Re-examining the Definition of “Cosplay”

Thursday, 8 September 2011, 8:00 | Author : Kricket
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I have a close circle of friends that keep up-to-date on the latest geek events – so I wasn’t surprised to see my husband idly scrolling through the Penny Arcade Expo photo galleries.  I don’t normally care about gamer conventions except, of course, to quickly assess the evolution of their costuming scene.  My husband noticed my brief interest and told me, “check out these cosplay costumes.”  As I looked at a picture of a Cheetos-haired squid princess I couldn’t help but ask, “What is that?”  My question was aimed at Brian, but Ludovico (Kricket Costumes’s Anime Reviewer) quickly jumped into the conversation and proclaimed, “If it’s anime, I’ll know what it’s from!”  So we all stared at the picture for a minute, then I looked at Ludovico.  “So… what is it?”  His only response, “That’s not anime.”

The word “cosplay” was coined in Japan as an abbreviation of the phrase “costume play.”  Many countries associate this word with dressing up in the likeness of Japanese animation characters.  But, as the usage of the term became more colloquial, the definition of “cosplay” has become rather ambiguous–encompassing any costume-wearing individual within the anime, gaming, and geek subcultures.

Although I celebrate costume-making in all of its forms, I am a firm believer that we should respect the affiliation between “cosplay” and Japanese culture.  The work that goes into making a cosplay costume is, in many regards, an artistic homage to Japanese animation.  Cosplayers are often motivated by their love for the story, characters, and/or artistic effects that are directly influenced by Japanese culture.  They have earned the right, though their tireless work and attention to detail, to call themselves a cosplayer.

Unfortunately, the geek community often lumps anime-gamer-geek costumes under the umbrella of “cosplay.”  But it seems to me, that in order to properly honor each genre of fandom, we should strive to create new terminology that might refer to universe-specific costuming styles and celebrate the differences between them.

In the comments below, please tell us: How do you define cosplay?  Should it be an all encompassing word or should it refer only to the act of dressing up as Japanese animation characters?

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