No, Really: What is Cosplay?



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In cosplay, one dresses up as a fictional character among fellow sci-fi/fantasy enthusiasts. This study examines the socio-physical experience of cosplay as a stylized self-performance of identity—as opposed to the popular misconception of escapist freakshow—detailed in Erving Goffman’s theories of performance of the everyday self . My data comes from attending conventions across the United States dedicated to Japanese animation, or “animé”: Anime Expo ’12 (Anaheim, CA), Anime NEXT ’12 (Somerset, NJ), Otakon ’12 (Baltimore, MD), and New York Comic Con ’12 (New York, NY). There, I lodged with cosplayers, visited cosplay panels, and participated in cosplay gatherings and photoshoots. I also interviewed a variety of cosplayers, conducting brief, three-question queries as well as longer, in-depth interviews, with questions such as, “How does cosplay affect your daily life?” The recordings revealed a post-modern self-consciousness of performance, as one vacillates between the out-of-costume self and the interpretation of the character being cosplayed. Aesthetics and accuracy are constantly at odds, in each individual cosplayer’s quest to accurately portray the character while simultaneously expressing their own self-performance to its greatest advantage. For this act is performed with the knowledge that their interpretation of the character—and within it, their exhibition of self-identity—is under constant scrutiny by an all-seeing audience of the convention, the media, and the Internet. I begin by summarizing Erving Goffman’s work and how it may be applied to the cosplay subculture. From there, I break down the cosplay process into its four stages: making, wearing, playing, and performing, and through Goffman explain how these stages function both literally and metaphorically for this performance of the self. The study concludes with an ethnographic account of being in cosplay for New York Comic Con ’12.



anthropology, cosplay, fandom, comics, manga, anime, ethnography, Erving Goffman, performance, subculture, fashion, science fiction, fantasy, gender