Thursday, October 24, 2013

Beyond the Staple

Mansairaku with Hikaru (Otogizoushi anime series - 2004)



In almost all things, at some point, a certain dynamics is established, a pattern very thoroughly followed afterwards. In cosplay, this dynamics is pretty simple: a new series is launched -> some choose to cosplay as the main characters of that series -> both the series, and the cosplay become extremely popular -> a staple cosplay is born. This is why there are certain anime/manga/games that are present as a must in the "portfolio" of almost each cosplayer. Just open - randomly - the personal web page of any cosplayer and you will surely find a SHERYL NOME from MACROSS FRONTIER, a SEBASTIAN, CIEL or GRELL from KUROSHITSUJI, a PANTY or/and STOCKING from PANTY AND STOCKING WITH GARTERBELT - to mention just a few. Of course, they are all interesting characters with nice costumes, but they slightly risk losing their power through repetition and overexploit.

Cosplay world is like an RPG game map in which only the center was discovered and that has untouched grounds yet awaiting to be revealed. Although some classics have already been noticed, unfortunately these are usually limited to Sailor Moon and other few series alike. What of those series that hold very promising potential for cosplaying, but nobody - or almost nobody - seem to know about? Let's take a look at four possible inspiration sources, very little exploited in cosplay - if at all.


Those who take cosplay seriously surely know that it is a hobby involving not only a fancy or difficult costume, but also complex characters. The more difficult, the more challenging; and the more challenging, the better. A series in which this balance between complexity of character and difficulty of costume-making is very well preserved is Production IG's masterpiece, OTOGIZOUSHI; its first half, the HEIAN CHAPTER, can represent a veritable treasure trove for those who would like to make use of the refinement of the HEIAN costume while impersonating a fascinating character.

The story itself is pretty intricate; while requiring at least some basic knowledge of the period, it also makes the viewer want to know more and start a personal research about what HEIAn meant in the Japanese culture. HIKARU, daughter of MINAMOTO NO MITSUNAGA, goes - substituting her bedridden brother, RAIKOU, whose identity she takes - in a quest to find four magatamas, in order to save the plagued capital. Her destiny proves to be tightly interwoven with that of Mansairaku, the most famous court dancer in HEIAN-KYO. Hikaru (Otogizoushi anime series) Hikaru (Otogizoushi anime series) Mansairaku (Otogizoushi anime series)

Cosplay-wise, OTOGIZOUSHI offers multiple choices, but let's focus on these two, who can doubtless be considered the most interesting ones: MINAMOTO NO HIKARU, and MANSAIRAKU. Hikaru can be depicted as both herself, and as RAIKOU, the identity that she takes during her journeys. As HIKARU, the cosplayer can render the beauty of the HEIAN multi-layered kimono, depicting at the same time the refinement of movement, make-up and hair styling. Cosplaying as OTOGIZOUSHI'S MINAMOTO NO HIKARU doesn't mean just wearing a few layers of kimono and a red hakama; the cosplayer must also research the HEIAN women's way of walking, sitting and posing, in order for the cosplay and cosplay photoshoot to be a success; not to mention how careful the cosplayer must be with the selection of fabric - for such a garment one would definitely need high quality fabric. Maybe one of the most beautiful script choices for a cosplay photoshoot is in the fourth episode, the moment when HIKARU and MANSAIRAKU first meet up on the RASHOU GATE in HEIAN KYO, when HIKARU plays the flute and MANSAIRAKU dances with the fan following the ethereal rhythm of her sound. While the costumes themselves aren't too complicated, consisting only of the HEIAN period outfit for men and women, the scene itself holds a high degree of sensuality that can be a challenge to depict for both the cosplayer, and photographer.

As for HIKARU as RAIKOU, the costume is pretty different, but nonetheless challenging: the Heian traveler-warrior, an outfit completed with a bow and a quiver of arrows. Although spectacular in itself, this costume is best highlighted if the cosplayer is accompanied by the other members of the group: TSUNA (RAIKOU's protector), SADAMITSU (the warrior womanizer), URABE (the mysterious woman working under ABE NO SEIMEI) and KINTAROU (the kid with overwhelming power). All of them are very well shaped characters, each with its own individuality.

The adventures of the protagonists and the complicated nature of the anime itself leave space for creating personal interpretations and stories, which is a very fertile ground in cosplay, because a good cosplay doesn't usually mean imitating, but also interpreting. And OTOGIZOUSHI has a fair share of interpretation possibilities that can be brilliantly depicted in a photoshoot


From HEIAN, let's take a fast-forward trip and make a short stop in JAPAN'S EDO. Of course, when saying "EDO", most of us think of those bloody samurai battles from a period of political decline and instability; or, in cosplay, of series such as HAKUOKI SHINSENGUMI KITAN or the masterpiece RUROUNI KENSHIN. True, they are both important inspiration sources; but what about an EDO where blood, war and fighting don't come in the foreground? A city where the focus is on personal stories and on everyday life, and not on action? HOUSE OF FIVE LEAVES is such a series, and can make an awesome choice for cosplay.

The series is centered on two main characters, YAICHI (also known under the names of ICHI, or SEI) and MASA. YAICHI is the leader of the gang THE FIVE LEAVES, whose purpose is to kidnap the sons of various wealthy families or shogun direct retainers, and return them in exchange for a ransom. MASA is a ronin samurai hired by YAICHI to work for them. The stories of the group members (UME, MATSU, MASA, THE ELDER, AND THE WOMAN OTAKE) are revealed slowly and briefly, each being centred on the moment they individually met YAICHI, thus representing the small pieces that intermingle to form the larger picture. Masa (House of Five Leaves anime series - 2010) Yaichi (House of Five Leaves anime series - 2010) Masa and Yaichi (House of Five Leaves anime series - 2010)

Cosplay-wise, the greatest challenge of this series is, paradoxically, its simplicity. The cosplayer doesn't have to deal with complicated war costumes, armours or impressive details on kimonos. While the costumes themselves are casual yukata (YAICHI), or a simple samurai costume consisting only of hakama and kimono, and straw flip-flops, the characters are remarkable due to their elegance in movement, sensuality of gestures or the expressiveness of the face, which can be pretty difficult to depict. It's not only a matter of what you wear, but, mostly in YAICHI's and also OTAKE's case, of how you wear. There are countless scenes in the anime where we see the way YAICHI holds the pipe while smoking, or how his leg is visible only partly out of the yukata, or how he leans his head on one hand, while holding the sake cup with the other; and in all these cases the clothes, while very simple, seem to be perfectly fit, folding flawlessly on his body. All these postures can be a great challenge for a photoshoot of a cosplay as this character.

Regardless of the chosen FIVE LEAVES character, there is one common trait, and that is the style in which the eyes and mouth are drawn. The graphic uniqueness of the series makes the make-up a crucial element in cosplaying as such characters, as this is the main method to capture their facial expressiveness. Contact lenses with pupils as big, and as round as possible, and a light foundation and lipstick surely are of big help to achieve that kind of look. All that, combined with a gracious and sensual posture, and, if lucky, with a historical Asian-style setting (such as a traditional Asian premises or garden with at least a bridge) and the result can be really enchanting, drawing the viewer into a completely different time and place.


Now, let's move from history to contemporary Tokyo, bustling with sound and light. It's quite common for some to cosplay as the artists of their favorite J-ROCK BANDS, such as DIR EN GREY or VERSAILLES - flamboyant costumes and characters with a mysterious aura are always attractive. But what about some fictional J-ROCK STARS, whose story is at the same time touching and inspiring, and whose personality one really comes to fully understand after watching the series? Perhaps the perfect choice for such fictional J-ROCK characters are the artists of LUCIFER (sometimes spelled /ucifer) from the anime KAIKAN PHRASE. Yuki, Sakuya, Atsuro, The Band Lucifer (Kaikan Phrase anime series - 1999)

The 44 episodes of the series (adapted - but importantly different - from SHINJOU MAYU's very popular manga) lead the viewer throughout the sinuous path to success of LUCIFER, starting from the point where the band gets to be formed, and up to the moment of ultimate success, the three days concert at TOKYO DOME. It's a story that makes you love music, J-ROCK and all the five members of Lucifer, who are presented not as unreachable rock stars, but mainly as human beings, each with his own feelings and views.

In this case, the best costume choice is definitely one from the second half of the series, after the band gets to be signed under the very famous company JUPITER RECORDS. All the costumes, mainly stage outfits, involve pretty sexy fabrics and combinations of accessories (leather or suede, latex, buckles, or loops). What's more interesting is that the clothes themselves mirror the inner personality of each character: eroticism in vocal SAKUYA, strong self-discipline in guitarist YUKI, an almost feminine sensitivity in bassist TOWA, cheerfulness in guitarist ATSURO, stubbornness in drummer SANTA. They all fit very well, and if the cosplayer and photographer watch the series carefully, they will surely come up with very interesting photoshoot ideas, inspired from both certain episodes from the anime, and from various personality traits of the character that the cosplayer wishes to bring to life. This is an anime that would be best fitted for a group cosplay, for this is actually the essence of KAIKAN PHRASE: team work, solidarity and friendship beyond all hardships, for the sake of music and of the band.

A KAIKAN PHRASE cosplay is not only a matter of sexy clothes. A cosplayer doesn't depict just a J-ROCK star bishie, but also feelings. And, apart from watching the anime, maybe the best way to convey this is listening to their songs, all of them related to certain episodes of their life as a band, and expressing certain feelings; DAKISHIMERU HOKA NI - the loneliness of SAKUYA; DATENSHI BLUE - Lucifer's manifesto; PLASMAGIC - the struggle for inspiration; TOKYO ILLUSION - gratitude, nostalgia and the will to go on - to name just a few. It's impossible to watch the anime, to listen to LUCIFER's songs and to not come up with great cosplay photoshoot ideas.

Actually, the series itself triggered a strange cosplay case. In order for the anime to be promoted, a band was formed, whose members had to be the exact real life version of the KAIKAN PHRASE characters. Not only they named the band LUCIFER, but the members also took the names of the characters (except MAKOTO, the vocal). While created just for promotional purposes, the band proved to be hugely popular and continued until 2003. And hey, isn't this also another story waiting to be told in the composition of an image?


Fantasy is such a vast realm that it never ceases to provide amazing inspiration sources for the cosplayers who prefer to depict impressive characters of imaginary worlds. Works such as KAORI YUKI's manga are already a staple in cosplay, due to their extremely beautiful characters with no less complicated and appealing outfits. However, the same as in other thematic areas, fantasy has also its secret treasures and one of them is REIKO SHIMIZU's MIRACLE TAROT. Neither manga nor anime, the "series" of this Japanese illustrator actually consists of a deck comprising of 78 Tarot cards, most of them depicting characters of ethereal beauty, deeply rooted in the Japanese symbols and drawn in a style that vividly reminds of manga. King of Pentacles and Page of Wands (Miracle Tarot - 1993)

The characters illustrated on the TAROT CARDS reveal a highly aesthetic view that can be translated into a beautiful and elegant cosplay. For those who love to wear sheer and diaphanous fabrics, the QUEEN OF WANDS, the KNIGHT OF WANDS, JUSTICE or the PAGE OF WANDS can be perfect choices. Or, if one wants a challenge and wishes to cosplay as a beautiful armored character with androgynous appearance, one can always choose the KING OF SWORDS, the KNIGHT OF SWORDS and the LOVERS. And, for an amazing display of accessories, the deck offers characters such as the QUEEN OF SWORDS, the KING OF CUPS, or the effeminate KING OF PENTACLES. Out of the 78 cards, the choices are considerably diverse. Maybe the main attraction of REIKO SHIMIZU's Tarot characters is the high degree of interpretation possibilities. Each character can be assigned his/her own story, depending only on the cosplayer's imagination. Some of the most interesting characters are not fully revealed and, while this is usually a very bothersome obstacle in costume-making, in this case it can be a plus. Regardless of how weird it may seem, the world of REIKO SHIMIZU's Tarot cards is an ethereal one, the "protagonists" of her illustrations are anchored in neither time, nor space. In some cases there are some very insignificant setting indications that can add to the imagined story. What hides behind the longing distant look of the PAGE OF WANDS? Where does he want to fly with those folded wings? How about the painfully beautiful KING OF PENTACLES? Is he the almighty ruler of some seas? Or of the sky? What kind of clothes would fit on his lean body? Only the cosplayer's imagination can answer these questions, turning them into palpable realities. The choices are vast, as vast as the extended world of cosplay possibilities that lies beyond the undiscovered map.

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