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This weekend, screams of “ice-cold water!” mix with “kawaii-desu!” (Japanese for “it’s cute!”) outside

, the annual festival of all things anime, manga, fantasy, and video game-y, gets under way. So if you see a squadron of storm troopers at the Five Guys or a giant Pikachu on a paddle boat, don’t be alarmed. Otakon—the name comes from the Japanese term Otaku, which refers to someone obsessed with manga, anime and video games—began in 1994, organized by fans of Otaku culture and, in particular, cosplay (short for costume play). The festival has grown immensely over the years, and this year it’s expected to attract 30,000 people. Cosplay and cosplay contests are still the centerpiece of Otakon, which also includes screenings, lectures, panels, game demos, and massive dance parties. For a preview, we talked to one of Otakon’s costume judges, Cathy Yang, who goes by the cosplay name Mei Hoshi during Otakon.

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City Paper:

Why have a cosplay name?

Cathy Yang:

My cosplay name is more of an alias. When you cosplay, you take on a different persona. I was always a really crafty kid. The first time I saw cosplay was online, and I was really into anime as a kid, so I thought it was a really cool idea. You can make really elaborate outfits, and you can dress up as a character that you love.

CP:

What was it like when you started cosplaying?

CY:

I started cosplaying two years ago. It’s such a different world. Of course, it has its good and its bad, but you get to be amongst peers. I loved being around people that have the same passion as me and seeing all the different characters.

CP:

What are the criteria for judging a costume at Otakon?

CY:

I am a Hall costume judge, so it’s mainly based on craftsmanship—as opposed to Masquerade judging—which is based on performance as well as craftsmanship. We look at how well you made your outfit, originality, stuff like that.

CP:

What’s the best cosplay you’ve seen?

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CY:

The one that took my breath away was the group who won Best in Show last year. They cosplayed as characters from Final Fantasy IX, and the guy that made the outfits really put his own spin on it. Rhinestones all over them and the outfits were very well crafted and beautiful.

CP:

Have you ever encountered people that were anti-cosplay?

CY:

There are always people who think it’s stupid, that there’s no point to it and that it’s waste of money. I think it’s a great hobby.

CP:

What’s the easiest way to start cosplaying?

CY:

You can always find almost anything online. There are a lot of places where you can buy a costume, but if you want to make your own, ask a friend who cosplays. There are a ton of tutorials online. A really great part of the community is [that] people come from all different backgrounds and can express that with their cosplay.

CP:

Do you think some of the appeal of cosplay is that it’s a niche culture?

CY:

I don’t think it would be bad if more people were into it. I am totally for more people knowing what cosplaying is.

CP:

What’s a good way to get someone into the Otakon experience that isn’t ready to cosplay?

CY:

If someone is really curious and they don’t want to buy a badge, just walk around the convention center and see all the people cosplaying inside.

Otakon runs

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