An adventure that’s no different or any less extraordinary than Alice’s Wonderland, because with a purpose, I’ll be venturing out to the fifteenth annual FanimeCon anime convention. I won’t be there alone however, because through a friend, I have gained inside access to a local band of cosplayers who have graciously agreed to let me shadow them for a day. Made up of five talented young women, the group calls themselves The Hungry Cosplayers (T.H.C.). A moniker rightfully earned, as they are constantly occupied at cons, leaving them no time to eat, and being perpetually hungry throughout the day.
As a former ethnographic researcher of subcultures, I see this as a tremendous opportunity to get an exclusive first-hand look at not just the art of cosplaying, but also the idiosyncrasies of a rapidly developing American subculture, inspired by both the Japanese and the manga culture. For those thinking that this might be an in depth cultural study or the sociology of cosplayers, it’s not. What it is, is, a documentation of my observation and journey into a world other than my own — an exploration into the life of five friends, who for one day, are given the chance to live life unbridled as cosplaying “rock stars.”
I arrive in San Francisco a little ahead of schedule and text Onee-chan, the oldest in the group. She picks me up at a near by Burger King and tells me that everyone’s behind schedule. To make matters worse, two members of T.H.C., Sa-chan (The Martial Artist) and Nemo (The Assassin) have yet to arrive at the rendezvous spot. As she drives, she admits that while she likes anime, she’s not as into it as her sister, Klepto-hime (The Ninja). She continues and explains to me that she started to cosplay only because of her sister, and that she has been cosplaying for a little over a year.
“I do it just to be supportive of her,” she says — trying to play it off while she’s partially in costume as Faith from Mirror’s Edge – stressing how she’s practically just “the chaperone and the driver of the group.”
As we arrived at her home, she announces our entrance and bellows a warning, “A guy’s here, there’s a guy here!!” With my awesome guy voice, I echoed back, “There’s a guy here,” confirming my presence.
Klepto-hime and Satomi (The Gangster), another member of T.H.C., throw themselves into the bathroom and are presumably getting changed. Meanwhile, Onee-chan invites me into one of the bedrooms filled with wigs, threads, piles of clothing and anime posters adoring an entire section of a wall. With a hint of embarrassment she tells me that the room is messy because of the con.
Aside from Onee-chan, all the girls will be cosplaying as characters from the popular anime series, Macross Frontier. Satomi is already in full costume as Ranka Lee — complete with a green wig, white dress and red heels that are over an inch long. Klepto-hime will be Alto Saotome. Her costume is much simpler, and she’s a blue wig and two contacts away from being ready.
But there’s a problem.
Klepto-hime doesn’t know how to properly put on either. Luckily, Satomi knows how to put on contacts and rushes to her aid. With contacts now in place, all she needs now is her wig. But that’ll have to wait. Sa-chan, the resident wig pinning expert, has yet to arrive.
Meanwhile, Onee-chan is trying to apply make up with her eyeliner, but she’s not happy with the results and decides to do it over again. Her tattoo, which was experimentally sprayed with hairspray earlier, has now dried. It has a shinny gloss and we examine it like doctors examining a rash. The girls seem a little disappointed with the outcome. “It looks like a rub on tattoo,” I say, clearly not helping.
Sa-chan and Nemo eventually makes their grand entrance and I am kicked out of the bedroom so they can change. Sa-chan is the first to appear as the partially costumed Sheryl Nome and is looking especially purple. With her magic touch, she goes to help Klepto-hime pin down her wig — but not a minute into the job later, she accidently pricks her.
“Sorry, but that’s how I know it’s working,” Sa-chan joked a matter-of-factly. “It means I’m doing it right.”
For my own amusement, I wait for Klepto-hime to get pricked again, but it doesn’t happen.
In the background, Nemo is milling about as Brera Stern with the zipper of her costume down. She complains that it’s the only way she can ever bend over. Meanwhile, Satomi is bored and has gone online to kill time. After checking her daily duties of email, Facebook and eBay, she fires up an online game, unaware that she’s about to ultimately betray Sa-chan.
Satomi flashes an I-don’t-care apologetic smile and continues to casually play until Nemo asks her to help her find images of Brera Stern online. Nemo’s not sure about the wig’s accuracy and wants to double check it.
Accuracy in cosplaying is vital to these women, and being meticulously anal is an important part of the hobby. So despite purchasing pre-made costumes online, additional work is always needed. As a result, a normal costume which could be anywhere between $100 to even $300 dollars typically end up costing more after tweaks, customizations and accessories. Satomi’s costume for example had to be shorten in order to maintain its accuracy, while wigs generally all need to be restyled. Unlike most hobbies, cosplaying is perhaps the most challenging in terms of not just expense, but also its dedication, attention to detail, technical-know-how and imagination. It’s a lucky happenstance that all five members of T.H.C. possess varying skills that perfectly compliment each other.
After seeing some images of Brera Stern online, Nemo wants to tweak her wig and Klepto-hime volunteers to do the cutting. As they cut, Onee-chan asks me what I think of her redone make up. With enthusiasm, I tell her it looks better than before. But she’s not convinced, and practically calls me a liar. She scrutinizes it in the mirror while making faces of both contempt and disgust. Like any good leader however, she ultimately recognizing that there’s not enough time. She decides to leave it as is, and arms the cosplaying brigade for deployment instead.
“We need to leave now,” she barks. “If we don’t leave now we’re not going to make it!”
By the time we all pile into Nemo’s mini van, the plan to arrive by 11:30 has been changed to noon. And true to her words earlier, Onee-chan is driving. I ride shotgun, without even having to call for it. As Onee-chan rockets down the highway, the girls chat among themselves while applying makeup and making last minute changes to their costume and wig. I listen to their conversation, hoping to join in or contribute, but they might as well have been speaking in code or a foreign language. Finding a jump in point and mustering up conversation was extremely challenging. Maybe even more so than trying to muster up the courage to speak to the girl across the room that you know you have no shot of ever impressing.
Of course, getting rejected by a girl really isn’t all that bad. What is, and completely soul crushing is getting excluded by cosplayers from their inner circle for not being “cool” enough. Now, that’s just years of expensive therapy and a whole new kind of low.
In the backseat, Sa-chan has trouble sitting still because of her costume. “I can’t sit still in this dress,” she complains. “I keep sliding!” And before she can get her bearings, we hit a turn and she slides again. “So many turns,” she sobs, all the while we’re sitting comfortably in our seats unsympathetic to her suffering.
Meanwhile, Onee-chan is cautiously nervous about speeding and with great paranoia keeps asking if she’s going with the flow of traffic. The worse that can happen now is if we get pulled over and have to explain why we’re speeding. Either that or having to explain why there’s a little green haired girl in a Lolita dress sitting in the backseat. Either way, getting pulled over is not an option. We’re already behind schedule as is, and more than likely the girls will miss the orientation for the human chess match at noon. Considering it’s currently 11:50 and we’re still a good 32 miles away. Bearing anything other than teleportation, not even a miracle can get us there safely and on time. Onee-chan is optimistic however.
“The chess match doesn’t actually begin till 12:30 though,” she explains. “We can still get there by 12:30!”
“They can’t start without us, I’m the Queen,” Sa-chan interjects, adding to the drama.
Want more FanimeCon coverage? Check out our previous article as we took a look inside FanimeCon 2009.