In the last few newsletters, we've had articles on a variety of fandom-related subjects, such as model building and cel collecting. Both activities are fun, but for an anime-related activity that really allows you to show your stuff to a live audience, cosplay is the way to go. Cosplay (short for costume play) is the act of dressing up like and emulating your favorite anime character. At American anime conventions, cosplay is sometimes referred to as a "masquerade."
Perhaps only the most dedicated fans or exhibitionists (some of the costumes I've seen have been less than modest) will dress up and get on stage in front of unpredictable and sometimes unruly anime fans. I've never had the chance to do cosplay myself, but it's something I'd certainly try if I came up with a killer costume idea.
I've seen two cosplay events, at Anime Expo '96 and Otakon '97. Both were superb. Not only were the costumes of my favorite anime characters wonderfully crafted, the performances were often accompanied by humorous skits. I thought that the skits I saw at Expo could not be topped, but the Otakon presentations were truly first-rate. Even though skits are optional, they tend to energize the crowd, and the crowd roared in appreciation like you wouldn't believe. CJAS's own Jerry Hsu and his sister went to Otakon the year before as members of Patlabor's SV2, and Lillian Olsen went as Sailor Jupiter. At the last Otakon, Greg Marques and Lillian went as Eva-01 and Misato, respectively, generating huge fan response in the process (pictures of those costumes are scattered about on the web).
In recent years, Sailor Moon and Ranma have been the inspiration for an insane number of costumes, but as anime fans are being slowly exposed to less-mainstream anime, the costumes are getting wilder and more inspired. Particularly stunning are human portrayals of mecha. The most impressive mecha costume I've had the pleasure of witnessing was a Mortar Headd from Five Star Stories. Other impressive non-humanoid costumes I've seen include Totoro, the Sharon Apple unit, Pen Pen, and SD Gundam.
Even though most cosplayers choose to portray "normal" humanoids, they can be just as impressive as the mecha. Some costumes I've seen have been less than spectacular or even non-recognizable, but there have been great ones as well. I truly believe that the Japanese fans are the best cosplayers in the world right now. At various anime-related events in Japan, cosplayers are common, especially at the famous Comiket or Comic Market, where fans buy hard-to-find doujinshi (fan-produced comics) and fanzines. In Japan, the cosplayers take their job seriously, producing meticulously-crafted costumes from the latest anime hits. Repeat cosplayers gain some measure of fame, and there are several web pages showcasing their talents. These Japanese cosplayers have developed whole portfolios of themselves in costume.
Even if you never cosplay yourself, and find the idea of dressing up like an anime character a little bit strange, you can still enjoy the costuming and performance efforts of others. On the other hand, if the idea of becoming an anime character (temporarily, at least) appeals to you, and being in the spotlight is your idea of fun, cosplay is something to try. Be careful, though -- once you start, you might find it hard to stop.
For more info, try http://www.nyx.net/~wsantoso/cosplay.html for great Japanese and American cosplay links.
[12/2/04 Update: For further articles by Lawrence Eng, see his anime page.]