Cosplay participants ("cosplayers") form a subculture centered around wearing their costumes and reenacting scenes or inventing likely behavior inspired by their chosen sources. In some circles, the term cosplay has been broadened to include simply wearing a costume, without special consideration given to enacting characters in a performance context.
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 ; pronounced "layers" (by writing the word cosplayers in katakana, コスプレヤズ, 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 originated in Japan in 1978, 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.
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.
Cosplaying as characters of the opposite sex is called "crossplay", and cosplaying as characters who dress as the opposite sex is called "cross-dressing". They often coincide, but since some Japanese characters cross-dress to start with, it is possible to do one without the other.
For example, a female cosplayer cosplaying as a male character would be cross-dressing and crossplaying. However, a female cosplayer dressing 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; and a male cosplayer also cosplaying as Mana would be cross-dressing, but not crossplaying.
In Japan, there are two cosplay magazines, Cosmode(コスモード) and Dengeki Layers (電撃Layers). Cosmode has the largest share in the market.
There are also two emerging cosplay magazines outside of Japan, the USA's AniCoz and Mexico's Cosplaymix.
An English digital version of Cosmode has been created.
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.
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 fifty 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 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.
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 television actors even if it is 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 not compete). French cosplayers are mainly focused on cosplay contests, which take place in nearly all manga, science fiction, fantasy or role-playing game conventions. They are not really competitive; they are 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.
Also, B.I.F.F.F., Asianim and even Hypercon are organizing competitions as it gives conventions a unique additional value.
Cosplay is rapidly entering the mainstream in the Philippines, 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,Thailand and Indonesia. As well as attending comic festivals and events, cosplayers there also frequent districts popular with teenagers.
Besides pictorial artworks, there is another form of cosplay, which is taking a source from something in the real world being unique and dramatic and then changing its appearance and spirit as the anthropomorphic form for the convenience and vividness of a human cosplaying it: for example, "Princess SP1900"—the anthropomorphic form of electric multiple unit rolling-stock SP1900 of Kowloon-Canton Railway in Hong Kong .
Conventions in America often include both cosplay and costume contests. 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 beforehand or on stage and then walk across said stage while the audience cheers (or not, depending on the etiquette of the venue). 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 costumes amongst serious competitive runners.
Indonesian cosplayers form groups and that make dramatic presentations using their costumes, called a cabaret. The event is normally held by a university or local magazine. Cosplay events are frequently held in Jakarta, Bandung, and Bogor.
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