By DANIEL SUBRAMANIAM
PUTTING on a costume is one thing, but actually becoming a character is taking cosplay to a whole new level.
Taking things even further, local cosplayers have begun competing at regional and international cosplay competitions such as the Asia Cosplay Meet and the World Cosplay Summit. The bar is set high, and our cosplayers actually recreate scenes from their anime or video game of choice. “We made all our costumes and props,” says cosplayer Chris Yap, who represented Malaysia at the Asia Cosplay Meet in Singapore last week with teammates Abdul Shariff Nadeem Al-Hamid Abdul Hadi and Loh Mun Yee. The trio enacted a scene from the anime Fate/Prototype.
Cosplayers like Chris pull out all the stops when cosplaying a character; they spend thousands of ringgit and research their character painstakingly. Shariff has spent RM3,500 on his costumes.
“Sometimes I spend up to five days to fully understand how a character behaves,” says animator Shariff, 20. He had chosen to cosplay Archer from the anime Fate/Prototype, and it was challenging because their personalities are so different. Archer is arrogant, corny and really rude, whereas Shariff likes to smile and have a good laugh.
“I have a friend who has the same mannerisms as Archer, so I started mimickinghim to get into character. It was like stealing his personality.”
Besides the costumes and props, cosplayers also have to get their hair and make-up right.
“It usually takes me up to an hour and a half to get ready, from putting on the make-up to getting into the costumes,” says student Celine Thng, who may not be a competitive cosplayer but embraces cosplay with passion and dedication.
“When I choose a character to cosplay, it has to be a character that I really love. Cosplaying allows me to become that character for awhile,” adds Celine.
From hobby to business
Most enthusiasts regard cosplaying as a hobby, but there are some who have managed to make money from their passion.
“Since I specialise in cosplaying captains, Disney asked me to cosplay Captain Jack Sparrow for the Pirates of Caribbean: On Stranger Tides gala premiere last year. There are also companies which hire cosplayers for their annual company dinners, for example. You have to be really worthy if you are hired for jobs like these. It shows that people really appreciate what you do too,” says part-time tennis and basketball coach, Allen Yap, who is better known as The Captain among cosplayers.
There are people who have been able to make a living out of cosplaying. One of the biggest problems cosplayers face is getting the right costumes. Unless they have the skills to sew their own outfits, most cosplayers will rely on online stores or tailors to supply their costumes.
Stephanie Pan Ming Lee is a tailor who specialises in making costumes and accessories for cosplayers. “I first heard about cosplaying in 2002. Back then, I asked someone to tailor a costume for me, but it was difficult to make the order so I started making my own costumes. I made about 30 to 40 costumes on my own before I became good at it. I started taking orders for costumes through Facebook about a year and half ago and the response has been very good,” says Stephanie whose shop is called Yori Tailor and Craft Services.
Even though she doesn’t have a shop, her business is doing great. She is fully booked till early next year.
“I usually get around 20 to 25 orders a month but it depends on when the cosplay events are going on. October till May is when I get the most orders.”
“One of the hardest accessories I’ve had to make is the nine-tail accessory for Ran Yakumo from the anime Touhou Project. I had to make a backpack-like strap for it and even a special plastic casing for it. That’s why it costs RM980,” says Stephanie.
Ena Azman also supplies costumes to cosplayers, but she sources for them from China. Like Stephanie, Ena discovered the need for a costume supplier from her cosplaying days too.
“When I used to cosplay, the costumes were really hard to find and expensive,” explains the 26-year-old.
When she started her business a year ago, she used to get about five orders a week. Now she gets between 20 and 100 orders a week.
“I want to keep the business running as long as I can. I really like cosplay and I think I can make some good money through the store,” adds Ena, who is a programmer.
Chris who used to make his cosplay accessories has also started taking orders. “About eight months ago, I started taking commission for accessories. Very few people can actually make these items locally. The basic method of cutting the material can be picked up online, but it’s very difficult to recreate what you see in a picture,” says Chris.
However, he doesn’t think he’ll be able to make a living from the hobby. “The cost of buying materials is quite high. That’s why, even when I charge a lot for a design, I still don’t end up making a lot,” he says.
Cosplay events do not only draw cosplay and anime fans, but also photographers who specialise in taking photos of cosplayers. Some cosplayers have even started hiring their own photographers to shoot their pictures during the event.
“In the earlier cosplay events, there were very few photographers around so cosplayers were happy with just a simple generic photo of them in their costume. Nowadays, the expectations of the cosplayers are much higher,” explains Thomas Kuan, 33, who is known to many as Hexlord.
He is well-known in the cosplay scene, having photographed cosplayers from all over the region.
“When cosplayers play a character, they try to recreate a certain scene or the feel of the series that they really like. That is what differentiates cosplay photography from normal photography. Cosplay photography looks to recreate a particular scene and will make use of different techniques to achieve that,” explains Kuan.
Even though Kuan has built a name for himself as a cosplay photographer, he insists on keeping it as a hobby and does not charge cosplayers for his shoots.
“More than 90% of the time, it’s free. Cosplayers have offered to pay me for their shoots, but it is quite rare and to compensate me for taking leave to do the shoot,”
Herman Ismail, or Misao as he is known in the community, is another well-known cosplay photographer.
He is known for his studio style shoots, even setting up mini studios at cosplay events. “For me, a good cosplay photo should clearly portray the character. Suitable location and lighting technique is critical in the telling of the character’s story,” says Herman. “That is why I prefer to shoot in a studio where I can control elements like the lighting.’
Having cosplayed for the last eight years, Sky Fara is a well-known figure in the local cosplay scene. Together with her partner Yuan. the duo were the first Malaysian representatives to the World Cosplay Summit in Japan last year.
“The number of cosplay events popping up has increased. Previously there were only two or three major events a year, now there are two or three events a month,” adds Fara.
Shariff also agrees it’s much easier for people to get involved in cosplaying these days.
“Before, it was tough to start cosplaying. The community then was small. If you didn’t know people in the community, it was hard to ask for help because you’d be shy. Now, there are many cosplay forums and online tutorials for beginners to check out,” he adds.
“People in the Klang Valley are definitely more familiar with it but cosplaying is picking up in other states as well. The cosplay community in Penang is definitely growing. Both the World Cosplay Summit and Asia Cosplay Meet preliminary rounds were held in Penang,” says Allen who blogs on cosplay at cosplayfun.wordpress.com.
Even the public’s perception of cosplaying has changed.
“People used to frown on cosplaying and even viewed it as a menace to society. That’s why cosplay events were rarely held outdoors. Nowadays, shopping malls and hotels are willing to sponsor cosplay events. Cosplaying is becoming a more fun social activity now, not just for the cosplayers but also for the public.
“After all, it’s definitely a healthier hobby than illegal racing or clubbing,” asserts Fara.