With more conventions on the horizon and my beloved Sakura-Con right around the corner, my future with cosplay is really starting to flesh itself out. My panel has been accepted to be presented at least twice more in the coming months, including my second year at Sakura Con. In the biggest piece of news I received to date, I have been accepted to New York University’s Gallatin School of Individual Study! At NYU, I will finally have the opportunity to explore cosplay on an academically support level. In addition to my field research with my panel, Need Input!, I will be studying graduate courses on psychology, sociology, anthropology, performance studies and East Asian studies to craft my own Master’s program in Cosplay Studies. Below is my Statement of Purpose, detailing my study intentions, my prospective classes and my overall goals for an academic career in cosplay!
As I look back at my first exposure to cosplay and the community that surrounds it, I never would have realized the years of dedication and the dozens of questions to follow would become the focus of my academic and creative life. My first exposure to the cosplay community was at Penny Arcade Expo in Bellevue, Washington in August 2004. I traveled from Salem, Oregon with my four best friends to enjoy a weekend of video games and geeky antics before beginning my senior year of high school. Throughout my weekend, I couldn’t help but notice that there were people dressed as popular characters from video games, such as Lara Croft from Tomb Raider or Master Chief from the Halo franchise. Their intricate costumes drew the attention of photographers and fans of both the characters and the games from which they originated. After forty-two consecutive hours of video and tabletop gaming and snapping as many costume photos as I could, I became enthralled in the convention scene and this costume activity known as ‘cosplay’. By my next convention in April 2005, another Washington convention known as Sakura-Con, I was wearing my own cosplay and joining a community that would become the most immersive and creative foundation of my life. Cosplay (コスプレ) is a performance art that involves dressing up in costumes to represent a character or an idea. The costumes are often associated with characters from Japanese anime, video games and comic books and can either be crafted from scratch or purchased already constructed. It is a growing community of people that gather together in costume, whether it be at school clubs, local meet-ups, or annual conventions. Cosplay has been the creative and social focus of my life for ten years now, but recently, I have undergone a personal transformation that didn’t require a costume.
Through years of experience and my own personal inquisition of my love for the hobby, I have developed a deep interest for the human desire and drive to cosplay. By expanding beyond the conception that cosplay is merely just ‘fun’, I have asked myself and other cosplayers to look beyond initial feelings and emotions and reflect on the real questions that surround this craft. How do cosplayers decide which characters they will embody? What feelings are evoked from this transformation and how do these manifested emotions overcome the stress and judgment that can come with cosplaying? Is cosplay a form of escapism and ignorance to reality or is it an ascension into a greater understanding of our inner strengths? What social and community-based advantages are being exposed through the gatherings of thousands of cosplayers at conventions around the world? Ultimately, why do we cosplay? These and many other questions have come to enrich my cosplay lifestyle, from merely attending conventions for entertainment to perceiving the thousands of people that attend as cultural phenomena, constantly breaking ground with elements of self-discovery and community.
From one person’s investment into a single costume to the cosplay-rich convention-based communities that gather annually around the world, the ideas of cosplay expand into sociocultural anthropology, sociology, psychology and performance studies. With the term ‘cosplay’ being of Japanese origin and particular districts in Tokyo made popular for frequent cosplay-based activities, an essence and appreciation of East Asian studies must be attributed to these ideas as well. With the assistance of these avenues of academia, I also pursue my inquires by engaging face-to-face with the cosplay community at conventions across the country through panels and large scale surveys that gather personal testimonies and statistical data to bolster my research.
Coinciding with my academics and my convention travels in order to conduct field research, I will not only continue to create cosplays for myself, but I will now record my creation processes, journal mental-emotional discoveries and make a greater effort to understand my own process of cosplay. On this exploration to discover why the rest of the world chooses to cosplay, I still find several questions to ask myself about my role in the world of cosplay. Why do I spend several months on a single costume that I will sometimes only wear for a few hours? Why do I ritually don these costumes and invest physical and emotional strength becoming people from other time periods, planets and planes of existence? What do I seek to gain in an already stressful process by putting myself on display for thousands of people to critique and judge a transformation in which I am personally and wholeheartedly committed? In my pursuits to have the other cosplayers of the world answer these questions, I would like to discover my own answers to why cosplay has become such a driving force in my life.
With so many ideas surrounding cosplay and the questions that could be asked about it, the difficulty of making it fit into just one academic discipline has been a struggle. I have investigated university programs in anthropology, sociology, psychology and Japanese studies to try and find one that can cater to the sociocultural diversity of cosplay while still allowing the element to explore its artistic level of performance and creativity. I find it a necessity to keep the two together and I strongly believe the Gallatin School at New York University is the best platform to keep the science and the art together. While understanding why people cosplay from a psychological, social and cultural perspective is important to me, it is also of limitless value to appreciate the theatrical process of becoming a character and the level of artistic craftsmanship that goes into making a cosplay. With my current level of experience, I have a comfort understanding to the world of cosplay, but I seek to understand it on a deeper academic level. I need to develop a theoretical foundation in relation to my questions of ethics, psychology, identity, community, and social behavior. In order to organize my findings, my current research and understanding of the cosplay world, I seek academic support and encouragement to connect my current understanding of cosplay to scholastic ideas and theories.
My experience with cosplay has transpired from the end of my high school career into my present day adult life. It is an activity has grown from an annual hobby, generating one costume a year, to the primary pursuit of my life, giving rise to conventions attended on a monthly basis and multiple costumes produced for each attendance. I have attended almost twenty conventions for Japanese anime, video games and comic books across the country. My most recent convention attendance at the New York Comic Con in October 2013 recognized my level of craftsmanship and dedication for cosplay with an award for Best Performance at the Wikia Live Cosplay Contest. The greatest value of my cosplay career so far is the diverse collection of characters that I have become: a teenage robot pilot facing the apocalypse, a widowed queen on a quest to save her empire, a little girl born from a science experiment living in a city under the sea, and a disenchanted wolf goddess trying to journey home, just to name a few.
Overall, my greatest academic and professional experiences revolve around my convention panel, Need Input!: A Panel for Cosplay Research. The panel surveys the cosplay community of the conventions with a Q&A style of gathering personal feedback as well as an anonymous circulating survey that gathers statistical data about cosplayers, such as age, gender identity, and cosplay preferences. Asking questions like ‘How do you feel when you cosplay?’ and ‘Does cosplay fulfill something in your life that you don’t get from normal day-to-day life?’, over 60 people during my 90-minute panel volunteered their personal anecdotes and stories. In my experience and research so far, cosplay has unveiled a value of developing both practical life skills and positive mental and social health. The art of cosplay requires learning new skills, developing an attention to detail, creative problem solving, resourcefulness and efficient time management. On a personal and social level, it builds confidence and self-esteem, creates immersive social interaction and is limitless path for self-exploration. Part of my panel’s research to discover the motivations of why people cosplay; the other part is to further credit the social significance that this art form plays in bringing people together and building successful human connections. With plans for at least six more conventions in the year, Need Input! has become my primary outlet for field research and the gathering of information from cosplayers and the cosplay community.
My tentative course selection draws courses from anthropology, psychology, performance studies, sociology and East Asian studies. These are the following courses that I would like to incorporate into my program studies and their departments, respectively:
- Social Anthropology Theory and Practice ANTH-GA 1010
- Culture, Meaning, and Society ANTH-GA 1222
- East Asian Studies
- Seminar in Modern Japanese Literature & Culture AST-GA 2550
- Japanese Anime and New Media G33.1708
- Theories of Personality PSYCH-GA 2015
- Introduction to Statistics SOC-GA 2332
- Sociology of Culture SOC-GA 2414
- Performance Studies
- Embodying the Other: Human Beings and Speech Gesture PERF-GT 2730
- Performance Composition: Performing Identities PERF-GT 2730
I found the following Gallatin coursework to especially beneficial to my area of study:
- Proseminar: Studying Social Life: Theories and Methods CORE-GG2022
- Why Do You Want to Make It, and How Can You Make It Better? ELEC-GG2435
Any independent studies I choose to explore will most likely explore my convention attendances, running my panel and creating cosplays. Of the professors available currently available at NYU, I am most interested in working with Professor Thomas Looser of the East Asian Studies program. With his main focuses being on cultural anthropology and Japanese studies, I believe he is the one of the best professors to advise me on my cosplay studies.
So, now, in addition to my panel, all my planned cosplays and all the conventions I plan to tour, now I have to think about resume the life of a student. I’ll be honest, I’ve been out of school for about five years and the idea of resuming school life is daunting and scary. I mean, do I still remember how to write a paper? I guess this is just the next step in make cosplay more and more a part of my everyday life! Stay tuned while I figure out how I’m gonna manage this huge honor to be accepted to NYU, and how jostle writing papers and making cosplays!