The New Hipsters of Manila

13 May

Cosplay is a popular Japanese subculture that stands for costume play, wherein people dress themselves in elaborate costumes in order to represent a particular character in anime, movies, video games, or comic books. The participants of the subculture do not only focus on the physical and visual aspect of the character but also integrates role play by adapting its personality into their daily activities. It is not uncommon for the cosplay subculture to consist of participants in reversed genders—in fact, the word crossplay was coined from the words crossdress and cosplay in order to describe men who portray female characters and similarly, women who dress up as characters of the opposite sex.

Out of the many different subcultures in Japan, cosplay has been the first to successfully break through popular culture in the Philippines. Although the Japanese society started to pick up cosplay as a hobby only in the 1990s, it was already introduced to Filipino anime enthusiasts in the year 2000 in the form of conventions hosted in exhibit halls located in the largest shopping malls in Manila. Some of the biggest events eagerly awaited by cosplayers are the Philippine Cosplay Convention, OtakuzineFest, and Cosplay Mania. The convention titles may vary but they are all similar in fulfilling the main purpose of these anime events—unifying cosplayers and enthusiasts in a single explosion of fun activities for them to share their passion with other people.

Upon arriving at the venue, one could already see the cosplayers stand out in colored hair and intricate costumes. For people hearing about cosplay for the first time, these get ups may seem foolish and pointless. It seems that visitors in the mall see these activities as an obscure sighting, because they can’t help but stare at the group of cosplayers heading to the convention venue. Some mall visitors point and giggle at the cosplayers, but others become fascinated and take photos instead. A possible reason why the cosplay culture is seen differently by onlookers is the tremendous transformation of the person into a real-life version of their favorite characters. Through various forms of body modification, cosplayers can manipulate their physical appearances in order to come as close to the characters they portray. Most cosplayers use heavy make-up as well as various colors and sizes of cosmetic contact lenses to enlarge the eyes and define the color while synthetic wigs in different lengths and colors are worn to completely duplicate the eccentric styles of anime hairstyles. Many cosplayers showcase their skills in creating their own costumes and props through different methods of design and construction—whether using recycled materials or adhering objects around the house, their creativity extends even beyond the aesthetics of your ordinary school project.

Outside the convention hall, visitors have already gathered into groups. Some cosplayers have already started to pose for fans and photographers. It can be observed that many of the cosplayers do not just attend the convention on their own, but they also have friends and family members who assist them with their costumes. Groups of friends also choose to work together by dressing up as different characters from the same anime series. At the convention entrance, people line up to get tickets for the show, stalls, and exhibits inside for 150-200 pesos. A grand stage surrounded by various stalls and exhibits greet the visitors as they come in, and one may feel overwhelmed by the massive number of people in the convention. Cosplayers who will be participating in the competition exude a higher level of extravagance in their costumes as compared to the ones seen outside the hall earlier. Apart from these, there are other contests held through the entire two to three day duration of the cosplay event in the form of eating contests and a battle of the bands or karaoke contest for musicians who are interested in Japanese pop and rock music. On the other hand, the stalls in the venue range from clothing stores, merchandise, workshops, and artists such as illustrators, photographers, and animators who are trying to get their work across to the public. In fact, the cosplay environment fosters budding artists as they congregate in these events in order to expand their network and to learn new techniques from other people. Frequently, there is a small corner for artists to interact and exchange art.

Why do people participate in cosplay? The most common idea would be the desire for attention, and cosplay brings enough streams of photographers and onlookers even without the perfect costume. Another reason could be the great love that anime fans possess for the Japanese culture. Being able to dress up as their favorite characters for one day gives them an escape from reality while freely showing their passion for the field, and as a result, they may feel less inhibited when they engage into role-play mode because of something that they will normally be ostracized for when done in everyday life. For artists, the hobby serves as a creative outlet by letting them create props and costumes. Most of all, both the Japanese society and Philippine society have similar perceptions towards the cosplay culture. In Japan, cosplay is considered as a common hobby possessed by people from all age groups, from school girls to working professionals. Cosplay is not fully understood, but they can easily turn away from judgment. Similarly, Filipinos have a more accepting nature when it comes to cosplay, as opposed to Western cultures where people may have a negative reaction to things that appear unusual in their everyday activity.

There is always that desire to be different and to take on another identity. Cosplay allows just that—being able to express our inner desire to break away from routine and trends, as well as having the conscious effort of emphasizing our individuality in order to stand out from a million people. It happens that we are the society that is more tolerant of these differences within people without leaving any room for prejudice.

Sherlyne Legaspi
SA21 Section I


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