When I try to explain what cosplay is to people who aren’t nerds or familiar with the culture, most look at me blankly and say something along the lines of “So, it’s like Halloween.” That’s when I smile through a grimace and slip away, not adding that sure, cosplay is like Halloween if Halloween happened numerous times a year and was filled with stressful sleepless nights, more crying than anyone wants to admit, hot glue gun burns and, sometimes, actual blood.
Cosplay is the art of dressing up like fictional characters, often characters from anime. It’s a hobby that requires money, time and skill, as cosplayers often spend hours designing and creating their costumes. The preparation starts with researching the most minute of character details. Those buying a pre-made cosplay online need to research the seller’s credibility as well as the quality of the costume they’re selling, and those making a cosplay from scratch will most likely spend anywhere from hours to months researching, drafting, sewing the actual costume and constructing the props.
This hobby unites people through their shared love and appreciation for anime, manga, video games and other media. Fortunately, there are plenty of places in this world where us nerds aren’t misunderstood and can run around freely in our own habitats. One such place is at Anime Weekend Atlanta (AWA), an annual four-day anime convention that took place this year from Sept. 28 to Oct. 1.
Cosplay is generally a large component of anime conventions, or “cons,” but depending on what demographic an individual con is catered toward, there will be a range of how many attendees participate. Cons can be split visually into two groups of people: those who are cosplaying and those who aren’t. From my perspective, people who are cosplaying share an unspoken bond, as the costumes themselves reveal shared experiences. On the other hand, with nothing to externally brand them, people not cosplaying might as well be random strangers walking down the street.
While cons usually have a fair mix of “normal attendees,” who do not participate in cosplay, cosplayers dominated the scene this year. Some of the cosplays took inspiration from anime while others were from video games. Regardless, the effort that went into styling their wigs and the craftsmanship of their costumes and props was apparent. For example, someone cosplayed as the Dark Magician Girl from the popular anime series, “Yu-Gi-Oh!” Her costume, made primarily out of craft foam, shaped into armor pieces and painted blue with a pink trim, may as well have been professionally made. The details from the spiral-shaped helmet to the handmade boot covers made it seem like the character was there in the flesh.
I cosplayed the Friday of the convention, but by Saturday morning I was too tired to put on another costume. I quickly regretted my lazy decision when I arrived at the convention, as cosplay has the power to summon an animated, confident side of me that usually remains suppressed. However, my cosplay-less nature gave me the rare opportunity to experience convention life from the perspective of a “normal” person.
As an introvert, I’m naturally not keen on approaching people I know nothing about, and when I dressed in normal clothes on Saturday the other attendees seemed to have similar mindsets, as they didn’t approach me either. Except for occasionally asking cosplayers for photos, I interacted with no one. I was virtually invisible in the crowd, and it felt like the community that I had felt a part of the day before had disappeared.
For those who are introverted and easily get nervous talking to people, I highly suggest attempting a cosplay or at least getting decked out in geeky attire. Although it may seem unimportant, the clothing one chooses to wear to cons helps indicate to other attendees what their interests are. While I rarely approach random people I don’t know in my daily life, those restraints fade when it comes to cosplay. People whose costumes I admire or who share my love for a certain fandom suddenly no longer seem like strangers but members of a larger community.
Granted, not cosplaying can also have its own perks. Costumes and wigs can uncomfortable throughout the day, especially when running around a large con. Atlanta’s still-summer heat in the fall doesn’t help remedy this problem either. Going costumeless also grants one the freedom to go anywhere they want to without being stopped by photographers, though I don’t know a single cosplayer who doesn’t like having their photo taken.
Because I was keen on not repeating my Saturday con experience, I wore a full cosplay on Sunday, and the effects were drastic. People I’d never seen or spoken to ran up to me asking for photos, complimented my cosplay or started talking to me about the show the character was from.
One particular “Heathers: The Musical” cosplayer, who was dressed in a yellow blazer and plaid skirt, called out my character’s name when she saw me, pausing her group photoshoot so that I could take a quick photo with them and then hugged me afterward. Just like that, my transition from civilian life to cosplay reconnected me with the rest of the community, and just as importantly, gave me the confidence to approach people I might otherwise have ignored.
Not every con focuses on cosplay, so if you want to experience the cosplay aspect of cons, I recommend attending AWA. Even if you’re not interested in cosplaying, I still suggest going for at least a day to witness the cosplay culture and get a sense of what it’s like. Cosplay easily turns ordinary experiences into unforgettable moments and creates friendships where there otherwise would be none.