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Sunday, March 9, 2008

Kosupuresu in Harumi
Tatsumi Inui (back row, center) and friends dressed as characters from the manga "Bleach" at Kosupuresu in Harumi, a kosupure ("costume play" or "cosplay") event in February at central Tokyo's Harumi Passenger Terminal on Tokyo Bay. Inui, a long-time cosplayer, works at Japan's leading cosplay Web site, Cure, which has grown phenomenally as the popularity of cosplay has spread beyond the diehard manga, anime and video-game otaku (geeks) who started the dressing-up hobby in the late 1980s. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO


All aboard for 'world of manga'

Staff writer

With everyone pulling roller suitcases, it seemed appropriate that we were heading for the Harumi Passenger Terminal built on land reclaimed from Tokyo Bay in the city's central Chuo Ward.

Still, no boat was capable of taking our 400-strong legion of teenage and twentysomething women where we were going. As one fellow traveler put it, we were headed for "the world of manga."

Five minutes later, in a giant hall overlooked by the towering Rainbow Bridge, suitcases were thrown open and myriad cloaks, skirts, armor, wigs, swords, laser guns, beards and other props spilled out. Costumes were slipped on, makeup was carefully applied and, with surprising speed, characters from manga, anime and video games appeared — like a ramshackle militia from all corners of time and human imagination.

It was a Sunday morning in February at 11:10 a.m., and Kospuresu in Harumi, one of hundreds of kosupure ("cosplay," or "costume play") events held around Japan each month, had begun.

On occasions such as this, a knowledge of manga and anime is not only a key to enjoyment, it's a navigational tool. You might stroll past a "Sengoku Basara" crew, greet some white-clad "Bleach" characters or take photos with "Dolls." If you can't put a name to any of these living creations, you quickly feel adrift in a disorientating and unfamiliar sea.

The first characters I clung to were Kasuga and Sasuke Sarutobi, from the manga and video game "Gakuen Basara" — the school (gakuen) version of "Sengoku (warring states) Basara."

Looking fetching with waist-length blond locks and a skimpy school uniform, the sassy Kasuga was played — appropriately enough — by a third-year high-school student, who introduced herself by her cosplay name, which was Hatyouranka. A four-year cosplay veteran, Hatyouranka said she attended events like this about two or three times a month and had amassed 23 costumes.

"I started cosplay because I enjoyed the feeling of entering the world of manga myself," she said. "You can also meet lots of people — it's fun."

Fun, yes, but the wonk in me couldn't help wondering what her parents thought when, as a junior-high-school student, their daughter first manga-ized herself.

"They said, 'if it's just a hobby it's fine,' " she answered. "Nowadays my mother helps me make the costumes."

Like Kasuga and her cohort, everyone seemed to be taking photos of each other, meaning that the neutral background- providing walls were in high demand.

Three soldier-types, with long trench coats and heavy-looking boots were snapping each other in front of a gray pylon. They explained they were dressed up as Shikibu Seiju, Mikoshiba Shota and Todo Usaki from the manga "Dolls."

All three were in their 20s, with "day jobs" ranging from an apparel company and a funeral parlor to a hostess bar. Each had been doing cosplay for between one and two years and had collected between three and ten costumes.

One of them, whose cosplay name was Liera, explained: "I've always been a manga otaku (geek). I used to read a lot when I was a child so it was natural to get into cosplay."

Liera and her friends reported that they usually spend about five or six hours at these events. They take photos of each other, talk about manga and meet people.

"We actually met each other at an event like this," she said. Now they were close enough to have met up at each other's houses to practice their makeup and photo poses in preparation for today's event.

"To take a good cosplay photo you need to achieve an 'atmosphere' reminiscent of the original manga," Liera explained, pulling out a drawing of the long trench-coated and heavy-booted "Dolls" characters they had chosen to imitate.

Liera was indicative of a lot of the cosplayers at the event. Having only started two years ago, she considered it a fun hobby that she would continue "as long as it is fun."

And what did her parents think about her hobby? "They said it was fine — as long as it didn't disrupt a normal lifestyle," she said.

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