Cosplay in the Philippines

by Leandro Jose Rizal Andres Bonifacio Emilio Aguinaldo Manuel Quezon Robin Padilla “Poli” Polidario, Sr.

Ever since the 1970’s, the era when giant-robot anime made their mark on local TV, anime has made a slow but steady crawl into the consciousness of the Filipino youth. This largely strange, but exciting, animated experience created small gatherings of teens and young adults eager to share whatever bootlegged copies of anime they had. This also led to anime screenings or shows where tickets were sold and fans enjoyed the latest anime in the company of their peers. These were the first-known “mini-conventions” spearheaded by groups such as Anima Anime. This small exchange of anime paraphernalia led other fanatics to enlightening pursuits of study into the nation and culture that generated it, creating a mild otaku subculture in the Philippine context.

By the 1990’s, anime had once again invaded local television and gave a new generation of audiences a taste of a different sort of animation flavor and rekindled the interest of the first-generation anime fans of the giant-robot era. This time, however, anime became a multimedia phenomenon that no one could ignore. Fans everywhere were ready for a much bigger celebration of anime, never before seen in the Philippines: The Anime Convention.

Filipino anime otaku as well as casual fans were lucky enough to experience the twin birth of the anime conventions and the costume play event, more popularly known as cosplay. The first known mini-cosplay was held as part of UP Diliman’s Anime@Arki’s 3rd Anniversary celebration in August 2000. Some of the earliest cosplay mainstays, such as Lea “The Anime Seamstress” Guerrero, made their initial foray in this event. A few months later, a much larger audience enjoyed AnimeXplosion, the Philippines’ first full-blown animation convention.

This event featured the first appearance of remarkable cosplayers like Sheila Benedicto, JM Chua, Hazel Concepcion, Chris Edward Law, Paul Mendoza, Mark Suarez, Hazel Velas, and Robert Wong. These people, along with a number of other cosplayers, would later make a website collection based on an intrepid and groundbreaking group of cosplay otaku: the OAV Cosplayers. Created soon after the AnimeXplosion were various cosplay groups bound by online e-mailing lists and message boards, among them were Pinoy Cosplay, the WeAreAnime Community, and Cosplayers’ World, nurturing Philippine fandom on the internet.

Through the years, cosplay has become more intricately inspired by a galaxy of anime, manga, and videogames that span for more than a decade. Anime titles represented included everything from Neon Genesis Evangelion and Rurouni Kenshin to YuYu Hakusho and Fruits Basket. Some fans dressed up as game characters from titles like Final Fantasy, King of Fighters, and Street Fighter; other cosplayers came as artists from J-music like Dir En Grey, X-Japan, Gackt, and the Morning Musume. Certain popular characters like Hunter X Hunter’s Kurapika, and the Sailor Senshi were represented several times in the same cosplay event by various cosplayers: each of whom put his or her own spin on the character. Other cosplayers preferred more obscure inspirations: a heat-packing trio donned blood-splattered uniforms inspired by the controversial Japanese film Battle Royale, for instance.

The costumes by themselves were impressive, and cosplayers generally made their own get-ups. The attention to detail necessary to duplicate a character’s look is astonishing. Many costumes were elaborately trimmed from rubber, faux leather, ribbons, or metallic fabric, depending on the look desired; wigs were also a frequent accessory.

Cosplay can be an expensive hobby, especially when coupled with a hardcore anime or manga habit as well. Of course, there’s also the inherent contrast between an animated character, whether from an anime or a videogame, and the person dressed up in their attire. A couple of cosplayers overcame this obstacle by making full-body suits that included masks. That being said, the amazing transformation of these people into these colorful characters in elaborate costumes is nothing short of astonishing.

Philippine cosplay has come a long way in just five years. From small gatherings where otakus exchanged goods and greetings to full-blown events where cosplayers wowed the crowds with logic-defying costumes, cosplay has emerged from obscurity and has taken center stage.

Yet, cosplay remains mercurial: a constantly evolving entity that has many faces, and is, to many people, many different things. What does cosplay hold for the future of the Philippine events? No one can be certain, but we can all look forward to one hell of a ride.

This article first appeared in Culture Crash Magazine issue #13, 2003