Thursday, September 13, 2007

A Footnote to the Philippine Cosplay Phenomenon

One of the memories that stick out from the 90's was the first attempt at an anime convention. Sterling Animation was capitalizing with the popularity of Slam Dunk and decided to hold an "Anime Rave Party". The event was divided into two segments, the afternoon for those under 18, and the evening for those above that age bracket. There were no special guests, just a dark room and bar with banners and streamers on the walls. It was an easily forgettable experience (and I wouldn't be surprised if many don't remember that it even ever existed). A year or two later, AnimeExplosion 2000 was held at the Mega Trade Hall in Mega Mall. There were more than 10,000 attendees over the span of three days. For many people, the highlight of the event was the cosplay. Fans dressed up in costume and paraded themselves in front of complete strangers but fellow fans. It was easily the most memorable event for me. And apparently the same can be said for a lot of people. Seven years down the line, cosplaying is still thriving. In fact, in many ways, it's outgrown its initial roots. Lately, whenever there's a pop culture convention of any sort, there's a cosplay event: anime convention, j-rock convention, video game convention, comics convention, toy conventions, Star Wars convention, etc. There's an entire generation who live to cosplay no matter what the genre or theme.

This is all interesting for me because initially, I associated cosplaying with anime. Normally, the only time I'd expect cosplayers were in an anime convention. Even before AnimeExplosion 2000, the country already had a fledging market of hobbyists and fans. There were regular conventions held at the Mega Trade Hall but instead of a focused niche, it was a chopsuey of various fandoms and interests: Collectible Card Game (CCG) fans, comic fans, anime fans, model kit fans, etc. Did we have a cosplay? No. But we nonetheless attended the convention because it was a place for bargains and a chance to meet up with fellow fans (more of the former than the latter). In many ways, AnimeExplosion 2000 changed all of that. Cosplaying I think became more than just dressing up and acting in front of people. It became the main attraction of conventions. Instead of non-events (with the exception of CCG tournaments) and blindly walking through the stalls, there was an actual performance, an actual show for people to get involved with. And this is where the social dynamic gets interesting. When people get isolated in a place whether it's trying out for the school paper with fellow freshmen or waiting in line for Neil Gaiman to sign your book, people will socialize with each other (perhaps they're bored, perhaps they're curious, but that's irrelevant--people start talking to each other). That was, in many ways, the scenario faced by the initial cosplayers. Here we are dressed up in costume for the first time in front of thousands of people. Gee, I'm glad I'm not the only one here. What's your name? And so a bond between cosplayers was formed. But it's not only the cosplayers who truly got involved. So did the audience. I can't believe there are people who have the skill to make such costumes and the courage to go up on stage! A part of the audience eventually became cosplayers themselves. Another segment simply admires them and treat them as quasi-celebrities.

Of course back in 2000, anime conventions were scarce. You were fortunate if you got away with two a year. So over the years, the cosplaying community improvised. There's no cosplaying event? We'll hold one. And since the cosplayers are not just anime fans, they also incorporated it into their other interests. For example, there was a socialite Halloween Party by Tim Yap for example and some cosplayers showed up in the event in their full glory, in a non-anime costume. During a local gaming convention hosted by the local distributor (alas, the corporation that distributes RPGs is the same corporation that distributes miniatures, Warhammer, and CCGs--any CCGs; we're at the mercy of a monopoly), cosplayers dressed up as Magic: The Gathering characters and Star Wars vehicles. The cosplaying phenomenon began with the anime community but the cosplaying community soon splintered into a community of their own. And as much as a lot can be credited to these initial anime cosplayers, other fandoms have proven that they can walk side-by-side with the best. The Trekkies all showed up in Starfleet uniforms. Amidala clones and Stormtroopers heralded the presence of the Star Wars group. I think it's unanimous when we say that we were wowed with the Nazgul and orcs from Lord of the Rings, or the resemblance and acting of fans from Pirates of the Carribean.

These days, it seems like there's a cosplay-related event every month. A gaming convention? Okay, cosplay! An upcoming comic convention? Cosplay! Just recently, the annual Manila International Book Fair held a cosplay competition. At this rate, I don't think it's fair to associate cosplayers with just one segment of a fandom, but rather they're a cult phenomenon of their own.


Bert said...

I love your article, especially from a different fandom's point of view. I know the last time we asked you if your last cosplay article would be part of the website (it was mired down with some issues that were resolved), perhaps this time it can be placed here, especially since has just been officially integrated with New Worlds Alliance, the very same non-fandom you were talking about. Hope its ok with you despite the last time. ^^;;

Charles said...

Not a problem. =)