Or, to be more specific, why do I cosplay?
Maybe a better question to ask at the moment is: “What exactly is cosplay?”
Cosplay is a hobby, a pastime, a means of self-expression, and, most strikingly, an art form. It’s a combination of the words “costume” and “play,” with the actual act of cosplaying being broadly defined as dressing up as a fictional character (usually from an anime, manga, video game, graphic novel, or other media-based series) and enjoying the fellowship of other cosplayers.
Some people take cosplay to a professional level, where big bucks and fame are the lot of the winner. Others simply enjoy the challenges and fun that cosplay provides. A handful of fans prefer to focus as much on the “play” aspect of cosplay as on the “costume” aspect, by acting as the character they represent (and staying in character as long as they “wear the garb”). Of late, cosplay has entered the spotlight through the TV series Heroes of Cosplay. Among those who partake in it, though, cosplay will forever belong to fandom conventions (called “Cons”) and those who attend them.
With this article, I wish to explain my own reasons for cosplaying, as well as discuss the characters I currently cosplay and why I cosplay them, particularly. I hope to offer an understanding of this unique art form and my personal views on it.
Why do I Cosplay?
So, why do I enjoy cosplay? And why do I pick certain characters to cosplay? These questions, though different, have identical answers. Here are my top reasons in order from least to greatest:
5. Because I want to try something new and challenging
People who know me will tell you that I love a good challenge, especially when it comes to prop design. I ambitiously cut my prop-crafting teeth on the enormously detailed—enormously large—Ragnell, sword of Fire Emblem’s Ike. Creating props is something I look forward to as a challenge with each cosplay I attempt. Whether it’s designing a purse for Ace Attorney’s Ema Skye, or crafting a 5ft. Sitar for Demyx of Kingdom Hearts fame, I enjoy the prospect of designing these cosplay essentials. In choosing a cosplay, I always consider potential props, and sometimes even choose a costume based on what weapon or item comes along with it.
I equally enjoy the challenge of designing the costume itself, though–because I’m far from a sewing master–I find this part much more difficult. While I can design armor and props to my heart’s content, stitching together that knee-length tunic or that button-up vest is always the more difficult part. Thank goodness for moms and grandmoms with sewing expertise!
4. Because I like the series
My first real cosplay was Ike from Path of Radiance. And not just average, ranger Ike that all you Smash Brothers fans know and love, but Lord Ike—a costume featured only in the Fire Emblem series itself. Ike is not my favorite Fire Emblem character. He’s not even in my top five. It’s not that I don’t like him, but Haar, Greil, Stefan, Titania, and Zelgius definitely come first.
So why do I cosplay Ike? Simply put: because he’s from Fire Emblem, a series that I dare say could be my favorite. I liked his outfit. The long tunic really appealed to me, and the well-placed armor pieces were too cool to pass up. But, more than anything, he represented a franchise that I really took to heart—a series that I fell in love with the longer I played it. To this day, I still consider Path of Radiance my favorite game.
I cosplay Ike because he represents the essence of this game, and, in doing so, I am making the personal statement that I am a fan. When I shoulder Ragnell and tie on that Heron-inscribed headband, I am representing Fire Emblem as a franchise. It’s like wearing a giant, neon sign that flashes, “I <3 Fire Emblem! Do you?”
The same holds true for my Ema Skye cosplay from the lesser-known Ace Attorney series. Like, Fire Emblem, you don’t see much cosplay from Ace Attorney. So when I go to a Con dressed as Ema or dressed as Ike, I find it’s a great way to meet other fans who love the same series that I do (and perhaps who are even cosplaying the characters). But, most importantly, it’s a way of making it known what series—and fandoms—I claim as my own.
3. Because I like the character/the outfit
If I don’t like the outfit, the cosplay isn’t happening. Period.
That being said, the characters themselves play a huge part in who I choose to cosplay. I’m very selective when I choose characters to cosplay because (1) I’m going to be spending a lot of money on the costume and (2) I’ll be displaying the character at several Cons afterwards. Before I begin the long process of sewing, designing, printing, styling, and buying, I have to be sure that I appreciate the character enough to “be them” for a day.
Usually, I try to find a character that I believe I can realistically pull off. For example, I am more hesitant to cosplay a tall character or a very young character because I feel that I won’t do them justice. I like to feel comfortable in the character’s skin, and, most importantly, I have to be able to connect to the character mentally.
My latest cospaly is a perfect example of this. With the Distant Worlds concert coming around the corner, my sister and I decided that we wanted to attend the event by cosplaying as characters from Final Fantasy. We tossed around several ideas, before deciding to go as members of the much-loved Turks from Final Fantasy VII. We had just finished watching a translated walkthrough of the Japan-exclusive Before Crisis, so we knew we had a lot of characters to choose from. After reviewing my options, I settled on one of the more obscure Turks named Juget (known by the codename of “Martial Arts” in the game). She’s so obscure that she doesn’t even show up until about halfway through the plot and gets a one-or-two scene cameo in the anime short Last Order. That’s all the screentime she gets in the entire Final Fantasy VII anthology!
Juget wasn’t a girl who liked the spotlight. She was quiet, businesslike, and carried out her work efficiently. She liked hanging out with the guys, and had the “warrioress” mind-set. She could run a one-woman rescue mission by steering an armored car through a war-zone and bringing her comrades back unscathed. When in an impossible situation, and helplessly outnumbered, she was the first to volunteer as the barrier that would give the others time to back out.
Needless to say, I connected with her almost instantly.
Another character that I cosplay simply because I love the character is Riku from Kingdom Hearts. He’s been my favorite from the moment he stood waist-deep in the ocean—a tidal wave at his back—and reached towards me—the gamer. I like him because he’s a progressive character that grows with his experiences, but he’s also very flawed and knows it too. His journey to redemption is one of the coolest sub-plots in the Kingdom Hearts storyline.
I chose to cosplay Riku in his Org. XIII coat (known by the fans as Deep Dive Riku, because of the cutscene where this appearance was first introduced). I love this costume because it’s a very closed costume. It’s dark and mysterious and almost effacing because of the blindfold. I think, perhaps more than any other outfit, this one best symbolizes Riku as a character. It embodies his silence, his grave emotions, even his blindness, as he staggers between the light of his friends and the darkness of Ansem that lies buried in his heart.
Almost any cosplayer will tell you that connection with the character is important. It’s an imperceptible thing, but it makes an enormous difference on how you perform in the cosplay. People notice. And it’s this seemingly small difference in mindset that can really create a convincing projection of the character to the people around you.
2. Because I never see the character cosplayed
If I could make a list of all the characters I wish I could see cosplayed, it’d be over a mile long. I’m not the kind of person who likes to sit around waiting for things to happen. When I have a dream, I act on it. When I don’t see a cosplay of one of my favorite characters, I go ahead and cosplay them myself.
Many of the future cosplays that I have planned follow this mindset. Up until this point, I’ve focused more on cosplaying series that I don’t see represented well at Cons. But next year I hope to cosplay a couple characters for the sheer purpose of introducing them to the Floridian Con scene for (perhaps) the first time.
1. Because cosplay is rewarding
The #1 reason that I cosplay is because cosplay keeps giving back.
I see it as a means of self-expression. When I cosplay as Riku, I’m not only making a statement that know and appreciate the character, but also telling the world that I am a Kingdom Hearts fan and proud to be so. “Wearing the character” allows me to meet other fans of the series, and represent the series itself.
Cosplay is artistic. It’s a way for me to test the limits of my creativity by trying out new things and learning along the way. In making cosplay, I have designed prop swords, a purse, ornaments, armor, and more. I’ve learned to modify a graduation gown into an Org. XIII trenchcoat, and wear a wig properly. Thanks to trial and error, I now know a lot of nifty things like how to remove hot-glue without causing damage, how to shape and mold craft foam into battle armor, and how to use make-up to create and enhance facial contours and skin tone. These are areas I likely never would have explored without the cosplay prod.
But you want to know what the most rewarding thing about cosplay is?
It’s when some kid you’ve never seen in your life runs up and says, “Riku, you’re my favorite character! Can I have a picture with you?” Sometimes they ask for a hug instead, or maybe they just want to talk to you or say something really nice about your costume. But they always—always—walk away beaming. Sometimes, you make someone’s day, just because you cosplayed their favorite character and allowed them to meet each other at a Con.
And while you never truly believe that you’re talking to Mario or Link or Master Chief, there’s this funny little suspension of reality that happens. For a single day, you’re stepping into this fun, fantastical world filled with characters you know and love. And sometimes, if you’re lucky, you’ll run into your favorite ones. It’s happened to me before. Disney World was the last place I ever expected to meet my first—and only—Zack Fair cosplayer, but meet him I did. And it made my day.
Sometimes, it’s you who makes somebody’s day, though. A girl shyly comes up and asks for a photo. A little kid runs up and wants a hug. Or a whole mass of fangirls and fanguys rush up for a group picture.
And that’s when the real magic happens.
So, why cosplay?
Because it’s fun, it’s artistic, it’s a part of who you are, and because it brings a bit of happiness to others. Cosplayers are some of the most expressive, polite, and fun-loving people I have ever met. They understand each other, because they share common interests and goals.
In a way, cosplay is its own sub-culture. It has its own language and gestures. It isn’t uncommon, for example, for one cosplayer to hug another to express appreciation (“Free Hugs” signs are prevalent), or for a group of complete strangers to begin dancing in the middle of the convention hall to a favorite fandom melody, such as the “Caramelldansen.” These are small things, but they occur at every Con you will ever attend, and they certainly aren’t something you would see in every-day society. Just try going up to a total stranger at Walmart and asking for a hug, if you don’t believe me.
If you enjoy a franchise, from Starwars to StarTrek, Avengers to Attack on Titan, Fullmetal Alchemist to Final Fantasy, The Legend of Zelda to The Lord of the Rings, and everything in-between, cosplay has something for you.
So give it a shot. Choose your character, make your costume, and dive into this fascinating sub-culture. You’ll meet a lot of cool people and make a lot of unforgettable memories for yourself… and for others, too.