What is “cosplay,” anyway?

Gankutsuou, the Count of Monte Cristo

“Cosplay” is linguistic shorthand for “costume playacting,” which refers to creating a costume to portray a specific character. Cosplay differs from traditional theatrical costuming or fan costuming in that cosplayers also typically act like their character (at least part of the time, such as when interacting with other cosplayers or posing for photos). Cosplayers work from an established character design as a model, rather than creating original costumes or ones based on a specific historical time period.

Although it can now be seen in many venues, cosplay is native to the science-fiction, fantasy, animé and Japanese game fan communities. Fan costuming first came into being in New York in 1939, but cosplay is a more recent phenomenon, originating in California in the early 1980s. It quickly spread to Japan, and now can be seen in fan communities around the world.

So is this like what Trekkies and Star Wars fans do?

More or less — except that not all “redshirts” and stormtroopers are dressing up as specific characters. A fan dressed as Darth Vader and air-choking people is cosplaying; a fan wearing a generic Enterprise uniform without playacting is in costume, but not cosplaying.

Do you guys take yourselves seriously?

…Er, you haven’t seen our “ghetto” costumes (made without stitching, sewing, or crafting) yet, have you?

We take our costumes seriously, yes — we want them to be the best we can make them, whatever that may be. But no, Laura doesn’t really believe that she’s a vampiric nobleman from outer space with a malicious alien parasite, just because she played Monte Cristo Hakushaku from Gankutsuou.

So then what’s this “animé” stuff?

Animé (“ah-knee-meh”) is Japanese animation, though the term was adapted from the French and now may be occasionally applied to other Asian animation as well.

Japanese animation differs from western animation in a number of ways. In America, animation tends to be reserved almost exclusively for children’s shows, with the obvious exceptions of more adult-oriented programming such as The Simpsons or South Park. In Japan, however, animé is considered a medium, not a genre, and it is a standard medium for television shows, movies and even documentaries, spanning all genres: youth, teen and adult programming, comedy, drama, horror, satire, and even “adult entertainment”.

Compared to modern western animation, many animé are much more detailed. The medium owes a great deal to early western animation and the depth of animation there, but of course there are many styles and genres within the medium, just as with film. Because the medium is not assumed to be necessarily for children, some animé feature in-depth plots with a strong emphasis on character development, politics, philosophy, emotional growth, or other elements that do not often appear in American animated programs.

So your sources are like those Dragonball and Pokémon shows?

Yes — in the same way that the same American film industry produced both Citizen Kane and Howard The Duck. Again, animé is a medium, not a genre. Subject matter and production qualities vary widely from project to project.

Do you get money for this?

Er, no. This is definitely a one-way cashflow.

We have received some awards, but those are generally in the form of trophies, plaques, certificates, or — very rarely — merchandise such as candy or videos. We do this entirely for fun, not for profit.

So how big are these conventions and contests?

That varies dramatically! Some “cons” are as small as several hundred people; the largest ones run about 60,000 attendees. The cosplay competitions usually cover 75-100 entries, singly or in groups.

Competition entries are usually divided by skill, using award history as a guide, into Novice, Journeymen and Masters categories.

The masquerade, or the presentation of competitive costumes and skits, is usually one of the highlights and best attended events of a convention.

Why call yourselves “…And Sewing Is Half The Battle!”?

This is an obscure reference to the G.I. Joe animated television series that aired in 1985. The trend in the 1980s was to make cartoons and video games “educational” by appending morals or life lessons to the end of each episode. The G.I. Joe PSAs were typically useless, and each ended with the line:

“And now you know… and knowing is half the battle.”

What’s up with your logo?

Remember AYB? “All your base are belong to us” was an explosive example of Engrish, meme, Internet phenomenon, and geek culture in the early 2000s. The poorly translated 1980s video game Zero Wing included a memorable opening exchange, which provided the basis for our group logo.

In our version, however, the villian Cats is replaced by Dogs, whose avatar is a Doberman in a purple wig. This is actually a photo of the amazing FO UCD ARCHX Shakespeare To Go CD CGC BH WAC RL1-CL RL1X2 RA ATT RL2X RL3X CD-H TR1, a rescued shelter dog owned and trained by Laura. The night before our first con and first cosplay ever, we were playing with a purple wig, and….

All your base are belong to us. All your baste are belong to us.

Is Laura really addicted to dark chocolate?

“Addicted” is a strong term, but… let’s just say that we like to have an emergency supply on hand at all times. If she should happen to run out of chocolate while she’s trying to assemble a piece of clothing, for example, unpredictable and sometimes dangerous things can happen. Things like… THE MOBIUS SLEEVES. (FX: wooooooooooooo…)

…You people do realize that you’re geeks, don’t you?

Why, yes! Thank you for noticing. ^_^

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