The book explores the bizarre Japanese world of cosplay (short for costume play) where hardcore fans of manga, anime and video games dress up in the outrageous outfits of their heroines. Although men do take part, this is a primarily female hobby, especially amongst teenagers and women in their early twenties.
Jennifer Cahill, in an interesting introduction, explores the reasons for this phenomenon, looking at Japan’s changing social structure. It may be that cosplay offers a form of escapism from the rigid, formal rules that still place society before individuality. Or it could simply be a desire for kawaii , or cuteness, that Japanese seem to crave as part of their national psyche.
Whatever the precise reasons, every weekend countless Japanese girls are either attending cosplay conventions being photographed by admiring cameko (from camera kozo, or camera kids, the amateur photographers who snap the girls at cosplay events) or are hard at work creating their costumes.
It can be an expensive hobby being a cosplay girl, with many people spending everything they earn on costumes and accessories. There are dedicated cosplay shops that can supply the outfits, but these can cost 50,000 ¥ ($420) each. But for the dedicated, money is no object.
There seems to be an uneasy relationship between the cosplay girls and the cameko, and this is explored in the book in the section Both Sides of the Camera, where the girls and guys are asked what they think of each other. Many of the girls don’t like the cameko, especially when they try and take sneak shots or crowd and overwhelm the girls. But some girls clearly like the attention, and in either case, posing for the camera is part of the cosplay scene.
The book provides an almost surreal guide to posing and dealing with cameko, what to take to cosplay events, how to sculpt hair into manga-esque shapes and even how to create the costumes themselves. It really has everything that a potential cosplay girl might need or want to know.
Most of the book is taken up with photographs of the girls in costume, also noting when they started cosplay and how many outfits they have. 20 outfits is not unusual, although the book has an interview with Sakura Himemiya who has accumulated more than 200 outfits over an 11 year period!
The characters the girls dress up as range from the ever popular Chun-Li from Street Fighter 2 to Myobi who appears in the Alichino comicbook to Karumaramon from Digimon Frontier. Styles vary from the sexy to the obscure and the book usefully puts the photos into self-explanatory categories such as Action Heroes, Animal Kingdom, Gothic and Lolita.
It’s a vibrant book for a colourful subject and comes highly recommended for anyone who wants to lift the lid on this strange sub-culture from Japan.
Cosplay Girls: Japan’s Live Animation Heroines (2003)
by Introduction by Jennifer Cahill
Publisher: cocoro books
Format: Paperback, 96pp