Japanophilia through cosplay


The popularity of anime in the U.S. has been rapidly increasing and along with it are the sometimes nearly incomprehensible actions of its avid fan base. Many fans practice Japanese phrases they have picked through hours spend watching the latest bit torrent download of Naruto Shippuuden or learning the kanji for numbers so that they can more easily identify the various shinigami squadrons in Bleach. One trend that is growing in popularity, much to the confusion of those outside the anime loop, is the act of cosplay or dressing up as popular anime characters. Cosplaying has been promoted through various events at anime conventions around the country, where fans can gather together to show off their sometimes astoundingly accurate portrayals of their favorite two-dimensional characters.
Cosplay is one manner in which American viewers can feel closer to their chosen form of escapism. Through role playing as their favorite characters, fans are able to enter a little more deeply into the fantasy world they crave. Dressing up as a cunning mercenary or a school girl with mysterious psychic powers may not magically transform fans into the character they adore, but it does allow them to physically take part in creating an illusion. “What emerges is a fantasy of perpetual transformation that…promises companionship and connectedness albeit in a commodity form” (Allison, 277). Although Anne Allison probably did not have cosplay in mind when she wrote these words, the fantasy of transformation can easily be applied to the idea of cosplay. Buying articles of clothing and assembling them to resemble an anime character allows fans to transform themselves into the very thing they idolize. The exotic and yet strangely familiar worlds of anime become attainable as fans are able to gather together at during anime conventions, discuss their favorite scenes and buy boxes of official Naruto merchandise. Through cosplay, anime fans are able to create a sense of belonging to the worlds of fantasy they spend so much time dwelling in. One description under a website selling cosplay weapons reads, “Highly polished weapon set including a gleaming kunai and throwing star, just like the ones Naruto and his ninja friends use!” (japanimation.com). The message implied is that through buying these objects one can become like Naruto.
Cosplay is a result of Japan’s “soft power”, an attribute easily linked to anime. Soft power is defined as “…global success in transactions of images, imaginary characters, and imaginative technology…” (Allison, 5). The soft power of anime attracts people by luring them in through easily accessible characters. Probably the most well-known example would be the anime character of Pikachu from the series Pokemon, who seems to have gained immense popularity overnight. “Power of this nature comes from inspiring the dreams and desires of others by projecting images about one’s own culture that are globally appealing and transmitted through channels of global communication” (Allison, 276). Anime projects the desirable images of Japan outward for foreign consumption. The powerful pull of these imaginary characters attracts an American audience who then proceeds to appropriate them to suit their fantasies. The act of cosplay furthers a person’s participation in the dream worlds put forth by popular anime.
Cosplay is one example of Japanophilia in which fans dress up as anime characters in an attempt to perpetuate their participation in a fantasy. Through cosplay, a person is able to stretch the boundaries between reality and fiction a little further, potentially transforming themselves into the person of their dreams. The soft power of anime is through its ability to appeal to dreams and fantasies that are associated with its country of origin, and yet easily transferable outside of its national boundaries. By participating in the illusion of belonging to these imaginary worlds, cosplayers demonstrate how they appropriate a popular cultural medium in Japan to suit their own personal dreams and wishes.


Anne Allison, Millennial Monsters: Japanese Toys and the Global
Imagination (2006), 277.

Creative Online Enterprises Inc. “Japanimation.com” 2005.

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pmcenney — Last modified Jun 28 2021 1:49 a.m.

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