It’s fun. Playing dress-up, pretending to be someone else and being admired for it is an inarguable source of joy. But when does someone cross the line between hobby and passion, between putting on a costume and becoming a character? What drives those whom we now call “cosplayers” to shell out P10,000 and spend hour after gruelling hour applying make-up to, say, be Two-Face for a day?
“I’ve been fond of video games and anime since grade school, so I felt like cosplay was the next step to being a fan,” explains writer and cosplayer Luie Magbanua. “I really got into it when I was in university and found a group of friends to cosplay with. What keeps me passionate about it is the love of the character that I want to emulate.” Cosplay, it seems, is the most blatant, flattering expression of allegiance to a pop culture treasure, and goes hand-in-hand with community formation — like how it is in Western superhero flicks, where individuals with superpower, in their perceived isolation, discover each other and band.
“Back then, cosplay wasn’t even a word!” shares Mika Fabella of The Philippine X-Men Team (FILXMEN), an organization of X-Men enthusiasts. “I was just in costume because I loved the fandom. We used to go around malls in full costume and people would look at us weirdly, like, ‘Ano’ng meron? Halloween ba?’ Nowadays, it’s so much easier. If you go to a mall in costume, people assume it’s for a cosplay convention.”
Fellow FILXMEN member Myke Dela Paz takes cosplay’s popularity as a corollary of the geek developing as the new cool. And with cosplayers having their own booths in conventions, signing autographs, posing for photos, and generally wowing audiences, it’s tempting to lump them together as another breed of celebrity. In a previous interview, Spider-Man cosplayer and former Kikomachine bassist Dan Geromo comments on this speci c allure of the practice: “Puwede pala ‘yong ganiyang klaseng buhay, ‘yong para kang pseudo-celebrity; hindi mo gamit ang totoo mong mukha.You just get into a character and automatically people will respond positively. Parang si Jollibee. Parang pagmamascot,” he says. “I thought, ang sarap siguro kung ganiyan ang trabaho mo.”
Fame can no doubt be a result of cosplaying, but Stephen Aguilar, also of FILXMEN, would rather see it as a bonus and not as an end. “Even though cosplay has become mainstream, it’s still a recent movement, so people are still confused about its role in pop culture. People think cosplayers are just hungry for attention and find it easier to dismiss us as celebrity wannabes,” he opines. “They see us at the cons and think that we’re just walking photo booths. That’s why I feel the need to emphasize the artistic side to it — the long hours, intricate craft sessions, and ambitious photo sessions. It’s like painting or playing music, but instead of a brush or a guitar, we use our bodies as instruments and the whole experience as our canvas,” he continues. “I see cosplayers as artists, and as artists they try to one-up one another. This pushes us forward and keeps things interesting.”
For these serious practitioners, the paradox is that this whole act of stepping into another’s skin is in fact their great means of self-expression. “Cosplaying is an extension of how much of a geek I am,” shares Mika. “I always say that I cosplay because I’m a grown adult and I still like to play dress-up and make-believe. That’s really what it is: you’re role-playing — the same thing you used to do as a kid, except now you can do it with the facilities and resources that you have as an adult.” With adulthood, however, comes adult problems: like cash.
Luie notes that one of the most challenging aspects of cosplaying is the budget, especially if you’re a perfectionist; while Stephen remarks that finding reliable tailors and suppliers is also a cause of headache. Age is another challenge: “Lately lumalaki ang tiyan natin at bumababa ang metabolism, so I need to do cardio first,” Dan points out.
“But when they go, ‘Oh my gosh, look it’s (name of character)!’, it’s all worth it,” says Luie, and it’s a sentiment that these cosplayers share. “My favorite reactions so far have been those I’ve seen with my Weeping Angel cosplay,” says Mika. “They would scream and run away and yell out, ‘Don’t blink!’ I loved it because I had so much fun scaring people, and also instantly discovering more people who like Doctor Who!”
It’s magic. We all know it’s an illusion — that underneath this superhero (and supervillain for that matter) is an ordinary person who happens to be crazy enough to paint themselves and walk in body-distorting garments. But who could deny its wonders? ”The best part about cosplaying, I can sum up in a short story: I was dressed as Psylocke at a convention one time. We were having our photos taken and in the crowd, I saw a little boy holding a Psylocke figure, staring at me in disbelief,” narrates Mika. “He really thought I was Psylocke! It’s that feeling, that moment of being able to convince all the kids and kids-at-heart that yes, the characters and the stories you know and love can be real. And the biggest part of making them real is you.”
—Originally published on GIST