Dressing the Part: Hawaii's Cosplayers

Field Notes explores Honolulu’s vibrant and varied scenes and subcultures. This month: The wigged-out world of cosplay.

Assembled by our guest photographer, Barrett Ishida, a group of cosplyers hams it up at a photo shoot.

PHotos: barrett ishida


What it is

A combination of the words “costume” and “play,” the pop-culture phenomenon of cosplay exploded in Japan in the 1990s, then caught on among fans of anime, manga and related genres everywhere. Cosplayers dress as characters they admire, strike the appropriate poses, sometimes role play and always take lots of photos. No cosplay is complete, really, without photos.

From left to right: Grace Chee, 24, bioengineer, as Haruko Haruhara from Galactic Space Patrol Brotherhood/Stellar Family; Heidi Shimada, 26, nuclear medicine technologist, as Yuuko Ichihara from the manga xxxHolic – a powerful and fashionable sorceress; Emily Fujimura, 21, college student, as Finland from the Japanese webcomic Hetalia: Axis Power; Sandy Lau, 19, college student, as Sarah Farron from the video game Final Fantasy XIII-2; Joy Higashino, 20, college student, as Gumi, official mascot character of the vocaloid brand Megpoid.





Who’s Cosplaying

Different sorts of cosplayers are drawn to different genres and sub-genres. American superhero comics tend to appeal to men in their 20s, 30s and 40s. Vocaloids, the mascot characters of various brands of Japanese synthetic singing software, appeal most strongly to young women. Among the Star Wars cosplayers there’s a distinct divide between Jedi knights and stormtroopers, with some of the Jedi refusing to associate with the stormtroopers, even out of costume. Anime and manga geared toward boys tend to attract male cosplayers, while those aimed at girls tend to attract females—but not always.  “You cosplay your favorite character, and it doesn’t really have to be a guy or a girl,” says Angel Rumbaoa, one gender-bendy manga fan. “It’s just who you like, and if you can pull it off, you can pull it off.”

Christian Colotario, 40, forklift operator, as Spartan from the video game Halo 3. "Sometimes I get bored at home so I throw my costume on and sit at the bus stop, just to see what kind of reaction I get."

Eri Yamazaki, 24, waitress, as Hoshi Sato from the TV series Star Trek: Enterprise. "She sleeps around then takes over the ship. Then she kind of takes over the world."
Jessica Guerrero, 29, cosmetologist, as Allen Walker from the D.Gray-man manga and anime series. "He pulls off his arm and it becomes a giant sword, which he fights demons with."
Jolene Sasaki, 30, photographer and web designer, as Suigintou from the anime series Rozen Maiden. "She's a doll who plots and schemes to mess up the progress of the other dolls. I can relate."


Where’s the Cosplay?

Chantelle Sonoda, 18, high school student, as Ling Xiaoyu from the video game Tekken. "I relate to her personally, she's very cute but at the same time she's strong."



Jamie Baer, 34, Honolulu County firefighter, as Iron Man. "If you're wearing armor, it's going to pinch you somewhere. If it doesn't pinch you, you're not wearing it right."

The single largest gathering of cosplayers in the Islands occurs during the three-day anime extravaganza Kawaii Kon (this month, March 15-17, at the Hawai‘i Convention Center). More than half of last year’s 6,000 attendees came in costume. Many were painstakingly put together, though plenty of others were inspired at the last minute (think bed sheets, cardboard and duct tape). Cosplayers also turn out en mass at the Hawaii Entertainment Expo Experience (HEXXP).

Local cosplayers connect through social media, organizing meet-ups and photo shoots via Facebook, and sharing photos from the local scene at deviantART (808cosplay.deviantart.com).

In the forums of cosplay.com, the primary international website, cosplayers discuss pressing topics, such as “How do you balance work, family, and cosplay?,” “How to tame faux fur,” and “Keeping pleather nice and non-wrinkled.”


Costume Fails

Wardrobe malfunctions are a fact of cosplay life. Weapons break, horns fall off, colored contact lenses get lost, cat ears get tangled in wigs.  Heidi Shimada, cosplaying a buxom manga magician named Yamuraiha from the Magi series, fabricated her character’s shell bra cups out of clay, then attached them using spirit gum. But the spirit gum wasn’t up to the task, and, during a photo shoot, one shell kept popping off. Shimada solved the problem by securing the cup with strong-bonding spray adhesive. “Two weeks later I was still peeling spray adhesive off my skin,” she says.

Jamie Baer, cosplaying a stormtrooper during a Muscular Dystrophy Association walk-a-thon, decided to warm up for the walk by participating in a Zumba class. While bopping to Zumba’s Latin beat, his codpiece came loose and fell down around his knees, immobilizing him in his restrictive armor. “I couldn’t move,” he says. All he could do was stand there, on the lawn of the state Capitol, waiting for fellow stormtroopers to notice and come to his aid. “I like to dance,” he says, “but sometimes the armor tells you you’re not supposed to do that.”       

Did you know? Cosmetic contact lenses, which can change eye color or blot out irises altogether, are standard cosplay accessories.