One of the more interesting debates I’ve read lately was kicked off when the UK’s first and only dedicated anime TV channel “Anime Central” invited the so-called crème of British cosplayers to strut their wares on digital television in front our derisive nation. Though many of the UK’s long-suffering elite were excited by this, just as many were horrified; not as much by the cosplay itself, but rather the anticipated reaction from random outsiders (themselves potential anime fans) only too willing to rip-the-piss out of the inescapably “geeky-looking” anime addicts.
There is a clear divide between anime fans; those who treat it as (and want it to be perceived as) a serious art form, capable of melting even the coldest of hearts, and those who see anime as just another style of entertainment where anything can go. Put simply, for the serious fans, cosplay is an inescapable and embarrassing element of fandom; after all, you may spend months trying to convince pessimistic friends to sit down in front of Cowboy Bebop, but one look at Man-Faye is likely to ruin them forever. However, while cosplay may lower the still poor general perception of Japanese animation to almost subterranean levels of public ridicule, there is something in its eccentricity.
For an example, lets look at the most popular sport in the world; football (or, as it’s known to our foreign readers, “soccer”). Consider that so-many people attend matches dressed in the replica kit of their favourite team; hell, some even go so far as to have their favourite player’s name and number printed on their shirts. As fans in their thousands, these people herd together into stadiums, proudly wearing their team’s colours, to show their support. Some girl cosplaying as Haruhi at an anime convention is doing the same thing; she might not look too cool, but the tenacity and passion required to do this should be commended and, most of all, valued.
The only difference is that while football has been around for over a hundred years, anime is relatively new and foreign, and hence, weird in the eyes of the lemmings. For every six people bugged out by the weeaboo vibe, one person might be inspired, fascinated or encouraged by the idea that they aren’t alone, and if someone is superficial or insecure enough to feel genuinely threatened by that, perhaps they aren’t worth the effort in the first place?
Every step forward for Japanese pop culture into the Western world has been accompanied by innovation. In particular, the last decade has seen massive success for manga simply because the publishers stopped trying to force their Japanese novels into the Western perception of comics. Who would have thought that so many (and so many females, too!) would be willing to read obscure Japanese illustrations from right to left? All these little eccentricities, weird as they may seem, create a definite image, something for people to latch onto and claim as their own.
Cosplay is the same, and if you’re trying to stifle that, or hide it from view, you’re simply succeeding in lessening interest in your beloved anime. Of course, I’m a serious anime fan, sometimes I feel embarrassed by how anime is perceived by the masses, I want people to name-drop Satoshi Kon along side the likes of Alfred Hitchcock and Martin Scorsese, but not if it means telling some fat guy he’s too wide to dress up as Shonen Bat; putting aside all the politics, no one fan is better than another, we all love anime.