I cried so hard ;_; Oh my god!!!
The New York Times
By MAURA EGAN
When the two exhausted American Airlines pilots landed in the lobby of the
Westin hotel at the San Francisco airport last October, they couldn’t
believe their bleary eyes. It was as if they had stepped into the bar scene
in “Star Wars,” their wheelies navigating through a scrum of otherworldly
creatures, including a fair-skinned beauty all done up like Morticia
Addams, complete with a riding crop and cat ears; a pixie with a punk
haircut blinged out in a silver spacesuit; and an Asian woman swaddled in
pink Hello Kitty pajamas, a lollipop sticking out of her pert lips.
Halloween was still a week away, but for this conga line of goths, cartoon
characters and cyborgs, that didn’t matter. They spend all year playing
dress-up, acting as their favorite characters at conventions like this
three-day carnival called Yaoi Con. The phenomenon is known as cosplay
(from “costume” and “play&rdquo, and it started, naturally, in Japan, where
anime (video games and cartoons) and manga (comic books) have been hugely
popular for years. As the cyborg cartoon market has gone global, with
Takashi Murakami’s international superstardom and the popularity of
bio-survival horror game franchises like “Resident Evil,” cosplay
conventions have sprouted up all over the world.
Two years ago, the photographer Elena Dorfman started taking portraits of
cosplayers, which will be featured at the Edwynn Houk Gallery in New York
in April as well as in her book “Fandomania: Characters and Cosplay”
(Aperture), due out in June. Dorfman, who has documented other aberrant
subcultures like the Pro Ana (for anorexia) movement and the Raëlian
cloning cult, first learned about cosplay through a colleague who was
researching individuals with robot fetishes. The timing was felicitous;
Dorfman had recently finished up another project, on sex-doll enthusiasts,
and was interested in exploring the notion of “real dolls versus humans
dressing up as dolls.”
The fascination with anime and manga has shed some of its previous
freaks-and-geeks association, according to Kim Smith, who has come today as
Hakkai, a character from the Gensomaden Saiyuki series. “The fans of this
genre are getting younger. It’s not the stereotype of a 40-year-old male
fan living in his mom’s basement. It’s actually a lot of women.” In Japan,
until a few years ago, fans were referred to as otaku, shut-ins who pored
over comics and computer screens ogling space-age sexpot girls with
kewpie-doll eyes and micro dresses. Today otaku no longer conjures up
creepy connotations and can also refer to someone with a deep passion, an
obsession about anything.
A few of the half-cat androids and gothic Lolitas have come to this
particular event not just to dress up as their favorite characters but also
because they are fans of yaoi, a publishing genre that focuses on boy love.
It seems peculiar that yaoi would attract such a big female fan base, but
one yaoi author, who writes under the name Ayame Sakuma, explains: “Yaoi is
boy love, but it’s for heterosexual women. It’s like a Harlequin romance
with the cutest boys.” Another devotee, a stay-at-home mom in her 40’s,
adds, “It’s like if you had Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt kissing in a story.”
The female comic-book creators who came up with yaoi wanted to write about
true romance, platonic love, what they thought female audiences were really
Some of the comics, however, can be jarringly graphic, which is why there
is a strictly 18-and-over door policy for the convention.
So today the female cosplayers swap their favorite yaoi comic books; take
workshops on how to write their own anime series; attend the doll tea
party; and in the evening bid on their favorite guys at the bishonen
(pretty boy) auction, where males are sold for a night of fun. (The young
men who attend this convention dress androgynously or go slightly goth in
black trench coats. Devin Blong, a cosplay regular with his girlfriend
Sydney Miles, has had a ribbon corset sewn into his back for the weekend’s
festivities.) Seeing these young women and men playing dress-up makes you
wonder if this is child’s play or adult fantasy.
Dorfman confesses that when she first went to the conventions, she imagined
she would be snapping pictures of the “outcasts of the outcasts, the bottom
of the barrel.” But instead of a stadium full of misfits or a room of
plushie refugees, she discovered a group of people who simply go to
socialize and see like-minded cosplayers from all over the world. “You
don’t know everyone, but you know their characters, so it’s a good
icebreaker,” says one woman, a mortgage broker, who looks relatively tame
in animal ears and red lipstick.
Dorfman was impressed with the way these individuals tap into so many
genres to express themselves. “They can float in so many different worlds
that most of us don’t,” she says. “Gender, culture, race. It doesn’t
matter. It’s open-ended, really.” And because she has been given access to
a tightly closed world, she doesn’t exploit their trust. You can sense the
mutual respect as the costumed congregation pushes to get in front of her
camera. As Diane Arbus did with her band of outsiders, Dorfman casts her
subjects in a regal, almost poetic light.
Which is why Natasha Hrepcshak, a pretty 28-year-old Russian immigrant who
works in the billing department of a Bay Area wire and cable company,
relishes her time with Dorfman. Hrepcshak has attended more than 20
conventions since 2002 and has been photographed by Dorfman three times.
“She takes beautiful pictures,” says Hrepcshak, who with her friend Tiffany
Kum has dressed up as the two male leads, Kira Yamato and Athrun Zala, from
the Gundam Seed anime series. Hrepcshak describes the cartoon as “a big
space soap opera with romance, drama, adventure and political drama.”
They’ve embellished their male military uniforms with skirts and ruffles.
Hrepcshak swings a mechanical ball, a pet robot that Zala built for his
fiancée on the show.
Melissa Hoppe, a 21-year-old University of Nevada student, has never been
photographed by Dorfman before. She’s posing as Sailor Moon, a popular
anime character who, according to Hoppe, “embodies friendship, doing right
for love and justice.” (Moon’s career tag line is “schoolgirl by day,
superhero by night.&rdquo The pre-vet major, who has dressed up in the past as
Cassandra Alexandra from the Soul Caliber II game and Princess Serenity
(one of Moon’s aliases), has come to the convention alone; her usual
pageant partner is teaching English in Japan this semester. “My mom is
impressed with my costumes,” says Hoppe, who with her long yellow braids,
red patent boots and teensy red-white-and-blue sailor dress looks no more
Barbie-doll freakish than Paris Hilton. Morgan Hollis, a k a Rini, a
chubby-cheeked 19-year-old in black lace and a pink tiara, looks as if she
has just hopscotched out of a Gwen Stefani video. She and a friend have
invented her character, and she is flattered that Dorfman wants to
photograph her. “My character is kind of a weird mix, shy and outgoing,
kind of bipolar,” says Hollis in matter-of-fact “Brave New World”-speak.
Dorfman quickly makes her feel relaxed in front of the camera. “I like to
find the individuals who put an enormous effort into their costume, who you
can’t see under all the body paint,” she says. Then, through slight
gestures (“I don’t want them to ham it up&rdquo, she extracts the human being
from their superpower surrogate.
Hovering over the makeshift studio, trying to see what all the fuss is
about, Tristen Citrine explains that she normally doesn’t look like “a
banana-cream pie.” Citrine — her name is cobbled from both her favorite
love story, “Tristan and Isolde,” and her favorite gemstone — is gussied up
as Renge Houshakuji, from the fandom series Ouran High School Host Club.
“The host club is like the glee or chess club,” she says. “We re-enact
scenes from the series.” Back home in Nevada, she runs an online costume
shop called Cosworx that stocks the essentials for cosplayers: fairy wings,
corsets, petticoats, thigh-high boots, elf ears. “Ouran is a popular series
because it’s fluffy.
It makes you smile, makes you escape.”
For Arena Hasega, who is dressed as Chi, a computerized girl from the
Chobits series, the fantasy doesn’t necessarily have to end after this
weekend. Sparkling from head to toe in pink satin, she confesses, “I’ll
probably be this for Halloween.