This interview was for an article about the Cosplay Phenomenon for BIZARRE Magazine, a lifestyle mag dedicated to alternative culture and non-mainstream movements in the UK. Unfortunately, after sending in my answers, the Editor never responded so I don't have a copy of the issue this interview was released in. This makes me glad that I kept a copy of the interview for my own website to display.
1) How did you first become interested in Cosplay?
I first heard of this phenomenon when I moved to the USA a few years ago (from Germany). I joined an anime club and we planned a group trip to the biggest anime convention here, Anime Expo. The idea of dressing up as a drawn character fascinated me and I started planning a costume. After wearing it to the convention I was completely addicted.
2) When you 'become' a character, how far does the transformation go? Do you act with the personality/speech characteristics? Or is it just appearance?
I think that is different for every Cosplayer, and for every costume you construct. I personally try as much as possible to stay in character for photos, to the point of fooling others into thinking that the character's personality is mine. But I don't go as far as taking on their speech-patterns or typical habits, it can be embarrassing and annoy/confuse the people around you. I think the most appropriate time to fully "play" a character is for a skit or performance on stage. If you're just wearing the costume around the halls, keep the imitation to a reasonable amount.
3) Why do you think Japan, Italy and America are (so far) the only countries to have really gone crazy for Cosplay?
I think it has a lot to do with the popularity of anime/manga/jrock and the size of those communities in said countries, as well as the economy and resources available. Not every city has fabric stores and wig shops, and not everyone has the money to invest into costume materials. Many places are getting more familiar with anime, and their Cosplay communities are growing, but they still don't have any presence on the internet. France, Germany and Hong Kong have annual anime conventions, and you see more and more Cosplayers at those events. I've also gotten e-mails from people in Mexico, Brazil and Spain before, and some of the costumers there are pretty impressive. As anime is growing increasingly popular, Cosplay will, just as any sub culture that is related to anime
4) How do you decide which characters you want to be?
I am really picky about who to Cosplay. If I'm going to spend a fortune on a new costume, it should fit my requirements. Firstly, I have to like the character, be it the appearance, the personality, the quirks... something. Secondly, I have to resemble the character in some way. Thirdly, I have to really like the costume design itself. I've made costumes purely because I wanted to BE a character, and I've made costumes of characters I've never seen in action before. Sometimes seeing the right fabric for a costume is the deciding factor, sometimes it's the prospect of gathering a group together. My costumes are rarely "simple", there is always something that's challenging, and I learn something new every time. No matter which character I Cosplay, I make sure there is a good reason for me to do it.
5) I've read on other sites that part of the reason players create the kinds of costumes they do is for admiration by the public - do you have 'fans', and if so, how many are male, how many female? Is it something you think about when you plan a role/character?
I'll assume that you mean by "the kinds of costumes" revealing, sexy ones. I think that many girls are very intrigued by the fact that they are admired by many people for wearing something as simple as a bikini. It's a great thrill to have your picture taken a million times, have guys practically at your feet and a crowd of people give you all of their attention. It's even more powerful to realize that all you have to do is look pretty and show skin. I know because I have done it before.. but that is not why I am a Cosplayer. I know girls personally who take pride in making skimpy outfits and enjoy their male fanbase. That's cool. I have a fanbase, but I think it's more balanced out, with slightly more females than males. Actually many of my "fans" are young teenage girls who find me inspiring (at least that's what I hear over and over again). I find that very flattering and I am glad that they see me as a role-model. I take pride in being a very diverse costumer, I make outfits ranging from different genres and different looks, and have worn just about everything except for full-body armor. Who knows, maybe that'll happen one day as well. I don't worry about what my fans or anti-fans may think of the next costume I bring out because as long as I am proud of it, I'll be happy. Plus, so far, everyone has liked the outfits I've worn, be it something as huge and covering as Hinoto of X1999, or as skimpy as Lum. I think it has to do with the fact that no matter what I make, I try my best.
6) In the USA, there are stories of players becoming 'obsessed', and playing characters 24 hours a day, even going down the street and to college/work 'in-character'. Is this common? Why does it happen?
Thank goodness it has not come to that yet. Cosplay is still a very small Sub culture here, it's the Star Wars Fans and Klingons who are more prone to obsess over their characters. The Cosplay community is filled with many young kids who like to have fun once in a while. The hardcore Cosplayers are present, but they are few and far between. It is amusing that some Cosplayers start to "claim" a character after a while, they identify with one person so much that they re-make and wear the costume over and over again and even start calling themselves by the character's name. Now that is passion :).
7) How many of your friends also play, and what do the ones who do not play think of it all?
My close friends and roommates are also costumers, and we enjoy creating outfits together very much. It's a wonderful hobby that brings us together and I am very fortunate to live with people who share the same love for a hobby. The friends who don't do it are generally interested in the costumes themselves and enjoy looking at the end products. I think I have very understanding friends and family members, everyone likes the things I create and encourage me. ^_^
8) Which are your favourite roles/costumes and why?
I love every one of my costumes for different reasons. For anime costumes, it'd have to be Myoubi, Lulu and Yuna, for Jrock costumes it's Kyo of Dir En Grey, and for original costumes it's of course my fire fairy. I like the way I look in these costumes, I feel that I do the characters justice in some way, and I so much time and money making them that I would be insane not to be proud. Most people's favorite of mine is Lulu by the way - never before have I gotten such a reaction to a costume before O_o.
9) Is it an expensive thing to do?
That depends on what you're making, but generally, yes, Cosplay is a very expensive and extravagant hobby. I made around 20 costumes last year and the material cost for each averaged around $150 - $200. And that is with cutting corners and buying everything I could on sale. Not only do I have to buy the fabric, but the notions, wigs, shoes, paints, specific accessories, make up, tools... It all adds up.
10) How much are Manga/Anime/fantasy movies watched in Italy? And by you? (I assume you mean USA for me) Are people expert, or do they just like the look?
I have always been a big anime/manga fan, mainly due to the fact that I grew up around manga and am a manga-artist as well. So wherever I lived I was very active in the anime/manga scene. Here in the USA I feel that Japanimation is accepted by the general public, not just the underground fans. Everyone knows about Pokemon, Sailor Moon, or Dragonball, and more and more anime is being shown here. I see a lot of loyal and dedicated fans as well as children growing up watching shows, but one should also be aware that anime is indeed a popular trend.
11) Do you ever go out in the costumes? Just to conventions? Is it difficult to know what people's reactions will be? Is it something you mostly just do with friends at home?
I have been in many public settings in costumes before, since my friends and I do photoshoots often (I could deliver some crazy stories...). Usually we get a lot of stares, but also compliments and questions. People assume that we're in plays or belated Halloween parties (*grins*) and we explain that we're costume designers/ photographers working on our portfolios. Once in a while someone's so interested that we give our websites for them to look at. I don't take pleasure in going about my daily routine in costume, but for special events and photoshoots I gladly put on an outfit and show it off in public. Why not? It gives strangers something to talk about at the dinner table ^_-.
12) Is there a conscious impulse to create something that will shock, or be sexy, or frightening etc., when you create a costume/choose a character?
I think that impulse is always there. You automatically think of the reaction you'll receive with a costume you're planning (you'd be idiotic not to). I like to challenge myself with new and different projects and sometimes I like to challenge the public with what I'm wear as well. If the design of a planned costume is controversial, it will often motivate me more to make that outfit just to see how people will react to it. But the important thing is to not get stuck in one type of costumes, not only for your own creative purposes, but also for the fact that people will get bored if you show up in one kitty girl costume after another. I always try to move onto something that hasn't been done before.