Friday, October 27, 2006

Cosplay 101

The Japanese love non-standard contractions. Examples include digicam, sekuhara, and, of course, Pokémon. And these are merely the tip of the iceberg.

But what of cosplay? At its core it is a simple combination of the words “costume” and “play,” and yet at its heart it is so much more. The phenomenon is both a thriving sub-culture in Japan and abroad. It’s like some wondrous cult, where adherents can’t help but gush about its simple majesty while those of us on the outside stare slack-jawed and shift our weight uncomfortably.

Deeper still lies the fact that cosplay is, perhaps, the nerdiest of endeavors. It effortlessly combines tried and true geek elements from across the board. It’s one part roleplaying, one part collecting, one part DYI work ethic, and a healthy splash of alcohol mixed together with good, old fashioned nerdly obsession.

While I am, to put it bluntly, teh cosplay n00b, I just so happen to have at my disposal two excellent examples of its North American proponents. While participating in their earlier Q&A session with Hipster, please!, Karl Olson and Rai Kamishiro were nice enough to take on a few extra questions concerning the fine art of cosplay.

Drink the Kool-Aid and read on.


For the uninitiated, would you care to give a little overview of cosplay?

Karl: Dressing up as a particular character from something, and that "something" can be anything from a book to a video game, and anything in between.

How long have you been interested in cosplay?

Rai: Since I was tiny sized reptilian, but actively involved in it since middle school. First cosplay was as Ash from Pop'n Music in Japan, and as Goku from Saiyuki in the US.

How competitive is cosplay culture? Is there a lot of camaraderie between cosplayers, or is it more a game of one-upmanship?

Rai: As much as nerdcore is competitive, I would say. There's a lot of people in it for the fun, and a lot of people in it for the attention. There's a fine line between gushing about someone's character and competing with them though. Prolly less "I did you one" feelings in nerdcore, but it can be a battlefield out there.

I've gotten people that have cosplayed the same character as me from Gintama being so awesome about it that the whole group ended up going for parfaits, Taiwanese cosplayers loving my orange Agito (AX, the only place aside from Tokyo Big site that you'll find four flavors of Agito....) and I've had Shonen Bats challenge me to skate battles.

Bent their fucking bats, too.

What's the biggest cosplay event you've ever attended?

Karl: Well, I don't think I've ever attended an event that was strictly about cosplay, but the biggest event I've attended that has cosplay at it was probably Anime Expo. The final attendance for that event was well over 40,000 people, and I'd say about 1/5 of the people there were cosplaying.

The bulk of cosplay focuses on emulating the looks of anime, manga, or video game characters. Can you cosplay outside these bounds? Could I cosplay as, for instance, Harry Potter or James Bond?

Rai: Of course. A mild hobby of mine for a while was going to movie screenings cosplaying as a movie character. I also had much funs cosplaying Kenny from South Park.

he he he, only since I've done Willy Wonka (Chocolate factory) and Viktor (Corpse Bride).

Karl: Considering that I've seen a lot of Harry Potters, Legolases and Capt. Jack Sparrows at anime cons, sure. Granted, there is a lot of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean doujinshi (fan comics,) but if we're using doujinshi as a guide for cosplay, then everything from Star Trek to the band Aerosmith is fair game. Besides, I think it's ultimately quality that counts.

How acceptable is it to cosplay as a character of the opposite sex? Could I, for example, cosplay as Tootie from The Facts of Life?

Rai: Er, cosplay would not exist if not for crossdressing Japanese school girls.


I've not yet cosplayed a normal female character. Did Guu from Jungle wa itsumo Hare nochi Guu, but it's questionable if Guu is a human shaped entity much less female. Rai's list has been all sorts of mostly male characters, like Sephiroth, Byakuya, Edward Elric, L, Genjyou Sanzo, Kurogane, Shonen Bat, Sakata Gintoki, Agito, Kenny, and Ichigo (In goth-loli) just to name a few.

There's a lot of (in)famous crossplayers out there; perhaps Rai will be one some day.

 From right to left: Rai, Karl, and friend Lucy get their goth-loli on!Karl: This gets back into quality. If you can convincingly crossplay, most people don't have an issue with it. It's the Man-Faye type stuff that is sort of unsettling (though to be fair, Man-Faye is very nice fellow.) Actually, the guys who go the kigurumi (with the full masks made to look like a given anime character,) can be outstandingly creepy in a way, but they usually do a great job of looking like the character. It's just a very jarring visual at points.

Many cosplay costumes are quite elaborate. Is cosplay an expensive hobby?

Karl: Depends on who/what you're cosplaying. If you're cosplaying a Gundam or Transformer with custom molded armor and electroluminescent lighting all over the place, that can be immensely expensive. On the flipside, there are characters that can be done with very plain clothes and right haircut.

How does cosplay relate to Japanese Gothic Lolita culture?

Rai: Mildly, [though] a lot of lines are blurred as one emulates the other, but often the cultures themselves are completely different. A cosplayer's aesthetics as a gothic lolita might differ highly from the mindset of when they cosplay. Cosplay is more appreciation/emulation, and gothic lolita is more expression/synthesis.

What’s more important to pulling off a great cosplay: the right costume or the right attitude?

Rai: Yes.

On one hand, y'can't just be a whole asshole about the thing. I've had cosplayers so cliquish I've wanted to go about ripping some brightly colored wigs, but you can't go in to it with a T-shirt that says "School girl B" and expect people to worship you either. I've had more fun with a dashed together Gintama group than with a polished FF [VII] group, but being told you're the only Bishy Byakuya seen in the biggest convention in America from a ridiculously cute Rukia has its ego stroking merits. And how my ego was stroked.

(Of course the fact that the very same little sister character told me later that I was totally having my ass uke'ed by the Renji I was trooping with was another ego matter entirely.)

Karl: The right costume obviously helps, but you can sell a less than perfect costume if back that up with the attitude.

What are your personal favorite characters to cosplay?

Karl: Well, since I'm usually press at most events I attend where cosplay is going on, I like characters who have relatively plain clothes and hair color close to mine, so I can cosplay without looking unprofessional. You might think that people wouldn't recognize that I'm cosplaying as such, but when some knows a show, they'll pick you out of a crowd no problem. I know I want to cosplay some of the characters from Honey And Clover as such, because it's a very realistic but funny slice of life series about art college students, and thus their are a number of characters in plain but distinct clothes that I could cosplay. Beyond that I really love that show, so there is a definite emotional connection too.

Rai: I had too much fun beating people as Shonen Bat.

Rai with sadistic tendancies? No, only when people are asking for beanings in the head by my golden bat. And what “thunks” they made, too.

Sephiroth was fun for a while, but dealing with obsessive (read: offering to rape in bushes) fangirls and toting a sword bigger than I was got old after a while.

Ed was fun, especially hanging with his English VA, but again, the fangirls. (This time in Shota flavor!)

Kenny was a blast just for the death scenes, and L had people offering to sign my death note.

What is the strangest or most elaborate cosplay costume you've ever seen?

Karl: Probably the people who cosplay convincingly as giant robots. The level of detail that can go into those costumes is crazy. Some of the Elegant Gothic Lolita cosplay is very impressive too, especially when they are replicating a style from a given magazine without buying anything off the shelf.

Rai: Hmmm, a glow in the dark light up freyja from FF. Made of the \/\/-|-|\|.

Strangest has got to be the two Hard Gays (actually a Japanese comedian) that showed [up] to AX.

Would you consider members of the Society for Creative Anachronism or other such groups dedicated to historical recreations cosplayers?

Karl: In an odd way, yeah. I mean, it's the same mindset at the very least - you're dressing up as someone and you're out to have fun.

In what ways do American cosplayers differ from their Japanese counterparts?

Rai: Hmm, less personal Moe involved. A lot of American cosplayers take it so personal that they have a hard time talking about their character, but a lot of J-region cosplayers I know will rant about the Moe or talk with me about pairings of their character since they have 25-35 events a year they can go to, instead of one or two a year. It's awesome to see someone portray their characters well, like a Zoro and Usopp I met two years ago at Sakura Con who looked good and acted extremely perfectly in their parts, but it's also fun to talk with a Agito about how you don't like the IkkixAgito semi-cannon pairing in the series, but could totally go for a AkitoxKaitoxAgito without them thinking you're going to stalk them and find you some bushes.

Halloween is just around the corner. Any tips for folks looking to give cosplay a try?

Karl: If you have big costume ideas, start now, and get ready to lose sleep if you don't. Beyond that, there are a million simple cosplays that can be done with just buying the right clothes, the right wig, the right accessories, and a little bit of sewing.

Rai: Enjoy the self. Don't get pissed if people don't know who you are. Even the King of All Cosmos gets drunk and trashes the universe, but only do that if you've got a 5cm tall kid that loves you enough to rebuild it. It's about your moe for the character, not other people's envisioning of it. School girls, avoid the tentacles. All their candy are belong to us.


And there you have it: the skinny on cosplay from two individuals who have paid their otaku dues. For more information on the cosplay phenomenon, check out your local library… Okay, that may actually be a bit of a stretch, but there are an abundant number of online resources that can be employed to such an end.

I would like to take a moment to thank both Karl and Rai for helping me put this feature together. Their input was invaluable and their exuberance palpable. I sincerely hope that those of you who, like me, were a little ignorant as to the concept of cosplay now find yourselves enlightened. At the very least, I hope you can appreciate the fact that I was able to connect cosplay with seminal 1980's situation comedy The Facts of Life. I aim to please.

By my calculations, you still have more than 72 hours to put this new knowledge to effective use. Tarry not, for Halloween waits for no man!

BoCon 2006

Greetings, my loyal nerdy constituents.

I am, at present, putting the final touches on my third October feature, but I wanted to take a moment to hip anyone in the Boise area to a little gig news that you may be unaware of.

This weekend, BoCon 2006 will be held at the Visual Arts Collective, and the Saturday night show will feature nerdcore superheroes MC Plus+, MC Router, and Beefy. For those not in the know, BoCon is an open-source cultural event. In this sense, open-source refers not only to software, but also to music, art, and digital works in general. The main focus of the con is “to demonstrate how creative individuals can build successful careers through collaboration and sharing.”

That’s an idea that I can definitely get behind, and I imagine many of you can as well. So, if you happen to be in the area, why not check out BoCon. And if you do, give lots of love to Beefy, Plus+, and Router.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

On zombies

This Saturday, Shaun of the Dead will make its network premiere on Comedy Central. Even if you’ve seen the film in its original, unedited form, you should still be there to catch it in all of its f-bomb redacted glory. If you have yet to watch this cinematic masterpiece: what the fuck is wrong with you?

I’ve made no secret my abhorrence of the undead. I don’t like ‘em, and I don’t trust ‘em. For other such zombiphobics in our ranks, this film stands as an excellent training tool. It teaches valuable lessons such as:

  • During an impending zombie holocaust, ensure that your cell phone is set to vibrate.
  • The local pub? Not such a good place to hideout.
  • Don’t say the zed word.
  • And, perhaps most importantly, David is a cunt who deserves to be eaten alive.

For the keen observer, there are a lot of little jewels to be gleaned from zombies in the media.

Max Brooks’s Zombie Survival Guide is an invaluable resource; not only is it a good read, but it also espouses the mantra “Organize before they rise!” Truer words were never spoken.

Likewise, Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore’s ongoing comic series The Walking Dead also gives some important tips concerning the undead. Foremost among them? Atlanta is a deathtrap. You aint’ gotta tell me twice.

Text-based MMORPG Urban Dead gives a fair overview of life in a zombie-infested wasteland. Special attention is to be paid to looting. Romero and Dead Rising were right; the mall is a treasure trove of zombie repelling goodies.

Speaking of gaming, you might also consider playing a little Resident Evil to sharpen your combat, critical thinking, and asinine puzzle solving skills. It may be important to note that, in addition to the valuable zombie avoidance exercises touted by earlier entries, Resident Evil 4 also surreptitiously teaches you how to deal with testy Spaniards.

So there you go. Armed with the knowledge provided via these pop culture outlets, I now loose you all into a world on the brink of disaster. Sure we’ve got all this hype about flu pandemics and WMDs on the news, but where’s the talk about the darkness at the edge of town? Where are the warnings to avoid cemeteries and to bar your windows? Where are the PSAs about being sure to “cut off the head or destroy the brain?”


If figures.

The zombie's two favorite meals? The slow and the uneducated.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Stepping on Tokyo

When recently pressed for a more detailed bio, J-nerdcore artist Rai quoted from an essay she wrote in third grade, reading:

"It is sunny today. Granma makes yummy food. I do not have many friends, but Grandma says that people can change if they want to. I want to be Mecha Godzilla when I grow up."

The thing that preyed on my mind as I set forth in interviewing Rai was the nagging feeling that nothing I wrote could possibly be more entertaining than that particular missive. I simply couldn’t fathom that I, with my limited writing acumen, would ever be able to explain to you the thoughts and motivations of this artist in any more charming or accurate terms.

What I failed to include in this equation, however, was the unique brand of energy that Rai herself would bring to the proceedings.

The following may well provide you with the answers you seek concerning the mysterious artist, but it’s much more likely that those that are rectified will be summarily replaced by more questions. Rai Kamishiro is an enigma wrapped in a riddle tied up in a kimono and encased in that inexplicable alloy “Space Titanium.”

She is Mecha-Godzilla. Hear her roar.


As a life-long monster movie fan, I feel obligated to ask: Are you really Mecha-Godzilla? ;)

Of course I am. GYAOOOOO! You doubt the reptilian roaring of the almighty Mecha-Godzilla? Can you not hear the mecha-feet kicking down your door?

The real Rai Kamishiro.You originally hail from Kyushu, Japan but you currently live in Bellevue. What brought you to the states, and how long have you lived in Washington?

My parents moving over pretty much dictated my moving over to America. Stepping on one too many building may have something to do with it too, but I choose to believe it was military orders for THEM that got us sent over to the USA. I've been a Washington reptile for about 4-5 years now.

What drew you to nerdcore and how long have you been interested in the genre?

One of my roommates back in boarding school used to wake me up with either Bad Religion/Alkaline Trio or mc chris. I didn't know much about nerdcore then, but I still remember that “Ratz” was ingrained in my brain for a good six months. I was more rock/punk/gothloli centered until Ultraklystron suggested I do nerdcore.

You took part in the “Night of Nerdcore” gig that took place after this year’s Penny Arcade Expo at The Shark Club. Was this your first performance as a nerdcore artist?

It wasn't my first performance as a vocalist, but it was the first as in nerdcore. It was odd not having a band behind me, but I suppose I'll get used to it. I heard “Kill Dash Nine” live, and it had a lot more impact live. Seeing Karl meltdown on stage before me was a little nerve-racking, but luckily by the time I had to worry about performing “Sleeping Forest” live, I was done with the first verse.

So you’ve preformed as a vocalist before? What kind of music did you write and/or perform before turning to nerdcore?

Mostly in a cover band. Was fun, like Giant Karaoke. I wrote more rock-esque songs, although I did record a game theme song with my cousin for a tiny game her friend's brother was making. I didn't hear much of it, but 2 to 1 (with my luck, at least) is was a H-game.

You work closely with Karl “Ultraklystron” Olson. Are there any other nerdcore artists with whom you’d like to collaborate?

Heee. Lots. I heart Baddd Spellah, and I've always wished for a set of male vocal cords thanks to MC Frontalot. Nursehella's songs make me giggle in happiness, and I think the most irritating thing about having to go home early/not being allowed in the Nerdcore Night club for long was not getting to hear the Futuristic Sex Robotz live. I have a few people I'm talking to about specific collaborations, but I'm always open to the opportunity to make music with other nerd shaped peoples.

You’ve faced criticism because of the eastern (J-rap) style of your Rhyme Torrents contributions as well as the foreign language element. Were you surprised by the reaction of those who thought Rai’s music was not “nerdcore enough”?

Not really. I've dealt with cosplayers, doll owners, anime elitists, racial purebloods, gothic lolitas, and your standard all around racists. Fuck 'em. I've noticed that some nerds are the hardcore elitists they rap about being shunned by, and it's fucking ridiculous.

It's too easy for people to shrug off my music for not being nerdstuff because it's in Japanese. But that's not for them to decide, is it?

I think that a lot of nerdlings need to realize that there's more to being a nerd than computers, MMORPGs, and coding. I fail to see the logic in someone bashing me for their own failings in reading the translation, micromanaging what makes a nerd nerdy, or trying too hard to look up my frilly skirt to keep up with the words. A lot of nerd culture is about one-upping someone while putting others down, and I refuse to play with others since I'm a hikikomori.

To the average Japanese snack human, cute Jpop and Idol Seiyuu style music has to be the most socially unacceptable aspects of Japanese nerd culture, and I find nerdcore artists trying to be the equivalent of gangsta genius fucking stupid. I love hiphop, but I have to laugh at nerdlings rapping about beating down and popping caps. And leave my wigs alone too. I need them for cosplay.

What is it about Rai and her music that makes her so nerdcore?

My motherfucking figure collection. Seriously. I could sit here and list all the nerdy activities I participate in, but the debate will go on, but all arguments in nerdcore either explode or implode, and the only destruction I get paid for is stepping on Tokyo. The fact that I've made two songs and counting on my next album devoted to respectively the candy rolling level on Katamari Damacy 2 and ABJDs, made more references to Oh! Great! and Ichi the Killer than anyone cares to count shouldn't mean anything to people who don't think of me as nerdcore. If they've made up their minds in saying I'm not nerdcore because I'm Japanese, all the power to them; I've got doll clothes to sew.

Ok, I have to ask: just how big is your figure collection?

Er, lots of Bleach, lots of Tsubasa, surprising amount of Naruto, Mecha Girls, Rozen Maiden, some Berserk, and hidden Kabuki froggies, with Kaneda attempting to lord over it all. If you include the dolls, I guess I have about 1400~1600 USD worth of plastics?

Damn. That’s a lotta toys!

You have a new album in the works. Have you settled on a title?

...No... Rocket Punch maybe. I liked Air Gear enough to nab Sleeping Forest for a song title, maybe for the album? I suspect I'll think about it when it's wrapped up and I can listen to the thing all the way through.

When do you expect the album to be finished?

Hopefully sometime in October. It mostly depends on when Karl has time free, so it's hard for me to say.

Do “Sunny Sunny Sunday” and “Big Lie” (your Rhyme Torrents tracks) give a fair indication of the style of your newer work, or will we be surprised by different tones and sounds?

....I'm hoping it'll sound a lot different. “Sleeping Forest” has some serious R&B roots compared to anything else, and “Lv.1” and “Shinjuku Holocast” will be defiantly surprising. “Mechanical World” will be borderline, but “Lemon Sherbet” and “Blueberry Garden” are more poppish than the others.

What are your musical influences?

They vary from what I happen to be into; right now I heart m-flo like no other, but when I started nerdcore I leaned more towards HALCALI and Rhymster. The first rap music I actually loved was by an artist/group that made music for Konami called Des-Row. They were the awesome, and I demand you go play DDR Extreme 2 now just so you can hear DAIKENKAI (Y'know, that one song in kanji that no one can read.)

Ah! That song! ;)

Your lyrics are full of references to otaku culture. How long have you been interested in anime?

Lessee, coming home from middle school everyday, I watched this kids show centered around a samurai robot, then Ranma afterwards, so yeah, Rai was brainwashed at a young age. Not to mention watching Akira late at night when I was too young to think anything but "Hey, that guy explodeded!"

Rai is an obsessive Otaku in some of the weirdest ways; don't even get me started on my Gundam-kit style BJD dolls. Anything that you can pop the head cap off and change the eyes of has got to be cool.

I kinda get a lot of people telling me I'm not an "Otaku" because I'm female and don't look like Densha or the Akihabara denizens, but I blame it on the school girl DNA and try and bat off the Cuthuluites. (Hey, how was I supposed to know that both Taimashi AND Eko Eko Azarak were based off of Lovecraft?)

I think it all comes down to the simple fact that Cosplay owns my soul.

Do you think that your love of anime and your interest in nerdcore work well together?

I think it does. I've gotten a lot of comments that anime isn't quite nerdcore, but the fact that the sci-fi conventions are dead and rotting compared to the ani-cons we've got out here says something. Anime is a great love of mine, so at this point there's going to be more anime references than anything, but I'm edging towards rapping about my love of BJDs, cosplay culture and Bellevue (Living in downtown Bellevue has enough WTF moments to fill two CDS XD.), and stuff that I think is nerdy, but not quite anime or, depending on who you ask, isn't nerdcore.

You’ve stated before that you get paid money to play Xbox 360 games. How did you end up with such a fantastic job?



I heart my job.

Do you expect the 360 to reign victorious at the conclusion of the next-gen console wars?

Yes. With all the titles coming out in for the holidays and planned for the next year, the Playstation will be fucking eaten by the 360. The XBOX has always had better graphics and game play than PS2, it's just been the lack of games that held it back. With titles like Dead Rising, Ninety-Nine Nights, Tenchu Senran, Phantasy Star Universe, not to mention Blue Dragon (Or the stuff I can't talk about). XBOX shall rise supreme against the false king of Sony and their UFO controllers!

Seriously guys, it's fucking awesome.

The (other) real Rai Kamishiro.The 360 has reportedly floundered in the Japanese marketplace. To what do you ascribe this lack of interest on the part of the Japanese gamers?

Timing and a vast misconception of what Japanese gamers will buy. With time it'll get there. With the mass of games coming out with the release of the PS3, I believe that a lot of them are what it'll take to persuade someone to go out and buy a 360 rather than a PS3.

What kind of nerd is Rai?

Orange flavored with a side of soufflé. I'm a Dolly obsessing manga collecting huge boots wearing Agito coat flailing, rollerblading, torrent mongering, sleep deprived resin lusting 2-D conning Baby the Stars shine Mutha loving BRIGHT obsessive ota-stinking gingerbread shaped invisible man.

In closing, could you briefly summarize what fans of nerdcore need to know about Rai?

Mecha Godzilla for the win!
Eat your cookies children!
Music = LoveXPeace


We nerds are a beautifully diverse tribe. Such is our greatest strength. At the same time, it often proves to be our undoing. The important thing to remember, however, is that way you geek out – whether it be with comics, video games, anime, stamp collecting, model cars, baseball, motor scooters, modernist literature, or bottle caps – is secondary to the simple fact that you geek out. Sometimes, one among our number may get her geek on in a new and exciting manner, in a way different from both those who came before and most who will follow. I feel Rai is an excellent example of this.

Rai is certainly the least “established” of the nerd musicians I’ve had the pleasure to talk to. And yet, by the same token, she espouses the same spirit, the same level of self-awareness and self-acceptance, the same blissful eccentricity. Okay, probably more eccentricity, but you get the idea.

J-nerdcore isn’t even a genre as such; it is more a mechanism to describe the manner in which a particular artist combines her enjoyment of music with her love of a culture. But the name is unimportant. The label insignificant. The style secondary. It’s the heart of the geek experience, that boundless energy and ceaseless devotion to whatever it is that really drives you, that makes the nerd. And Rai has nerd energy to spare.