Art By Danni Lim
Art By Danni Lim.

Beyond costumes and myths: A spotlight on cosplay culture

Whether you’re the type to dress up or dress down, cosplaying is an activity for anyone and everyone who wants to express themselves and their love for their favorite characters.

By Renee Aguila | Thursday, 8 February 2024

Perhaps you’ve daydreamed about being a fictional character for one day? A favorite villain, side character, or even a meme, anything goes in cosplay. A play on the words “costume” and “play,” cosplaying is a form of performance art in which participants wear costumes, fashion accessories, and even carry props to represent a particular character or figure from specific media. 


But there’s more that meets the eye than simply dressing up which makes this activity quite popular not only within the country but also globally. Several cosplay events have spawned over the past few years and local cosplay icons such as Alodia Gosiengfiao, Charess, Cholo Tolentino, and Kitz Cua among others have paved the way for the local cosplay scene and inspired several people to get into the activity. 


The Benildean reached out to a couple of Benildean cosplayers to know more about the cosplaying experience. 


Unveiling the masters of disguise 

Cosplaying can be seen as a form of temporary escapism, being somebody else for a day without feeling much pressure from people knowing your identity. Cosplayers get to immerse themselves into any fictional world of their choosing and share their interest with like-minded people.


For Lareese Santos, an ID123 Theater Arts student who cosplays characters from anime and video games, shares they’ve been dabbling in cosplay since 2016 but only started doing it seriously in 2019.


“As a kid, I enjoyed stealing my mother's makeup. I loved cartoons and found myself wanting to be a part of their world.” Additionally, the activity makes it easier to socialize with other people.  Santos aired out, “It is so much easier to start a conversation because you already have something you can bond over! There are so many aspects to why someone can love cosplay; the community, the art, the craft, the list goes on and on.”


On another note, some people enjoy cosplaying due to the process. Arthur Ladera, an ID122 Production Design student who cosplays DC Comics characters such as Batman and Red Hood expressed his love for the activity. “Honestly, I just love the process of creating the costumes and props since the feeling you get is something else when you get to hold and see in person the costume and knowing that you built it yourself.” 


Shapeshifting into one’s ideal characters

As cosplaying involves dressing up as an already existing character, this brings the discussion of having only to cosplay characters similar to one’s physical appearance. Anya Mercader, an ID120 Multimedia Arts student who mainly cosplays “Genshin Impact” characters recalled her experience. 


“The very first character I chose to cosplay shared similar features as my own. So I guess you could say that I gear towards characters that share the same physical attributes that I obtain. This really helps in getting into the character and bringing it to life.” 


Anthony Aposaga, another ID122 Production Design student also iterated, “When selecting a character to cosplay, I tend to compare their physical attributes to mine to envision how the look would suit me.”


Despite cosplayers having their reasons for cosplaying characters physically similar to themselves, one must not limit themselves to that notion. Elisha Manalo, another ID120 Multimedia Arts student who also cosplays characters from anime and video games asserted, “I feel like the fun part of cosplaying is trying to transform into the fictional characters I like, so rather than choosing characters based on how similar I look to them, I just choose characters that I love, regardless of their gender or age.” 


Building a new identity

After choosing a character to cosplay, this brings one to the creation of costumes and props. For some cosplayers such as Santos, they used their prior skills in sewing to add details to their outfits and combine them with pre-made costumes. “I order a lot from Shopee, given that many of my cosplays are impulse buys, but I have rented from cosplay [Facebook] pages and I have sewn a few things here and there, nothing too massive though,” they outlined.


On the other hand, some have their cosplays custom-made to fit themselves. After ordering a costume, Mercader detailed her preparations by “Checking the fit, looking through some details that need adjusting. I sometimes need to sew details, iron areas or glue on broken pieces. Doing this before the day needed helps with avoiding malfunctions and such. Next would be to check the wig, maybe it needs to be styled or trimmed and you’ll need to reserve time to execute this. Practicing makeup is a thing too.”


Cutting through cost-playing

While cosplaying may seem quite fun, it isn’t easy and takes up time, effort, and money. As a student, Ladera imparted that while his parents support his hobby, he still shares in some expenses. “I guess it’s also one reason they allowed me to join Production Design since it’s really inclined to what I am doing. Another way that I handle the expenses side is doing lowkey commissions from t-shirt designing and even down to cosplay commissions themselves.” 


Likewise, Aposaga displays resourcefulness, “I don’t really have to worry about spending much on materials because I can just use them for school projects. Besides, a lot of the resources I use for cosplay are rather cheap, like clothes from ukay-ukay or just scrap cardboard.” He also gave a glimpse into his usual week, balancing school and cosplaying, “In terms of time, I try my best to plan my week and allocate days for making my cosplay, photoshoots, and even editing days.”


Cosplaying doesn't have to be expensive; resourcefulness in finding or making costumes and props, as well as renting outfits, can make it affordable. Despite media portrayals, creativity can turn old clothes, thrift finds, and household items into iconic character outfits and props, with only one's imagination as the limit.


Pulling out the realities within the fantasies

Furthermore, the process of cosplaying does come with misconceptions for those unfamiliar or new to the activity. “Madali lang ‘yan,” Santos voices the common misconception they get. They add, “Regular people don't know there are events or cons at these places all the time so the chances of us getting side-eyed, talked about, or judged is very likely.” Ladera also reveals a parallel perception people have, “I think we are viewed by normal people as weirdos. My partner mentioned it to me that she has a relative thinking that when they see cosplayers, they think we are weird and out of place.” 


This brings one also to the topic of fanservice in anime and video games, with Manalo stating, “Though I haven’t personally gotten this comment, I have definitely heard cosplayers talk about how people think cosplaying is kink related or something indecent because of how much fanservice is in anime and games filled, although many cosplayers might lean into the fanservice aspect or sexy cosplays, it doesn’t mean every cosplayer is into doing that.” 


With the recent controversial film release of Pantasya ni Tami from Vivamax, misrepresentation of cosplay and sexualizing it through such misleading media portrayal becomes harmful and disrespectful to the community, further creating misunderstandings about cosplaying.


Moreover, cosplaying is a performance in itself and is not something to look down upon like any other art form. Mercader weighs in with hope that “I wish they knew that there’s a lot more than just wearing a costume. There’s performance and skill to it too. A lot of professionals make their costumes and props, and a lot of them learn stunts so they can perform and portray their characters as realistically as they can.” 


Untangling the issues of consent in cosplaying

Besides learning about the beauty of cosplaying and debunking its common misconceptions, the activity does come with some challenges cosplayers regularly face. A main issue Manalo underscored is “Cosplay is not consent.” She remembered, “When I had cosplayed Nezuko [from the show, “Demon Slayer”], tons of people had given me a head pat without asking. Looking back, it was a bit odd how normal that was, and I realize that even though I was fine with it, I can understand if someone else wouldn’t be.” 


Unfortunately, there’s also the problem of suspicious individuals during events. “Creeps are unavoidable in any fandom, or location to be honest, and they are the biggest issue that comes with cosplaying outside. It's a tough spot to be in because responding negatively can affect your safety or the safety of those around you, but remaining quiet will cause you stress, discomfort and anxiety,” Santos quotes. 


While organizations do try to alleviate these issues through awareness posts on social media, these problems haven’t easily gone away in the community.


Threading a better future for cosplayers

On the bright side, cosplay culture and its community in the Philippines is as lively as ever. Mercader exclaimed that the local cosplay community has grown bigger. “A lot more people have been more open to cosplaying compared to a decade ago where everyone just found it extremely weird.” Ladera also noticed this rise of people participating in the activity, “I noticed a spike in cosplayers since again it became more accessible and people wanted to do it more.” 


Benilde embraces the lively cosplay community, evident in student-produced cosplays like the recent exhibit, "Power, Fashion, Modernity: Unveiling the Ternos of the Benilde Collection" on Oct. 12 to Dec. 15, 2023. Benildean student-artists and cosplayers created unique versions of the terno inspired by original Filipino characters.


As cosplaying flourishes as an activity to reach more people and create communities from that common love for dressing up as their favorite character, it also demands that people look at the activity with an open mind and see how it isn’t simply putting on a costume and roleplaying. 


Cosplaying is more than just play; it's a connection, weaving a diverse community together. Each costume's final stitch represents a storyteller who shares the same fandoms as you.