A Japanese art form, Cosplay is popularly practiced in various parts of the world in different ways. Cosplay, a term that combines the words ‘costume’ and ‘play’, refers to a type of visual and performance art in which participants don intricate costumes, wigs, and makeup to portray a character from a video game, television show, movie or anime. For some, it is just a hobby, but for others, cosplay is a lifestyle.
It is one of the most interesting forms of art in which the artist utilises themselves as the medium. People who cosplay generally tend to do so in conventions where they can compete for the position of best cosplayer and step into a world where others share the same interests as them.
Cosplaying has become more popular in Pakistan with time, mainly due to the rise of anime conventions that open up a new doorway to creativity for those who are interested. Events such as the ones held by the Arts Council are attended by thousands of colourfully dressed individuals donning wigs, makeup or even prosthetics. Although cosplaying is an interesting activity in itself, it takes on a more intriguing form in a country such as Pakistan.
People who are new to the idea of cosplaying may wonder what the point is behind spending your precious money and resources on playing pretend, something that may strike some as being similar to dressing up in costumes as a child.
“When cosplaying, you don’t just dress up to look like the character; rather, you become the character for a time,” explains Kat, a makeup artist and a frequent cosplayer. “Cosplayers are often found behaving exactly as the character would when approached. Even when it comes to appearances, walking, accents, reactions, expressions, phrases etc., they try to mimic the characters. This is the magic of cosplay. The same goes for me. I don’t forget my own identity but I do enjoy taking a walk in a fictional character’s shoes!”
Entering the world of cosplay is like stepping into another universe altogether, one bursting with vivid colours, surreal imagery and intricate details. For cosplayers, as Kat explains, it is sometimes similar to stepping into another persona, another life altogether.
The cosplaying community in Pakistan seems to be quite tight-knit, and it isn’t difficult to find the same groups of people making an appearance at different conventions. The people at these events are bonded by, if nothing else, the camaraderie that comes with being passionate towards something and the undeniable hard work that goes into assembling these get-ups.
A term that commonly makes an appearance when talking about cosplay is cross-playing. Cross-playing is when a person cosplays as a character of another gender, also sometimes called gender-bent cosplay. Many female cosplayers in Pakistan, for example, choose to cosplay as male characters instead of female ones.
A female cosplayer, Zehra, explains the steps she takes to mould a character according to the culture of Pakistan, “I personally end up rethinking a lot of my measurements and characters simply out of concern regarding how people would react to them.”
This preference gives further insight into the threads of misogyny in the writing of female characters, namely the frequency of male characters being afforded depth and likability. It also shows why the inherent act of dressing as these female characters may present a sense of discomfort along with a strong possibility of backlash.
For Hamza, cosplaying helped him discover a new side of himself. “When I got into cosplay, it helped introduce me to a different side within myself and now I get to experience the best of both worlds. I basically get to be a shape shifter. Cosplay is like an extension of who I am. It is something that is truly beautiful.”
All in all, cosplay opens up a wonderful doorway to creativity, identity and acceptance. This interesting form of art is steadily on the rise and isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.