Sunday, March 20, 2016

Anime Conventions 2006-2016 (and some progress updates)

My derpy posts are so long, and I've just discovered the cut function.

This past month has been pretty hectic, but I'm sort of glad to say that spring break is bringing a bit of a clearing in a number of things going on with school, work, personal life, creative things. Everything had really rolled into too much of one, massive thing. Now it's slowing down, so I'm optimistic that it will give me time to be able to tend to each priority to the best of my abilities. Always staying positive!

I've started working on Fanime plans, although to be honest, it's been quite a journey since ALA. I took a bit of a sewing break for the month of February and while I had plans already in motion for what I want to have done by Fanime, I hadn't actually done much more than some rehearsals, some patternmaking/drafting, and general fabric hunting. I hadn't really done as much as I would have hoped, but I kind of needed the break to mentally focus on school and a few work changes here and there that needed my attention. Otherwise, I wouldn't say that ALA burnt me out, but it came at a time where, because the dates were pushed to the end of the month than the first weekend of January, my brain hadn't really registered that we had more time to get things done for ALA but less time to get things done for Fanime.

I'm sort of bummed out that I was unfortunately not able to attend Hanadoki Con this year. I had plans to, but personally I felt that it would be pushing too much energy out of me than I need to right now. It's been sort of nice to take a few nights to work on things here and there and not have this pounding stress coming in from all sides. I would like to definitely attend next year; San Diego was wonderful at this time of the year and I liked how laidback it was. I also call it the "Con Checkpoint", since after Hanadoki, I know it's time to buckle down for Fanime and AX and other conventions.

The good news is that yesterday I was able to get started on sewing a small but crucial part of my masquerade costume. I started with the underdress, which I made out of a dotted swiss cotton and some eyelet trim. I wanted to make it light, airy, and have enough of a twirl to it. I managed to finish it with a part of the evening's work, and tomorrow will be starting on some mock ups for one of my dress parts. I ordered a handy pattern for the second part, and then am anticipating on getting some nice cottons for the second part of my dress. I have this beautiful yellow peachskin that I am over the moon about for the first part. *_*

So before I get to the hilarious cut, because I'm so terrible at staying on point without a derpy ramble, I do admit that most people probably go through a phase where they stop and realize that this is really their hobby, and likely a part of life in small or big ways. I started cosplaying around 2002 when I was about eleven/twelve years old, because it's hard for me to sometimes count that as cosplaying since it's often attributed now to cosplaying at conventions rather than your hometown events or really, just at home.

I didn't go to my first convention in 2005, when I was thirteen years old and it was sort of something I never anticipated that would escalate to where I am in so many amazing ways. While I wasn't part of the earlier anime convention crowd, I had been part of a phase where it was evolving, and really, it's only been a matter of short amoutn of time. It's kind of miraculous. So I supposed that while I'm no expert, I wanted to really share my point of view here in my little corner of the Internet what I have seen change, mutate, and evolve over time in the world of cosplay.

 MY FIRST CON EXPERIENCES

As I mentioned, I went to my first con in 2005 at Anime Los Angeles in its first year. Being thirteen, I had mostly used the Internet to look up anime, go to forums, play online games. I played Neopets during middle school, and I had been watching anime since I was about eight or nine years old. It was through watching Pokemon that I had learned about Utena and other niche anime, while I had been familiar with other titles from what was shown in dubs and I found randomly at thirft shops and video stores. Most of my friends were into anime, but it was more miraculous that by middle, everyone had been so diverse. Some of my friends were strictly into Shounen Sunday anime, and I was mostly into shoujo. My close friend then had gotten me into Fruits Basket after her college-aged sister and her boyfriend would bring new titles and attended an anime club. She often brought the latest news about new anime, and it had also been the type when grocery stores and other shops carried Newtype and other anime magazines.

At some point while surfing around, I had learned about cosplay in Japan. Growing up, for religious reasons, my family never really encouraged or supported Halloween, despite that I loved costumes. They often bought costumes after sales or during, but I would only get to wear them at home or to playtime. So, they encouraged that it was okay to wear costumes whenever I wanted for whatever reason. I became attached to cosplay for that reason, coupled with the fact that it was getting to cosplay as your favorite character.

I don't remember the entire series of events, but originally Anime Los Angeles was going to have its first year in 2004. I was twelve and the news of it was sort of amazing since it was held about twenty minutes from what I lived. I had only seen some convention photos from my favorite cosplayers in places like the Midwest or East Coast. I actually didn't now about AX or other places either, although I presume only a handful of fan-runs are actually left. Back in 2004 I initially was going to ask to go, but my mother unfortunately had to have back surgery with recovery time, so I thought to wait until next year. As it turned out, ALA also postponed the convention till next year in 2005 to have more preparation time. I still remember seeing the website announcement clearly in my mind.

For a chunk of that year, I spent thinking about going. I had tried to ask about getting a cosplay commissioned, but at the time, there were barely any stores that made costumes without them being at least 100+ and with materials limited and me being thirteen and kind of sheltered, I thought that the best course would be to see what a convention actually was like rather than jumping into something. Since my parents didn't want me going alone to a convention, I asked my friend Sara, who watched anime with me, to come along. She had somewhat been familiar with the idea of a convention too because of her sister.

When we got to the convention, it was extremely small and much quieter than what people attribute conventions to be like now. It was held in a hotel lobby, and it felt more like a hotel event than actually a really big, social gathering. Nonetheless, Sara and I were excited. The dealer's hall was about the size of a hotel room, but it was really great to actually buy anime goods. The artist alley was a small table space. We participated in a number of events, from the scavenger hunt to karaoke, watching anime panels and Azumanga Daioh in subs, and looking at all the cosplays.

Since then, I had been so excited to be part of conventions and cosplaying. I felt like at the time, I didn't know much but once I had gotten there, I had innately understood it. Sometimes I feel a little nostalgic that that sort of magic can probably only happen once, because it's like when you discover a new song for the first time, your first trip to Disneyland, or you watch a movie the first time that it blows your mind. It felt that way with cosplay. At the same time, you then realize that the magic always continues as long as you use that good feeling to fuel meaning into why you want to enjoy something and why you continue to do it. I never thought that from one visit to a convention I would be working towards something so much more, and seeing it, it's a really special and eternal feeling.

WHAT HAS CHANGED IN 10 YEARS?

A lot. Pretty much self-explanatory. But there's definitely been a lot of really interesting things. I honestly say that my convention experiences have always held much more positive experiences than negative ones, although I know for some people change isn't always the easiest thing, nor is it the way you want it to be like. I don't really hold a huge grudge about change at all; I may not agree with some aspects but I do for the most part enjoy conventions in some ways more than back then, and vice versa. It depends heavily on the aspect.

To clarify, I've been part of the Southern California convention scene, but I wish I would have more of an opinion on East or Midwest conventions. I hope to visit them someday, as well as around the globe, but the SoCal scene has been influential to a lot of convention evolution, so it's sort of interesting to view from this perspective.
 

1. CONVENTION ORGANIZATION
This is kind of a tough one to start with, but back then, conventions were most likely fan-run, as opposed to linked to major corporations or sponsorships. Most people even who aren't into the cosplay scene are somewhat aware of Anime Expo and Comic Con. Anime Expo started out as fan-run and switched to coprorate. A number of conventions nationally have made this switch as well, and it's one of the roots of major con shifts. Fan-run conventions of the early 2000's usually consisted of grouped anime clubs or nonprofit organizations who worked to make connections to host events and run conventions. Despite seeing some trace roots of it now, earlier conventions relied on volunteer work and looking for guests and keeping with trends to try to find relevant events to look forward to at conventions. Some conventions here, like Anime Los Angeles and Fanime, still run primarily on nonprofit groups and clubs.

You will still see volunteers even at major conventions, but certainly on a corporate scale, a number of convention elements are adhered to rules and different types of policies. With certain conventions, the answer was to go corporate, and with it results in changes where, as you see with AX in particular, the demographic and emphasis in programming shifts from time to time. People have debated that cosplay may not always fall as one of the lead priorities in corporate conventions because it may skew marketing, as cosplayers may themselves be part of the draw to go to a convention but not encourage purchasing goods and contributing to the con's wallet, but as a result, they also have to find ways to accommodate as many demographics and groups as possible.

Some people really reject the idea of conventions when they become corporate instead of fan run because of these policies, and the possibility that there may be shadier practices going on behind the scenes. Because people are so focused on enjoying the event itself, they may not be likely to find out the horror stories about employees who are stiffed while working hard to keep the convention running but at a cost to their sanities. While fan-run conventions are popular, because of the competitiveness and financial shortcomings, not all of them may survive unless like Fanime, have developed a huge following to a point where hotel rooms are a competitive game. Anime LA has garnered a vast amount of popularity because like Fanime, its branding has given it a laid-back, friendly vibe. Anime Expo and other major conventions like Comic Con are often branded as much more intensely marketed and while the cosplay scene is varied, there are more events that cost more than just your ticket, or you have to deal with crowd control because their targeted demographic is huge and varied to make the most amount of money possible.

In 2006, I had attended Anime LA and Anime Expo, one for the second time and one for the first. Both of them at the time were so unique and exciting. Anime LA was and is still much smaller, but it's always given me a reason to go back. I have so many positive social interactions there. Anime Expo was amazing, because while the line had been insane and it was still fan-run, the cosplay scene was more expansive. I think it was technically one of the last fan-run years, so there was a different aura about it. It was much more approachable in some ways, but that's also changed with it being a gateway convention for people. 

My Opinion: Unless you work for conventions, it's hard for the average convention goer to do much but make choices in which conventions they want to support and to what extent. I'm always suppportive by buying badges and trying to contribute to vendors somehow since cosplaying is an expensive hobby, but people go there also to sell and support the ongoing culture. I volunteer for panels because I love helping out for programming at fan-run conventions, and I have done some larger scale conventions too. I will admit without much detail that larger conventions have a lot more to the process, so personally it's never been in my interest to hold another at a large convention, but I feel tied to smaller ones because there are also people there who I have grown in that culture with and appreciate the convention's efforts and the results. There's an obvious difference in programming, guests, and benefits, but I keep to the conventions I feel bring out the most out of the experience. I honestly am not as fond of AX's lines but their guests from Japan are amazing but it is definitely expensive and not always in the cards for me, and Fanime and ALA's cosplay cultures are a huge draw but I will cosplay more and make it more of a trip than AX, where it feels like things have more of a rigid structure to them.

2. CONVENTION DEMOGRAPHICS
One of the major challenges that started to hit towards the mid-2000's was how conventions were starting to grow and much more competitively, and the growth was honestly exponential. There was a significant change in communication as well, as people began learning through more than just word of mouth for convention events or college clubs. Therefore, the crowds started to change and some of these venues had to find ways to make enough money to effort to accomodate a convention of that size and provide good programming. At conventions, you have more than just cosplayers. You have gamers, hobbyists, collectors, enthusiasts, etc. So to be able to afford guests and supply space, Dealer's Halls, acquire rights to anime people may likely watch, etc, it requires a lot of money.

Sometimes, that means that conventions may have to expand out of the anime realm, which honestly only makes so much of the profits. As much as people don't want to admit it, it's still kind of niche in comparison to other major franchises and fandoms that are popular at conventions, like film, television, music, and franchdises like Disney, Star Wars, and Harry Potter. Since conventions may not likely profit as much through solely anime at the exponential growth rate and competitiveness, conventions may likely also promote pop culture influences to add to the melting pot of convention draws.

This means that sometimes you'll also find people who may not necessarily be anime fans as much as they are of other conventions. To some people, this is problematic, but to others, it is an opportunity to participate in cosplaying and the convention scene.

In 2006, the convention scene had mostly been anime-oriented, and programming was pretty close to almost all anime, although I remember that there were some panels dedicated to fan-made online comics. People detest fandoms like Homestuck because they were online based, but I recall anime-influenced programming was still there, although a little more low-key. I didn't see the shift until maybe around 2009-2010, when anime was crossing over and fans of anime like Hetalia began making more pop culture connections, which is why crossover cosplays and alternate designs kind of also became more prevalent. I kind of miss it, but I don't at the same time, because I still really end up at the anime-centric programming events anyway. 

My Opinion: I hate to admit that probably deep, deep down I love anime and have always felt that I would love to have kept conventions predominantly about anime. They mostly are, but some other fandoms gain so much popularity, so it's almost like going to a Disney-centered or some other indie fandom-of-themonth. I think an issue with some of these are that while you have some really dedicated people, the majority of these fandoms are comprised of a herd-mentality following you'll see in any hobby or culture, really. Therefore, when programming shifts to catering to these fandoms, it feels like it's a great benefit to them but it enforces the mentality that, if you're not into it, you're not in the club. Nonetheless, it isn't impossible nor hard, really to find people who enjoy anime with a respectable love for all other fandoms. Personally, while I don't cosplay a lot outside anime and video games, it doesn't take away from my experience to see some amazing film or television cosplays on the floor or seeing some really cute goods from other fandoms. As long as programming doesn't skew entirely to one fandom, I'm good.

3. CONVENTIONS ARE MUCH MORE FAMILY AND CHILD-FRIENDLY
The first year I went to Anime LA, I think I was one of a handful of people under 18 attending that convention. Conventions tended to be linked to college anime clubs and older crowds who were familiar with anime through Sci-fi communities and other older fandoms. In general, they held the most access to anime when it was a very niche form of media. It wasn't until the Internet really gained its momentum that younger generations started to catch on. And truthfully, most anime at the time had been either at two varying degrees: kid-friendly cartoons or very mature anime. Nowadays with the otaku culture, it's a lot easier to find anime that caters to the general, in-between crowd. Most anime titles I knew of tended to be for older audiences, and I recall it being tied to the cyberpunk/cyber horror sort of time.

Even teen-oriented anime feels more mature somehow than today's anime. I remember feeling intimidated back then watching titles, maybe because the animation back then was also different and much more severe-looking, that I felt more cautious about watching something (but I would totally love it in the end anyway) than now, when I feel like even some types of action or alternative genre anime aren't as...I suppose, particular, is the only word I can describe it.

So back in 2000-something, there was much more of an older (college age+) crowd than a younger one that you see today. It was rare to see families going unless their children were of some adolescent age, and likely cosplayed because their parents did too. My friend and I honestly were the only two younger ones we had seen at the convention, but it luckily didn't deter us from enjoying the convention. That being said, at the time, I felt that people felt inclined to talk to you as long as you kept with the conversation. We found ourselves chatting with people who probably I would never talk to since it was my first experience chatting with actual strangers (lol), but feeling that as long as I carried the conversation and expressed my interest, there wasn't much issue.

I think this sort of falls in the, how-you-raise-your-kids realm, but no kids are alike when it comes to socializing. So, I sort of admit that as a kid, I had some experience being able to talk to adults in a mature manner and when it came to conventions, I had somehow known without it needing to be said that to be at any kind of social function, you can chat and socialize, but you also have to know how to take precautions and not go run off into someone's car, and sort of spot out the people or situations where you can safely chat, and disrupting people mid-conversation about your love of Inuyasha is never the way to go. So I can safely say that I felt like at the time, I managed to be that kid-teen-whatever who could enjoy cons without people using my age as a reason to not talk to me.

That being said, as I mentioned, everyone raises kids differently. In 10 years, conventions have shifted with the anime/fandom movement from being something that college-aged kids and adults attended to to younger generations. There are children as young as nine or ten who have started watching anime but didn't have to go through the massive online search to find it. Anime is more accessible and conventions are more commonly known. Therefore, children and parents who are intrigued and or want to support their kids have started taking them. Since they are very young, most parents will accompany them, and therefore it may soon become a family affair.

Yet another major reason why it's changed in this way as well is because the earlier cosplayers themselves have also grown and may also be parents as well. Cosplayers who in their early twenties were out at conventions from 1998-2004 may roughly be in their late twenties, thirties, forties, and onward, and may be parents themselves, grandparents, or also bringing younger family members whom they share their love with of fandom culture and cosplays. I have a younger sister who grew up with me and my brother watching anime and going to conventions year-round. Other friends of mine have similar younger siblings who have started going to conventions themselves after watching their siblings or friends. Anime was a part for my generation as a rite of passage in some sense, as anime shows tend to have mature themes at times, so children tend to be attached to anything that draws them towards teen/adult media.

The convention scene has therefore changed dramatically. It's not only much more packed, but it's filled with a varied demographic. Parents bring their kids, kids go with groups, anime clubs now take field trips to conventions, etc. Linked to corporation changes, conventions also cater to interests such as Disney or Star Wars or superheroes, so these interests are just as relevant to children. Kind of the obvious, but dressing up and being your own hero is sort of a huge draw when it comes to kids and cosplay. Therefore, the programming also varies since there may be much more variety of what interests different types of people.

Some people honestly take much issue when it comes to kids and families at conventions, for a number of reasons. For one thing, older crowds may tend to honestly feel older and less able to relate to certain trends and the major demographic, so they may feel like outsiders despite that their love of their fandoms are very deep. The way a child loves comics or anime may be very different from what an adult feels for it considering experiences and a history behind their growing love for it.

Sometimes it therefore may change perspectives on certain elements about an anime. Younger crowds tend to cling to major trends that dominate convention scenes, and are a huge influence on what's trendy and popular. While adults do it often too, children tend to pick up more quickly on big trends. Adolescents tend to pick up much more quickly because they want to be part of the group, which brings up the concern about how people are relating to anime or the fandoms they love to be part of the convention, as opposed to going to the convention to share your love about it. It could be that with younger crowds, children and adolscents are at a constant evolution and need for love, acceptance, and growth for socializing, so they cling onto whatever best allows them to feel unique, special, but also part of the group. Other generations of adults tend to fall more into developing personal interests and hobbyist tendencies as opposed to prioritizing attention and popularity, which you see a lot in high school or middle school.

But the one concern (truthfully) I have have noticed and personally have had are the fact that with younger crowds under 18, there is always a huge safety risk imposed. Conventions tend to be centered in large conventional halls or centers or hotels, and therefore people take the weekend to stay at hotels with friends. Parties run rampant, and so people may have alcohol and doing things that definitely pose a risk to children under 18. With laws against certain activities with minors, it is a huge risk for people looking to do more than "just go to a con" to interact or party in a certain way with someone under 18. There's been a huge concern also about photoshoots and the safety risks it pose as young aspiring cosplay models may get roped into some dangerous situations which may involve the law.

In 2006, I was one of the few younger ones there. There definitely weren't babies or toddlers, and I saw a handful of teens at the most. I didn't mind it because people there were interesting and liked the same things I liked, but growing up and seeing the demographic change, there are some things that kind of get a little obstructive. Younger teens tend to have larger and more disruptive crowds, which I hadn't seen at all before. Drama tends to cling to these groups, but what drama doesn't? Children may not be as informed of anime or participate in panels at times or carry money, so it varies on what they can contribute to the con beyond a badge, but more importantly, share the fandom. Younger cosplays are also linked to more attention-seeking behaviors, so I don't necessarily welcome it as fondly, but I don't think that's something that just children conributed to. You get to learn easily that adults aren't exactly all as mature either. 

My Opinion: This was a majorly long one because there's so much that goes into the shift in demographics and having more children into the mix. It comes at an awkward time where the, "I don't need to have kids" movement is really hitting on newer adult generations, and somehow it tends to translate to, "There shouldn't be kids at conventions, period" without realizing that some amazing cosplayers who helped bring cosplay to what it is are very likely parents and guardians to children. Some children aren't suited for this kind of event as conventions aren't exactly Disneyland, so it's understandable as to why a child may not find joy in sitting at a panel anaylzing Madoka until they are of a certain age or mindset. It's understandably why they may get rowdy or in general, children under ten can be a little fussier about the weather, crowd, and when they need something. It can put off other congoers who are there to enthuse and socialize without children running rampant or disrupting events, but at the same time, this sort of concern lies in the same vein as any social event. Parents should make wise decisions about whether it is a good place to bring their children, as it can only offer some types of entertainment for them at specific ages. And unfortunately with the fact that it really isn't Disneyland, the majority of the crowd is looking for more socialized contact, which children may not often be able to participate in.

As for the other aspect on children under 18, I think that the way my family and I personally agreed upon was that I attended conventions with one or more friends until I was 18, and was not allowed to go to a hotel room even if just visiting, I had to be mindful of what I was doing/who was I talking to, and I could not stay overnight anywhere. My parents let me spend the day at the convention and then went home with a friend or they picked me up. After I turned 18 and also got a job, I was able to start to book hotel rooms but with close friends, and we mutually share ground rules to keep away from trouble. The issue is that a good chunk of teenagers are hitting the rebellious phase or the social-acceptance-quest, so sending them out alone or putting them susceptible to a large crowd at an impressionable age can be detrimental. While things can still happen in daylight, not being around after hours and staying in hotel rooms can prevent the onset of parties, drinking, and other learned behaviors they emulate to be accepted by older crowds. It's basically crashing the college party.

But it's a serious concern to see that younger girls and models who are looking to get popular are willing to do more to get more attention. A number of fair-minded girls who are really just trying to find their place, but it's dangerous for them to be involved with anything if they are under 18. It's hard at times to kind of stop and ask someone their age at a convention, because it can be awkward to watch someone try to flirt with someone who's underage and see them squirm away (although for good reason). Then you have the problem of seeing younger children who are not accustomed to rules of socializing who may end up intoxicating themselves at a party, so everyone's busted, or end up hooking up with someone and it becomes a total nightmare.

In general though, if kids are reasonable, and some really are, they are a great asset to conventions as they are the new generation of fans. Younger crowds may bring an onset of people at a first glance but over time, a number will grow out of the phase and move onto something trendier, but there will always be that handful who will keep the fandoms strong and quite honestly, if they are genuine fans, they are great people in my book. 

Kids and stranger danger, man.

4. COSPLAY MATERIALS AND COMMISSIONS ARE A PLENTY
Good gosh, back in 2006 I wanted a Sylphiel cosplay from a commissioner, and the only one I could find was from a site where it was 200+ and made of shiny fabric. Cosplay materials were way more limited, starting with the fact that commissions themselves were rare to find. I remember that CosplayLab used to have a few links up with cosstores who had only a handful of cosplays. Limebarb and other prominent cosplayers also had commission sites, and Cosplay.com was one of the few places you could go and review different commissioners to see if you weren't being scammed or not.

Before 2006 however, cosplay was still a thing. In fact, it's been a thing far longer than people really know because it's almost often associated with today's pop culture than anything else. However, costumes and conventions have been prevalent in the science fiction community. You can also find some pretty rad cosplays from costume balls and faires in the 1920's and 30's, and science fiction continued to be a niche but devoted culture well into the 60's, 70's, and 80's. Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Lord of the Rings, a lot of fantasy and science fiction fandoms have well supposed costume-play. Even civil war reactments and of course, Renaissance Faires, have existed and had devoted members for years.

Because obviously a lot of costumes found in these kinds of interests didn't have premade costumes you could go and buy at the store, coupled with the fact that coming out of the mid-century, most people had either sewn or had parents who had grown up sewing custom clothes instead of buying department store clothing. Therefore, most costumes were handsewn, but with these activities still very niche, the variety of sewing materials themselves weren't much varied either. Wigs, contacts, makeup, etc, were all limited to what people could have. I remember that even as late as 2008, wigs were still sort of expanding to other stores and online on Ebay, but niche stores like drag queen shops were some of the few places that carried wigs. Wigs were extremely expensive as well back then since the demand was really more for drag queens, people working in film, or hair-loss reasons so wigs also came in less variety of styles than what you could acceptably wear out.

With anime being as colorful as it is, cosplays demanded materials, patterns, and other design elements that, like other niche costume hobbies, pushed the envelope as to what people wanted to wear and how they made it. People honestly were uniquely as creative as they are today, but there will always be some off-side honor to the people who made some beautiful work to be the character that they loved with limited materials, or had the fortune of being able to purchase one.

That being said, while there's always been an element of attention and popularity contest although not as bad as it is today, people were very accepting of any effort, amateur or professional, to make a cosplay and wear it. A look into AX 2002 shows some wonderful craftsmanship among certain cosplayers and then others who made costumes out of bedsheet material or shiny satin, but certainly have a special joy and twinkle in their eyes. Most people didn't wear wigs or had shiny, limited colored or styled ones, and cosplay makeup was far less common than it is today. Most people wore costumes because it was a way to share the love and have an icebreaker. In some weird way, it's sort of the same objective, although people now view cosplay more as a self-marketing experience in that sense than in the past. You're not only drawing attention for the character, but for yourself, versus back then, the majority were people who shared the character and perhaps if they were on the professional spectrum, got the benefit of unique recognition, like how Yaya Han really gained a name for herself as not just a cosplay model but a well-known seamstress within the community.

Being a high schooler and an orchestra orch-dork in 2006, I didn't have an income, I couldn't keep a job with my school schedule, and my parents didn't exactly go the allowance route, but I was able to ask for most things within reason and got them. I worked hard in school and used birthday and Christmas money to buy anime DVDs and soundtracks. But DVDs were still in the individual 30+ realm compared to a cosplay commission, which was typically 100+ dollars, making Halloween really look like kid's stuff. And with most parental situations, it was hard for them to look at me in the eye and allow me to justify how a 200 dollar costume would be totally worth it. After all, most parents hoped that anime would be some kind of weird post-90's teen phase so they didn't likely expect for you to be wearing that stretchy satin around besides Halloween and a few life checkpoints.

So with not being to justify that kind of purchase, the best bet was to turn to finding creative ways to make cosplays. The closet cosplay had always been the first go-to solution, since Goodwilling (which is literally now a verb born from this shenanigans) was an inexpensive way for beginners to find pieces of clothing to modify. Being a goobery amateur seamstress, I used parts of costumes and Frankensteined others to make what I had wanted. I had one commission for an Utena uniform, but in truth, I was dissatisfied with it because the cosplay had been rushed and unfortunately, I was sort of hyped at having my first "decent" cosplay until till this day, I haven't worn it (and I'm kind of not really tween-sized anymore so lol).

Nonetheless, I really got into the sewing part after high school, when I really started to enjoy the part of making cosplays almost as much as wearing them.

Being in 2006, I was part of the wave of people who first had the chance to get wigs off of Ebay, which is where I got my pink Utena wig from. It was a time when I started going to conventions wearing cosplays that were either sewn by a family member, or I had put together through thrifted items. Being on the younger side, I hadn't paid attention to the craftsmanship part as much as it was about wearing your costume and having people chat with you about it. But as I got older, craftsmanship became important. I luckily went from going to the Joanns on a limited fabric section to going to other resources and also seeing a wealth of tutorials and tricks people have used to get costumes done. To find a tutorial back then that wasn't as half-baked was kind of revolutionary. I think most people I know now that are still cosplaying have honestly welcomed the wealth of materials we now have. There wasn't worbla or extreme wig styling tools, or cosplay-making books. People really just figured it out and if they were willing, shared it with other people.

My Opinion: Actually, having materials still keeps you creating. Making a costume is still a complex process, so if you are into achieving the look and feel of your cosplay, it's amazing what materials are here now. People are also more familiar with cosplay, so exchanging information and tips are always handy. Facebook and social media also help provide cosplayers with opportunities to get in contact with people who have made a costume part and need a tip here or there, or even just sharing the creative process. Some people may say that having these materials have made people lazier. Maybe in some ways, but making something still requires skill, time, money, patience, all elements that can't be bought at a store. It's an investment, maybe much more than people perceive now, so having a choice of materials helps people make choices about how much they want to spend on a cosplay and how to make it. Not everyone still can afford Worbla, so they are reliant on other similar methods that are just as effective but much more cost-friendly. I say being a master budgeter is a huge accomplishment.

As for materials, I get nostalgic to see older cosplays when not wearing a wig wasn't the turn-off of the century. It's not good for communities to be solely reliant on these aspects to note whether someone is "worthy" of cosplaying or not. That is a huge problem. Cosplay never had a standard per se, so craftsmanship and materials should never be the dealbreaker for when it comes to respect a fellow fan and cosplayer. I love watching new cosplayers start out, and I am fully supportive of anyone who is willing to have a good time and share whatever they have made.

5. COSPLAY ISN'T JUST ABOUT THE FANDOM, IT'S ABOUT YOU
And you, and you, and you.

And mostly about you.

As I mentioned before, cosplay honestly felt at the beginning as more of an experience like, wearing a party hat at the party. It made you feel included and part of the festivities, and because you wore the same hat as everyone else, made of paper but cheeky and full of polka dots, you beamed as you proudly cheered on.

When I started cosplaying, the only "pressure" I felt was the passionate one inside of me who loved Utena and Fruits Basket so much that I hoped that by the next year, I would be wearing a cosplay and proudly skipping around the halls in character. I never had the mentality of, "I'll show people up!" even when Fruits Basket at the time was popular and I was amongst a horde of Kaguras. In fact, I really loved finding other ones.

I hate to admit that nowadays it is a little harder to high-five your character twin because there's a chance that, with the way the community is and the person's personality, they may be more inclined to ignore you depending on whether you've either got a better or worse costume than they do.

Cosplay involves so many different types of aspects, and for some, it requires skills, like sewing, aesthetics, prop-making, wig-styling, armor-crafting, photogenic and modeling experience the list goes on. Depending on what you want to get out of cosplay, it may require that specific skill and while it's sort of always existed since the dawn of cosplay, it's drawn newer generations who feel that by entering the hobby and developing the skill, that it should be recognized. As I mentioned before, cosplay is no longer marketing the character with you as its vessel, it's marketing you, even if primarily as well.

It's not necessarily a bad thing at all; people who are really good at craftsmanship or some type of skill should be recognized for the hard work and effort they've placed on their project. You'd think that a cosplay competition would have over 100 prizes for all the unique costumes out there. But with it at times breeds too much of an emphasis on being entitled to be recognized, even at the point of where it's no longer you as a character, but the character has the honor of having been chosen by the dashing whims of you.

Cosplay contests ironically have their fair share of competitiveness, but it doesn't amount to the calamity that sometimes ensues at convention floors alone. Most people have a competitive nerve, coupled with the fact that with socializing, there comes the insecurity of how well we are perceived by others. Cosplay externalizes these insecurities, as people strive to make great impacts at conventions, even at times at no matter what costs, to engrave themselves as a brand. Cosplayers are like walking brands, and while only a handful of them are actually industry designers or business brains looking to sell their costumes as goods, most of them are using it to market themselves as an object of acceptance.

"If my cosplay gains a lot of attention, then people like me."

The truth of the matter is that a cosplay that gains a lot of attention may give people the belief that they are liked, only that superficial attraction to someone versus getting to know their real selves aren't discernible concepts when externalizing through cosplay. I think it's great when I see a cosplayer who has done a magnificent job and is relatable in the sense that I understand their hard work and effort. Most of us understand it, although some tend to fall into the competitiveness of it because they have a hard time accepting that they can be as unique and skillful as you are to put such effort and get great results. It tampers with the state of mind that, "If her/his cosplays gains more attention than mine, then people like them more. They won't notice mine."

It's kind of sad and disappointing at times to meet someone and compliment them, only to have them be the ones to offer to you if you want their picture when you haven't asked for it. There are people who flat-out lie to you about making their cosplays when they've clearly bought it only in hopes that you'll applaud them for their nonexistent efforts, but it's all in the effort that they'll leave an impact upon you. Some people really have stories to share about their costume process, but then there's always those who have to keep on wailing hour after hour about how their costume took over 100 hours when they've clearly placed much less time, and their lack of sincerity shows otherwise.

Everyone somehow wants to make an impact, and it probably wouldn't be as rampant had social media never existed and bred the belief that everyone is a celebrity after going for decades of people watching television and peeing their pants at the thought of being a cameo in the six o'clock news to now everyone hosting their own channel ranting about celebrities divorcing and for people to leave Britney alone.

So in the world of cosplay, everyone is literally a walking celebrity. It's a modge podge of D to A-listers, based on that hilarious Heathers-esque clique system you dreaded in high school. Most people fall on the spectrum of the C-B-listers, who are either happy where they are with their fellow friends or seeking out for those A-listers and dreading to stay a C or B, and nightmare mode if they ever disgrace into a D. Therefore, there is a huge, unseen pressure cosplayers place of themselves to work to some sort of status that was never as much as in effect as it is now.

A part of it has to do with the fact that when people are trying to get better at something, they set goals for themselves on who they want to be like. A lot of people have a favorite cosplayer they hope to be like who inspires them because they have a special skill they have really worked at and are known for in the community. The variety of anime has allowed people to choose an array of characters, but there will always be that draw to either pick one of two extremes: the trendiest, so people can relate to you instantly because they will know who you are, or the obscure, up-and-coming indie, that everyone’s going to find out from you after they are wowed by your cosplay and want to get in on the newest fandom.

As I mentioned before, most people will fall in this middle field where you’re kind of a wild card when it comes to your own, proper brand. The majority of cosplayers now market themselves and their work through their personas on social media. While we’re no longer living in the Gaia-Neopets era where you could fake your location and claim to be an emo animu catboy who loves yaoi, this trend has merely evolved to people creating cosplay personas to suit their style of cosplay and marketing. You’ll likely be able to easily find their real name unlike years back, when I actually knew a handful of people regularly at cons but it was a mystifying experience when I found out their real names or that they actually weren’t characters…they were college students (although you could argue that that’s one type of character).

People don’t want to admit that with this evolution, the mentality has also continued to evolve and mutate into allowing kids to believe that they have a shot at stardom the same way shady actors will take a stab at it. While cosplay can be a positive experience, treating it like a popularity contest has been it very ugly and mentally detrimental to a lot of people. With the quest for acceptance, you’re more likely to experience a total lack of acceptance and faith within yourself if you cloud yourself in an environment that keeps enforcing this belief.

The big question then is why? Why is there pressure for popularity?

Besides the obvious acceptance reasons, cosplay has always been held at this pedestal as that one career you’d dream of having at the same equivalence of literally being paid to play video games for life, with the perks of making your own schedule. Only a handful of cosplayers actually make a living through cosplay, and a slightly larger group are able to benefit in some way monetarily. The issue is that cosplayers, who tend to work mostly through trends, were quick to pick up on this proposed benefit for the fact that they are led to believe that their work and existence is providing a service to someone, and therefore should be monetized.
It should be known that the cosplayers who make quite a bundle actually do find ways to provide goods and relevant services. One of the most popular cosplayers, Yaya Han, had not only sewing skills and good cosplays to her repertoire. She had been able to fortunately establish several businesses at cons which gained a following, including her cat-ear phase (cosplay.com that if you want more info) and had been one of the few Worbla sellers out there without making an insane order in Germany. She now has partnered with pattern companies to make cosplay-friendly patterns, and now the heavily debated but fabric-is-stupidly-just-fabric fabrics. She continues to profit from the culture of cosplay itself, as that is truly her brand.
At the same time, she was fortunate enough to be the cosplayer who made these investments and tied them so heavily to the communities to be able to make a real marketing brand out of herself. There’s shiny spandex that quite reasonably can be found in order similar shops online, but there’s an instant novelty that consumers will see in having a “Yaya Han-approved” fabric, kind of in the same vein of buying a specific brand of a dietary supplement that’s Dr. Oz approved. Or, buying Guess jeans when they’re likely made in the same factory as some other off-brand label. It’s probably going to do the same thing, but you’re basically paying for the brand.

Nonetheless, other cosplayers tend to see this and think that they too, have a shot at it. Because everyone can now have a chance at their fame, this is the next big challenge: how can I actually make my hobby a form of living?

Some people in the community are extremely fortunate enough to have taken the skills they’ve learned in cosplay and have become designers in the costume and film industry, boutique or couture design professionals, working at local communities, public relations, marketing, finances, prop making, engineering, sciences, musicians, animators, illustrators, video game designers, visual merchandisers, writers, filmmakers, the list goes absolutely on. Many cosplayers will fall under the spectrum of being able to apply those skills in anywhere from their daily lives to landing jobs that their hobbies have prepped them beautifully for. Or maybe, being a designer had always been a dream job.

And truthfully, that is the healthiest goal to have out of a hobby. It enables a realistic view that cosplay can be a form of income for some, but it involves a lot of luck, good timing, and some very strategic skills. Most people tend to oversimplify these requirements because they justify the examples they see in their cosplay communities, like watching gamer girls get massive donations for playing games terribly while showing cleavage, or spamming Facebook pages with posts about their bikini-cosplay-something-with-a-wig sets that are oh-so artistic and are deserving of a heaping portion of your paycheck.

Cosplay certainly requires dedication, but it’s so hard to quantify that sort of reward when hobbies are meant to be fulfilling. Otherwise, they are considered jobs or financial goals with the satisfaction only if a monetary goal is met. If you take a second to go on Patreon or GoFundMe, you’ll quickly find pages upon pages of cosplayers who would like a chance to be funded to make cosplays under the justification that because they only have so much money to pay for cosplays, they will be letting down their “fans” if they have to use their hard-earned money for actual bills before their hobbies.

My personal stance on this is that if you’re a consenting, wage-earning adult whose got control of your money and you’re not under some kind of mind-control, it’s up to you on what you want to do with your money and how you choose to spend it. If you want to donate to a cosplayer, do what you want.
The issue isn’t the person making the decision to donate. The real issue is the mindset it breeds.

As people want to be rewarded for their hard work, people also will seek to justify that they should be compensated if someone of their caliber and skill are. It’s sort of the same mentality as to why most people won’t be happy just competing at a contest unless they win. You start to wonder what made someone pick them over you, even if it was honestly a grueling decision. Therefore, if someone discovers that a fellow cosplayer can live off of donations, they may likely feel justified to do the same. It’s also appealing that the monetary goals aren’t just, “Give me twenty and I’m set”, it’s “Cosplay involves hundreds of dollars, therefore I should be making that back and then some.”

Commissioners make money by not just the materials, but the service they perform of actually sewing your cosplay. It’s this example that cosplayers who seek to justify their monetary demands use, because they have gone from having the privilege of being in costume and being a cosplayer to actually needing people to pay for their existence in the community to give relevance to their efforts and the mere fact that their attendance is a service.

A cosplayer can boast that they bring business to a convention, but I believe that the credit should be placed on any attendee, cosplaying or not, who actually buys a ticket and buys goods at their discretion and budget. People’s mere existences have sort of been a free concept, unless you’re a celebrity who needs to be paid for their attendance. Conventions rely on people to follow this concept, although the cosplay movement sort of dwells in the other side, where cosplayers feel like their presence is a service to cons because it draws more people to them and to look forward to them, but at the same time, their mere presences don’t give the cons as much money back as they assume they will. While there are many cosplayers who are willing to buy badges and goods, there’s more of a movement now than before that cosplayers shouldn’t have to buy a badge if they are a draw to the con, or will “ghost” a con just to cosplay because they have no intention of buying anything. They basically are walking into rented space feeling entitled to merely being there because they are contributing to the scene.

Which ironically makes you think that for as many people who claim that Kanye West is a troll and party crasher, there’s a heck of a lot more of these within the cosplay community themselves.

It goes back to the idea of being your own brand. Ironically, dealer’s hall companies and artists at the Artist’s Alley booths fight for space to sell their own goods and services, but the profits of what some of these places make likely involve more risk taking and traveling than what a popular cosplayer could profit of in a few appearances here and there. Comic conventions have previously complained about this phenomena, because while cosplayers are playing homage to these characters, they are merely promoting themselves while the characters take the backseat. In the end, people are more likely to follow up on the cosplayer than the material, and therefore the comic book artist or anime doesn’t gain a new fan. The cosplayer does.
This is enforced by the superficial belief that everyone in the Internet somehow cares about your presence and relevance in a community. Most people forget that the best way to leave an impact is by contributing to it, not just your mere presence or photos of yourself, but striving to push the community in an inspiring way. Although Yaya’s popularity is controversial, she is still someone who has contributed to the community as being a forerunner in the costume-making process and convention culture. There have been many cosplayers who have internationally set similar standards and have been able to provide a great deal of encouragement, tips, tricks, tutorials, materials, and so on to aid cosplayers into enjoying the community.

And most notably, it is the cosplay convention volunteers, chairpersons, clubs, and teams who have made such an effort to create relevant conventions with great programming and honestly, a space to live out your fantasy dreams of being a magical schoolgirl in the comfort of other people. People can say that you can cosplay in your home or at a local event, but the reason why people go to cons is because it’s been accepted as a socially acceptable and welcomed place for your hobby. If people don’t see the justification to pay to go to that space, when people are willing to pay to visit other places that don’t cater as much to you as a person, there’s a discrepancy in understanding what’s reasonable.

Unless one day, conventions at that scale are able to run on a totally free-utopian industry, there’s really not much of a variety for people in general to congregate simply for free. You can have a gathering for free with pot-luck food and activities, but people at conventions are putting forth the time and effort to bring guests, to make programming, to hold contests, find prizes, to buy space, rent stages, buy tools, gather volunteers.
That costs so much more than your cosplay, admit it.


My Opinion:  

Really, I went over it in more ways than one in this section alone. Cosplay has always had roots in garnering attention, but it's dramatically increased due to a shift in focus of what it takes for a cosplayer to be recognized as "good" and "relevant" by standards invented by some who-knows. It's not wrong to take pleasure in gaining attention for your work, as long as it is not at the cost of demeaning someone else's. Unless you've been paid to promote a specific event or series, going to the convention as a cosplayer is no different than being a normal, paying attendee. You're not performing a "service" to promote the series that enables you to legitimately "ghost" a con. Instead, you should be grateful and happy to be gracing the floors and have the privilege of attending a convention that supports your interests.

Ten years ago, cosplay did have its fair share of selfishness. It was more attributed to the fact that it was misinterpreted as a hobby full of adults who were still stuck into kiddie cartoons and couldn’t accept responsibility. But what it really was a place where people could share and grow. It probably sounds like some sort of hippie commune now with free love and no rules, but it definitely wasn’t that free flowing. It had its share of drama, competitiveness, and deceit, but it also harbored less of the, “I’m a walking billboard” mentality that you see today. To the cosplayers out there who are able to enjoy the experience and keep their heads up, I tip my fedora to you. I always keep optimistic that while the scene is ever-changing, it’s still going to keep its charm.

The world of social media has given people the impression that cosplay is a way to measure someone's worth in the community, when it doesn't not always provide an accurate insight into a person's contribution as a cosplayer. The fact that people are willing to lie about their accomplishments to be accepted indicates the darker side of the hobby, but it is most unfortunate when new people witness these behaviors and are encouraged to follow in an effort to survive and be accepted. Yet it also depends on where you look when it comes to socializing too. The hobby continues to support some of the kindest, fairest, and most talented people you'll ever meet. There's no doubt that there are some amazing people who will make your experience worthwhile. 

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