SINGAPORE — An unlikely relationship began to form between Maoru and cosplay when she was in secondary school.
“(At first), I was actually not a big fan of cosplay,” said the 24-year-old graphic designer who initially found it “odd” when two-dimensional characters were translated into real life.
But she started getting “excited” after seeing other enthusiasts dressing up as her favorite characters, and even “jealous” of them for having a group of friends to share an activity with.
Maoru, who wanted to be identified only by her cosplay stage name, eventually began dabbling in the activity herself at the age of 15, and has not looked back since.
Cosplayers like her portray animated, fictional or sometimes historical characters by using costumes and props.
A portmanteau of costume and play, cosplay has left an indelible mark on Maoru’s life.
Besides connecting her with fellow enthusiasts, some of whom have become close friends, cosplaying has made Maoru interact and talk to people more frequently, which has helped her “gain a lot of confidence”.
Maoru shared that when she was younger, she did not have many strong opinions to share and hence would tend to keep mum during conversations. Interacting with more people who share a common interest through cosplay gave her the opportunity and confidence to voice out her thoughts more often.
“I think without this confidence, I wouldn’t have been able to get a proper job,” she said. “I would just be someone who stays home every day, and don’t really dare to talk to people.”
Like Maoru, cosplay has also changed the life of a 26-year-old analyst who wanted to be identified only by his stage name William the Good Doctor.
Exposed to cosplay in 2013, he began to participate in it more consistently in 2019 “as an outlet for expression” and to keep himself busy to prevent the “worsening of (his) mental state”.
“I was going through the greatest and longest emotional turmoil ever experienced, and needed an activity to refocus,” said William, who only dresses up as a plague doctor of the 16th and 17th century — donning a bird-shaped mask and all-black costume.
“I was also very introverted… and had few friends,” he added.
William and Maoru are walking testimonies of cosplayers who have found a deeper meaning in a hobby that, according to industry players, has been gaining traction locally and globally in recent years.
Some cosplayers told TODAY that the activity has provided them with a support network of friends with a common interest.
Cosplaying also gives them a safe avenue for self-expression, which has allowed some of them to discover and come to terms with certain parts of their identity.
“As a group, the cosplay community may also be a very supportive and encouraging space too,” said Mr Kenny Liew, a clinical psychologist from Mind What Matters.
“As such, cosplay can be a space to fulfill fundamental human needs for self-expression and acceptance.”
Besides finding emotional fulfillment, cosplayers have also been increasingly monetizing their craft — with one cosplayer here saying that she made a five-figure sum last year from pursuing cosplaying-related commercial deals during her free time.
While cosplay has made great strides here since its “fun and games” beginnings — with greater awareness and acceptance on the part of the general public helping to dispel its negative image — insiders players told TODAY that some problems still persist, such as the crossing of personal boundaries, safety and privacy concerns of cosplayers, and its sexualisation.
GROWING COMMUNITY AND BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY
While comprehensive data on the overall size of the global cosplay industry is scarce, some figures and indicators point to a growing market, both here and overseas.
In Singapore, three gatherings deemed as highlights of the cosplay calendar all reported an increase of at least 20 per cent in visitorship last year, compared to the last time they were held in 2019.