The Multiple Patterns of J-Rock: Insights on Crossdressing and Crossplay By Paula Vicol

Do you believe in magic? In fairytales, in stories of worlds where everything is possible, where beauty is all over and bad things don’t have even the slightest chance to ruin happiness?  Such a world exists and I’m inviting you to travel there with me. But in order to get there, you’ll have to perform a small ritual: mix striking make-up with unusual hair styles, add elaborate costumes (often – though not always – combined with androgynous looks), and a music genre that stands out from mostly everything that’s out there. Embrace it, let it get to your heart and there you have it, you’ve instantly entered the world of Visual Kei.

Looks are as important in Visual Kei as music itself, so let’s try and find out more inside information about what it’s like to be part of this world, by asking both musicians who left their mark upon the scene, and cosplayers who do a great job in becoming as great as their idols are.

Crossdressing in Visual Kei is particularly fascinating; it couldn’t be considered anything else since it makes the “female” and “male” genders become faded, leaving more room for the universal, genderless beauty. Crossdressers are either females who dress as males, or males that dress as females. Crossdressing in Visual Kei is mostly the same as regular crossdressing in cosplay, the only difference being that Visual Kei artists do it as part of their job.

In the western part of the world, crossdressing is seen as something ranging from unusual to wrong, and most of the time crossdressing as a form of art falls victim to people’s ignorance. For many of those who interacted for the first time with Visual Kei it came as a shock to find out that “that cute girl” was actually a boy, but a connoisseur highly appreciates these people because it does take a lot of effort to be able to pull off the look flawlessly.
Having to name some really convincing crossdressers from the Japanese Visual Kei history, then those would probably have to be Emiru ( Lareine, Anubis), Kaya, Mana ( Malice Mizer, Moi Dix Mois) and the list goes on, but in a quest to find out what they think of each other, I’ve asked one of the best, Versailles’s guitarist, Hizaki. He only had words of praise for them, complimenting them and confessing how much he admires all of these people.

So, on stage we are used to see them wearing dresses or other feminine outfits, we know it’s part of the role they play, and we know that in everyday life they can either be so normal you could pass by without recognizing them, or you could find out that even off-stage they keep having a unique fashion style. That’s the case with Seremedy’s guitarist, Yohio, so I’ve decided to ask him if his style, both on-stage and off-stage ever caused him problems. He admitted it sometimes led to “problems”, but that he never encountered significant ones. “Some people try to start fights with you, but it’s easy to just walk away and ignore them. (laughs) That’s what I usually do in that kind of situation. I like to look like I do, and I won’t change my style to please other people around me. If they don’t like it, that’s their problem. I think everyone should be able to look however they want to.”

Yue Haruyama as Reita (the GazettE).
Photo by Alid
Yue Haruyama as Teru (Versailles – Philia)
Photo by Alid
Yue Haruyama as Teru:Noble (Versailles)
Photo by Alid

I have to give Yohio credit here; yes, everyone should be able to look how they want, but it takes a lot of courage to dare defy the rather conservative world and to bravely face all the stares and pointing fingers one gets, and sadly even the harsh words. I guess in the male crossdresser’s case it takes a real man to wear a dress and have the right attitude for it, but how is life in a costume for cosplayers? In order to find that out, I’ve asked Hungarian cosplayer Yue Haruyama how a day of her life looks like when she is crossplaying, but also if people ever actually thought she was the real thing. She stated that the most important thing about such a day is that it’s fun, but she also mentioned the preparation she has to undergo on such a day, like waking up really early in the morning, put on make-up before leaving her home and managing with all sorts of problems that might appear during the day, like weather changes, lack of a locker room in some cases and so on. But before I know it the day is over and I’m really tired but happy, so I almost can’t wait for the next event. But she also told me about the rather funny yet sometimes awkward situations that she went through, like when people actually came up and asked for her autograph or when people followed her around during the event thinking she really was the person she was cosplaying as. It happened more when I cosplayed as Teru. But it was funny and in the end it’s the biggest proof that I made my cosplay well, I think. Then I’m very happy because they say my whole look is good, because I always want to be as similar as I can be, so that both I and the others around me can enjoy it.

Yue mentioned the importance of similarity between the cosplayer and the one that is being cosplayed, but how do you end up realizing if there actually is a similarity between you and someone famous? To get an answer to this question I’ve asked a Miyavi cosplayer from the Philippines, Riiyah. She opened her heart to me and confessed how hard it was for her to grow up being called “hideous” and being ridiculed for being overweight. She never realized she resembled her idol, Miyavi, till 2010 when an online friend who saw her for the first time pointed out to her the similarity he saw. For a while she rejected the possibility that her friend was right but she started to ask people around, driven by curiosity, to hear their opinions on the matter. One positive feedback after another made her decide to put on make-up and try to take pictures of herself posing as Miyavi.  It was only then that she started believing in it herself. I kept trying to mimic his style and appearance encouraged by my friends, and at some point even my siblings and parents started having a hard time distinguishing my pictures from his. I owe MIYAVI a lot. Without knowing him, I wouldn’t have discovered the beauty inside me, I wouldn’t have gained self esteem, I wouldn’t be pursuing what I truly love (music). Riiyah considers Miyavi a big brother whom she looks up to and wants to follow in his footsteps. He inspires her in everything she does and she is grateful to him for having changed her life into what it is today.

D.M. as Kamijo (Versailles), Arthael as Hizaki (Versailles) // Photo by KikOnline

So she might be similar to Miyavi but he went through so many different looks…I wondered how hard it was for this girl to keep up with it. Apparently it comes rather easy for her to do it, only the hairstyles being challenging sometimes. Posing as him comes natural for Riiyah because she feels she has the Miyavi spirit in her no matter how he changes the way he looks.  I was so surprised to find a lot of things in common with him (not only the physical aspect). I even did a cosplay of his new “grown up” look to stir up some laughter among my friends.

But similarities between people can be found even among musicians. I didn’t choose Yohio and Hizaki by accident; a lot of Visual Kei fans see a certain resemblance between the two, and actually the first time I’ve seen Yohio come out on stage I must admit that for a second I thought I saw Hizaki coming out.  I asked Hizaki how he reacted the first time he met Yohio; he smiled at me and said that he saw himself, a young version of himself. But when I asked Yohio what he thought of this resemblance, I must admit I was surprised by his response. I expected the classic “he is my inspiration” but instead he said this: The only reasons I remind people nowadays of Hizaki is that we both wear dresses and play fast guitar solos (laughs). We both do what we like the most!

Hmm, kudos to Yohio for this answer because he proved he doesn’t just want to be a copy of Hizaki, but he’s set on building his way towards success in his own style. (Still, he then filled in with: Actually, last time I saw Hizaki he called me his “little sister” and I guess that’s true in a way. (laughs) Aha, got’cha!)

But let’s go on and find out more about their costumes. I’ve asked them how their costumes are created, and, in the case of the cosplayers, how did they end up deciding to cosplay as those people. Yohio told me that the dress design is made by him and Seike (Seremedy’s vocal) and then sewn in Stockholm by their private seamstress. It’s made around the theme of the “White Rose Princess which is my title and character. That’s why the main colour is white. The golden details are there to give it a royal feeling. I think it turned out pretty graceful!; while Hizaki was more brief in describing the process of how his costumes are made, only explaining that he is the one making the design, which he later gives to someone he is sure to have the right skills to make it.

    Hungarian cosplayer Yue didn’t give us too many details on how she makes her costumes either, but she did tell us how she makes her cosplay choices, by pointing out that it isn’t out of the question for her to cosplay from outside the J-Rock/VK scene, but that in order for her to start working on a cosplay she must first feel a bond coming from her heart towards her choice, and that until this moment in her life, she didn’t feel it for any anime or manga character. Also, she likes to challenge herself and, to her, cosplaying as a real person is more difficult than cosplaying as an animation.

Hizaki (Versailles)
Arthael as Hizaki (Versailles)
Photo by Try
Zukito as Teru (Versailles)
Photo by Try

Wanting to find out details about making such outfits I’ve also asked Arthael Walkingshadow from Thailand. She and her group made one of the most stunning Versailles group cosplays out there. Here are some details of how they did it: We decided to make this project once the picture for their album Holy Grail was released. And since we usually participate in the J-Festa event every year as it’s one of the few events that allow J-Rock cosplays here, we set that date as a deadline. We roughly had three months for the project, with one picture to look at as reference.

ZephyrusSly as Yuki (Versailles)

ZephyrusSly as Yuki (Versailles) // Photo by Try

Two of us went to see their live at C.C. Lemon Hall (now Shibuya Koukaidou) in July. We hunted for some materials in Tokyo, but we bought most of them in our hometown. We worked as a team, as that’s what Versailles cosplay projects taught us: team work.

Anyway, the most difficult part was the gold embroidery which they used a lot more than in  their previous costumes, and the size of them was huge and the pattern looked so complicated that we almost gave up at first. But one day, Kitsune (the Masashi cosplayer) spotted that the embroidery they used in all costumes (except on Hizaki’s) is actually two patterns being cut and placed differently, just like a jigsaw.  And we began drafting and sewing as quickly as we could. The costumes were done in time, with a lot of friends involved in helping us sewing, and with minor flaws here and there mostly due to  the time constraint, but we were very satisfied with the result. The embroidery was machine made, and as for the rose printed  fabric on Kamijo’s coat, we only found one type of fabric with that kind of red roses on, which is chiffon, so we improvised by putting the chiffon on another piece of fabric to make it more sturdy, and to let the print show.

Now that we found out these interesting facts from their lives and work, why don’t we find out what the people cosplayers choose as role models think about them?

Cosplaying as Hizaki has become quite popular recently. I’ve asked the artist what he thinks of people cosplaying as him and if he knows anything about them. He smiled so widely that his dimples showed, and said that he appreciated it a lot, that sometimes he sees fans cosplaying during their live shows, that he sees them and he likes it. They stand out in the crowd.

Since I haven’t seen any cosplay after Yohio, I’ve asked him if he’s ever seen someone do it. I was curious what his reaction would be if he did, but since he told me he had never seen anyone cosplay as him, I suggested he launched a challenge to you guys. Here is what he said: Dear readers, please cosplay as me! I would be very happy to see it!

Then I asked one question to all these wonderful cosplayers who helped me: “Why crossplay/crossdress?”

Yue: It isn’t a straight decision in my case, to make crossplay only; I would say that it just happened this way. But if there would be a girl character I would love and I would also love her outfit, I would do it for sure. *laughs* Because J-Rock bands usually have male members, it came naturally to me to crossplay and I didn’t really think that it could be considered strange. A lot of people crossplay, and I don’t consider myself a feminine kind of woman anyway. If I’d cosplay a girl character, I’m sure that I couldn’t successfully cosplay as a “cute” one.

Riiyah: I was deemed androgynous since I was young. Crossplaying gives it a good purpose. (Though the only crossplay I could do is Miyavi… I actually tried other J-Rockers like Kanon, but I definitely failed since most people said I still kept the Miyavi spirit.

Arthael: Hizaki is a man dressed as a woman, so that makes me a woman cosplaying a man who crossdresses as a woman, *laughs*.

ZephyrusSly as Yuki, D.M. as Kamijo, Kitsune as Masashi, Arthael as Hizaki, Zukito as Teru, all from Versailles
Photo by Try
ZephyrusSly as Yuki, D.M. as Kamijo, Kitsune as Masashi, Arthael as Hizaki, Zukito as Teru, all from Versailles
Photo by Try
ZephyrusSly as Yuki, D.M. as Kamijo, Kitsune as Masashi, Arthael as Hizaki, Zukito as Teru, all from Versailles
Photo by Try

Crossdressing, there you have it. Some of us do it, it’s fun, we like it and will continue to do it as long as we feel comfortable doing it. Crossdressing, just like normal cosplaying, implies a lot of passion and effort in making every detail perfect, everything with the sole purpose of creating the “absolute youshikibi (beauty of form)”. Stay fresh, stay young and, as Hizaki said, Do your best and make great costumes! Be beautiful!

Thank you to Hizaki and Yohio for taking time for the interviews.
Thank you also to the cosplayers: Arthael, D.M, Kitsune, Riiyah, Yue, ZephyrusSly and Zukito.
Special thanks to Mayumi Kojima (Delacroix Co. Ltd.) for making the interview with Hizaki possible and special thanks to Paul for translating.


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