Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Robot, A Superhero, and An Anime Character Walk Into a Con...

Guess what just came in the mail today?

My ticket to paradise.
My badge for Acen!

Acen, also known as Anime Central, is the largest anime convention in the Midwest. I learned about it from my anime club in high school, and this year will be my second year going. My excitement knows no bounds! That's why this post will be about a subject just as near and dear to my heart as comics and cartoons: COSPLAY.

cos·play (according to

the art or practice of wearing costumes to portray characters from fiction, especially from manga, animation, and science fiction.
a skit featuring these costumed characters.

Okay, so you get the gist. Cosplay, short for "costumed play," is where geeks of all kinds don elaborate costumes resembling a character from an anime, manga, video game, or TV show (particularly a Japanese TV show, but there are also a lot of science-fiction and Western animation fans as well). There may be questions of what counts as cosplay. Surely at an anime or comic convention, you would see people dressed up as characters that are not from Japanese pop culture or media. You might see Western Superheroes, internet memes, Disney characters, Cartoon Network characters, and a large variety of other characters. Why are these costumes accepted? Well, I can only offer my own opinion. 

For any convention, there's not really a restricted dress code. You could attend Acen without wearing a costume, or even if you don't have knowledge of anime at all. You might not have the full experience, however, if you don't recognize who many of the characters are, so I would suggest tagging along with your otaku friend for reference (according to, an otaku is "an avid collector or enthusiast, esp. one who is obsessed anime, video games, or computer and rarely leaves home"). It's also more fun to dress up. Some people who cosplay even behave like the characters they are cosplaying, which really make the characters come to life.

I'm going to say that since Acen in particular has a very large number of attendees, there's bound to be much costume diversity. Also, a really good costume gains you respect. If you show up in jeans and a My Little Pony t-shirt with a faux tail, you're not going to get nearly as much attention as the man who spent months creating a Gundam costume in his basement. However, you could get just as much attention if you dressed up as well-worked-on Ursula costume from The Little Mermaid.

Ursula never looked so... cuddly.
Now, if you went to a comic book convention like Comic-Con, probably the biggest nerd convention in the history of ever, you are certainly going to see more superheroes and Western comic book characters. The cosplays that you see could depend on the type of convention, the time of year of the convention, the imagination of the attendees, current pop culture trends - anything, really. For instance, I am going to cosplay as a female version of Nick Fury from the recent Avengers movie. I would not have thought of this if I hadn't seen The Avengers four times this year (thanks to my Captain America-loving roommate that I mentioned in a previous blog post). I am actually planning to have three different cosplays for Acen because the convention is three days and I could wear a different costume each day, not unheard of for con-goers.

You might have noticed that I said "female version" just now. What I mean is that sometimes, con-goers will cosplay as a character, but as a gender bent version of that gender, as a "crossplay." The best example for this might be from the cartoon Adventure Time. If you have not seen the show, it is about a human boy named Finn and his dog Jake and they defend the princesses in the Land of Oo. The show creators have actually had gender bent versions of the main characters in special episodes. Finn becomes Fiona, transforming his shorts into her skirt and giving her bangs. The princesses are all changed to princes, and the main villain, the Ice King, is now the Ice Queen. The gender bent characters remain just as bad-ass as their original counterparts, though. You might actually see both the original and the gender bent versions of the Adventure Time characters at conventions. Creating a gender bent cosplay, or crossplay, requires a bit more creativity from the cosplayer, as they will have to imagine, design, and create an alternate version of this character in a manner that still resembles that character but as the opposite gender. 

Just to clarify: this Fem!version cosplay of Bane is considered a gender bend
and this is an unique, cool male crossplay of Misty from Pokémon.
But this guy... well... as long as he's having fun.
Cosplaying may seem like all nerd fun and games, but there are some underlying issues that I want to bring to light because A) it's always good to be informed for the sake of knowledge, B) there are some people new to the convention-going scene that I want to help out, and C) I need to prove that issues such as racism, body image, sexual harassment, and bullying are still so prominent in our society that they have bled through to the most unsuspecting, seemingly harmless group I could imagine. Because geeks, nerds, cosplayers, otakus, and the children at heart have likely had experience with bullying, harassment, and ignorance from society, I can't imagine why people in our community are doing things like this.
Packer fans are quite characters.
One would think that since we cosplayers share the same habits of spending time and money constructing costumes to impress other cosplayers for the span of a weekend, and we often enjoy the same cartoons and video games and comics and internet memes, we should be 100% welcoming of our brethren. It's a scary world out there with normal people. Not that there's anything wrong with normal people, we just don't always understand your way of life. So naturally, we would be civil, kind, and respecting to each other, right? Well, sometimes that is true. You could bond with a Zelda cosplayer who appreciated your Link cosplay and ten years later, you are married with little Spidermen crawling all over your carpet. But sometimes, the convention world can be just as harsh and scary as the real world.

I'll start off my point with this: I am a black female. I'm also a bit busty and I shop in the plus-sized section. I've been self-conscious about my body weight for years, and I don't even want to get into my issues on not fitting in with the black community.

As I've pointed out before, there aren't many black people in anime. Same with some Western cartoons, superheroes, sci-fi... the list goes on. While there aren't exactly a ton of white people in Japan either, having a lighter skin tone will better match certain anime characters than my dark skin would. And even if a character is pink with green hair, it's easier for a white person to alter their appearance with body paint and hair dye than it is for me to get my hair remotely straight and pretend that there aren't patches of brown showing through white body paint. It shouldn't matter that much though, because it's just a costume. People know that we aren't real characters and you aren't supposed to look 100% like a fictional character because these characters are fictional and any physical qualities are confined to the imaginary world of animation. And yet there are still discussions like this:

The link to this thread on Anime Central threads.
Sorry if that's hard to read (click the link to see the thread). Let me paste it here (leaving the typos and bad grammar in):
Thread Poster: Dont take offense. I am fat, so I am allowed to ask this kind of question. What is your HONEST opinion of oversized people cosplaying as a normal sized character? I ask this cause a couple of years ago I cosplayed as Yoko Kurama and it didn't go to well, but another year I cosplayed as Ward from Final Fantasy VIII and it was fantastic. So please, give me your honest opinion. Please keep ToS in mind though ^__^.

Edit: a thought just came to mind, my boss's girlfriend cosplayed Tifa a few years back, and got a VERY rude comment from a fellow con-goer saying "TIFA ISNT BLACK!!!" now in my opinion that is one of the rudest and stupidest things to say to someone that is cosplaying and is kind of relevant to this topic. And when you think about it...most cosplays are of characters that are suppose to be japanese right? so why didnt she go to others saying "SO AND SO ISNT WHITE!!!" just thinking out loud... 

Commenter: Looks at the thread. Then at the 20 foot pole next to him then walks away.
Hate like this is why I'm so hesitant to cosplay at all. I spent months researching black anime characters, most were minor characters I never heard of, looked a tad bit racist, or just wouldn't fit me at all. That's how I eventually arrived at the idea of cosplaying as Nick Fury from the Avengers - he's black, he doesn't have complicated hair of unusual shapes or colors, and his outfit would properly disguise my love handles.

But I shouldn't have to panic about being judged by my peers like this. We should be judging the quality of the costume, such as did you spend a lot of time and effort on it or did you duct tape some dollar store pieces to yourself at the last minute? Critiques like that are helpful and act as a peer review for people looking to improve their costumes or planning to enter costume contests such as the Masquerade at Acen. We should not be criticizing people for factors that they are in no control of - I cannot change my body composition, neither skin nor weight, for the sake of a costume. Nobody yelled at me when I went as Belle from Beauty and the Beast for Halloween even though I was black and a bit pudgy. So why would I be insulted on any other costumed day? There is a limited level of accuracy that one can have for a cosplay, and while some people will go as far as to point out that Princess Peach's dress is pink and your costume is more of a salmon color, I think complaining that someone's skin is too dark or body is too big is not only overdoing it, but is also offensive and well, in my opinion, racist.

These three photos are from Cosplaying While Black, a blog dedicated to showcasing Black people doing, you guessed it, cosplay. I greatly suggest checking it out, because there are some stunning cosplays there, and their race does not diminish the awesomeness of the costumes in any way.

Now that we've talked about race and body image, I'd like to bring up another very important issue of cosplay - sexual harassment.

These are conventions, where people come from across the states and even from out of the country to attend. Some costumes are covering the person's body from head to toe, some leave little to the imagination - and that could either be part of the character's actual outfit or the cosplayer's own interpretation of the character's costume. It's a friendly place, but don't assume there won't be any creepers or perverts. However, you should also look out for people who think they are being flattering or harmlessly flirting. They can ruin the fun of a convention too.
Listen to the comic, kids.
I'm a bit more modest. I don't enjoy showing anything past my elbows, but there are girls that are much more comfortable with their bodies. Not surprisingly, wearing a revealing costume is going to get you a lot of attention, some unwanted attention too. Even though they are wearing costumes that are more revealing and dare I say, sexy, it is not an invitation for anyone to touch them, take creepy photos, or say obscene and inappropriate things to them. Sometimes, taking a normal picture or giving an oddly phrased compliment can be taken the wrong way as well.

But even cosplayers wearing a full body suit can experience harassment. Even men can experience harassment. There are no boundaries when it comes to sexual harassment, because these offenders clearly don't have boundaries to begin with.

At this point, I want to direct you to this blog post, "The Beginnings of CONsent," because they can better articulate my point here. But in case you are feeling lazy (though I really encourage you to check it out), I'll summarize.


Say it with me now.
Just because a person is wearing a costume, whether to impress others or to just please themselves, it does not mean that they are asking for anything.

This campaign, Cosplay =/= Consent, sets out to inform people what is okay and what is not okay behavior at a convention. Please understand that the people who cosplay have worked hard on their costumes and do appreciate when people praise them on their hard work, but there is a proper way to do it. I'll break it down for you:
  • Ask to take a picture of the cosplayer first. If they say no, then it's a no. They might not be in the mood, are taking a break, or are occupied with something else and don't want to take a photo, but most likely, they want to get into a good pose first! And this way, you get a much cooler photo and they are more comfortable with the photo.
  • Do not touch them in any place that you wouldn't touch your own mother. That means hands off the no-no squares, don't brush their butt, and watch those lingering fingers. You really shouldn't go further than putting an arm around their shoulder, and only if they allow you to first.
  • What you think is a compliment might not be a compliment to them. They aren't there for you to flirt with or drool over, and they certainly aren't there for your arousal. A simple "Cool costume!" or "You look amazing!" are okay. Shouting "I'd screw you!" or "Nice [insert body part here]." is obviously not okay and I don't even know why you would say that to anyone. It's not going to make anyone attracted to you. At all. Just stop.
  • Don't stalk them. If you want to be friends with them on Facebook, you could bond with them and ask them. Don't stalk them on Facebook or on the convention threads, or even follow them to conventions. Stalking is creepy. 
  • I'm not even sure why anyone would do this, but obviously, violence is never the answer. You should never physically harm anyone.
  • And really, if the cosplayer's friends or significant others are standing right there while you're harassing them (you'd have to be pretty ballsy to do that), don't think that they approve. They might be unaware or unsure of what to do, but I can guarantee you, nobody approves of the inappropriate things you are doing. 
I know it's tempting to be a a creeper, but it's very wrong, so don't do it.
And if you see any of this happening, don't just stand by and let it happen. Speak up. Snag a pic of the harassment and let the internet shame the perv. If the creep is a repeat offender, then by all means, report them to the convention staff or security. Letting it happen once is just letting the person think it's okay to do again, and they will never learn their lesson.

And just to drive it home that sexual harassment can happen to anyone, here's a male cosplayer promoting Cosplay =/= Consent, telling his experiences of harassment at conventions.

If you take anything from this blog post, let it be this: conventions are meant to be fun for everyone. They are supposed to be a fantastical break from the real world where people can express their hobbies and interests without the fear of being judged or harassed. Con-goers are generally very friendly and interesting people. We want to make friends with those that share our interests, and we want to be able to geek out in public without having to worry about our safety or self esteem for once. For heaven's sake, if I can't walk around dressed up as Catwoman in a crowd full of anime geeks without some dude trying to grab my ass, I don't think there is a single place I can feel safe. Everyone needs a place where they can feel safe, and if you can't feel safe among your weird peers, then where can you turn? Geeks, we have been alienated enough. Do not alienate each other even further. We must band together to make conventions a fun experience for everyone.

And if you don't, Chun Li will kick your ass.

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