“You’re like a different person when you cosplay,” I told cosplayer Sou.
“I get that a lot,” she responded.
I first met Sou—a Japanese cosplayer who has been honing her craft for over ten years—in 2014 at a cosplay karaoke competition, where she was cosplaying and singing as Sheryl Nome from Macross Frontier. Since then, she’s been my go-to for quality cosplay creation and repairs. Every time we meet up, I hear about her ambitions and work as a professional cosplayer and cosplay-maker.
“I saw people cosplaying the first time I ever went to a dōjinshi market, and I felt this sense of admiration, I guess you would call it. It made me think, ‘Wow, I want to do that too.’ I hadn’t known about cosplay until then,” she told me over coffee and a plate of doughnuts, “It was a shock to learn that there was this fun world of cosplaying as your favorite character.”
The cosplay market in Japan, Sou told me, was a very different place ten years ago. Cosplay wasn’t originally a widely-accepted hobby, making premade cosplay and wigs of various colors non-existent. If you didn’t have a character with bright green or pink hair that you could pull off with a Halloween wig, you had to use your own hair. This is what lead Sou to Rinoa from Final Fantasy VIII, which became her first cosplay.
“I didn’t necessarily cosplay Rinoa because I liked her a ton; it was because it was easy to cosplay her. I would never cosplay Rinoa now.”
“Why?” I asked.
“I don’t look good as her at all!” She laughed, “Even when I look back on some of the photos of me cosplaying as Rinoa, I think, ‘Oh God, this didn’t suit me at all!’ But at the time, it wasn’t a matter of whether it suited you or not; it was more about cosplaying and meeting other people who were cosplaying as characters from the same series as you.”
She told me she’ll never forget the fun she had running around town as a high-schooler, looking for boots and other items that looked like Rinoa’s. However, even back then, cosplay was an expensive hobby. In order to buy Rinoa’s official pendant as well as shoes that looked like the character’s own, she had to scrounge up her allowance. Although she originally had only interest in dōjinshi, little by little, her interest in cosplay overtook her love for the self-published fanzines.
After graduating school, Sou decided to attend a trade school to learn about hair and makeup not because of her love of cosplay, but because of her admiration for the beauticians in her neighborhood. She also credited Banri Hidaka’s Sekai de Ichiban Daikirai (I Hate You More than Anyone)—a manga that focuses on the romance between a high school girl and a hairstylist—as one of her inspirations to attend.
Black Lady from Sailor Moon
What made this trade school so interesting, however, was its graduation ceremony. The school had a tradition of having its students choose what they thought was their best clothes to wear to the ceremony. What outfit did Sou choose to wear, then?
“Yes! Precure 5 GoGo!’s Cure Dream.”
Yes, Sou chose to dress up as Cure Dream from the Yes! Precure 5 GoGo! anime. And she didn’t just wear it—after leaving her school’s dormitory and moving her things over to a hotel for a temporary stay, she set up her machine within her own hotel room and sewed away until the night before the ceremony.
“How was the reaction from your classmates?” I asked her.
“My classmates knew that I was an otaku, so they had the attitude of ‘oh my God, this girl really came in cosplay,’ but the parents and little sisters of the other graduates came over to me and were all like, ‘Oh! There’s a Precure here! Yaaaay!,’ Sou smiled, “I heard later that my mom saw that and was like, ‘Wow.'”
“I’m guessing that was the bad meaning of ‘wow.'” I said. She nodded with a smirk.
From there on, continued to cosplay. Aside from it being a hobby, she also has made it into a job, modeling when called for and making costumes for clients. When I asked her if she knew she could get money by cosplaying when she began getting into the hobby, she said that it was never on her mind.
“Rather than thinking I could get money, it was more like I poked my head into the world of cosplay because it seemed interesting, and then the money came tacked on later.”
And Sou takes cosplay seriously. So seriously that when she starts to think about making a costume, she thinks about a character’s lifestyle; what they eat, what they wear, and what they spend their time doing, etc. However, there’s a limit of what one can do alone when trying to recreate a scene from a manga or anime.
“It’s fun to think about those kinds of things, but instead of just thinking about it alone, it’s a good thing to find others that have the same kind of love for that work. There are things you can’t do alone, and there are things you can do if there are two or three of you,” she explained, “I think having your circle of friends—your team—getting bigger and bigger is one of the great things about cosplay.”
But what pushes her to cosplay, she told me, is the ability to portray her favorite characters in the way she chooses. According to her, cosplaying shows other fans what the character looks like in the eye of the cosplayer, and shows what that cosplayer likes about that particular character.
Her favorite cosplay she’s ever done is Athena from Saint Seiya, which she donned at the World Cosplay Summit in 2005. Not only is it what she considers to be her most “amazing” cosplay, it was also her very first time doing a performance in cosplay.
As for the craziest cosplay she ever made, she said that one of her recent clients often commissions cosplay of her favorite Visual Kei bands. One of those costumes had a giant spider leg reaching over the shoulder.
“Sometimes, the members of Visual Kei bands wear outfits that are even more cosplay than anime characters. I make them, thinking, ‘What the hell is this!?’ all the while.”
Aside from making cosplay, Sou makes her living working at an anime song DJ bar. Though she often works on the fan side of things, Sou has even worked at an anime production company before. With so many occupations available to her, what does she want to do in the future?
“I’m a girl, and more than that, I’m human, so of course I’m going to age. The time I’m able to cosplay as cute girls is decreasing very quickly,” she told me, “I’d like to work in the behind-the-scenes; making cosplay, giving advice to girls who want to start cosplaying, and helping out at cosplay events. I’d also like to assist cosplayers that want to go overseas… though I can’t speak English.”
Sou also explained to me that although she loves the anime song DJ bar and has no plans to quit anytime soon, one of her dreams for the future is to write a guidebook for cosplayers wanting to go overseas. The guidebook would explain the ins-and-outs of the various international conventions and events, with each detail researched by Sou herself.
“The reason I was inspired to make the guidebook was because it was a lot of trouble figuring out how to buy tickets and how to reserve a hotel near the convention hall and things like that,” she explained, “I thought that if I were able to make a book explaining all that, maybe there’d be more cosplayers who’d want to go overseas.”
In terms of future events, Sou says she wants to try going to Anime Expo again. Although she participated once as a team in the past, she admitted that they weren’t in the best shape at the time. If given the chance to attend again, she says that she’d go it alone and aim for the craftsmanship award.
“I’d like to wear Athena’s God Cloth again and go out in full armor with a staff and shield.”