Whether dressed as Goku, Samus, or Ms. Marvel, cosplayers are the first people that media notice when it comes to anime and other geek conventions. It’s understandable why this is the case, as the visual spectacle of cosplay draws in not just the hardcore but also passers-by, image-obsessed media, and anyone normally unfamiliar with the world of fandom. The result, I think, is that people nowadays associate otaku and geeks most with cosplayers, even surpassing the old stereotype of the sedentary basement dweller.
The average person will probably never look beyond the fact that cosplay is happening in the first place, or perhaps some daring outfits that speak immediately to their morals or sense of desire. Cosplayers, whether they want to be or not, end up being the ambassadors of geek culture. All of the social and cultural assumptions and tendencies swirl around them and try either to interpret or understand them from their own perspectives. What this means is a plethora of viewpoints on cosplay and cosplayers, particularly in terms of the messages that cosplayers convey whether intentional or otherwise.
For example, some might see cosplayers in revealing outfits and believe they’re transmitting messages of sexual availability, but others might see them as representative of personal empowerment, confidence in body image (or perhaps an escape from a negative self-image), and more. No interpretation is inherently correct, but they exist and have to be dealt with, both through the act of cosplay itself and other forms of expression and communication. This of course is also the case with just any clothing, especially when it comes to how women are viewed in society, but the manner in which cosplay inherently runs counter to society (as soon as we call them “costumes” they’re not really normal clothing) and is associated with the notion of obsession in general means that it’s an attention-grabber no matter what.
However, I think that this is the first step for cosplay to communicate more. I don’t believe that cosplay necessarily has to be actively political or geared towards some kind of message in order to say anything, and in fact I think cosplay needs to be viewed first and foremost as a fun activity for cosplayers and those viewing cosplay—a hobby, a passion, even a casual and impromptu decision—before it’s taken as anything else. The spirit of play at the heart of cosplay is what fuels its potential for accomplishing more.
New York Cosplay fans, we have two of Japan’s best cosplayers coming to our New York Anime Convention, Waku Waku +NYC, Jacky Dosai and Kasyou Rosiel! In the meantime, you can check out some examples of their cosplay!