Wednesday, June 14, 2006

[Essay] An Anime Fan's Take on Cosplay Culture in the Philippines

One of my passions early on was my love for anime; even before the "anime boom" hit Philippine shores, before anime shows replaced telenovelas on primetime slots, I was already watching anime in foreign languages, and reading manga even if I couldn't understand what the text was saying.

I believe that 2000 was the year anime reached its peak in the Philippines. Yes, it's true that a year before that, we were experiencing an onslaught of anime from various directions: from TV, from toys, from word of mouth. But what made 2000 special is the fact that it was the year where the first real anime convention started. I say real because while in previous years, there have already been conventions of one sort or another, this was the first time that we had a convention that was solely dedicated on anime and its subculture: no more sharing booths with other fandoms like Star Trek, Star Wars, or simply hobby collectors of cards, toys, or basketball.

One by-product of such an event was the rise of a cosplay community in the Philippines. Again, yes, people have dressed up as their favorite fictional character (be it anime or otherwise) from time to time, whether it's Halloween, a small anime screening, or perhaps a kiddie party, but that is different from what arose from anime conventions. It was several elements combined together: lots of participants, a huge crowd, and more importantly, some sense of organization when it comes to cosplaying. What I mean by organization is that well, there's a body judging the merits of a person's costume and how they act (since cosplay means more than simply wearing a costume), and rewarding it, whether with tangible prizes, or simply cheers from an audience. And while some cosplayers are close friends with each other, during that first convention, fans met strangers who shared the same passion as them. Cosplaying was a group of people united by a common bond, a common passion if you will. Not all of them had to be friends or close buddies with each other, but they belonged (and remained) to the same community.

The cosplay community would eventually evolve and become a culture of its own. Whereas it was initially associated with anime/manga fandom, I'd like to think it eventually stood on its own. I mean nowadays, there'd seldom be a convention (not necessarilly an anime/manga convention but whatever fandom you can think of) where there isn't a cosplay involvevd to one degree or another: it might be a video game release, a Lord of the Rings gathering, or a meeting between Trekkies. Whatever the case may be, the word "cosplay" has made the transition from fandom jargon to mainstream slang. Cosplaying is still in the sphere of fandoms, but it is no longer limited to the anime/manga sphere that it was once associated with, at least here in the Philippines.

As an anime fan, what bothered me was the fact that I couldn't really talk about anime/manga with the cosplayers, or at least the circle I was in (I'm sure there are lots of cosplayers who are interested in manga/anime), at least back then. I remember talking about a particular show and there was simply a lack of enthusiasm in the topic. Cosplayers didn't talk about their favorite anime or manga with each other, but they talked about various cosplaying techniques, which fabrics to use, where to find such and such props, etc. This was the point that I realized that the cosplaying community here stood on its own rather than solely depending on the fandoms they were dressing up as. It would come to the point where cosplayers would simply cosplay for the sake of cosplaying: they'd attend an event not because it's being hosted by their favorite fandom, but simply because they were having a cosplay event.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying this is wrong or that it should be otherwise. It's simply an observation, at how the community has evolved in the span of seven years. Nowadays, I see some cosplayers going back to their roots, watching their favorite anime, reading their favorite manga, and talking about it with their cosplayer friends. Be that as it may, the cosplay community remains an independent entity, a child that has taken a path different from its parent. How this will play out in the years to come remains to be seen. And hopefully, people will be watching.

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