All right, so I’ve given you all some abstract thoughts about the anime world, and I’ve even thrown in a review. But I think it’s fair to say that one of the most interesting things about any genre is the fans that love it. In my first post, I mentioned that most people my age have grown up with anime – and this is certainly the case with my friend and interviewee, Juliet.
I hadn’t spoken with Juliet face-to-face for many months, as we have both recently graduated from college and gone our separate ways, still keeping sporadic contact via the wonderful world of the internet. So it was a particular treat to be able to talk with her over Skype and get to know more about our shared interests – and particularly about her forays into convention-going and cosplaying.
Like many folks born in the early 90s, Juliet started out with Pokemon, the Japanese television/trading card game/video game phenomenon that completely overtook American airwaves for at least a good decade (and which seems to refuse death, as the original 150 species of Pokemon have now expanded to include over 600 species). When her family obtained their first computer with internet connection in 1997, she decided to run a search of Sailor Moon on a whim. She didn’t expect the search to garner many results; however, she was bombarded with links to a multitude of websites, fan shrines, and fan art/fiction hubs. Inspired, she wrote her very first fanfiction at the age of seven! This, of course, was only the beginning. Juliet is still a huge animanga fan, and she has expanded her interests into Western comic books, science-fiction and fantasy, and webcomics. When I asked her why she finds anime so appealing, even now, she said:
“I love the diversity of genre you find within it. And a lot of the tropes and storytelling conventions really appeal to me–I love magical girl stories, super-ultra-determination shonen tales…. And you can find a really incredible diversity of animation within anime that you can’t yet in the US–Tatami Galaxy, Lucky Star, Madoka Magica, Michiko to Hatchin and Panty and Stocking are all totally different from each other, for example.”
Though Juliet had first heard of conventions and cosplay around the age of ten or eleven, she didn’t attend her first con until 2008 – Otakon in Baltimore. From this point forward, she decided to become a really dedicated cosplayer, representing some of her favorite characters at conventions all over the country: Arisia, Anime Boston, San Diego Comicon, Katsucon. I asked her how she goes about choosing a character to portray, given the multitudinous options available to her. She said that she tries to find characters that she can identify with the most, but in some cases those costumes are not feasible given how intricate they are, or how expensive, or how difficult it will be to transport them. In these circumstances, she compromises by choosing another character she likes a lot within the same series, so that she can still show off her admiration for a show without having to deal with various setbacks along the way.
I had Juliet talk more about how she budgets herself to make cosplaying and fandom affordable; I know that, like myself, many fans out there would be more active in the fan community if money wasn’t a factor. Her advice is to “be realistic about what you can afford,” and budget ruthlessly! Buying costume pieces that will have future uses is always smart, such as a wig that will work for multiple characters over a few different costumes. Also choosing costumes that you already have pieces for is very helpful (most recently, Juliet went to Katsucon dressed as Marceline from the show Adventure Time. The costume involved a pair of jeans and a gray tank top – things many people already have in their closet!).
And Juliet wants to encourage fans all over to be brave – “Seriously, anybody can cosplay.” She says that even now, when she takes on a new project she worries that her skills aren’t going to be up to the challenge, that what she’s making won’t be an accurate representation. She feels that she’s still very much a beginner in many ways, but she’s learned a lot of really valuable skills that she probably wouldn’t have chosen to pick up without some outside motivator.
It’s hard to look at a cosplayer and not think of all the hard work and dedication that went into making their costume. Juliet certainly uses her enthusiasm for anime, manga, comics, and Western animation quite constructively, and I can tell just looking at her photos that she loves the payoff for all of her hard work. For a day, she gets to be someone else – maybe someone who reminds her of herself, or someone who she wants to emulate. And as someone who has seen her evolution from afar, I can see how much she has learned, and how she applies new knowledge with each project she takes on.
As Juliet has already mentioned, anyone can be a great cosplayer. You can start out small, with simple costumes or easily-bought costumes. Craftsmanship is something that is to be admired but don’t forget that, more than anything else, cosplay is supposed to be fun. So don’t be afraid to express your geeky love!