Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 32, July 2013

Cosplay, Lolita and Gender in Japan and Australia:
An Introduction

Patrick W. Galbraith

  1. For many, cosplay (kosupure) needs no introduction. A hybrid of the English words 'costume' and 'play,' cosplay refers to dressing up as favourite characters from manga, anime and games, which started in Japan but has become a global phenomenon. Some trace the origins of cosplay to Star Trek fans, whose 'masquerades’ at conventions overseas inspired sci-fi fans in Japan.[1] It is generally accepted that cosplay had become a part of sci-fi and fanzine events in Japan from the mid-1970s.[2] During this decade, sci-fi fandom in Japan overlapped with the fandom surrounding anime, which was coming into its own as a challenging medium worthy of attention.[3] Even as more people began to cosplay as anime characters at conventions that increasingly focused on anime in Japan, anime was spreading around the world and becoming more visible at sci-fi conventions. Some fans began to dress up as their favorite anime characters and to call this cosplay—a neologism coined in Japan (in response to sci-fi conventions in the United States).[4] While its meaning is much more capacious in Japan, in the Anglophone world, cosplay most often refers to dressing up as anime characters, which occurs at conventions in some one hundred countries.[5] The United States alone hosts seventy anime conventions annually. Anime fandom is considered to be among the most wired fandoms in the world,[6] and photographs of cosplayers taken at conventions circulate widely online. Cosplay is one of the most visible aspects of a vibrant fan culture, and is invariably picked up by the mainstream media, as well. One example of media spectacle is the World Cosplay Summit, founded by an employee of Aichi TV after a trip to Japan Expo in Paris and held annually in Nagoya since 2003, which includes teams from over a dozen countries and is reported on in many more. Even those with only a cursory interest in popular culture will likely have encountered images of men and women costuming as famous anime characters.
  2. While cosplay is most often associated outside of Japan with conventions devoted to anime, cosplay in Japan has moved beyond the convention space. To begin, cosplay is an included activity at large events for fanzines such as Comic Market and fan-made figurines such as Wonder Festival, because cosplayers share with other participants an interest in manga, anime and game characters. The main activity of cosplayers at these events is wearing costumes, posing for photos and meeting (fellow) fans. Over the course of three days, the Comic Market alone draws around fifteen-thousand cosplayers. The massive number of cosplayers, in addition to the commotion of photographers surrounding and approaching them, requires cosplay to be held in a separate area of the venue. Cosplay is not allowed outside of this limited area. Those with an interest in a specific series, character or creator can attend 'only events,' where smaller numbers allow cosplayers to wear their costumes in the main venue. Cosplay is often seen at club events devoted to anime and game music. These are sometimes called 'dance parties,’ and are somewhat similar to the 'raves’ held at anime conventions in the United States. There are also events specifically devoted to cosplay held at venues such as Tokyo Fashion Town and the Toshimaen theme park. Further, there are smaller photo-shoot events held at various sites around Tokyo and other large cities. Some cosplayers also travel around the country to shoot 'on location,' for example going to Nishinomiya to cosplay as characters from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Summarising all of this activity, Okabe Daisuke estimates that 'at least one cosplay event is held in Japan every week.'[7]
  3. Based on his fieldwork with cosplayers in Japan, Okabe defines cosplay as a 'culture,' or 'a distinct community with shared values and boundaries.'[8] Through sustained, regular participation in cosplay culture, one learns the rules and values of the community. According to Okabe, cosplayers tend to value costumes produced and worn by fans, and feedback from peers rather than outsiders. Okabe's informants consume manga, anime and games, produce character costumes and pose for photos, which are shared, sold or otherwise distributed for community evaluation. Cosplayers have rules to ensure proper conduct and avoid unwanted, negative attention. They do not want to upset convention organisers and local populations, and so do not wear costumes outside of designated areas and do not engage in loud or disruptive behaviour.
  4. The culture of cosplay is supported by media. In addition to dedicated magazines such as Cosmode, there are numerous community sites such as Cure[9] and Cosplayers,[10] where fans post photos of themselves in costume, share tips for crafting costumes and announce events. Cosplayers are extremely active online and in social media. When cosplayers meet, they exchange namecards (meishi), which feature the name they use when cosplaying (like a nickname or handle), a photo of them in costume and contact information such as links to websites, social network site IDs and e-mail addresses. Cosplayers often carry cards featuring different photos of them in costume, which they offer as a choice; this allows for discussion of shared interest in specific characters and also contributes to a culture of collecting friends' namecards. Okabe points out that, 'Cosplayers who cosplay characters belonging to the same genre use their costumes as a tool for expanding their social network.'[11] An extension of the social learning that takes place at conventions, magazines, websites and social media allows cosplayers to exchange information and learn from one another, as well evaluate others and receive feedback. This learning process is in effect enculturation into cosplay culture.
  5. If the exchange of namecards seems to speak metaphorically to a fan's cosplay 'career,' then it should be noted that cosplay can become an occupation. For example, one can become a Cosmode model or work as a writer, making use of capital and knowledge obtained through fan practice. Though Okabe has it that cosplayers prefer to be evaluated by peers, they can also cosplay outside of the community, for example working as a 'companion' (konpanion), which means wearing a character costume and appearing with a company at a promotional or sales event.[12] Cosplay companions earn from 10,000 to 15,000 yen a day,[13] which is far better than other part-time work in Tokyo. Further, companion work allows cosplayers to practice their skills, gain exposure and make contacts in the industry that might lead to later employment. Others work at cosplay cafés, restaurants and bars for these reasons, or to make a little money and some friends. Though cosplayers prefer costumes made by the fans who wear them, there are also companies such as Cospa that sell affordable, well-made costumes and accessories, in addition to taking orders for custom costumes. Cosplayers can similarly sell costumes or work for companies doing so. As a well-known cosplayer, one can sell collections of one's photos to fans. Estimates vary wildly depending on what is included, but a ballpark number for the value of the cosplay industry is around $US400 million annually.[14] Such is the potential of cosplay that Vantan, a trade school, offered a professional cosplay course in 2007. However, in contrast to some cosplayers in the industry, Okabe's informants do not devote much of their time to cosplay. Rather than an occupation, Okabe's informants consider cosplay to be a hobby, something that they do casually with friends on weekends.[15]
  6. One of the most notable aspects of cosplay culture in Japan is gender. The vast majority of cosplayers are women in their twenties.[16] In 2007, Cure estimated that 90 percent of cosplayers are women.[17] Cosplay companions and staff at cosplay cafés are almost exclusively women in their twenties. In contrast, most cosplay photographers are men, often older than those in front of the camera. Some cosplayers describe the relationship with photographers as one of mutual respect and support, while others worry where the photos that these men take are going to end up.[18] One response among cosplayers is to only allow fellow cosplayers, friends or an inner circle to photograph them. In his fieldwork, Okabe found that cosplayers do not adhere to mainstream standards of cuteness and feminine sexuality. Rather than male photographers, Okabe's informants prefer to evaluated by skilled cosplayers, which is to say other women. Shared knowledge of cosplay and characters is key to making such an evaluation. If a character wears a sexy costume and strikes sexy poses, then doing so in front of the camera is part of capturing the character and it thus valued. However, the cosplayers that Okabe spoke with 'did not have favorable opinions of cosplay that was popular with the industry, men, and the media.'[19] Cosplayers judge harshly those deemed to be out to attract attention or become famous, often with sexual costumes and poses and without proper understanding of the original character.[20] Women who wear costumes and appear at events just to be photographed are called 'torareta,' an abbreviation of the Japanese word toraretai, which means, 'I want to have my picture taken.' Okabe's informants belittled these women as desperate 'losers.'[21] While the main activity at cosplay events is dressing up and having one's picture taken—everyone is a torareta, to some extent—Okabe's informants engaged in negative identity politics to negotiate the meaning of authentic or true cosplay.[22] In this way, Okabe's informants rejected one value system and made visible an alternative one, where one is evaluated based on shared ideals of understanding and capturing the essence of characters from manga, anime and games. By Okabe's estimate, this is nothing less than a rejection of 'the heterosexual male gaze.'[23] While fascinating, Okabe's argument seems a little reductive, in that it dismisses the possibility of female cosplayers courting the male gaze, and of male photographers being fans who understand cosplay, evaluate it like cosplayers and support the culture as members of the community.
  7. Indeed, one such man has recently argued for the need to return cosplay to a true or authentic state, which has been eroded by the imposed sexuality of outsiders. In an expose written for the magazine President, Umemoto Masaru points out that adult video makers piggyback on the popularity of manga, anime and games by releasing pornographic videos featuring women wearing character costumes.[24] At fan events, where cosplayers sell collections of photographs of themselves in costume, Umemoto sees adult video makers selling collections of photographs of their performers in the same costumes. Both appear superficially to be women in sexy outfits posing provocatively. While Umemoto claims that cosplayers express 'hatred' (kenōkan) for these sellers, there is a growing demand for 'adult cosplay' (18-kin kosu). While having no issue with the content itself, Umemoto argues that corporations selling products at fan events are unwelcome and potentially harmful. As Umemoto sees it, adult video makers give the wrong impression of cosplay; their performers are not committed to 'becoming' (narikiru) a character, but rather are just wearing a 'costume' (kasō); love of manga, anime and game characters is replaced with love of money; the person is not evaluated by peers, but rather is the object of the male gaze. Here we see Okabe's alternative value system of cosplay in danger of collapsing back into mainstream standards of cuteness and feminine sexuality. Umemoto worries that the future of cosplay might be limited due to the proximity of adult cosplay. He wonders if people unfamiliar with cosplay might end up seeing albums of cosplay photography as another form of pornography. Indeed, since around 2000, fetish costumes have been sold as 'cosplay' in shops around Tokyo. Female cosplayers are not only sexualised, but appear solicitous and are open to harassment and abuse.[25]
  8. While raising valid concerns, Umemoto's call to save cosplayers from adult sexuality might come off as a little patronising. As part of his rhetorical strategy, the author emphasises the youth of cosplayers, who he writes are overwhelmingly 'teen girls' (10-dai no joshi). Further, these innocent girls are put at risk by adult video makers and adult cosplay, which discursively positions them as children. Umemoto completely denies the subjectivity and sexuality of these cosplayers. He freezes them as an image of pure and innocent youth (itself a fetish). What has become of Okabe's celebration of cosplayers as adult women in control of their own sexuality? One might also wonder what has become of the entrepreneurial subject, or female cosplayers producing and marketing themselves. Here it is useful to consider the work of Takeyama Akiko, who suggests that contemporary capitalism is a speculative economy, where one invests in the self to attract attention and accrue interest in hopes of future return.[26] Takeyama writes of a 'a postindustrial socioeconomic milieu that capitalizes on affect—a mode of attachment that can be strategically evoked and directed to translate into something meaningful (such as future-oriented success, investment, vitality, self-fulfillment)—and put up for sale.'[27] Rather than speak exclusively of exploitation in a flexible and precarious job market, Takeyama suggests that 'neoliberal self-producing subjects' are agentive and active in the 'affect economy,' which 'satisfies multiple players and institutions in mutual yet asymmetrical ways.'[28] By considering photographing cosplayers in terms of an affect economy we can better see how cosplayers are agentive and active, and how the practice of cosplay satisfies multiple players asymmetrically, for example manga, anime and game makers who get free advertising, and women in costumes and men with cameras who learn skills, make connections and receive affirmation. One might then think of the possibility of new affective alliances between cosplayers and photographers, and between cosplayers and companies, though the connective technology of characters.[29]
  9. In addition to cosplayers, cameramen and fans, cosplay is also evaluated and valorised by players and institutions external to the community. The World Cosplay Summit, for example, is sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. The finalists from each participating country earn a ticket to Japan, where they visit ministry offices in Tokyo and pose with bureaucrats for the press before being bused to Nagoya for the competition, which is also a media event. The government supports the World Cosplay Summit as part of its 'soft power' strategy, which has it that the love of manga, anime and game characters will translate into love of Japan itself.[30] For Laura Miller, Japan's soft-power strategy is essentially sexist, with male bureaucrats promoting manga, anime and games that are popular with a male (white, western European and North American) audience and selecting female representatives that are 'cute' and appealing from a male perspective.[31] What is at stake here is no less than the 'pimping of Japan'—Miller's words—where men sell (an image of) cute women to other men. In this, women are reduced to image-commodities that incite desire. For Miller, this entails a denial of the subjectivity and creativity of women. On this point, at least, Miller resonates with Umemoto, who tries to push back on the commodification and sexualisation that is impinging on the autonomy of female cosplayers. The basic problem for Miller and Umemoto is that the woman is reduced to a fetish. If we return to Okabe and Umemoto, we can see that the alternative value system of cosplay is being obscured by a more standard way of evaluating cuteness and feminine sexuality. Miller agrees that cuteness by and for women is lost in the Cool Japan campaign, which appropriates and codifies what is valuable and representative of the nation. What does not fit into the paradigm of male and media valorisation is subordinated and marginalised.
  10. Between Takeyama and Miller's approaches to self-production and appropriation of the other lies a complicated terrain of mutual entanglement. Take for example Tokyo Otaku Mode, a community for manga and anime fans that is also a start-up company located in the Aoyama neighborhood of Tokyo. After the group received a million 'likes' on Facebook, they began to attract investors. Tokyo Otaku Mode makes money from advertising, and is working its way into online sales. Success depends on their ability to build an active and engaged community, which generates content, attracts others and can be sold products and sold to advertisers as an audience. A favorite tactic of Tokyo Otaku Mode has been cosplay photographs, uploaded by some fans following the webpage and attracting and holding the attention of other fans. The featured cosplayers are almost exclusively female. The staff at Tokyo Otaku Mode is fully aware that sex sells, coming to the consensus at a meeting in April 2013 that the bustier the cosplayer and the more provocative her pose, the more likes the photograph receives.[32] Cosplay photographs regularly have English taglines such as 'cosplay babes from Japan.' This seems like prime material for a critique along the lines of Umemoto and Miller: images of female cosplayers are commodities, generating desire for commodities and Japan and value for the corporation; the cosplayer is reduced to an image or sex symbol for others; she is presented in a way comparable to porn sites. However, following Takeyama, we might note that this critique does not account for the fact that women upload their own photos to Tokyo Otaku Mode, rather than a cosplay-specific website, and they do this for their own reasons. In addition to feedback from cosplayers and fans, posting photos on Tokyo Otaku Mode is productive of subcultural or fan capital, and increased exposure can lead to new sources of income. Being a Japanese cosplayer on Tokyo Otaku Mode impacts evaluation (as more authentic, desirable), which can be to the advantage of cosplayers choosing this site to build up a fan following in the Anglophone world.
  11. Many academic commentators see in cosplay the potential for a more free relationship to gender, but the examples above suggest that we need to be aware of internal and external forces that limit that potential. A good example of this dynamic is provided by what is known in western fandom as crossplay, or cosplaying as a character of the opposite sex. In his overview of fanzine conventions in Japan, Matt Thorn includes a description of groups of young women 'playing gender' in interactions with one another and the fictional characters they embody.[33] As part of Thorn's analysis of girls and women 'getting out of hand' at conventions, crossplay appears to be liberating. The reader does not, unfortunately, gain an understanding of how this practice fits into cosplay culture more generally or the lives of the young women that Thorn encounters. This gap is addressed by Okabe's fieldwork with female cosplayers in Japan. Among his informants, Okabe notes that female-to-male crossplay is highly evaluated, because it takes skill for female cosplayers to convincingly capture the look and mien of male characters. In an interesting twist on arguments about the manga and anime models for cosplay not existing in reality and thus allowing one to step outside of fixed human sex and gender roles, Okabe's informants praise cosplayers for 'how closely they approximate the physical characteristics of the character.'[34] Hence the model is both fictional and real, fantasy and physical body, other and self. Okabe's informants say that they want crossplayers to be beautiful in their own sex while also portraying the sex of the character. This suggests a sexual binary—female cosplayer and male character—that is affirmed in the play. Tellingly, in Japan, crossplay is actually referred to as 'male disguise' (dansō) and 'female disguise' (josō) cosplay, where each term implies the gender of the cosplayer and the character. It bears repeating that Okabe's informants feel that one needs to be beautiful in their own sex as they portray the sex of the other, even when the other is a fictional character.[35] Indeed, Okabe's lead informant admits to him that, 'I want cute girls to cosplay.'[36] This is interesting, because we see mainstream standards of cuteness and feminine sexuality reproduced among cosplayers. (Does not the Japanese government that Miller critiques also want 'cute girls' to cosplay?) A cosplayer ideally should not be ugly, fat or cross-gendered. Further, informants tell Okabe that cosplayers ideally stop cosplaying at age thirty.[37] Thus one has to be young to cosplay. While individual bias colours these accounts, Okabe's cosplayers are negotiating the limits of performance and explaining what they value, which has much to do with the proper fit of the fictional character with the body of the cosplayer. The naturalisation of sex in crossplay as practiced by Okabe's informants seems to diverge from drag as described by Judith Butler, who saw in it the potential for destabilising norms.[38] Indeed, Okabe tells his readers that no matter how queer cosplay performances and desires get, his informants 'lead conventional adult lives.'[39]
  12. The bodily limits of crossplay become even more obvious when one considers the case of men crossplaying as female characters from manga, anime and games. Such men, especially when they do not resemble the characters that they cosplay, can find themselves excluded from conventions and events in Japan. In that they do not capture the beauty of the sex of the cosplayer or the character, this form of cosplay would not be valued by the standards of Okabe's informants. Beyond this, however, male-to-female crossplay might attract negative attention from outsiders, which cosplayers want to avoid.[40] This is one example of the logic behind banning such crossplay, and there are others. At events where a private group or company rents a venue and charges an entry fee, organisers worry about backlash from cameramen, who sometimes pay more than cosplayers and want to photograph cute girls, not ugly men. (Notice that Okabe's informants and the cameramen both desire 'cute girls,' which speaks to a mutual satisfaction among certain cosplayers and cameramen. This affect economy is not without its cruelty, which includes the rejection of undesirable bodies.) When male-to-female crossplay is performed outside of events, it appears to be entirely outside of the rules, which upsets other cosplayers and local populations. Male-to-female crossplay on the streets of Akihabara in the mid-2000s, for example, was blamed for ruining the positive image of the area, which was rapidly becoming a tourist hub and site for the promotion of Japanese popular culture.[41] Police specifically targeted these men in an attempt to curb 'public disturbances,' and male-to-female crossplay was banned at events in the area. Far from being free, crossplay involving men was regulated by citizen groups, local government action and police patrols. (In place of crossplayers, one today sees only young women in maid costumes on the streets of Akihabara, who advertise local cafés and whose image, as Miller points out, is used to attract tourists.[42]) This was not limited to Akihabara. A Japanese member of the staff for the World Cosplay Summit admits to personally hating male-to-female crossplay.[43] In contrast to this practice, he worked to form a team of cosplayers to represent Japan, which was comprised of attractive young women. Even when dressed as male characters, this national cosplay team was nothing less than cute. (Note that this man's agenda is in line with what Miller calls the 'pimping of Japan.')
  13. The first article in this special issue, 'Framing Cosplay: How 'Layers' Negotiate Body and Subjective Experience Through Play,' brings to the fore many of the issues laid out thus far. Though the author, Alexis Hieu Truong, conducted fieldwork in Tokyo's 'underground' cosplay scene, by which he means alternative or small events, his informants confirm that there is a perception in the community of a 'right' body for cosplay. On average, Truong's informants are older than Okabe's, but one 28-year-old woman speaks about quitting cosplay and getting married, suggesting that these two lifestyles are incompatible. She also comments on the tyranny of body ideals: 'Even for cosplay, because Japanese people are extremely strict about other people's appearance, they'll go as far as say things like, “That person is still doing cosplay at her age?" This is a pastime for me, so if they say things like that it's not as [much] fun anymore. Even friends, or people commenting on pictures online, they do that.' Such negative evaluations make this woman, who has eleven-years experience cosplaying, feel inadequate and out of place. The competition for recognition among cosplayers described by Okabe and Truong (an example of what Takeyama calls an affect economy) actually limits the potential of cosplay, because recognition depends on standard notions of youth and beauty, on top of which is layered the alternative standard of appreciation for fictional characters.
  14. Using theories of performance and gender, Truong explores the politics of cosplay in contemporary Japan. His article challenges the notion that identity is not tied up in cosplay, which is taken to be a sort of bracketed experience or simply play. For Truong, gender and age have an impact on how one is perceived when in costume, and playing with costumes can change one's understanding and experience of the body. Truong writes of his informants: 'Experiences of cosplay were not simply framed as everyday life, nor were they actually thought to be the fantasies that were played. They were framed as something in-between, the mundane enchanted through other ways of understanding, doing and being. These interactions were comprised of multiple “layers" of experience.' Truong draws attention to the word 'layers' (reiyā), which is an abbreviation of 'cosplayers' used among manga, anime and game fans in Japan to refer to dedicated cosplayers. Truong's description of the enchantment of the mundane recalls the work of Saitō Tamaki, who argues that manga, anime and game fans enjoy 'layering' fictional and real contexts,[44] and Truong adds to this that cosplayers are also working through 'layers of experience.' This ambiguous space between fictional and real, self and other, is an 'irresolvable space for playing, spectacularly and physically, between … supposedly fixed terms.'[45] The potential of cosplay that Truong and his informants identify goes beyond a 'desire to change' (henshin ganbō) to experience as an other, which shifts ways of understanding and doing things. In a striking example, one of Truong's informants recalls finding sex categories to be at odds with his daily experiences of self. Over the course of a twenty-one-year career, cosplay became increasingly important to negotiate sex and gender and life trajectories. This informant began to wear women's clothes that were not associated with manga, anime or game characters, and to wear these clothes outside of cosplay events. Eventually, this person no longer identified as male or female.
  15. In addition to its theoretical contribution to the understanding of cosplay, Truong's article includes fieldwork that raises questions about the discursive limits of cosplay. Are 'female disguise' (josō) and 'male disguise' (dansō) forms of cosplay, or does female-to-male and male-to-female crossplay require one to embody a fictional character from manga, anime or games? Is understanding and experience of the body unsettled by cosplaying a fictional character, especially one that is ambiguously gendered or sexed? And, perhaps most fundamentally, what is the importance of 'becoming' to cosplay? Recall that Umemoto makes cosplay distinct as an act of 'becoming' (narikiru) a character versus simply wearing a 'costume' (kasō). However, Truong seems to suggest that cosplay is a spectacular performance between fictional and real, self and other, which cannot be reduced to the dualism of 'becoming' (good) versus 'costuming' (bad). How and when does one 'become' a character?
  16. In her work on cosplay practices in Taiwan, Teri Silvio notes that young women crossplaying as male characters want to 'present, not inhabit, the characters.'[46] While they consume media featuring the characters they cosplay, Silvio's informants find unintelligible the performance studies question about what they do to 'get into' character.[47] These fans do not really 'become' the character, but rather present it when wearing a costume and posing in front of a camera. When in costume but not presenting the character, Silvio notes that fans try not to behave in ways that would damage the character image. In Japan, too, there is a discourse about 'destroying the character' (kyara hōkai), but it does not account for the ways that people actually interact when cosplaying at events. In Truong's fieldwork, we see men and women dressed in character costumes dancing at clubs and drinking together; they pose for pictures as friends rather than in character. At conventions in the United States, cosplaying does not imply that one is in character; one can walk around the venue and engage in other activities without friction. In costume, one meets old friends, who recognise the person, and new friends, who recognise the character. In fact, both the person and the character are recognised. In Susan J. Napier's fieldwork in the United States, she notes that convention-goers 'presume a relationship' with people in cosplay, where they both know the character and can relate on a personal level as fans of that character.[48] This complex expression of self and other, where one both reveals and masks the self by cosplaying as a character, connects people and facilitates a relationship. In Truong's fieldwork, we see a similar phenomenon of a fan recognising a minor character and the cosplayer as an individual who chose that character. Is this 'becoming,' and in what sense? Is this becoming specific to humans becoming fictional characters, or can it include becoming self/other more generally? Becoming the opposite sex? Becoming an ideal? Indeed, the August 2013 issue of Sweet, a fashion magazine for young women, includes a section titled, 'Seriously become the media personality that you look up to' (akogare tarento ni honki de narikiri). Note that this fashion magazine uses the presumed vocabulary of 'cosplay,' which is to say 'becoming' (narikiru), to suggest ways to appropriate the style of actually existing media personalities, who embody mainstream standards of cuteness and feminine sexuality (in contrast to the alternative ways to evaluate cosplay among the young women encountered by Okabe and Umemoto).
  17. The second and third articles in this special issue provide cross-cultural comparison with case studies of cosplay in Australia. While cosplay is a transnational phenomenon from the beginning—from western sci-fi fandom to Japan, from Japanese anime fandom to the west—and we should not limit or essentialise it to national borders, considering cosplay in context allows us to unsettle assumptions and see things differently. And there are outright differences, too. For example, while anime conventions in many parts of the world include stage performances that are judged and ranked officially, this is all but absent in Japan, where competition and evaluation are less formal. While women dominate cosplay in Japan, about 40 per cent of cosplayers at conventions in Australia are men.[49] Different cultural contexts and positioning also lead to different receptions of anime as source material for cosplay. In their article for this special issue, titled 'Posthuman Drag: Understanding Cosplay as Social Networking in a Material Culture,' Jason Bainbridge and Craig Norris begin with a vignette about watching Battle of the Planets, a localised Japanese anime featuring a mutant villain that is positioned ambiguously between sex and race categories. Because the explanation of this character's condition was cut from the localised anime, s/he was made even more mysterious—and appealing. Such characters inspired an imagination of gender bending and transformation that carries over into cosplay. In this way, the transforming and plastic body of the anime character proves to be the ideal model for what Bainbridge and Norris call 'posthuman drag.'[50] Based on fieldwork in Australia, this article makes for a wonderful contrast to Okabe and Truong's work in Japan. Particularly productive is the tension engendered by divergent uses of the word 'play' in Truong and Bainbridge and Norris' articles, and by their different theoretical orientations.
  18. The third article in this special issue, titled 'Girls Who are Boys Who like Girls to be Boys: BL and the Australian Cosplay Community,' suggests that gender does not work the same way in all places, even in the shared (?) practice of cosplay. Based on fieldwork in Australia, Emerald King focuses on boys' love or BL cosplay performances at competitions and conventions. She develops a new understanding of this phenomenon in terms of pantomime. In contrast to Thorn's playing gender and Okabe's crossplay, which seem to be liberating or at least valued practice among cosplayers in Japan, King draws attention to the negativity towards BL cosplay among the wider community of manga, anime and game fans. Women critique other women for crossplaying as beautiful boys and staging or playing at intimate or sexual relations. Though gender identification and sexual orientation fall outside of the scope of King's article, one wonders if the 'lesbian panic' that inspired female manga artists in Japan to draw boys rather than girls in love might be returning in the response to BL cosplay, where women become (?) boys and bodily enact fictional narratives of love.[51] For some, this play might seem too real. Like Truong's case of male-to-female crossplay in Tokyo, King's case of female-to-male crossplay in Australia calls into question the gender politics of cosplay. What sort of performance is appropriate for what sort of body? What are the norms of interaction with fictional characters and others in a given time and place? Taken as a test case for Bainbridge and Norris' article, King's article might suggest that posthuman drag is limited by the hegemonic values of human groups (that is, it is fine to dress up as a boy, but homosexuality in any form is threatening). This is why crossplay is read as men or women cosplaying as characters of the opposite sex. The potential of posthuman movement is territorialised into human bodies that are sexed and situated in relation to one another.
  19. Among the many insights in her article, King suggests that affective alliances with and attraction to fictional characters are factors in cosplay. For example, in her fieldwork, King notes that female cosplayers say they cosplay the characters that they 'love.' This explanation for why female cosplayers choose male characters might also shed some light on why male cosplayers choose female characters, though this runs the risk of naturalising heterosexual desire and ignoring the standard to cosplay what is proper or suitable for your body. The issue remains that the cosplayer or character must be male or female—one or the other. Recall Truong's informant, who felt uneasy with sexual categories and turned to male-to-female crossplay and female disguise (josō) for alternative ways of experiencing the body. This eventually led to an understanding of the self that was neither male nor female, but could be both. Interestingly, friends reacted in surprise when this informant would dress one way and act another ('You're sitting like a guy!'), but s/he did not submit to the categorisation. While the terms male and female disguise (dansō and josō, respectively) seem to imply natural sex categories and a true sex beneath the costume, other ways of identifying have emerged within the Japanese cosplay community. One example of this is 'boy-girl' (otoko no ko), which combines what are considered to be opposites into one term that refers to the person in the costume, the character and the relation between them. At an event held in Akihabara on 18 September 2010, I was approached by what appeared to be a young Japanese man in a frilly dress. S/he introduced him/her self as a boy-girl instead of male or female, and then proceeded to tell me about her/his love of anime, especially cute girl characters. S/he did not identify as gay or cross-gendered, but rather described a love for a type of fictional character that s/he embodied. An affective relationship like this one with a character implies something more molecular than molar, something that does not necessarily map onto (sexual) identity politics as commonly conceived.
  20. The next two articles in this special issue deal with Lolita fashion, which is often considered to be distinct from cosplay in Japan but can be combined with it as a form of cosplay at anime conventions overseas.[52] Drawing on fieldwork conducted in Japan, Isaac Gagne defines Lolita as 'a fashion-oriented subculture of young females who wear elaborate, antiquated dresses and aspire toward looking, acting, and speaking like “princesses."'[53] For Gagne, Lolita is a subculture that appropriates outmoded language and style to create an 'alternative social world,'[54] which is made distinct from mainstream evaluations of girls and women. According to Gagne's informants, Lolita fashion is not intended to appeal to men or the media,[55] but rather to other Lolitas, which seems to resonate with the peer evaluation proposed by Okabe in his work on cosplay in Japan. Like Okabe's cosplayers, Gagne's Lolitas do not aim to be 'sexy' or 'cute' in ways that are widely recognised and valued. Also like cosplayers, Lolitas engage in negative identity politics, where they define themselves against other groups and practices.[56] (Note parallels with Okabe's informants.[57]) For example, though 'gals' are also a female subculture in Japan and have developed their own language and ideas about sexuality, Lolitas also identify against them. To Lolitas, gals seem crass, oversexed (appealing to men) and without class (or perhaps working class). In a magazine for Lolitas, Gagne finds a letter from one young woman who is distressed about the rise of 'princess gals,' who might dress somewhat like Lolitas, but do not share their identification with older, European, upper-class ideals.[58] While the Lolita archetype is a sort of fantasy, Lolitas identify against cosplayers. Gagne explains: 'To Lolitas I spoke with, cosplay means mimicry and dressing up as someone, that is, as a specific character from comic books, movies, video games or animation. In contrast, my informants would stress that their own … style was personalised and was an expression of their 'true' selves, and that they took pride in choosing their own styles and making their own clothing.'[59] Gagne's informants also identify against maids, or the costumed waitresses at cafés in Akihabara, because these are working women who serve, while Lolitas are privileged princesses who are served. (One might also point out that the maid character in cafés in Akihabara is associated with fictional characters from manga, anime and games, which aligns maids with cosplay rather than fashion.[60]) For these Lolitas, at least, cosplay appears to be a temporary, bracketed experience of playing with a character (for example, at a convention), whereas Lolita is not limited in space and time, because it is fashion and self-expression.
  21. What do we make of these distinctions between Lolitas and cosplayers? Gagne notes uncertainty among Lolitas and the contingency of their identity as young women 'struggle to define themselves against the buffeting winds of adults' lecherous gazes, other contemporary subcultures, and their own ambivalent biographies of subcultural participation.'[61] One reason why the distinction with cosplay is important to Lolitas, and perhaps over-emphasised, is because they shared space at the time of Gagne's fieldwork (2003 and 2007). In the mid-2000s, one could find Lolitas and cosplayers together on the famous Jingū Bridge in Harajuku, where they attracted photographers and posed for photos. While this may call to mind a photo-shoot style cosplay event, it also resonates with the 'street snap' culture of photographing fashionistas on the streets of Harajuku. That is, both Lolitas and cosplayers are photographed, though motivations and circumstances vary. However, Gagne notes that as time went on and the bridge became more famous it began to attract suspicious male photographers. His informants worry about where these photographs will end up,[62] especially when they do not know the men and do not assume that they have an interest in fashion. (Recall the parallel discussion among cosplayers, who felt that cameramen should be known or at least know something about cosplay and the character being performed. That is, the cameramen should value what cosplayers value, which ostensibly is not attractive female bodies.) Eventually, the bridge was abandoned as a hotspot for Lolitas. This experience, as well as the presence of sexy costumes and cameramen in cosplay culture, has led many Lolitas to identify against them. Gagne explains that, 'Lolitas have a very real fear of being appropriated not as a “figure of identity," expressing their own idea of their authentic self, but instead recirculated as a sexualised, pornographic “figure of desire," a costume-fetish “character" addressed to the desires of an indefinite population of … fetishists.'[63] In addition to Umemoto, this discussion of reducing women to fetishes or character images to be circulated and evaluated outside of the community recalls Miller's critique of the use of girlish cuteness and appeal defined by men to promote Japan.[64] Indeed, one of the nation's 'cute ambassadors' (kawaii taishi) dresses in Lolita fashion. When this Lolita appears overseas with her male managers, one cannot help but take all too seriously Miller's metaphor about the pimping of Japan.[65]
  22. While the desire for stable and oppositional identity is perfectly understandable, Gagne is correct that negative identity politics tend to exaggerate and reify the boundaries of Lolita as a subculture.[66] This can lead to misperceptions, for example in the outright denial of sexuality among Lolitas.[67] The spectre of sexuality is raised only to be shifted to other subcultures such as gals, cosplayers and adult male 'fetishists.' With sex effectively exorcised from the community, Lolitas are reduced to 'doll-like innocence,'[68] which is a fetishised character. Calling the Lolita a figure of identity is one thing, but denying that she is also a figure of desire for men and women both inside and outside the community and Japan is quite another. From the perspective of Lolita's other, we miss much of the nuance of cosplay if we consider it to be becoming a character, let alone a fetish character. As Okabe's fieldwork demonstrates, cosplayers, like Lolitas, deny that their practice is about sexuality, especially for others. It is true that cosplayers stress knowing and capturing fictional characters in costume, body and pose, but, as Truong's fieldwork demonstrates, cosplay can also be about identity and self-expression.[69] Indeed, Lolita raises questions about 'becoming' that resonate with those raised by cosplay. The Lolitas that Gagne describes want to become 'princesses,' and draw on Victorian and Rococo models that are already largely fantasy. Indeed, Gagne notes the importance of manga such as The Rose of Versailles in Lolita culture.[70] Lolita culture also intersects with a type of rock music that stresses visuals and was popular in Japan in the 1990s, specifically a male performer named Mana who dressed up as a Lolita and inspired fans to mimic his style.[71] This intriguingly suggests that for some at least Lolita fashion began as a form of crossing, with women dressing up as a girl performed by a man. This girl is also a construction, a fiction, a 'nowhere girl.'[72] Today, more practically, there are magazines, books, websites and other assorted media that provide Lolita models and guides to the fashion. To say that Lolita is about expressing one's 'true' self reduces the complexity of it considerably. And, in fact, Gagne notes that women reading The Gothic/Lolita Bible and writing to the magazine are not entirely sure that this style is an expression of something true or even of themselves.[73]
  23. Another issue is the distinction between Lolita as more of a lifestyle than cosplay. This distinction assumes that one can only cosplay at certain times and in certain places, in contrast to Lolita fashion which elides the fact that many Lolitas only wear their elaborate dresses at certain times and in certain places.[74] For example, some come to Harajuku from outside Tokyo wearing plain clothes and change into Lolita fashion to walk around the area. The point is not to question the truth of practitioners' claims, but rather to highlight that the actual practices of Lolita culture are obscured by the abstractions of negative identity politics, which entail a homogenisation of 'us' as opposed to 'them.' Where do Lolita come from, when and where do they dress up and how is this productive of capital? Following the lead of John Fiske on fan cultures, we might wonder how Lolita is significant based on class, race, age and gender positioning.[75] The other way around, we might question if positing a stable, fixed identity helps or hinders analysis. As Gagne suggests, we need to pay attention to 'ambivalent biographies of subcultural participation,' where we might be confronted by a young woman who wears Lolita fashion, consumes manga and anime, cosplays as her favorite characters and works at a maid café. One might also note the prevalence of Lolita characters in manga and anime, which are cosplayed at conventions and are only distinguishable from Lolita as fashion based on the recognition of the fictional character and one's relationship to it. Resonating with Truong's discussion of cosplay, Gagne describe how 'layers' of experience are added to Lolita culture over time,[76] and we might add to this that fictional contexts are also layered on to Lolita culture over time.
  24. In the fourth article in this special issue, titled 'Bracketed Adolescence: Unpacking Gender and Youth Subjectivity through Subcultural Fashion in Late-Capitalist Japan,' Gagne expands on his earlier insights into Lolita culture by focusing on how age has an impacts on participation. If Lolita is a culture that stresses youth, then it is not alone, as can be seen from Okabe and Truong's informants saying that women should not cosplay after age thirty. Both Lolita and cosplay seem to suggest a desire among practitioners for cuteness, which is associated with a culture of youth.[77] The question is how participation in Lolita and/or cosplay culture articulates with life experiences and histories. As Truong does for cosplayers in Japan, Gagne's fieldwork with Lolitas in Japan introduces the reader to the people in the costumes. What is the significance of youth for these women? Is Lolita fashion something that one grows out of, or 'graduates' from, which implies that it is just a phase, a detour on the way to conformity? The danger with such a teleological approach is that we overlook the challenge posed by Lolita as a subculture. If Lolita expresses resistance to norms, for example mainstream standards of cuteness and feminine sexuality, then it is fascinating to see how it is brought back into the realm of intelligibility. As Dick Hebdige writes, subcultures are 'codified, made comprehensible, rendered at once public property and profitable merchandise,' even as they are ideologically 'trivialized, naturalized, domesticated.'[78] The subculture is understood in precisely those terms that it sought to reject, for example Hebdige's punks in England being described as part of the 'family.' Can it be a coincidence that Gagne finds the media reporting that Lolitas are typical 'girls?'[79] What about the fact that the Lolita is now reconciled with the nation-state family, one of the 'cute ambassadors' (recall Miller) of Japan, standing shoulder to shoulder with a schoolgirl in uniform on the cusp of graduation? As the Lolita is domesticating within Japan, we note that her original desire was to escape contemporary Japan in a fantasy of a past Europe. We note that the cuteness is excessive and unnatural, which again sets it apart from the mainstream or ordinary. Speaking of this curious aspect of Lolita fashion, Kotani Mari writes that the feminine is externalised and materialised.[80] As a remnant of the excesses and violence of bourgeois society, Lolita fashion makes the girl available as a form of what Kotani calls 'cosplay,' or playing with gender through costume and performance.[81] (This resonates with Bainbridge and Norris' discussion of cosplay as drag in material culture.)
  25. The proximity of Lolita and cosplay in many places around the world helps to draw out Kotani's point. For example, Napier profiles one cosplayer at an anime convention in the United States who wears Lolita fashion as a way to capture a femininity that she feels is denied her.[82] To put it another way, by cosplaying the girl (which Kotani calls a fiction) in Lolita fashion, this American woman is able to gain access to another form of 'femininity.' Lolita here is equal parts fantasy and Japan, just as Lolita in Japan is equal parts fantasy and Europe. This cross-cultural desire, lines of flight away from the here and now to some other place and time, is an important aspect of Lolita culture. In the fantasy space of the convention outside of Japan, it is possible for men to dress up as Lolitas, which earns them the designation of 'Brolitas' (a combination of 'Bro' and 'Lolita'). The existence of an analogue to Brolita in Japan has not yet been commented on, though categories such as 'female disguise' (josō) and 'boy-girl' (otoko no ko) might encompass it. One also recalls Mana, the rock musician who dressed as a Lolita in the 1990s, but whose fans say that he is so beautiful that they forget that he is a man, which seems to deemphasise the 'bro' in Brolita and to emphasise the girl in Lolita. Interestingly, though Lolita in Japan seems to be a female subculture, it does allow for women to crossdress (crossplay?) as men, which leads to complex identifications and desires in a homosocial context. Much of this has escaped comment, however, due to the assumption that Lolitas lead or will grow up to lead 'conventional adult lives,' to borrow Okabe's description of female cosplayers in Japan.[83] Limiting Lolita culture to women, and further to young women, has shut down possible discussions in the Japanese context.
  26. The fifth and final article in this special issue, titled 'Femme Infantile: Australian Lolitas in Theory and Practice,' introduces Lolitas who seem to challenge some of the limits of the culture. The literature on Lolita, especially in Japan, sees Lolita fashion as a rejection of adulthood and female (reproductive) roles and responsibilities.[84] In her fieldwork in Australia, however, Sophia Staite encounters Lolitas who are pregnant, have children and work to support themselves and others. Staite's informants fantasise about a life of luxury in Lolita. In a fascinating case of border crossing, where Gagne's Lolitas find inspiration for becoming a princess in the Victorian and Rococo periods of Europe, Staite's informants imagine a life of luxury in present day Japan. While embracing this fantasy, Staite's informants nonetheless labour to produce Lolita clothing that they cannot afford to buy from fashion brands, and in the process develop marketable skills and sometimes start their own businesses. If we think of the social milieu of economic action in late capitalism,[85] then it is clear that these Lolitas are not only self-producing subjects, but also continuously learning and labouring to make their way in life. Could similar things be said about Lolitas in Japan? About cosplayers?[86] Further, with so different a case in Australia, does it make sense to talk about Lolita culture as somehow Japanese? This territorialisation reinforces soft-power strategies such as the 'cute ambassadors' in Japan, where those with power and authority (perhaps even academics?) select and reify certain culture forms and subordinate others.[87]
  27. The contributions to this special issue of Intersections raise important questions about cosplay and gender in contemporary media societies. Where cosplay and Lolita might have been described as 'subcultures' a few years ago, they are in the process of naturalisation within global fan culture and beyond. As Hebdige writes, subcultures are eventually made sensible and located on the 'map of problematic social reality.'[88] As if speaking of cosplay, Hebidge writes that boys in lipstick come to be understood as 'just kids dressing up' and girls in rubber dresses come to be 'daughters just like yours.'[89] However, we should not be too hasty to close down contested meanings by stressing either the radicality or normalcy of cosplay. We need to interrogate what people are doing and the impact of their practice on them and the world around them. In his article, Truong notes that his informants, cosplayers involved with the underground scene in Tokyo, are critical of gender expectations, but rarely pursue political activism. And yet their cosplay practice is itself political. For some of Truong's informants at least, cosplay 'changed things in their day-to-day lives—the choices they made, the things they did, how they felt.' In a similar way, Hakim Bey describes temporary uprisings and experiences of intensity that 'give shape and meaning to the entirety of a life.'[90] Even after coming down and returning to the ordinary, Bey writes that 'things have changed, shifts and integrations have occurred—a difference is made.'[91] The difference begins with one's self.[92] Does cosplay unsettle or reproduce norms of gender and sexuality? We cannot say for certain, but the fieldwork conducted by the contributors to this special issue provides concrete examples that are sure to inspire productive debate on the topic.


    [1] Roland Kelts, Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture has Invaded the US, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006, 155–56.

    [2] Daisuke Okabe, 'Cosplay, learning, and cultural practice,' in Fandom Unbound: Otaku Culture in a Connected World, ed. Mizuko Ito, Daisuke Okabe and Izumi Tsuji, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012, pp. 225–48, p. 229.

    [3] As an example of cross-cultural exchange and crossover between sci-fi and anime, consider Kotani Mari, who came to the Japan Sci-Fi Association's reception in 1978 wearing a costume inspired by Edgar Rice Burroughs' novel A Fighting Man of Mars, Metropolitan May, 1931 (1967 edition), but was mistaken for a character from Tezuka Osamu's manga Umi no Toriton (海のトリトン, Triton of the Sea) (1969–1971). Tezuka and other early postwar manga artists in Japan are renowned for their sci-fi stories. See Patrick W. Galbraith, The Otaku Encyclopedia: An Insider's Guide to the Subculture of Cool Japan, Tokyo: Kodansha International, 2009, p. 51.

    [4] Galbraith, The Otaku Encyclopedia, p. 51.

    [5] This information was relayed to me in a personal conversation with Edmund Hoff (Yotsuya, 31 May 2013), who assists with the World Cosplay Summit in Nagoya. For an introduction to anime conventions, see Susan J. Napier, 'Anime nation: cons, cosplay, and (sub)cultural capital,' in From Impressionism to Anime: Japan as Fantasy and Fan Cult in the Mind of the West, New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2007, pp. 149–67.

    [6] Mizuko Ito, 'Introduction,' in Fandom Unbound: Otaku Culture in a Connected World, ed. Mizuko Ito, Daisuke Okabe and Izumi Tsuji, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012, pp. xi–xxxi, p. xi.

    [7] Okabe, 'Cosplay, learning, and cultural practice,' p. 228.

    [8] Okabe, 'Cosplay, learning, and cultural practice,' p. 227.

    [9] See Cure, online:, accessed 5 August 2013.

    [10] See CosPlayers Archive, online:, accessed 5 August 2013.

    [11] Okabe, 'Cosplay, learning, and cultural practice,' p. 236.

    [12] A Japanese woman who worked as a cosplay companion explained in a personal interview, Akihabara, 2 July 2013) that jobs such as wearing a uniform and working at electronic stores or pachinko parlors are forms of 'companion' work, which raises questions about the limits of 'cosplay.' Can one cosplay when there is no source 'character' from manga, anime and games, but rather just a corporate ideal? Larger events such as trade shows for manga, anime and games hold 'auditions' for cosplay companions to decide whether or not they fit the character. At sales events for media that attract devoted fans, for example adult PC games in Akihabara, companions can be required to study the character that they cosplay to better understand and embody her. The top status for companions is 'official cosplayer' (kōhiki kosupureiyā), which is to say the person officially designated by the company to be the only one allowed to cosplay a certain character. This designation usually entails an exclusive contract. My informant explained this to me using the curious phrase 'character contract' (kyarakutā no keiyaku).

    [13] Personal interview with a cosplay companion, Akihabara, 2 July 2013.

    [14] Umemoto Masaru estimates the cosplay market to be 40 billion yen (400 oku en), but then casts doubt on that number by pointing out that it includes sales of fancy dress and party costumes. Umemoto Masaru, 'Kosupure wo bijinesu ni suru ni ha,' President Online, 23 April 2013, online: and, accessed 5 August 2013.

    [15] Okabe, 'Cosplay, learning, and cultural practice,' pp. 225–27.

    [16] Okabe, 'Cosplay, learning, and cultural practice,' p. 225.

    [17] Cure's estimates are informed by its registered users, which numbered 270,000 at the time of the survey in 2007. In 2007, Net research firm iSHARE released survey results showing that 46.8 per cent of women between the ages of 20 and 40 said they want to try cosplay, and 18.9 percent said they had already done it.

    [18] In a personal interview (June 9, 2010), Inui Yōko described a positive relationship with photographers. In her experience, most photographers are extremely well mannered. They line up so as not to crowd the cosplayer, ask permission before taking photos, show the images to the cosplayer and exchange namecards so that they can stay in contact. After seeing these men at many events, Inui considers them to be friends. She even uses the photos that they take of her in cosplay in the albums that she sells to fans at conventions such as the Comic Market. Further, Inui actually pays the travel and lodging expenses for photographers to come with her for cosplay shoots at locations around the country. Personal interview with Inui Yōko, Harajuka, 9 June 2010).

    [19] Okabe, 'Cosplay, learning, and cultural practice,' p. 241.

    [20] Okabe, 'Cosplay, learning, and cultural practice,' p. 227.

    [21] Okabe, 'Cosplay, learning, and cultural practice,' p. 241.

    [22] Okabe's informants make snap judgments about other cosplayers being torareta without knowing anything about them and their social circles. They appear to be objectifying other cosplayers and judging their authenticity from a position of authority. This completely ignores the motivations and pleasures of these so-called 'torareta,' or bad, deficient cosplayers.

    [23] Okabe, 'Cosplay, learning, and cultural practice,' p. 241.

    [24] One might speculate that such a thing is allowed because cosplay is understood to be a fan activity. Fans do not have to pay a licensing fee when reproducing a material aspect of the character–the costume–or even when posing as the character and reproducing poses and set phrases (kime zerifu) in public. Fans sell albums of photos of themselves in costumes worn by characters from manga, anime and games, but this is not considered to be illegal. Adult video makers are exploiting confusion about whether the rights of character reproduction extend to cosplay, and how these rights could be enforced when it is a human body that is reproducing the copyrighted character image.

    [25] This is certainly not a 'Japanese' thing. Because wearing cosplay seems to imply consent for photographs and even sexual advances, female cosplayers speak of rampant harassment at anime conventions in the United States and elsewhere. Against this backdrop comes the campaign 'Cosplay ≠ Consent.' See 'Heben Nigatu, Cosplayers have a message to all perverts,' BuzzFeed, 4 April 2013, online:, accessed 5 August 2013.

    [26] Takeyama Akiko, 'Intimacy for sale: masculinity, entrepreneurship, and commodity self in Japan's neoliberal situation,' Japanese Studies, vol. 30, no. 2 (2010): 231–46.

    [27] Akiko, 'Intimacy for sale,' p. 238.

    [28] Akiko, 'Intimacy for sale,' p. 238.

    [29] Marc Steinberg, 'Anytime, anywhere: tetsuwan atomu stickers and the emergence of character merchandizing,' Theory, Culture and Society, vol. 26, nos 2–3 (2009): 113–38.

    [30] The extent to which 'Japan' is present or absent in the minds of consumers of manga, anime and games overseas is anything but clear. For a discussion of the varying localisation strategies and relative erasure of 'Japan' in media imports to the United States over time, see Anne Allison, Millennial Monsters: Japanese Toys and the Global Imagination, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006. The difficulty of pinning down desire for 'Japan' in anime fandom in the United States is discussed in Susan J. Napier, From Impressionism to Anime: Japan as Fantasy and Fan Cult in the Mind of the West, New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2007. Finally, for a lucid discussion of the fragmented and shifting alliances with and against 'Japan' among anime fans overseas, see Matt Hills, 'Transnational otaku: Japanese representations of fandom and representations of Japan in anime/manga fan cultures,' paper presented at the Media in Transition 2: Globalization and Convergence Conference held at Massachusetts Instuitute of Technology, 2002, online:, accessed 5 August 2013.

    [31] Laura Miller, 'Cute masquerade and the pimping of Japan,' International Journal of Japanese Sociology, vol. 20, no. 1 (2011): 18–29.

    [32] This comes from a personal interview with a member of the Tokyo Otaku Mode staff that took place in Akihabara, 27 April 2013.

    [33] Matthew Thorn, 'Girls and women getting out of hand: the pleasure and politics of Japan's amateur comics community,' in Fanning the Flames: Fans and Consumer Culture in Contemporary Japan, ed. William Kelly, Albany: State University of New York Press, 2004, pp. 169–86, pp. 176–77.

    [34] Okabe, 'Cosplay, learning, and cultural practice,' p. 239.

    [35] For a comparison, consider otoko yaku, or women who perform on stage as beautiful men in the Takarazuka Revue. These performers must remain 'women,' even as they capture the ideal 'man,' who does not correspond to actual men or exist in reality. See Jennifer Robertson, Takarazuka: Sexual Politics and Popular Culture in Modern Japan, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

    [36] Okabe, 'Cosplay, learning, and cultural practice,' p. 242.

    [37] Okabe, 'Cosplay, learning, and cultural practice,' p. 246.

    [38] Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, London: Routledge, 1990. For a nuanced update to Butler that pays attention to the importance of the body, see Raine Dozier, 'Beards, breasts, and bodies: doing sex in a gendered world,' Gender and Society, vol. 19, no. 3 (2005): 297–316.

    [39] Okabe, 'Cosplay, learning, and cultural practice,' p. 225.

    [40] Okabe, 'Cosplay, learning, and cultural practice,' p. 230.

    [41] Patrick W. Galbraith, 'Akihabara: conditioning a public 'otaku' image,' in Mechademia 5: Fanthropologies, ed. Frenchy Lunning, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010, pp. 210–31, pp. 219, 223.

    [42] Miller, 'Cute masquerade and the pimping of Japan,' p. 18.

    [43] Personal interview, Akihabara, 17 June 2011. Name withheld at informant's request.

    [44] Saitō Tamaki might suggest that the cosplayer does not only play with costumes, but also with fictional contexts, which are 'layered' on the body. The body of the cosplayer and the character overlap, and he or she becomes 'multiply oriented' to his or her own body. Part of the pleasure of cosplay is working through the layers and interacting with internal and external others, fictional and actual, in complex ways. Saitō Tamaki, Beautiful Fighting Girl, trans. J. Keith Vincent and Dawn Lawson, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011, pp. 16–18.

    [45] Matt Hills, Fan Cultures, London: Routledge, 2002, p. 168.

    [46] Teri Silvio, 'Informationalized affect: the body in Taiwanese digital video puppetry and cosplay,' in Embodied Modernities: Corporeality, Representation, and Chinese Cultures, ed. Fran Martin and Larissa Heinrich, Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2006, pp. 195–217, p. 212.

    [47] Silvio, 'Informationalized affect,' p. 217.

    [48] Napier, 'Anime nation,' p. 164.

    [49] This estimate was relayed to me in a personal conversation with Edmund Hoff, Yotsuya, 31 May 2013.

    [50] This resonates with Truong's description of the potential for shifting subjective experiences that goes along with cosplaying characters who themselves 'cosplay' as members of the opposite sex or look like the opposite sex, are gender ambiguous or non-human. See also Napier, 'Anime nation,' pp. 160–61.

    [51] James Welker, 'Beautiful, borrowed, and bent: “boys' love" as girls' love in Shōjo Manga,' Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, vol. 31, no. 3 (2006): 841–70, pp. 857–59.

    [52] See Napier, 'Anime nation,' pp. 164–66.

    [53] Isaac Gagne, 'Urban princesses: performance and 'women's language' in Japan's Gothic/Lolita subculture,' Journal of Linguistic Anthropology vol. 18, issue 1, (June 2008): 130–50, p. 131.

    [54] Gagne, 'Urban princesses,' p. 131.

    [55] Gagne, 'Urban princesses,' pp. 139–40. Useful for comparative purposes is the case of BDSM sexual iconography among the cosplayers in Okabe's study and the Lolitas in Gagne's study. Both deny that this is 'sexual' or for a male audience.

    [56] Gagne, 'Urban princesses,' p. 139.

    [57] Okabe, 'Cosplay, learning, and cultural practice,' p. 231.

    [58] Gagne, 'Urban princesses,' p. 138. Gal fashion was originally inspired by the casual street or beach style of Los Angeles, but princess gals draw inspiration from Hollywood celebrities.

    [59] Gagne, 'Urban princesses,' p. 141. Note that despite the rhetoric of Gagne's informants, the cosplayers that Okabe profiles make their own costumes, which seems to be something of a cultural value. While it is true that some cosplayers buy costumes, it is perhaps more common for Lolitas to buy outfits. Indeed, hand-made costumes work for cosplayers, but perhaps less so for Lolitas, who are often interested in fashion, brands and conspicuous spending.

    [60] Patrick W. Galbraith, 'Maid in Japan: an ethnographic account of alternative intimacy,' Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific, issue 25 (February 2011), online:, accessed 6 August 2013.

    [61] Gagne, 'Urban princesses,' p. 142.

    [62] Gagne, 'Urban princesses,' p. 140.

    [63] Gagne, 'Urban princesses,' p. 140.

    [64] Miller, 'Cute masquerade.'

    [65] For an ethnographic vignette about the cute ambassadors, see Daniel White, 'The affect-emotion gap: soft power, nation branding, and cultural administration in Japan,' Ph.D. dissertation, Houston: Rice University, 2011, chapter seven.

    [66] Gagne, 'Urban princesses,' p. 139.

    [67] Gagne, 'Urban princesses,' p. 140.

    [68] Gagne, 'Urban princesses,' p. 147.

    [69] The critique among Lolitas seems to be that costuming is part of finding and expressing one's self or style, and cosplay is an intermediate step in that cosplayers are using ready-made characters from manga, anime and games. This critique is neither fair nor accurate, as it grossly underestimates cosplay creativity, which entails interpreting characters, making costumes and capturing the essence of characters and relating this to one's self. This critique posits cosplay as a 'lesser' or impoverished form of self-expression, which is not the case.

    [70] Gagne, 'Urban princesses,' p. 134.

    [71] Gagne, 'Urban princesses,' pp. 133, 148.

    [72] Kotani Mari, 'Doll beauties and cosplay,' trans. Thomas LaMarre, in Mechademia 2: Networks of Desire, ed. Frenchy Lunning, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007, pp. 49–62, p. 58.

    [73] Gagne, 'Urban princesses,' p. 138.

    [74] This in turn limits the recognition of cosplay as a lifestyle, with cosplayers devoting much time and energy to researching characters, producing costumes and going to events regularly.

    [75] John Fiske, 'The cultural economy of fandom,' in The Adoring Audience: Fan Culture and Popular Media, ed. Lisa A. Lewis, London: Routledge, 1992, pp. 30–49.

    [76] Gagne, 'Urban princesses,' p. 138.

    [77] Sharon Kinsella, 'Cuties in Japan,' in Women, Media, and Consumption in Japan, ed. Lise Skov and Brian Moeran, Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1995, pp. 220–54.

    [78] Dick Hebdige, 'Subculture,' in Popular Culture: A Reader, ed. Raiford A. Guins and Omayra Zaragoza Cruz, London: Sage Publications, 2005, pp. 355–71, pp. 357–58.

    [79] Gagne conveys the conclusion of a news report: 'The narrator closes the segment by commenting, “Until the end, they want to do what they like! This is where they showed their shōjo rashii egao [smiles appropriate for/typical of a young girl]." The tone of the narrator's voice seems to imply that, despite their unorthodox fashion and interests, there is still hope that they are “typical" girls on the inside.' See Gagne, 'Urban princesses,' pp. 144–45.

    [80] Kotani Mari, 'Doll beauties and cosplay.'

    [81] For a complementary approach, consider the discussion of 'temporal drag' in Elizabeth Freeman, Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories, Durham: Duke University Press, 2010, pp. 59–94.

    [82] Napier, 'Anime nation,' pp. 164–66.

    [83] Okabe, 'Cosplay,' p. 225. One wonders about the conspicuous absence of homosexuals or even homoerotic desire in descriptions of Lolita.

    [84] See for example Vera Mackie, 'Reading Lolita in Japan,' in Girl Reading Girl in Japan, ed. Tomoko Aoyama and Barbara Hartley, London: Routledge, 2010, pp. 187–201.

    [85] Takeyama, 'Intimacy for sale,' p. 238.

    [86] In Tokyo, I have encountered cosplayers who work in offices and cosplay in their free time. In the process, these women learn new skills and open up alternative sources of income. For example, in a personal interview, Mizuno Clo said that she works as a receptionist in Osaka, even though she was tapped to model in promotional materials for Vantan's cosplay course (Odaiba, 16 August 2008). When I met Yunmao in July 2008, she was working part-time as a designer for a company in Ebisu. This despite the fact that she was a lecturer and writer, an entrepreneur, a model and spokesperson, which contributed to her self-proclaimed status as a 'professional' cosplayer (Odaiba, 3 February 2009). For more on the relation of cosplay and new forms of labor, see Silvio, 'Informationalized affect.'

    [87] For a discussion of 'methodological nationalism' among scholars of Japan, see Iwabuchi Koichi, 'Undoing inter-national fandom in the age of brand nationalism,' in Mechademia 5: Fanthropologies, ed. Frenchy Lunning, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010, pp. 87–96.

    [88] Hebdige, 'Subculture,' p. 356.

    [89] Hebdige, 'Subculture,' p. 356.

    [90] Hakim Bey, T.A.Z.: The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism, New York: Autonomedia, 1991, online:, 5 August 2013.

    [91] Hakim Bey, T.A.Z.

    [92] This resonates with work on anime conventions as spaces of 'liminal masquerade' outside of the self and the ordinary. These 'alternatives to reality' impact one's experience and understanding of self and the world. Napier, 'Anime nation,' pp. 153–54.


Published with the support of Gender and Cultural Studies, School of Culture, History and Language, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University.
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