Costume Play, or cosplay, is a phenomenon that has gripped the hearts of video game, anime and fantasy fans all over the world. The roots of cosplay can be found in the small island country of Japan. In fact, the term itself originated there despite the language barrier. The Japanese often appropriate English words rather than create new language for new things. These foreign words use Japanese syllables (represented through the katakana syllabary) to express them. “Costume play” was later shortened to become cosplay (kosupure or コスプレ). As a person who was fortunate enough to spend some time in Harajuku on Sunday mornings (the most popular day for cosplay in Japan's cosplay hot spot) I felt like I understood a little about the subculture of cosplaying. I had spoken with friends in Japan about their participation and I gained some unique perspective on it. But that was small scale cosplay. Even on a big day, I wouldn't usually see more than a hundred cosplayers at a time. At Anime North, I stumbled upon something new. I discovered large scale 20,000+ community cosplay.
Anime North, as many of you well know, is a convention for cosplayers from all over the region to gather and share their interests in games, anime, comics and more. The amount of time, effort and money that many attendees had invested into their costumes was nothing short of incredible. It showed a level of dedication rarely found in any form of hobby and I was awestruck at some of their descriptions of what when into making their costumes. I kept my eyes peeled for some of the patrons who I had felt had done an above average job with their costume design.
The first exceptional cosplayer I encountered was Arnaldo Santos. He explained to me that he had been participating in Anime North and other conventions for nearly eight years. He made the trip in all the way from New York to be a part of this year's festivities. He had come this year as Kirito (see above picture), the main character of the anime Swort Art Online. The details and design of his costume were fantastic. I had still had some questions about his reason for participation though. I flatly asked him why he thought it was worth it to invest as much time and money as he had and his answer surprised me. He told me about a convention he had once attended where a tiny six-year-old girl spotted him and was immediately drawn to his rendition of Final Fantasy X's Auron. She explained that Auron was her favourite character and how overjoyed she was to meet him and to take a picture with him. For Arnaldo, this validated all of his efforts. He was able to give that little girl a completely blissful moment that she may never have had otherwise. It was at this moment that I realized that cosplay is as much for the individual as it is for the community.
Though Arnaldo was the first, and one of the most memorable cosplayers I had spoken to, I was fortunate enough to meet some others. They all contributed in their own ways to my understanding of Anime North and of the cosplay community. The next cosplayer to mention was Jennifer a young girl who had chosen to dress up as Ruby from the anime-styled American production RWBY. Jennifer told me that she had been to these events in the past but took a long break from them. A few of her friends had been interested in attending this year's event so they had all come out together. She explained that as much as she enjoyed the scene, she'd be unlikely to attend without friends. That isn't to say that cosplayers aren't outgoing though. She, and many others, mentioned meeting others who share similar interests as one of the key reasons to attend this event.
Chris and Lindsay were two people I scouted out as they were exiting the weapons check line. I immediately noticed the intricate detailing of their costumes and I was excited to talk with them a little bit about their costumes. It turns out that they had both invested around $200 in their outfits. I had talked to a lot of people at Anime North and found that this was typically on the higher end of what people were spending. Despite that, I must admit, seeing their finished products definitely made me feel as though that was a bargain. I was so amazed by their costumes that I didn't even remember to ask what their characters were. I play a few games and watch more than one anime series myself so I knew some of the characters there but these two were not any I was familiar with. I'm gonna throw their picture up though and I'm sure one of you readers will be able to fill me in.
No cosplay convention would be complete without some representation from the biggest freemium game out there right now, League of Legends. It actually wasn't until I was about to leave that I encountered an amazing Jinx and Riven. I spoke with Meghan and Jenn, the two ladies who had pulled off these stunning costumes, about their experience at Anime North. They had also come out with friends and had come to enjoy the social aspect of the event. They had only attended a couple of times prior, but they seemed very comfortable with all the attention and requests for pictures they were receiving. Their Jinx and Battle Bunny Riven renditions were particularly memorable and seeing the time and effort they had put into their costumes made me feel like joining in on the fun. I was definitely glad to have caught them before I wrapped up my day.
Other notable cosplayers
I learned a lot about cosplaying and cosplay conventions during my time at Anime North. I heard a lot about why people participated, the aspects of the events they enjoyed and what made it all worthwhile to them. I was very much in the dark as to most people's inspiration to become a character they admired but by the end of the day my understanding of what fueled them had become much deeper. I intend to continue to cover this event in upcoming years and I'm hoping to delve even deeper into this subculture next year and I look forward to sharing my insights with you.