In many people’s mind, cosplay is most often related to complicated costumes, armors, impressive props, out-of-this world creatures and other visually stunning elements. But what about those characters who are depicted in casual clothes, with casual hairstyle and nothing out of ordinary to present at the first sight? Here we deal with yet another trap: those people who think it’s such characters that are the easiest to cosplay as. And nothing could be more wrong than such an opinion. For, although the clothes could be a pair of trousers and a shirt, the overall image is far more difficult to depict in cosplay.
In the world of anime and manga there are countless such “simple” looking, but strong-minded characters; what does it mean to cosplay as such characters? Or what makes them stand out? I’ve chosen four such characters, from four different anime series, for a closer look in cosplay: Makishima Shougo from Psycho-Pass, cosplayed by Kuryu, Izaya Orihara from Durarara!!, depicted by Yui, Morita Shinobu from Honey and Clover, impersonated by Taka, and Kanba Takakura from Mawaru Penguindrum, cosplayed by Hybridre.
Undoubtedly, Psycho-Pass remains one of the best anime series of 2013, with a wide range of unique and brilliantly shaped characters. Among these, Makishima Shougo definitely draws attention as one of the most sophisticated villains in the history of anime. One cannot decide whether to love or to loathe Makishima, for beyond his outrageous actions is hidden a very complex network of emotions and strong beliefs. Paradoxically, in a dehumanized world he is the one who calls for humanity; in a very strange way, his actions could all be submitted to an “end justifies the means” – type of analysis. While being a villain in the purest meaning of the word, Makishima is intrinsically the malformation of an otherwise perfectly conceived futuristic society. While everyone is driven to believe they still have their own free will, Makishima Shougo is actually the only one who has proved his singularity through free will since the very beginning. To him, “books are not something that you just read words in. They are also a tool to adjust your senses”. Therefore, the book is an essential element in cosplaying as Makishima. While other characters are portrayed along with impressive swords and armors, Makishima has a book as one of his few “props”. Most of the times, you can see him reading a book, mainly dystopias, or political and history philosophy, ranging from William Shakespeare and Philip K. Dick, to Pascal and George Orwell. This is why it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to say that cosplaying as Makishima Shougo is more of a cosplay of the mind than a cosplay of the outfit (which is actually a most simple combination between a shirt and a pair of trousers).
So far, one of the best portrayals of Makishima Shougo belongs to the Japanese cosplayer Kuryu. What she liked the most about him is that, even though he seems so calm and collected all the time, he doesn’t shy away from murder to accomplish his goals. She also considers him the most mysterious character of the series, “the kind of guy who does what he wants, he’s rebelling against the system, and then he has to deal with the loneliness that comes as a consequence of his actions and that shows he also has a vulnerable side. I tend to like characters that show their vulnerable side”.
In her opinion, when cosplaying as a character with a complicated costume, it’s enough to wear that costume and you’ll generally look good in it. By contrast, “when you wear a simple costume, you need to act out the character for the camera, to be aware of what they might be feeling and to try to transmit those feelings. That’s why I think cosplaying as a character with a simple costume might be more difficult than the other way around”.
Of course, posing as Makishima may be a very difficult task, given the huge complexity of this character and what lies beyond his very simple outfit and his Shakespeare book with red covers. As Kuryu puts it, “Makishima Shougo is the kind of character who shows no emotion. But if you look more carefully, you can see when he’s feeling angry, friendly or lonely. You can tell what’s going on in his mind. It happens so quickly that you have to really pay attention. That’s why, when I pose for the camera in this costume, I have to always keep in mind what he might be feeling in this setting. I think that’s the most important thing”.
He loves humans, he toys with them, he is the absolute trickster and, at the first sight, he looks nothing out of ordinary: Izaya Orihara is definitely in the league of characters that seem simple to cosplay, but actually are very complicated to pull off. We always see him in his usual black trousers and blouse with V-shaped collar, and with the furry-edged jacket that has already become his trademark. But what lies actually behind this character? Is it enough to dress in black and wear the jacket to cosplay as him? Yui from Hong Kong is one of the cosplayers who tried to decipher the mystery beyond the outfit, and impersonate this rather very complex character.
Although she initially wanted to cosplay as Shizuo, she felt that she couldn’t portray him well; furthermore, while reading the novel, she started to be more and more drawn to Izaya and she ended up cosplaying as him in several versions.
She considers that the effort in cosplaying as a character with a complicated outfit and as one with less complicated costume is similar. While it may seem more appealing for the cosplayers who are at the beginning of their “career”, a character with a simpler outfit, such as Izaya, is actually harder to depict, as there are no striking details or props to work with. In her own words, “when a character doesn’t have glamorous outfits, the focus is no longer on the props or costume. To really give the ‘walked right out of the manga/anime’ impression, we need to spend much more effort on the scene, mood, expressions and poses to present the character”.
In Yui’s opinion, Izaya’s conflicted personality is what makes him stand out as a character, and what stirs her creativity in cosplaying as him: “Izaya loves to play mind games, as well as being destructive and, at the same time, observant about humans. He loves humans, but not necessarily himself. This character’s background has a lot of room for me to work with creatively. I’ve cosplayed a few other DRRR! characters as well, which goes to show that this is a great manga with a unique storyline and elaborated illustrations about each character, enticing the reader to love each and every one of them. However, Izaya is the most complex of them all, and I hope to gain a better understanding of him through my cosplays, as well as expressing my love for this great piece of work”.
As there’s much more than the simple outfit beyond such a character, a photo-shoot as Izaya can be a veritable challenge. For Yui, it was a challenge too, and she recounts her experiences during such photo-shoots and how she managed to portray Izaya so brilliantly: “Being frivolous in character, Izaya smiles a lot, often with false pretence. I spent time practicing his expressions and poses. Each of the few versions of him is different in certain ways, like Psychedelic, Wonderful day and Hachimenroppi. I used Doujin settings for each of these variations, and they all differ in character from the official version of Izaya. I had to think about how to present them and wrote scripts for the different photo-shoots I did. It would really make my day if someone spots these variations or enjoys the stories I wrote for them”.
White shirt, blue jeans and a pair of slippers. This seems the simplest outfit a character could ever wear, and thus the simplest cosplay possible. But not when the character who wears that shirt and those jeans is Morita Shinobu, the charming eternal sculpture student from Honey and Clover. Cheerful, completely crazy, very talented and seemingly carefree and airhead, even at the end of the series Morita’s true personality isn’t completely revealed. He appears out of the blue, then disappears when you less expect; one second he seems ready to share a bit of his true self, but the next second he randomly changes the subject into a hilarious trick played on the others; he returns from his mysterious missions loaded with a huge amount of money, yet he always steals food from his friends and never spends anything; he’s an eternal repeater, yet he always amazes everyone around, showing an unparalleled talent, close to that of a genius. And the complexity of this character makes him truly difficult to portray.
To cosplay as Morita Shinobu takes much more than wearing a shirt and jeans, and maybe this is why the cosplayers who attempted – and succeeded – to impersonate him are rather scarce. One of them is definitely Taka, from the USA, who, above all else, managed to brilliantly depict the “essence” of Morita Shinobu’s character: his boundless passion for art, the very few moments he allows himself to indulge into what he loves. For Taka, the greatest challenge was cosplaying as him solo. As she herself puts it, “His personality shines a lot more when he’s interacting with others, like Hagu or Takemoto, so since I was doing it alone, it was kind of hard at first to get comfortable cosplaying as the character”. She has always been drawn to Morita, in both the manga, and the drama adaptation of Honey and Clover. In Taka’s own words, “he acts really childish, and seems lazy – but deep down he’s super dedicated to what he does and to the people he loves. He is extremely talented, and I feel that he is really admirable for that. I was also attracted to the fact that although he is very outgoing and friendly, you can never tell completely what kind of person he is. It’s kind of mysterious! Not to mention he seems like a really fun and spontaneous person to be friends with”.
Compared to pulling off a character with a complicated costume, Morita Shinobu was a more challenging task for Taka, who had to pay attention to a lot of other details besides the outfit as such: “when I do a cosplay with very simple clothes, I find it to be a bit more challenging. Because I want to make sure the character comes out completely instead of just looking like I am in a regular, casual outfit with a wig. That’s why I was a bit worried about cosplaying Morita at first! Actually, I was really anxious about if I could make Morita feel like Morita during the shoot, or if I would just look like a random guy in normal clothes sitting in an art room”. And she definitely succeeded in making Morita feel like Morita, in letting shine at least a bit of the far more complex character yet to be discovered.
The redhead of Mawaru Penguindrum series and the eldest of the Takakura brothers, Kanba is yet another example of powerful character in a simple outfit. Be it a school uniform or a black garment, his clothes are far from difficult to tailor and wear. Add a red wig to all this and you might say you’ve got the perfect Takakura Kanba cosplay. Or not. Because, beyond those clothes lies a more complex and conflicted personality, quite difficult to understand and portray; so difficult, in fact, that one doesn’t exactly know if he’s a good or rather bad character. By no means a linear character easy to figure out from his actions, he is prone to subjective interpretations. His deeds are not always the most orthodox, but seen in the context of his love for his sister, they become understandable and even forgivable.
Hybridre from China, who has definitely one of the best cosplays as Takakura Kanba, chose to cosplay both his “uniform”, and his “black garment” versions, each being a mirror of an essential period in the character’s life. She explains that “there is a strong comparison between Kanba and his brother Shoma; one of them plays the dark side, and the other the bright side. In the end, Kanba is overwhelmed with sorrow and insanity, like a price of revenge in conflict, which I think is the key point to cosplay as him”. Kanba is a character she cannot fully understand, but she has a strong curiosity towards him, as he is a very restrained person, who doesn’t like to show his true emotions. Therefore, when cosplaying as him, props are very important. Hybridre recounts her photo-shoot experience as Takakura Kanba: “In the photo-shoot we prepared many penguin-boxes in the setting to create the same scenes as in the anime. I think it works to give people the first impression that this is penguin-drum. […]. The challenge is how to hold the balance between being handsome and telling a vivid story. If you want to look good, sometimes you’re just posing; however when you ignore the camera too much, the photo normally would not be appealing”.
This is actually the beauty of the cosplay world: no matter how simple would it seem to impersonate a character, every such attempt is in itself a challenge, and it takes a whole lot more than simply wearing one outfit or another to depict the character in its entirety. It’s a complex set of features one cosplayer must understand and take into account in order to have the big picture, especially when dealing with a very complex personality walking leisurely around in a pair of slippers.