Cosplay Odyssey: Japan 2012


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While we were in Tokyo I visited Acos – a specialist cosplay store in Ikebukuro. Read on for the full report~

Many anime fans who have been to Japan, will be familiar with Akihabara as the place to go for anime goods. However, in the north of Tokyo lies another ‘otaku heaven’ – Otome Road. Located next to Ikebukuro, a popular shopping district, the area nicknamed ‘Otome Road’ is a heaven for anime fans, a street filled with anime goods stores. And, just behind amazing Otome Road, lies a cosplayers’ gem – ACOS!

Acos is the sister store of one of the largest anime emporiums on Otome Road (Animate) and a one-stop shop for everything cosplay. Entering on the first floor was like walking into a cosplayer’s paradise –costumes from floor to ceiling. All kinds of cosplay were represented – maid uniforms, shinsengumi outfits, and numerous high-quality licensed costumes from popular anime series. Many of their costumes are aimed at a female market, but there are plenty of unisex male characters’ costumes, too.

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On the third floor lies a wig and make-up emporium. Acos sells Pri-Chara wigs, which is the cosplay brand of high quality wig makers Prisila. Once again, many of the wigs were official licensed character ones, making it easy for cosplayers who want to cosplay characters with gravity-defying hairstyles. A wide range of theatrical “pan” make-up in an array of colours was also on display. Many Japanese cosplayers prefer to use theatrical make-up as it is inexpensive, works well for character make-up and looks great in photos. Even contact lenses and props for specific costumes (e.g. Sebastian’s tray and white gloves from Black Butler) were on sale too. Hanging on one wall was a selection of “chest binders” for female cosplayers who want to crossplay as males – literally everything you could need for cosplay was on sale here.

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In the UK, it’s often difficult to find the right fabric to sew a costume, let alone pre-made costumes themselves, and many things have to be ordered online – meaning that making cosplay is often a huge challenge. So what motivates Japanese cosplayers when they can buy the costumes so easily? “Many customers collect costumes in the same way that other anime fans collect figures,” says Acos staff member Ikenoya. “When a new anime series comes out, there are many cosplayers who can’t wait to own the costume right away. It’s very addictive!”. Having costumes so readily available doesn’t mean that Japanese cosplayers lack skill, however. More experienced cosplayers often buy the pre-made costumes and customise them to their own body type. Many Japanese cosplayers also put in huge amounts of effort with character make-up and wigs, to ensure they represent the character well in every detail.

Walking into a store and being able to buy everything in one place – costume, wig, shoes make-up – was a unique experience. Whilst I enjoy the ‘treasure hunt’ challenge which comes from making costumes in the UK, I’ll definitely be visiting Acos again the next time I’m in Japan and stocking up on everything I need to make my cosplay 100% perfect!

Check out the Acos store here.

〒170-0013  3-2-1 Higashi Ikebukuro Toshima Tokyo www.animate-costume.jp/shop/acos/ikebukuro/

A selection of cosplay costumes can also be found at Animate’s other stores around Japan. www.animate.co.jp


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Dream Station JOL – A Girl’s Paradise in Harajuku

After WCS we visited several places in Tokyo and will be reporting on them shortly. I went to JOL in Harajuku with my translator Anna and we were lucky enough to be shown around by the staff there. We found out how recently Harajuku has changed from our sterotypical image of the area. Read on to find out more!

 

Immortalised in Gwen Stephanie’s 2004 song “Harajuku Girls”, for many the Harajuku area of Tokyo epitomises the colourful street fashion which Tokyo is famous for. However times have changed, and although many Lolita and alternative brands still have their flagship stores in Harajuku, current visitors to the area may be surprised to see more tourists than goths hanging out there on weekends.

It seems Harajuku’s alternative fashion scene peaked about five years ago, and the face of the area has been gradually changing eversince. Does this mean that Harajuku is no longer the place to go for the latest trends in Tokyo? In fact, the opposite! We visited Dream Station JOL, one place where youth culture is well and truly booming.

A popular after-school hang out for teens, JOL stands for “Joy of Life” and is located on Harajuku’s famous shopping street, Takeshita-dori.  One of five stores located across the country, Dream Station JOL is a mini mall housing everything from clothing brands to food outlets – and even the JOL Studio – a place where girls can change clothes after school and try out the latest make-up products and hair straighteners.

So if punk rock fashion is gradually going out of style with Tokyo teens, what’s replacing it? According to JOL Harajuku staff, Koichi Ogawa, Harajuku is becoming more like Akihabara. Harajuku’s unique teen culture has a new focus, based around a love for idol groups and anime.  Usually associated with anime characters, the latest “hot” fashion accessory is cat ears, while the popularity of idol groups like AKB48 has seen a revival of school uniform (seifuku) fashion. Many school students choose to change into a more fashionable version of their school uniform after school or on weekends, and Harajuku teens are no exception. Phantasian store in JOL sells a range of affordable uniforms similar to the “western” style sported by AKB and other groups.

“The most popular stores here are WE GO, which sells affordable street fashion, and Repipi Armano which stocks more girly styles”, says JOL Harajuku’s manager, Mika Ando. Accessories are available at Pink Latte (famous for its themed store, decorated in the style of a large pink aeroplane) and US brand Claire’s. It seems the Harajuku punk style still has some influence, with “creepy cute” accessories such as hair clips with eyeballs on being as popular as ever. Even Claire’s stocks a range of gothic and fairy-kei style accessories which are exclusive to their Harajuku store. Other popular brands are Dollywink eyelashes and Korean footwear Bubbleflop – flip flops emblazoned with bubbles, plastic sweets, dolphins and other decorations.

Unsurprisingly, character goods are as popular as ever and Harajuku has its own take on classic characters. Vintage character Monchichi has seen a recent revival, with JOL selling original versions of the little monkey designed by their customers. Another popular character is Mameshiba (a cross between a small dog and a talking bean), with JOL carrying a new pink version in the style of Harajuku celebrity Kyary Pamyu Pamyu.

 

Upstairs, JOL has a stage where they host regular shows and talent competitions. When we arrived, local idol group AmoYamo were performing their new single and they seemed to have a lot of fans! It’s no surprise that local singers are becoming more popular after the success of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu (Kyary was spotted by local fashion magazines in Harajuku before going on to launch her own singing career). Here’s yet another example of Akihabara’s influence in Harajuku – once upon a time, wannabe idols would perform on the streets of Akihabara, hoping to attract fans. Nowadays JOL gives teens a platform to perform in a safe environment, on a real stage in front of their peers.

Behind the audience area lies a range of food and drink stands – so teenagers can relax with a hot curry or cool bubble tea while checking out the latest acts. We tried a kind of giant takoyaki (fried octopus ball), except the octopus had been replaced with cheese, shrimp and other ingredients – it was delicious!

The best thing about JOL is that it’s much more than just a consumer experience – they have a very active local and online community. There are over 20,000 registered JOL members across Japan, who can sign up to review products or model for the JOL magazine, which is given out free at stores across the country. JOL Harajuku even runs a monthly in-store meet-up for members where they can talk about problems at home, get careers advice and give their opinion on the latest fashions and trends. All the food and drink at these meetings is provided free of charge by the store, which shows how much they value their young customers.

If you are visiting Japan and would like to witness the blossoming of new trends, or if you’re a young person who would like to experience Japanese youth culture first hand, we recommend checking out what Joy Of Life is all about.

Visit the Harajuku store at Dream Station JOL, Takeshita-Dori, Tokyo, Japan
(nearest station is Harajuku or Meiji Jingu-Mae)

For more information, please visit the Dream Station: JOL website.


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How to Take Part in World Cosplay Summit 2013

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our adventures in Japan and at the World Cosplay Summit!

If you are from the UK and would like to take part in the 2013 World Cosplay Summit, the next UK selection takes place at HYPER JAPAN in Earls Court, London on Saturday, 24th November 2012.

Entry is by pre-registration only and the deadline is 18th November.

For more information and to download all the rules and forms please visit the HYPER JAPAN website or email the HJ Cosplay Team at cosplay@hyperjapan.co.uk


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WCS Day 10 & 11 – Special Tour

After a whole week of parades, performances and TV appearances, what the cosplayers really needed was a holiday – and TV Aichi kindly provided, taking us all on a surprise ‘special tour’ to end the trip. We headed off on the coach once more and first stop was – an aquarium! We were all very excited, especially since last year’s destination was apparently the infamous Senbei rice cracker factory, hehe.

I would have loved to take lots of photos but stupidly I left my camera charger at the hotel so the only photo I got before the battery died was of these white crane storks at the entrance.

But still – real storks! Inside Laura got to feed some cute little penguins and we all enjoyed feeding the giant turtles, who seemed to love racing across the tank to catch the food. There were lots of seals, even a huge one which was over 6ft tall!

After a couple of hours we headed off to our final destination – a super posh ryokan by the sea.  A ryokan is a type of traditional Japanese hotel  and this one had it’s own private hot spring. The hotel provided us with yukata (cotton kimonos) and we all went for a dip in the private bath, before heading to the dining room for a 10-course banquet!

We had a chance to try lots of different kinds of local seafood and there was even a karaoke machine! We ending the evening with fireworks outside and retired to our futons (but not before taking one last group photo of course).

The next morning we hung out with the USA team at the hotel pool (yes, there was a pool as well) before driving back to central Nagoya so we could go our separate ways. Although we had our ups and downs, WCS 2012 was a good experience and everyone was sad to leave the new friends they had made. I miss everyone already but hopefully we’ll have a chance to meet again in the not too far future.


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WCS Day 9 – Osu Parade

This was Team UK’s final day of taking part in official WCS activities. We got up early for a parade at Osu Kanon – one of the main shopping districts in Nagoya. Today was the Osu Kanon summer festival , and all the cosplayers paraded down the main street in front of thousands of people.  Once again, it was boiling hot and so crowded!

 

At this parade the organisers were allowed to take part in costume, too – I dressed as Sailor V and Paula, the Mexican organiser, took part as Chun Li from Street Fighter.

The parade ended at Osu Kanon buddhist temple, where all the representatives took a big group photo.

In the afternoon we were driven to a cosplay event at Sweets Castle, just outside Nagoya, where we had the chance to chat and make friends with local Japanese cosplayers. I’ll put up some photos from there later.

Finally we went back to our hotel in Sakae to chill out and enjoy some much needed rest. Tomorrow: Special Tour!

Photos copyright Mario Vargas/WCS Stage Mexico and Burmseon Lee/WCS Korea


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WCS Day 8 – Red Carpet Parade and…..World Cosplay Summit Championship!


Today was the day we had all been waiting for – the World Cosplay Summit Championship final! Everyone got up super early as in the afternoon the teams would be taking part in a red carpet parade along Nishiki-dori, the main street of Nagoya.

That morning we were joined by the representatives from Hong Kong and Taiwan. Hong Kong and Taiwan are the World Cosplay Summit’s observing countries – that means their representatives join everyone for the last few days of the summit and take part in the parades and other activities, but they can’t compete in the Championship since both countries are part of the Republic of China which already has a team taking part. They more than deserved to be here, though – their costumes were incredible!

The mood seemed nervous backstage, as we waited for the parade to start.

Half the street had been closed off and a giant red carpet rolled out. One side of the street was packed with press, public and TV crews who were all here for the parade. The parade kicked off with a traditional dance troupe and people dressed as samurai and characters from Japanese mythology.

Then an up-and-coming boyband wowed the audience with a sword fight and dance performance! Sorry, I don’t know the name of this band…

Next, it was time for the main attraction – the cosplayers! Each team walked down the carpet as anime songs played loudly in the background. The atmosphere was so exciting, with cameras flashing everywhere! I had to sprint up and down the street, just to get these few photos.

After the parade, the teams took a few hours to rest and get into costume; then it was time to head to the Championship!

When we arrived at Oasis 21, it looked like a totally different place – the whole centre was packed out with cosplayers! I bumped into Goldy, who was with his Evangelion group.

Luckily we had plenty of drinks, pizza and a big shaved ice machine backstage this time, so the cosplayers could refuel. After setting up some slightly chaotic preparations, it was time for the main event to start.

It was wonderful to see everyone’s costumes and performances on stage – this is what everyone had been preparing for during all these months. Performances ranged from Germany’s funny Ranma ½ performance to Indonesia’s acrobatic mechs (yes, he did just do a backflip in that Patlabor suit). China did a beautiful  dance performance combining fans, parasols and floating sakura petals.

Our personal favourite was Mexico’s exciting Soul Calibur fight scene with two giant versions of Soul Edge and Soul Calibur!

Team USA’s performance was an impressive Black Swan inspired ballet performance based on Princess Tutu. Their performance was supposed to include an impressive two-way mirror effect which unfortunately didn’t work due to the lighting conditions, but we were still blown away by Diana’s superb acting and Katie’s elegant footwork.

As for costumes, this was definitely Year of the Mecha, with most teams including at least one mecha in their team. We especially loved Spain’s Tiger and Bunny costumes and Korea’s super cute Sgt Frog mecha! France, Australia and Denmark had some beautiful ballgowns too. Team Thailand made a whole variety of large mecha and props, earning them top points for craftsmanship.

Of course Team UK did incredibly well as they performed as D and Doris from Vampire Hunter D. I was nervous that it might be difficult for them since this was the UK’s first year entering, but I really had nothing to worry about. They created a tense dramatic atmosphere on stage with some impressive acting and their fight scene went smoothly – combing whips and swords into one fight is a lot harder than it looks! I was so proud of the girls!

Half way through the show there was the ‘Cure Cosplay Collection’ where Japanese cosplayers, past WCS contestants and last year’s Brazilian winners, Monica and Mauricio had a chance to show off their costumes on stage.

This was followed by a concert by none other than the voice of Sheryl Nome herself, J-pop superstar May’n!  All the representatives even had the chance to get up and join her on stage!

After such an amazing show we couldn’t wait to see the results. This year, as it was the 10 year anniversary special, there was a different judging system with the audience helping to decide the results. Everyone was waiting nervously backstage.

And the winner was……….. Japan!111!!!1

Second prize and the Brother prize for craftsmanship went to…….Singapore! Very impressive costumes and props.

Third prize was………Indonesia! Very well deserved, especially since it was their first year!

Brazil won the Cyperous Prize for best wigs – some nice styling and colouring there.

And Italy won a prize for the best “fidelity” for their accurate re-enactment of a scene from Evangelion.

Phew! After so much preparation and tension, everyone could finally relax. We all retired to the hotel for one or two (make that a lot more than two) drinks.

Many thanks to Chris ‘GaMeReVX’ Langdin and the WCS USA organisers for the on-stage photos. Used with permission, please do not copy.


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WCS Day 7 – Rehearsals and Alice Nine

WCS Day 7 - Rehearsals and Alice Nine

Day 7 was rehearsal day! This was our first chance to check out Oasis 21, the venue where the representatives would be performing in the WCS Championship tomorrow. We made sure to get there early and scout out a good spot so that Lex and Laura would have plenty of room to set up their props. As you can see they were super organised!

While they were setting up, I scouted out the local area. Oasis 21 is an outdoor arena, slap bang in the middle of Nagoya’s biggest shopping centre. That means half the audience (i.e. ticket holders and guests) are in reserved seating in front of the stage, while everyone else watches from the varies balconies and raised walkways around the centre.

Next to the back-stage area there were lots of cute character shops, like the NHK shop. There was also dozens of Gatchapon machines! I had to remind myself I was there to work and not to shop, hehe.

Finally, the rehearsals started – by this time is was nearly midday and was so hot! Even after experiencing the Japanese summer, the rehearsal  and some of the teams even started to feel ill from heatstroke. Luckily there was a Macdonalds nearby so we had a steady supply of iced drinks.

Lex and Laura had a chance to rehearse their performance a few times on stage and it went great – you could tell they had been rehearsing a lot and had added lots of extras since the UK selection in February. Since they were on fifth, this gave us a chance to relax and have a sneak peek at the other teams’ performances.

At around 2pm we had to leave for a surprise concert. The five teams who had rehearsed first were selected to appear on stage with a mystery band at an underground concert venue next door. As well as the WCS Championship, there was also a music festival going on at Oasis 21 with a lot of big name bands playing. I took a few sneaky pics once the teams had got changed.

By this time, everyone was getting fed up since all the cosplayers wanted to do was go back to the hotel and practice more. However, it turned out to be much more exciting than we had planned. It turned out that the band was called Alice Nine – one of Laura’s favourite visual kei bands!

All the representatives went on stage in front of huge audience and we got to watch a little bit of the concert from the balcony.

After the concert, the band came to meet the representatives and take some pictures. Laura was like a kid in a candy shop.

After such an eventful afternoon, we headed back to the hotel for some much needed rest and rehearsals. Tomorrow – Championship final!

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