Many folks like to dress up: for some it is superheroes, for others it’s women’s clothing, and for a fair few it is their favorite manga characters. Compared to Japan or the United States, cosplay is a relatively new phenomenon in China where it is steadily gaining popularity, particularly amongst the youth. People dress as their favorite characters from manga, comic books, video games or films, and laud cosplay as the hobby that makes them stand out in from the crowd and be just that little bit different from the throng. After work, at weekends, and even in the dead of night, these cosplayers indulge in a world of fantasy where they are known under their fictitious cosplay names, and even completely change their personalities to fit the films and manga movie. Too many it’s the epitome of cute, to others it is weird and annoying.
China’s big cities are home to many a cosplayer and Beijing is no exception. Under the cosplay name Duanhua (端华), a Beijing cosplayers of 8 years, shared her experience of being part of the popular movement. True for most cosplayers, the love for the movement starts with a Japanese cartoon, a video game, or a comics.
The outrageous appearance of the characters is what attracts cosplayers most. Duanhua’s English name is Hunter (a name that already lends itself to cosplay) and she takes part in many cosplay events. One of them is called 漫展 (màn zhǎn), or dressing-up parties, where cosplayers gather to show off their outrageous clothing, or 装饰 (zhuāngshì), and stunning Japanese manga or Chinese traditional style make-up.
One event is a competition, 比赛 (bǐsài), that lasts for a day and is held once a year. In Beijing, the competition is staged in Haidian Theater and Beijing Amusement Park 欢乐谷 where manga fans give performances imitating their heroes from movies or video games, even singing soundtracks of their favorite films. Prizes for best performances are also awarded. However, some cosplayers prefer taking pictures to performing. The images are posted on Weibo, Weixin or other social platforms as part of the competition.
As Hunter says:
“Cosplay also needs rehearsals, 训练 [xùnliàn], that usually happens every weekend. We dress up like our favorite heroes and take photos with cosplay friends, 同伴 [tóngbàn].”
Although cosplay is only a hobby for some, it can be a way to earn money too. According to Duanhua, some companies hire cosplayers to advertise their products. Another companies professionally sells and promotes cosplay ephemera such as clothes, cards, and calendars, etc.
Duanhua posing as a Japanese “DMMD” cartoon character
Images courtesy of Duanhua 端华