New Zealand catches on to cosplay

There is a growing interest in cosplay in New Zealand, writes award-winning cosplayer Emerald King.

OPINION: In August 2017, cosplayers from 35 nations gathered in Japan under the sweltering night skies to compete in the 15th World Cosplay Summit (WCS).

I was fortunate to be in the thick of action at the annual event – which saw China, Mexico and Japan claiming the top three prizes – as a volunteer for the WCS.

Working a 10am-6pm shift for a month, I was in the WCS offices translating performance scripts into Japanese and website content into English.

I also served as an interpreter, tour guide, guest wrangler and stage hand during the nine days of competition. It was a unique and gruelling way to become involved with one of the largest, multicultural cosplay competitions in the world.

The cosplay universe

Cosplay, a term for costume play, refers to the art of dressing as a character from one's favourite film, comic, cartoon, game, or piece of literature.

The World Cosplay Summit (WCS) is a skit-based competition in which a team of two cosplayers from each participating country performs a short performance with full costume, backing music and/or video, voiceovers, props, and lighting effects. The event aims to highlight the global popularity of Japanese popular cultural products such as anime, manga, and computer games. Participants are seen as Representatives or Cosplay Ambassadors rather than mere competitors.

The WCS has come a long way since its beginnings in 2004.

From a weekend event with five cosplayers from three guest nations, it's now a nine-day affair with a concurrent academic stream, tie-in events such as the Ani Song Festival, and cosplay parades across Nagoya city. The waitlist of participating nations now includes more than 30 countries, including New Zealand.

Unlike other large cosplay competitions held in North America or Europe, WCS requires teams to cosplay using only Japan-origin source material – anime, manga, computer games and live-action series such as Godzilla or Power Rangers.

It remains to be seen if New Zealand will be able to participate in WCS 2019 (heats for 2018 have already started). Personal conversations with the organisers of WCS in Japan earlier this year have led me to believe a deciding factor will be a monetary one.

The finals of WCS are sponsored by nearly 40 organisations including Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism. Even with this backing, the WCS is hoping to attract more support via a new crowdfunding initiative aimed, in part, at keeping entry costs down.

Emerald King is a cosplay expert.

Emerald King (far left) is an award-winning cosplayer and cosplay judge.

Growing interest of cosplay in New Zealand

New Zealand is no stranger to international cosplay competitions.

From 1999 to 2014, Armageddon Expo, New Zealand’s largest and longest-running popular culture convention, hosted the Trans-Tasman Cosplay Cup. And since last year, there has been a New Zealand round at the Madman National Cosplay Championship (MNCC), organised by Australian company Madman Entertainment.

These two competitions differ in focus: Armageddon is a predominantly costume-based event with a focus on construction and craftsmanship (the "cos" part of cosplay) and a wide range of source material; while MNCC is a skit-based competition similar to WCS and 4C, with a focus on source material from Japan.

The New Zealand round of this year's MNCC preliminaries will be taking place on 30 September at Auckland Central's Queens Wharf

It has attracted more entrants than any of the Australian rounds.

While New Zealand has traditionally been reluctant to perform skits, hiding behind the skirts of its costumes, this shows that attitudes are changing – something that can only bode well for the nation’s opportunity to one day graduate from the WCS waitlist.

The New Zealand winner will be invited to enter the finals at the Madman Anime Festival in Melbourne, on 4 November. 

Emerald L King is a lecturer in Japanese at Victoria University in Wellington who researches Japanese literature and popular culture. She is also an award-winning cosplayer and cosplay judge, and won MNCC in 2016. She is currently on study leave/sabbatical as a visiting scholar at the University of Tasmania. Views expressed in this article are personal to the author.

– Asia Media Centre