It started probably back in 2006 or 2007. You get bored and you look online for anime-related stuff and by chance I see these characters, these photos online. It wasn’t even that popular in Japan at that time, there was only a few sites where people posted photos and that is how I first found out about animegao kigurumi. This is different. It is like cosplay but it is not.
What drew me to it was the cuteness of the characters. You watch the anime and you want to get the character goods – the t-shirts, the phone cases, and then you realized you can get the costume and become the character.
So the first time I saw a kig [ short for animegao kigurumi] was when I went to Taiwan in 2009. There’s an anime convention going on and there were several people from Japan going to that convention. I took the opportunity and told them I was going to be there. And that’s my first time seeing kigurumi and I remember they were dressed up as Touhou characters.
Not only did I met the Japanese kigurumi in Taiwan and took photos but afterwards, but I also had the opportunity to try their character and put on a mask. After I saw the photos of me in it, I went wow, this is really cool! It was that moment that convinced me that this is much cooler than I realized and I really wanted do this.
With kigurumi, think of it like cosplay but you also have a mask and also what they call hadatai – a spandex / lycra bodysuit that is colored matched so it gives you the appearance of a 2D character. The mask itself cost from $1,000 to $2,000, which is quite expensive. So you have to really like it to do this hobby.
Once you try it, it is addicting. I don’t know what it is but when you are standing in front of the camera and getting your picture taken, there’s something fun that puts a smile on your face.
One of the character I have chosen to do was Danny Choo’s character Mirai Suenaga, which was the mascot of his website. I thought the characters were cute and the outfits well designed. I’ve been Anime Expo several times, and I followed Danny Choo for many years so when I saw he was putting out drawings from different artists, and there were different take on the Mirai character I thought, why don’t I do my own take but with kigurumi?
The mask for Mirai, even though is not a custom mask, still took 4 months because of the maker’s back log. The mask maker offers a few ready-made styles – you just have to specify hair color, hair style, and eye style. Interestingly I had to go to Japan to buy it since one of the stipulation from the maker is you have to be buy it in Japan. I guess they didn’t like shipping it overseas.
For the outfit, Danny Choo had for a short time a limited edition of the outfit created by one of the school uniform companies in Japan and I thought it was perfect. He did a great job in creating a cute and functional outfit.
My hadatai is custom measured. I went to Japan and had it measured during a trip there. You have to make an appointment because the person making it is doing it part-time. It took about a month to make. They are open to taking orders from outside Japan so that was a big factor for choosing them. There are other makers but they may not be as comfortable with English or they only sell the item at a convention where you can try on the mask.
As far as people who own mask, I don’t really know the number, but the people who go out to conventions or have some sort of online profile is around 20-30 people in the United States. Hopefully more and more people join the hobby.
I enjoy animegao kigurumi because many people will look at you and smile and I really enjoy that, making people smile. You feel like you have the responsibility to portray the character well.