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Cosplay (コスプレ, kosupure?), a portmanteau of the English words “costume” and “play”, is a Japanese subculture centered on dressing as characters from manga, anime, tokusatsu, and video games, and, less commonly, Japanese live action television shows, fantasy movies, or Japanese pop music bands. However, in some circles, “cosplay” has been expanded to mean simply wearing a costume.
In Japan, “cosplay” as a hobby is usually an end unto itself. Like-minded people gather to see others’ costumes, show off their own elaborate handmade creations, take lots of pictures, and possibly participate in best costume contests.
Cosplay can be seen at public events such as video game shows, as well as at dedicated cosplay parties at nightclubs or amusement parks. It is not unusual for Japanese teenagers to gather with like-minded friends in places like Tokyo’s Harajuku district to engage in cosplay. Since 1998, Tokyo’s Akihabara district has contained a large number of cosplay cafés, catering to devoted anime and cosplay fans. The waitresses at such cafés dress as game or anime characters; maid costumes are particularly popular.
Possibly the single largest and most famous event attended by cosplayers is the semiannual dojinshi market, Comiket. This event, held in summer and winter, attracts hundreds of thousands of manga otaku and many thousands of cosplayers who congregate on the roof of the exhibition center, often in unbearably hot or cold conditions.
A recent trend at Japanese cosplay events is an increase in the popularity of non-Japanese fantasy and science fiction movie characters, perhaps due to the international success of such films as The Matrix, Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. Characters from the Harry Potter films have a particularly high number of female fans in Japan, with female cosplayers playing either male or female characters, Draco Malfoy being an extremely popular choice.
The act of cosplaying as characters of the opposite sex is called “crossplay” (cross-dressing cosplay). A small niche group in this field are dollers, a subset of kigurumi cosplayers; usually male, they wear bodysuits and masks to fully transform into female characters.
Another recent trend in cosplay is a blurring of the distinction between costumes based on characters from games and anime, and “original” costumes based upon a general theme or existing fashions. In particular, the Tokyo teen-fashion trend of Gothic Lolita has attracted some cosplayers who might not have the inclination (or possibly courage) to wear such distinctive clothes around town, but who would like to dress in such a manner on some occasions.
[Description courtesy Wikipedia.]