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Sunday, March 9, 2008

COSPLAY CULTURE

A global dress-up


Staff writer

"I get e-mails all the time from Brazil and the United States," said Tatsumi Inui, a staffer at Japan's largest kosupure ("cosplay" or "costume play") Web site, Cure, writes Edan Corkill.

News photo
News photo
Seattleplay ERIC JORGENSEN /SAKURA-CON PHOTO

"The only problem is I don't speak English, so I use translation software, and I can get by that way."

According to Inui, 40, the international community has played a role in cosplay right from the outset.

"In Japan we used to call it 'masquerade' or 'costume play,' " he explained. "The shortened form 'cosplay' emerged as it became necessary to communicate with people overseas."

People overseas, it seems, liked what they heard and saw.

Cosplay.com, a U.S.-based site where players can exchange photographs and various other tips, has amassed 101,400 registered users in its six years of operations. Its global reach stretches from the United States (which accounts for 48 percent of its users) to Canada, Britain, Brazil, Germany and beyond.

The site is growing fast, with a further 55,000 signed-up users expected this year. Cosplay.com is sustained by revenue from ads — generally for related merchandise such as wigs and costumes.

A look at the site reveals that dozens of events are held monthly around the globe. One of the largest — and one that Inui professed a long-held desire to attend — is Sakura-Con in Seattle that is scheduled for cherry-blossom season, late this month.

Now in its 11th year, Sakura-Con is essentially an anime convention, but it has diversified to include all forms of Japanese culture, including cosplay.

"Roughly 80 percent of our attendees come in costume," explained Elmira Utz, the event's publicity director. Last year, 10,500 turned up in total, those costume-clad anime-fan hordes making, in Utz's understated words, "a colorful addition to Seattle's downtown."

About 120 cosplayers enter competitions held during the three-day festival, such as costume competitions and one for skits, in which groups of four to six players act out 4-minute scenes showcasing their characters' personalities.

According to Utz, cosplay is part of a broader and growing interest in anime and Japanese culture. That growth has fueled startling increases in Sakura-Con's visitor numbers too. When it launched in 1998, just 313 people came; this year 15,000 are expected.

"Cosplay is popular because (manga and anime) fans find it fun to pay homage to their favorite characters," Utz said.

Echoing comments by Japanese cosplayers, he added that the thrill lay not only in pretending to be the characters, but in connecting with new friends, announcing to fellow cosplayers which anime and manga characters you like best — and "indulging in some childlike dress-up fun."

Alas, Inui reported, he can't attend this year's Sakura-Con, but he is planning to go to the World Cosplay Summit — held since 2003 each year in August in Nagoya — which brings together up to 10,000 cosplayers and fans from Japan and as far afield as Mexico, Brazil, Germany and Italy. "You really get the feeling that cosplay is international," he said — with a playful twinkle in his eye.



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