, a more popular hobby.”
For Smith, her mother “used to be so against the idea.”
“Now she helps me figure out designs for what I’m doing,” Smith said.
For cosplay beginners, Brown suggested watching YouTube videos of other cosplayers. YouTube cosplayers like MangoSirene and Night Eyes Cosplay, who have videos teaching people how to prepare for conventions and how they make their costumes, are her personal favorites.
“It doesn’t matter if it looks good or if it looks bad,” Graham said. “If you keep with it, you’ll eventually get somewhere, and you’ll have fun wearing it.”