Finding Myself In the Face of Someone Else

If you have been reading my posts over the past couple of weeks, you will know that I have been doing cosplay make up for several One Piece characters and have been posting images of myself doing this to social media. I would like to discuss this experience today and attempt to expand upon it by talking about some thoughts I have had along the process. But before I do, I would like to talk a little bit about why I did this.

Originally this was for a university assignment but truthfully I wanted to get into cosplay long before I ever attended my first Digital Asia class. I had watched the anime, read the manga, collected the figurines but I had never tried to be the characters before.This assignment was just an excuse to finally do it. Being the nerd I am, I have attended quite a few conventions in my time and my favorite part is always the cosplay. I would see everyone in these amazing costumes and think to myself ‘next year I’m so dressing up’ but then every time I would chicken out. I was always scared I would look stupid or that people would laugh at me at the train station. But then when I got to the conventions I would feel this sense of longing and regret; like I was a part of the culture but I was standing on the peripheral looking in. This has made this assignment an interesting experience for me because I finally faced my fears and fulfilled my desire at the risk of looking silly. On top of this I received many words of encouragement and made heaps of friends on The One Piece Forum, which really made me feel like I was no longer on the outskirts of the anime community.

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Although this was a positive experience with no laughing, teasing or bullying, I still had that prevailing thought that people were going to think I was strange for doing this. I began to think about why I felt this way. I mean it was only make up. Why did I feel self conscious about using it in a way that was slightly different?

This brought me to the question what does make up usually mean to me? Makeup to me is about beauty and vanity. The cosplay was done with my own makeup not face paint; the makeup I use every day to conform to my own personal and societies overall standards of beauty. Using make up in such an unconventional way that was aesthetically unattractive was an alien concept to me. I believe this is what made the task so difficult as it was requiring me to break away from ideologues that have been ingrained in me since childhood.

On top of this all the photos I took were selfies and in my past experience the selfie is something you use to represent who you are. I use selfies on social media as a way of presenting myself in the way I want to be seen. So posting the cosplay images onto Instagram was daunting because although I consider anime to be part of my identity, this was the first time I was really presenting it to the world in a way that said this is undoubtedly who I am.

What was also interesting is that I only dressed up as male characters. I did this because these are the characters I like the best. In One Piece there is a tendency for the female characters to be damsels in distress and that was not who I wanted to be. What was interesting about this is that cosplay is more than just trying to look like the characters it is a combination of the words costume and play; meaning a sense of performance takes place where you play the characters. This is exactly what I did, running around the house pretending to be them, talking to myself in the mirror and mimicking their personalities. Considering they were male characters this was an experience I imagine being similar to drag. The fact that I enjoyed doing this really forced me to confront my preconceptions of femininity and perhaps that’s what caused my self-consciousness.

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Cosplay of Ivankov by J-Stryker http://j-stryker.deviantart.com/art/Emporio-Ivankov-417169402 Really encapsulates the awesome power of cosplay and its ability to transcend gender, especially considering this is what the character Ivankov is all about.

But the exciting thing is, that this is what cosplay does. You are escaping you’re own reality even if it is for just a brief moment and you become closer to the person you’ve always dreamed of being. It doesn’t matter what you look like, what gender you are, if you’re tall or short, fat or skinny because it is not about being the characters; it is about playing the characters as yourself, It’s like playing a video game where you make the character you want to play as but at the same time you are ultimately still the one playing.

There is something so liberating about saying screw reality, today I’m being who I want to be and it is always fun to imagine yourself on some amazing adventure that could only ever exist within an animated realm. This is the same reason why people read books, watch movies or play video games; cosplay is just an advanced stage of this hyper-imaginative fantasy that we use to escape the mundane. If you can find people along the way who understand this idea, accept it and even preform it themselves then you will ultimately develop a connection, despite distance, despite language, despite which anime you love or which character you are playing, whether you watch dubbed or subbed. Passionate fandom transcends national boundaries and it transcends the barriers of cultural conventions, social stigmas and gender norms. It is for this reason why I am no longer embarrassed to post my cosplay pictures onto social media. I have come to terms with the idea that there is nothing strange in doing something you love and I think it is safe to say I have found my self in the face of someone else.

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Joining the Anime Community

Nakama (仲間 ) is a Japanese word that directly translates to friend or comrade. Many fans of the series One Piece believe the word means “people who are considered closer than family”, though that is not a part of the dictionary definition of the word. This unofficial meaning came about as a result of fan subbing. During the Arlong Park arc a fan subbing group by the name of Kaizoku Fan Subs decided to the leave the word untranslated giving viewers the impression it held special meaning that could not be evoked by the English word friend. This trend has been continued by other fan subbing groups and has even flown into other anime series. (One Piece Wiki)

What is interesting about this is, the original Japanese viewers do not get this connotation from the word and neither do people who watch the official English dubbed versions. The word only holds special meaning to those who watch the series in subtitled English. The reason why I find this so interesting is because it highlights to me how the transnational flow of anime can significantly impact the way in which you experience it. Something as simple as a single instance of translation miss-alignment can change the way you read the entire anime. When I see the main protagonist Luffy fighting for his crew, his feats of unfathomable strength make perfect sense to me because he is fighting for the people he loves. To me they are not just his friends they are his nakama and that is why he is willing to sacrifice everything for them.

This is a belief I hold alongside many others and as such we are connected by this experience. In fact nakama is the word that fans of the subbed series often use to describe each other. We see ourselves as a community who is bound by our love for one piece and consider ourselves to be closer than family because of this bond.

This week in order to become more incorporated with my One Piece family I began to posting on the forum I joined earlier. Interestingly enough the tagline for this very forum is ‘We Are All Nakama”.

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What I did was post the pictures of myself in One Piece, cosplay makeup onto the forum. This was a very different experience to posting them onto Instagram. The feeling of self consciousness I had previously felt when posting these pictures onto Instagram completely subsided. The anonymity that the forum provides may have something to do with this but I feel it had more to do with the fact that the users of the forum are my people. Every member is on there because they, like myself, are a huge fan of One Piece. I didn’t have to feel embarrassed because I knew they would get it. I knew they would understand me and that was powerfully uplifting and warming feeling. The fact that I felt more comfortable sharing these self images with complete strangers than I did with my actual friends and family really says a lot about how online communities can create meaningful  interactions that allow people to connect in a ways they may not have thought possible.

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Above is a screenshot of the original post. Within minutes this post started threading and I am currently at 128 views. Sure its not the most popular thing on the forum but this is a far greater outcome than I was expecting.

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The best part of this was that it started conversation. People began asking me how I did certain things and how long it took to do them. Immediately I found myself having entire discussions with people new people. It was a very rewarding experience. People even started to make requests of which characters they wanted to see done next. Not wanting to let them down I did another cosplay of the character that was asked for the most. I was really excited to do this because I knew people wanted me to. My auto ethnographic experience evolved from something i was doing just for myself to something I was doing for my new nakama.

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Becoming One With The Anime

Last week I continued my auto-ethnographic experience; engaging in some more cosplay make up for the anime One Piece. Unfortunately I did not have a chance edit and upload them so I will be doing two blog posts this week :S

To update you on my previous posts, I have chosen Anime as the topic for my final project. More specifically I want to discuss how Anime has been a major part of my life growing up and how engaging with it makes me feel connected to my kindred anime loving spirits. This is a connection that spans globally as convergent technologies allow me to interact with wider anime communities regardless of distance. While  becoming more involved in these communities makes me feel connected to the niche it also has the ability to make me feel disconnected from what is considered mainstream here in Australia. There have been many instances in my life where others have made fun of me for watching, as they  blatantly put it,”Silly Japanese Cartoons” but there have also been times where something as simple as having a One Piece key chain is enough incentive for a total stranger to strike up a conversation with you.

A perfect example of this, that I can remember, was one time at work. It was a normal mundane day at the o’l IGA and I was standing behind the counter serving on auto pilot. A boy around the age of 16 (I think) came up to the counter to buy a can of coke. When he went to pay I noticed he had a One Piece wallet and being a lover of all thing OP, I was all like “Nice wallet, One Piece is the best”. He was completely taken aback and replied with “You.. you watch..One Piece”, I’m still not sure if it was because he was simply excited that an opportunity to discuss anime had come up or if this was the first time a girl had spoken to him but needless to say we had ourselves a grand discussion. Ever since then the same boy comes into work on a regular basis and every time we converse about the latest episode and what we think is going to happen next. I still have no idea what this boys name is but we are now connected by our love of One Piece.

What I have been noticing a lot lately is that watching anime here in Aus is becoming more and more popular. There has always been a huge fan market, but I feel like now it is becoming more accepted. In my own experience I am noticing that the instances where people make fun of me for watching anime are rapidly decreasing and suddenly it is not unusual to watch it. At uni alone I have met heaps of people who love it as much as I do and plenty of them have been girls; which is good to see because it used always seem to be only boys.

On to my experience…

Last week I did make up for the characters Enel and Buggy and today I posted them onto my personal Instagram account.

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Once again the experience of posting these to my account was a little scary because once again I was worried that people who don’t watch anime would think I was weird. This worry was misguided though because I received many positive responses from people who have never even heard of One Piece. Even with the positive remarks I still found myself justifying my actions by telling people I was doing this for uni. This can be seen in the first picture. The truth is I wasn’t just doing it for uni, It was for my own fun and after taking the pictures I found myself running around the house pretending to be the characters it was awesome. I don’t really know why I felt the need to explain myself, I guess it just comes down to a confidence issue stemming from negative past experiences. I used to always wish I was born Japan, I wanted to grow up in culture so immersed in Anime they erect 18 meter scale replica Gundam Robots in the capital city. Maybe then no one would think I was strange.

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