The weekend of Anime Boston ― the three-day Japanese animation convention that runs March 21-23 at the Hynes Convention Center ― has been highlighted on my calendar for months. I’ve spent my spare cash at Blick Art Supplies and my free nights crouched over my sewing machine. I’ve used my cookware to bake Sculpey modeling clay in the oven and mix Paper Mache. I’ve plastered my apartment walls and refrigerator with screenshots from Metroid.
At the convention, I’ll be cosplaying (an abbreviation of “costume play”) Samus Aran’s zero suit from the games Metroid and Super Smash Bros. Brawl. The majority of attendees at Anime Boston will be cosplaying ― or, dressing up as ― characters from their favorite anime, manga, webcomics, and video-games. Cosplay is the highest compliment a fan can pay a franchise, and the best cosplayers do as much of the costume as they can by themselves, although this may require learning how to use a jigsaw or perfecting difficult sewing techniques.
Why cosplay? As far as I can tell, there are two main motivations. The first is the creation process of building the costume. If you enjoy sewing and painting, or building a gun out of wood, or crafting a suit of armor out of foam-board, cosplaying at huge conventions will give you the opportunity to show off your skill.
The other main reason to cosplay is what drives me to do it. While I pride myself on my increasing sewing ability and craft skills, I cosplay characters that I truly love, that I connect to ― not because of their appearance, but because of their personality. Samus Aran is one of the only female characters in the entire genre of first-person shooter video-games. As a girl who enjoys shooters, I’m in the minority, and I’m often frustrated with the absence of female characters in my favorite games. My Samus cosplay gave me the opportunity to learn to construct a gun entirely out of wood, but more importantly, the project represents my feminist gaming perspective.
For me, attending a convention has become much more about cosplaying than about hanging around the manga library or the gaming room. Actors ― or those aspiring ― can participate in the competitive theatrical events like the Masquerade, the Cosplay Dating Game, and Cosplay Chess. The Masquerade includes performances of planned sketches, and the other two events involve in-character improvisation. You can also meet voice actors, buy Japanese imports in the dealers’ room, enter videogame tournaments, but you’ll find that the majority of attendees go in cosplay. Conventions become a massive three-day Halloween party interspersed with opportunities to perform and compete.
Below, a few pieces of advice and wisdom for those uninitiated with Anime Boston.
As you watch the events like the Cosplay Masquerade, or even just as you walk around the con, you might notice that certain cosplayers have fame and social status. The ideal cosplayer has artistic skill, acting ability, and an affinity with their character. No cosplayer can be perfect, though, and obsessive cosplayers can be scary ― but such is the case with any hobby. In other words, you needn’t assume that every cosplayer secretly believes they’re the reincarnation of the Green Ranger.