I attended a few cosplay panels out of boredom at Fanimecon 2014. One of them, in a last-minute effort to fill in for a last-minute absence, featured a bit about making props for cosplay. What I mean by props is things like weapons, armor, ornaments, and the like. The guy who was doing the talk had managed to create a full set of Predator armor and Saiyan armor using cannibalized sports equipment, and the results were pretty impressive to say the least. But the most important thing I got out of that panel, and perhaps the most valuable lesson when it comes to low-budget cosplay, is that you’ll figure out the best ways to complete your costume by complete accident.
The speed by which I completed my first iteration of the Danbo cosplay was similarly due to pure accident. Appropriating scraps from other components of the costume, casually walking by items at the store that I didn’t know I needed until that moment, and even finding old boxes at home that coincidentally fit my measurements were factors that, when put together, got the costume done within one week. I had to learn a lot of new things I hadn’t really thought about before, like taking apart old flashlights for their electronics or the seemingly innocuous skill of using a soldering iron without burning yourself. Considering I started the project a week and a half before Anime Expo started, accomplishing all of this without doing any all-nighters was nothing short of a miracle. And thus, I was able to bring a legitimate cosplay to Anime Expo 2014.
14-year-old me would never have believed that I would cosplay one day, much less attend an anime convention. Hell, perhaps 21-year-old me from the beginning of the year wouldn’t have believed it either. And I’ll be honest, the main reason it’s this is was because I thought cosplay was dumb, even if it was pretty. I once watched a short video documentary about cosplayers that really soured my perception towards the practice, because the people in that video went to such great lengths to internalize and become their characters. The thought of becoming and identifying with what was essentially an expensive Halloween costume didn’t sit well in my head. These days I just chalk it up to that particular documentary just being too dramatic about cosplayers, but perhaps I just didn’t get it back then. All of this was chuunibyou to me. People dressing up and trying too hard to be something that they saw on TV one day. It seemed like such a waste of time.
But that’s slightly wrong. Seeing my close friends cosplay and talk about cosplay was nothing short of cool to me. Talking about shopping and/or saving up for the right fabrics, or scouring thrift stores for the right set of boots, looked so rewarding for them. And it wouldn’t be until that weekend at Fanime that I’d actually walk around with people, people I actually know and talk to and identify with as friends, cosplaying as their favorite characters when I realized that maybe I just think it would be cool for me. Well, to be more accurate, there was one thing that I desperately needed to answer for my own sake:
“Would I look good in that costume? Would I look good in any costume, for that matter? Am I shameless enough, or perhaps courageous enough, to wear it in public?”
Well, I had to say yes eventually, didn’t I? I made and wore the cosplay to Anime Expo, after all.
But I really have to wonder.
A significant portion of the cosplay that I saw for myself for these two cons was restricted to clothing and wigs with maybe one or two props. There were a lot of Kill la Kill, Sailor Moon, and Attack on Titan cosplayers, among countless other series being represented, but what I noticed in most of those cosplays was that you had to expose your face to the public eye while wearing the costume, as in, complete strangers would know you by your face or possibly by name. Would I be able to do that? Just up and transform into some stupid thing I saw on the internet, for my peers to see on Facebook, just for shits and giggles? I may talk about how much less worried I am now about showing my power level these days, but that was a very, very recent change of heart. Even at the beginning of this year I couldn’t imagine myself being so much of an embarrassment, even a joke, for people to think of me as. Just thinking about that was a bit scary, to be honest.
So, thinking about it now, I wonder if making this Danbo cosplay actually allowed me to dodge these questions by a considerable margin. Rather than exposing my inner weeaboo at literally face-value, my cosplay experience seemed much more like being a revered mascot at anime Disneyland. Which is kind of funny, to put it lightly. I was terrified of amusement park mascots as a kid because I wouldn’t stop staring into their stiff, empty eyes. Their huge heads locked in their static, joyful expressions were the stuff of nightmares (a concept that’s all too familiar with games such as Five Nights at Freddie’s). I couldn’t find them to be very approachable back then, but strangely this slipped my mind as I donned the costume in the main hall for the first time.
I suppose being Danbo has a different thing going for it, though. It’s overwhelmingly cute-looking in its simplicity rather than its exceedingly creepy detail, and I end up being taller than most people with the thing on. There’s also a little interactivity going for it with the lightswitch at the side as well. No, seriously, it impresses people a bit too much that the eyes light up. Not that I do much to tell them how my costume works. I don’t know whether it was my subconscious awareness that I look like a mascot or it’s because of my usual quiet personality, but I to kept my mouth shut the whole time while I was in the costume except for a few important moments. Maybe I was nervous about actually talking to strangers, or scared that I was going to break the illusion of my cosplay being good if I let out my voice. Obviously there was no issue present with speaking, but I took a fancy to staying silent anyways because it kind of just made sense that way.
Yotsuba&!, the source manga for my cosplay, depicted Danbo as a talking cardboard robot that ran on the spare change of gullible children. The person who was inside the costume in the story was notorious for having a trollish personality towards the main character as well. Obviously I didn’t practice being that belligerent in my personality, but what I did do instead of that was convey those sorts of emotions with my body language, going towards a more playful/sassy demeanor with people who responded well to that. Not that I actually did this with the intention of better conveying the original character, no. I was just making things up as I went along. Regardless, I think I ended up being the silent Danbo cosplayer in the end because people didn’t really expect me to talk, much like a true mascot should. I am, after all, cosplaying in a full body costume with my face obscured from normal view. It’s unclear to anyone who approaches me whether or not I’m actually supposed to talk. I was fascinating, really, seeing people find their way through the ambiguity of my appearance.
And if you looked at me in person and saw the manner by which people approached me, I’d really be no different from an actual amusement park mascot. I was asked to pose for pictures a lot more often than I was expecting, and it didn’t really hit me until the first photo request that I’d actually have pictures taken of me because people actually wanted to remember my disproportionate and low-effort cosplay.
What was even more wholly baffling was that I was actually attracting a full circle of people in the main hall just by standing in an open spot and being wordlessly sassy and posing for pictures and shit. It was surreal as hell. But what really clinches the connection between my cosplay and an amusement park mascot is that I am a lot more approachable to “hug” as a stranger. Whenever I turn towards a person trying to pose beside me and I rotate my arms around them, it seems to evoke smiles and return hugs instead of disgusted looks or restraining orders. It’s like this weird flipside to the “cosplay is not consent” adage where people treat cosplayers, especially girls in the skimpier outfits, in inappropriate and even perverse ways. In this case, I’m the one trying to initiate physical contact with the viewer. In reality this is a lot less creepy than I’m making it out to be because trying to hug someone in a cardboard suit with no elbows is one of the clumsiest and cutest endeavors you’ll ever see me do.
Because really, me trying to give hugs to people wouldn’t be nearly as endearing if I didn’t have that cosplay on. I was even allowed to hug little kids, for Christ’s sake, and their parents even encouraged it! You have no idea how troubling this was for me when that first happened, but as the hours wore on I just kind of accepted my role as a crowd pleaser. Not that I didn’t want to be a crowd pleaser at this rate, shit’s fun.
As if being the center of attention for regular congoers wasn’t enough, I eventually went wandering through other places in the convention center. As expected, waddling around in a cardboard contraption with limited vision became exceptionally problematic once I started wandering the Exhibit Hall, one of the most crowded places at the convention center. I had previously taken the costume to many places, including the games room, the main hall just outside the games room, the floor above the games room, and the main hall just outside the exhibit hall. In those places, it wasn’t really my intention to wander around; instead, I basically stayed in one place and let passersby take a look at me, take pictures of me, or just talk to me about how I went about making the cosplay. Well, I kind of had to stay in one spot anyways. I carry the costume around on a dolly in order to move around faster and it’s not like I can leave that and my merchandise behind by wandering off too far.
In this case, with my stuff being safe with a friend in the Artist Alley, I tried out waddling through the Exhibit Hall and remembered that there was one particular booth that was selling Danbo-related merchandise. After about ten minutes or so being hopelessly lost because of my lack of vision and opposable thumbs, someone so graciously led me to the table, specifically the Cheero booth (the one with the life-sized Danbo statue). The next thing I knew I was being asked to pose next to the statue and I could hear people, presumably from the booth, speaking frantically in Japanese before leading me into the actual booth to be displayed.
For real. I was actually allowed to stand in the middle of the booth and look pretty for them, and for those precious few minutes I became an accidental god among weebs.
But my sudden wild ride didn’t stop there. Ohhhh, no.
I got a bunch of goodies out of it too, and it’s not just any old free stuff; it was at least $100 worth of their merchandise that was just gifted to me for free, including but not limited to one Danbo themed portable charger, one regular portable charger, and a Cheero-themed Revoltech Danbo figurine. I was speechless, both on purpose and out of character. It was positively insane how much I was being rewarded for choosing to do this cosplay. I just can’t thank them enough for how kindly they treated me. I hope they come back and do more conventions in California next year so that I can yoink more stuff off of them. Nah, I kid. I just hope they come back sometime.
Why? Well, it’s because I’m in contact with the guy in the green polo in this picture. Who’s he? He’s Jun Higashi a.k.a. the CEO of Cheero. That’s right. Just because I wore a Danbo cosplay at the right place at the right time I became Facebook friends with a successful businessman with the same passion for Danbo-related things as I did. Truth be told it’s frickin’ weird to think about and I doubt I’ll actually glean any personal gains off of this, but it’s by far the neatest and most unique thing that happened to me at Anime Expo.
I was expecting a lot of things to happen to me when I brought that cosplay down to Los Angeles, but the reception I got was far more positive and far more excited than I could ever dream of. Even now, it seems unbelievable to me that I actually went out and did this for myself. Sometimes I feel as if all of this wasn’t really meant for me, that there was no way that all of this was deserved. Sometimes I feel that it’s completely deserved. However, what matters most to me is that I worked hard that entire week to build something that I adore and cherish to this day. Being able to share that fruit of my labor came to be the most gratifying thing I could ever do at Anime Expo, and has helped me to understand that maybe, perhaps maybe, this could be another and completely relatable reason why people cosplay in the first place.
So, with all that said and done, do I have the addiction to cosplay now? Do I have what it takes to take on newer, bolder ideas for costumes for the upcoming years?
Let’s just say that I have bigger, more impressive things to be working on instead.
- Someday I’ll branch out and do other characters, but I won’t attempt it until I really, truly, have the Danbo cosplay down pat. I’m talking correct proportions, decked out cooling systems, waterproofing the cardboard, the works. My next iteration is much closer to what I want and is in fact almost finished, but it’s still not perfect. And I will someday have to redo it again, so eh. Within a few years’ worth of time I’ll have a Danbo Daikazoku and I’m not sorry about that pun.