Saturday, May 03, 2003

The Filipino Cosplayer: Performing at Conventions

One of the unique trends of anime fandom here in the Philippines is that conventions are usually equated with cosplaying. And sometimes, rightly so since that's usually the event that draws in the crowds. And while it might seem that cosplaying in the Philippines has always been around, it's only recently that cosplayers have started to pop up in anime conventions.

The first anime convention that featured cosplayers was in November of 2000. It works on the premise that fans enter the convention portraying a certain anime/manga character, register for the event, then cross the ramp when it's call time. This basic premise hasn't changed but intricacies abound in this seemingly simple process.

To begin with, creating a costume is difficult in itself and poses problems of its own. Managing to appear at the convention itself with a costume is already a feat of its own. Assuming one manages to snag an outfit in time (the scope of which is beyond this article), there are other problems a cosplayer must face. For starters, arriving at the convention venue is already quite difficult, considering that most conventions are held in malls and other public areas of high visibility. You just don't enter a mall wearing a costume, especially if it's a skimpy outfit or a bulky attire. It not only hampers mobility but gives you unnecessary public attention (and sometimes, proves to be a security hazard). An alternative would be to dress up at the convention area itself but lately, there really isn't any area to don such getups. It's a cosplayer's haven if the convention had a dressing room of its own but more often than not, the best one can come up with is to appropriate a vacant place, which is then used as a site to dump bags. Cosplayers assemble their costume there, usually asking other people to put on their make-up or make do with pocket mirrors. There's also the alternative of using the public restrooms as a place to dress up, but that entails sharing the restroom with the public, as well as getting stares from various people, both inside and outside the restroom.

Registration can also be a hassle. Requirement such as ID pictures or pictures of the characters you're cosplaying as is just at the bottom of the list. For one thing, there are technical problems such as the concept of “pre-registering” via online but in the end, you still have to fill out the form during the event itself. There's also the fact that pre-registration happens a day or two before the event itself but you still have to pay the expensive entrance fee of the convention just to sign up for the cosplay competition. And well, registering on the day itself isn't helpful either because of the tedious process involved, namely lining up in costume and signing the form (hope your costume has opposable thumbs!), as well as the fact that those interested in participating as a group have it harder than individuals because they have to register at the same time if they want to get the right sequence for their catwalk.

Lately, there's the innovation of the pre-judging, which requires cosplayers to present themselves to the judges once they're done registering. Sometimes, this can be a hassle, especially if you're not wearing your complete costume. It's added time on your already restricted schedule, but in the end helps the organizers sort things out, especially when it comes to tallying the actual results of the cosplay competition.

What soon follows is the long hours of waiting before you face the crowd. And this, perhaps, is one of the most arduous experiences a cosplayer will face. It is during this wait that a cosplayer will be in his costume for several hours. And this entails a lot. For one thing, you will get exhausted and tired. Even if you stay put in one place, people will come to you, asking you to pose for their pictures, or even sign autographs. Acting congenial might be trying, especially after numerous hours of entertaining other people and posing for pictures.

Your costume is also your enemy. Let's face it, most costumes either hamper your mobility or make you uncomfortable. The less time you're in it, the better. But in cosplay events, you usually don't have that luxury. Either you can't take off your costume because it's almost your turn, your friends are encouraging you to wear it, or it's just plain too tiresome to remove it and don it once again. Mundane actions such as sitting down may sometimes not be possible because you might ruin the costume. Suddenly, resting is not an option. The same goes for eating, especially if your costume involves your hands being preoccupied. And believe me, eating will be a problem because even if your costume allows you to grasp objects, there is always the risk that you might spill your food on your costume. The fact that registration occurs sometime during lunchtime and the event lasts until well after dinner doesn't help your stomach. There's also the temperature to consider, depending on what your costume is and where you're situated. Heavy coats might make you perspire, while skimpy outfits might leave you freezing. And yes, costumes break down. Waiting for your turn to appear on stage is a walking time bomb; your costume might get ruined before then, either from all the posing, from the mishandling of props, or the wearing out of adhesives and stitches. Impromptu repairs are not unknown, especially to bulky outfits.

The actual presentation is also far from the best of circumstances. While this is the event you've been waiting for, it is also the event you've been dreading. For one thing, there's the line you have to form. Your heart starts pounding as your turn slowly approaches (as if you haven't waited enough). Then when you finally present yourself, you'll be facing a fickle audience. The chances of getting praises and cheers are nearly the same as the jeers and curses. And sometimes, it's out of your control: it might be because of technical difficulties, something the emcee said, the type of crowd you're facing, or even the cosplayers that preceded you. I mean a crowd might dislike a certain character, or you might be the nth person cosplaying a certain character. Some of these factors are out of your hands yet one feels self-conscious in front of a crowd. Don't forget nervousness and pressure, especially when you're performing on stage. One might have rehearsed a complicated stunt only to falter in the actual presentation. Or deliver a punch line that the crowd might find corny or get drowned out by the sound system. A cosplayer must also be wary of the set-up on stage. One might use a broken microphone, or knock it down, or trip on the wires. It can be embarrassing at the least or it could lead to accidents at worst.

Once a cosplayer is done presenting, time seems to stretch like eternity as you wait for the results to come out. At this point, you don't know whether to remove your costume since you're done presenting or to retain it in case you actually win and asked to go up on stage again. But perhaps this is the least stressful of moments since you've done your part and a huge chunk of the pressure is relieved. The rest is up to the judges, and the audiences. You can now relax, mingle with the crowd, and perhaps even eat your dinner.

Not that demand for you has lessened. People will still be around, asking to take pictures of you or to sign autographs. This might even occur once you've exited the convention area. But you know the day is nearly at its end and you've accomplished what you came there to do. You might doubt whether all this trouble has been worth it, or if you'll cosplay again in the next convention, but one thing you're sure of is that you're a cosplayer, and even for the briefest of moments, the world knows you are one.