Cosplay comes from the combination of the words costume and play…if you hadn’t guessed it already. First made popular in mid-twentieth century Sci-Fi conventions of America, it really took off as a subculture in Japan during the anime and video game boom of the ‘80s. Today, it’s gained a worldwide following, mainly by the most dedicated fans of anime, videogames and cartoons who dress up as their favourite characters and adopt their personality for a day. Citylife decided to talk to a few avid cosplayers in Chiang Mai and find out more about these uber fans of anime.
Cosplay hit Thailand in the early naughties when Japanese culture filled TVs, comic book shops and the music charts and by 2002, the first cosplay events and dress-up competitions had come to the city. Fast forward to 2017 and cosplay is more popular than ever, with up to five large scale competitions held in the city each year.
“I got into cosplay because I love anime and I have a big interest in fashion,” explained 23 year old Mingmada ‘Aeam’ Akkarajuakool. “I was first introduced to cosplay in university when I saw a group of seniors dressing up. They were brave and they dared to be themselves, I think it was their sense of self-expression which drew me in.”
After several years of joining clubs and meeting up with other cosplayers, Aeam now has taken her passion for fashion and cosplay to the next level and has opened an online shop for those who want an outfit but are not skilled enough or lack the time to make one themselves. Charging around 10,000 baht for one outfit, Aeam makes around four outfits a month for both regular and new customers. “I used to make more, but I am still at university myself and didn’t have enough time to make them all, it takes a long time as they are often quite intricate.”
“The best thing about cosplay is making the outfits yourself,” said 28 year old Lotlalit ‘Look Yee’ Wongputtipong. “It is sad when people enter into cosplay outfit competitions but are clearly wearing a factory made outfit ordered online.”
Look Yee is a dedicated cosplayer who entered the scene relatively late in her life. “I only started doing cosplay at around 22 after a friend introduced me to it all,” she said. “Most of the people I know now are younger than me but we don’t really share our ages with each other as it is kind of irrelevant for us.”
Look Yee takes great pride in the cosplay community’s promotion of self-expression and the fact that it ignores societal norms such as hierarchies based on age and wealth. “I have friends who are 14, 15 years old and I hold them on the same level as other friends who are in their late 20s. It really doesn’t matter to us, as we all love cosplay so we just get on with dressing up and having fun.” However, there is a darker side to this hierarchy free mixing of age groups. “Sometimes older men join the cosplay community and quickly start dating younger girls,” said Look Yee. “I have a friend who is 15 but is dating a 30-something year old man. It’s okay though, as we are all in the same group so we can look after them and make sure he doesn’t do anything wrong.” Seemingly not concerned about the age differences, she did accept when pressed, that some men may be in the group for ulterior motives, but quickly pointed out that they are easily spotted and immediately ostracised.
The separation from regular societal norms during cosplay is evident however, with girls as young as 12 dressing up in tight bikinis or skimpy schoolgirl outfits, oblivious to the sexualisation of the young that is commonplace in Japanese anime. According to Look Yee, parents seem to accept skimpy clothing in cosplay…while still forcing their children to cover up at the swimming pool.
“If we go to cosplay conventions there are always men taking photos or trying to get selfies with us who are clearly driven by ulterior motives, but we just have to ignore it,” said Look Yee who described one event where a few men were finally thrown out by security staff because they kept taking inappropriate photos. “I guess it’s because we are in character, sometimes they are sexy and sometimes they are not. We just have to be careful.”
The cosplay community in Chiang Mai is thriving. “If people want to get involved they should visit the Chiang Mai Cartoon Club store in Pantip Plaza on the 4th floor,” said Aeam. “That is where we often meet up and just hang out, and anyone can come along.” There are a few Facebook groups that also follow events and cosplay news in Chiang Mai such as ‘ChiangMai Cartoon & Cosplay Event News’ and ‘CMcartoon Chiangmai’.
As we go to press, the Chiang Mai Cosplay Convention at Maya is under way. Full of cosplayers from Chiang Mai and beyond, it is clear how many small groups exist, all with their own interests and themes that they (cos)play on. Video game characters like Dva from Overwatch stand side by side avid cosplayers dressed in Japanese anime costumes or western characters like Harry Potter and Ron Weasley. Booths were selling numerous trinkets and competitions for the best dressed and the best imitation girl band were on throughout the day — and everyone had a grin on their faces. A great day out even for the casual observer like me!