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Cosplay: The Illegitimate Child of SF Masquerades

by Michael Bruno

The most enlightening panel of the entire convention turned out to be not what I was really expecting.

During the “Cosplay Roundtable” panel at Nan Desu Kan 2002 this last weekend, I was expecting a panel of costumers to be answering questions posed by the audience. However, this was not the case. The only people on the panel were the convention’s two guests from Japan. Mr. Susumu Sakurai and Mr. Nobuyuki (Nov) Takahashi. With the help of their translator, they discussed Cosplay in Japan, how it differed in America and most importantly, the origins of Cosplay.

Twenty years ago, the first fan costumers were seen in Japan at a small comic expo known as Comiket* or Comic Market. They were simply wearing t-shirts on which they’d drawn their favorite characters. The following year, 1983, the first actual costume was worn by someone dressed at Lum from Urusei Yatsura which was airing in Japan at the time. In 1984, Mr. Takahashi was sent to Worldcon in Los Angeles to cover the events for various magazines back in Japan.

Needless to say, he was amazed by what he saw. Many people dressed as their favorite characters from Star Trek, Star Wars and even in their own costumed creations. He was particularly impressed by the Masquerade. Things were definitely much different in America than he was expecting.
When he returned to Japan, he wanted to impress upon his readers the magnificence of what he had seen in hopes that that they could adapt American costuming practices into their own culture.

He struggled for a long time with what he could call this phenomenon. He could use the word “masquerade” as the direct translation to Japanese is essentially the same as the original meaning in English, “a costume party held by aristocrats.” Mr. Takahashi says that there are no people like that in Japan, so the word would not work. He therefore tried to come up with other variations on that idea. “Costume Acting”, “Costume Play” and many others [I can’t really remember what they were]. However, everything he came up with was too long and he wanted something short in hopes that people would remember the word and begin to use it. He also wanted something that was neither Japanese nor American, but a combination of both to show the blending of the American costuming tradition with Japanese culture. He finally settled on “Cosplay” by using the Japanese habit of shortening words into easier to say bits on “Costume Play.” Thus was born Cosplay. Created by Mr. Nov Takahashi, the founder of Cosplay.

So, the next time you see a cosplayer at a Convention, extend a helping hand and invite them into the Guild. They have the same pursuits as other Guild members, but in general, we have a whole lot more practice.

NOTE : This article by Michael Bruno was posted on millenniumcg.tripod.com in 2002.

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