Legions of fans come out to cosplay at the Armageddon Expo
IN THE bright, afternoon sunshine at Auckland’s Armageddon Expo, Michaela de Bruce looks out of this world.
She is clad in a PVC cat-suit worn under handmade silver armour, her entire face and neck painted in red and black, with matching latex prosthetics attached to her head.
She is dressed as a Twi’lek bounty hunter – a race of aliens created for the Star Wars universe by director George Lucas, and has been singled out by Ms de Bruce for her cosplay costume.
Cosplay may seem strange and foreign to those on the outside looking in says Ms de Bruce, but it is a sub culture that she is happy to educate others on.
“It is literally a contraction of costume play. It was coined possibly in the 1980s by a producer from Japan, after seeing what was happening at western conventions of people dressing up as their favourite character.”
Cosplayers take their inspiration from anywhere in popular culture, from film, television, comic books and video games.
“If you’re going to compare it to performing arts, it’s a bit like doing a cover of a song than writing your own song. But, you can still interpret it and give your voice to it,” she says.
Ms De Bruce, 36, struggles to come to terms with being labelled a ‘cosplayer’ as she prefers to be called a ‘costumer’.
“The making of a costume is where you say you are a costumer,” she says, “but as soon as you hit the show floor you are cosplaying, regardless of whether you made it or not, because you are portraying a character.”
Ms De Bruce grew up with a passion for traditional history and fashion history, but she says when she started making costumes in 1995, finding others with the same passion was difficult.
“I had no idea that other people around the world did it because this is New Zealand. There was no internet, so I couldn’t easily find people who shared this interest.”
I thought it was this very strange hobby of mine that nobody would understand because it’s kind of weird, that borders on what society condemns, you know – dressing up.”
After a few years of recreating historic dress she entered the Armageddon cosplay competition in 2003, debuting as Galadriel under the influence of the One Ring from Lord of the Rings.
“I know my technique is pretty good. I like to see other people do the same.”
She says the quality and number of cosplayers is on the up and up, due in part to the proliferation of anime, also known as Japanese animation and manga, or Japanese comics, flooding western pop culture.
“When I entered the contests I copped a lot of flak for not doing anime costumes,” she says.
“They thought I didn’t know what cosplay was because of that.”
She says she emailed several times asking if the Armageddon cosplay competition was open to all genres.
“The original cosplay competition [in New Zealand] originally grew out of the Anime club. There was this sort of assumption that it was going to be anime and manga based.”
“I do know that some people were personally inspired by seeing a non anime costume in a cosplay contest, and went on to enter in later years.”
“The quality of costumes has just grown in the last ten years. We are starting to see groups of cosplayers. It is an incredibly good community. I hope it continues to grow and keep that sense of community.”
Fellow Armageddon cosplay competition coordinator Angela Wells is also delighted the competition has grown and says she has “always appreciated the creativity and talent in the contests.”
After being involved in the organisation of the Armageddon expo for many years, Ms Wells decided to enter the cosplay competition after a bit of encouragement from Ms de Bruce.
They both entered the same year and Ms Wells won the 2006 competition, cosplaying as Lulu from the video game Final Fantasy X.
The women use their hobby to do charity work with a group of costumers called the Rebel Legion and the 501st Legion who dress as their favourite Star Wars characters.
The New Zealand branch of Star Wars costumers is known as Outpost 42, its primary charities being Ronald MacDonald House and the Make a Wish foundation.
Student Emma Smyth, 20, cosplayed for the first time at this year’s Armageddon expo.
She says the cosplay community in New Zealand is very friendly and open to newcomers.
“I haven’t met very many [cosplayers] but all the ones I do know have been nice and helpful,” she says.
“There are a lot of different levels of cosplayers here it seems. It isn’t super elite you can slowly progress into more detailed cosplays which I love.”
Ms Smyth believes cosplayers are viewed differently according to gender and says it is a bit of a double standard and a very stereotypical view.
“Male cosplayers can be viewed as weird and nerdy, with poor social skills and fairly awkward. Female cosplayers are seen as sexy and feminine, maybe slightly awkward but in a cute way.”
Cosplay is one of the highlights of the Armageddon and Overload pop culture expos that run annually around New Zealand.
Conventions like Armageddon provide a nurturing environment for cosplay and a space for likeminded enthusiasts to socialise.