Cosplay – the international costume scene you’ve probably never heard of, until now

by: Abigail Javier - 12 November 2015

Keziah Topkin cosplaying as Natsu Dragneel at RAge 2015. Photo by Abigail Javier

Wearing a ninja outfit and dragon-eyed contact lenses while carrying a prop sword on the street might get people staring and thinking you’re deranged. But not if you are at a cosplay convention, like rAge Expo 2015, South Africa’s annual gaming and technology exhibition, which recently took place in Johannesburg. rAge Expo is one of the biggest platforms for cosplay competitions in the country. Another one, Sci-Fi Con takes place this Saturday, November 14, in Midrand, Gauteng.

We spoke to the many young attendants at rAge Expo about the growing popularity of cosplay.


What exactly is cosplay?

Cosplay, which means “costume play”, is a performance art in which people wear costumes and accessories to embody a specific character. Anime, games, books and films are some of the sources cosplayers get their characters from. For many, cosplay is a combination of escapism and self-expression.

Devin Green, from Johannesburg has dressed up as, at least, 40 characters in his four years of cosplaying. “I just really love getting into character and losing myself to the role,” says the 24-year-old film and television graduate. The culture of cosplay also embodies a sense of comradery within cosplayers. Kelsey Atkins, a 21-year-old graphic designer from Durban, says the cosplay community is amazing. “I love our people, they are so kind, helpful and friendly. I’m so glad to be a part of it,” she says.

Tayla Barter aka Kinpatsu cosplaying as Vi from League of Legends and Sylvanas from World of Warcraft, Steven Shannon as Toy Soldier and Kelsey Atkins as Sona from League of Legends. RAge 2015 © Abigail Javier

L to R: Tayla Barter as Officer Vi; Steven Shannon as Toy Soldier both from the online game “League of Legends (LOL)”; Tayla Barter again as Sylvanas Windrunner from the online game “World of Warcraft”; and Kelsey Atkins as Kinetic DJ Sona from “LOL”.

Costume-making is an art

While ready-made character outfits are available, most cosplayers prefer to use their own creativity to make costumes. rAge Expo 2015 was the first time that 20-year-old psychology student Aqir Murilal entered a cosplay competition, as Kakashi, a character from the anime/manga series Naruto Shippūden. With the help of his cousin, it took him only six hours to make his ensemble without any cost. “I used a wooden pellet and doll sticks that I found laying around at home for the sword,” he says.

On the other hand, 21-year-old fine arts student Tayla Barter, also known as Kinpatsu, says it took her two months to complete one of her three costumes for rAge. One of her costumes cost her about R5000 to make. But it all paid off in the end as she won first place in the costume construction category in the competition. “It’s a hobby, but I would love to try and make this into something that I could do for the rest of my life,” she says.

Cosplay genderbending by Keziah Topkin as Natsu Dragneel from Fairy Tail, The Joker and Yamaki as  Minato Namikaze from Naruto at RAge 2015 © Abigail Javier

L to R: Keziah Topkin as Natsu Dragneel from anime series “Fairy Tail” (gender-bend version); the Joker from DC Comics (gender-bend version); and Yamaki Yama as Minato Namikaze from anime series “Naruto Shippūden” (crossplay version).

Gender is not a thing in cosplay

Nadja Späth, co-founder of LegionInk, an NPO providing support for creatives and host of the cosplay competition at the rAge Expo, says what makes South African cosplayers unique is that they embrace their creative liberties. “They love to do custom cosplay, where they interpret characters in their own way rather than just looking as if you’ve just stepped out of the screen or book.”

Crossplaying and gender-bending, which refer to portraying the opposite gender of a specific character, are two favourite ways South Africans enjoy cosplaying.

Cosplay genderbending by Lizelle Babamia as Esdeath from Akame Ga Kill, Frances Dyers aka Momo as Sasuke from Naruto and Peggy Ndebele as Grell Sutcliff from Kuroshitsuji at RAge 2015 © Abigail Javier

Top L to R: Lizelle Babamia as Esdeath from anime series “Akame Ga Kill!”; Frances Dyers as Sasuke from “Naruto Shippūden” (gender-bend version); and Peggy Ndebele as Grell Sutcliff from anime series “Kuroshitsuji” (gender-bend version).

Psychology student Frances Dyers, aka Momo, interpreted the character Sasuke from Naruto Shippūden as a woman with long black braids. “The nice thing about cosplaying is that you can change it to suit yourself, allowing us to see beyond the borders of race,” says the 22-year-old. For her next cosplay she wants to create a South African version of Vocaloid, a Japanese singing group, by incorporating the South African flag and proteas as headsets.

Rolene Byleveld aka Axn Cosplay as Yoko Littner from Gurren Lagann, Aqir Murilal as Kakashi from Naruto, Jarid Norman as Deadpool, Al-mzaan Babamia as Daiki Aomine and Arhem Panel as Shintaro Midorima from Kuroko no Basuke and Jessica Lu as Ahri from League of Legends at Rage 2015 © Abigail Javier

Top L to R: Rolene Byleveld as Yoko Littner from anime series “Gurren Lagann”; Aqir Murilal as Kakashi from “Naruto Shippūden”; Jarid Norman as Deadpool from Marvel Comics; Arhem Panel as Shintarō Midorima and Al-mizaan Babamia as Daiki Aomine from anime series “Kuroko no Basuke”; and Jessica Lu as New Dawn Ahri from “LOL”.

South African cosplay on the rise

Globally the form of art is popular, resulting in international tournaments and even a reality US TV show called Heroes of Cosplay. While the South African cosplay community is not as big as overseas, its prevalence here can no longer be ignored. Späth says that the number of cosplay entrants increases every year. “I think we are finally reaching international standards. One day we would like to send our cosplayers overseas to compete.”

All images: Abigail Javier


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