In the summer of 2012 I was invited to do my first round of cosplay at Comiket, the biggest amateur manga ('dojinshi') convention in Japan. A few friends had decided to go as a trio from an anime called Steins;Gate, and they were kind enough to invite me along as the main character—in no small part because they knew I would bring my camera.
I'd never done cosplay before, so it was a bit of an experience—beginning with waiting an hour just to get into the changing area. You weren't allowed to wear your costume outside a certain part of the venue, the reason being that staff were also in costume and it tended to cause confusion. The cosplay area was entirely outside, and with temperatures at 39 degrees celsius on the concrete, it was a sweaty affair. At one point we were interviewed by a very sweaty TV crew.
There were people with swords, guns, giant cardboard robot costumes that must have turned into heat boxes, and the best Doctor Doom I could ever hope to see. The nice thing about Japanese cosplay is that people actually dress as characters that match their body type, so you don't get short, fat guys dressing as tall, skinny heroes. Instead, there were even quite a few guys who played convincing female characters, and vice-versa.
The big feature for me was seeing other people's excitement as they recognized my character (particularly when I heard "sokkuri"—"looks just like him!"), or running into other characters from your "set" and exitedly jumbling together to take a more complete photo.
It turned out that Steins;Gate was madly popular at the time, and on the last day of the convention (it was 3 days in total), I ran into no less than 6 other people with the same costume as me. At one point we had four "Okarin" gathered together for a single photo.
My only problem was that, having been invited on the fly, I knew none of my character's poses or catchphrases, but by my second day I had my research down and was able to pull off a convincing Okarin laugh that would invariably draw hordes of cameras. The highest honour for us was to have staff come and do a countdown to end one of our marathon photo shoots as people kept coming up to ask for a shot.
Etiquette requires that you ask before taking a photo. It also seems to require that you ask if you plan to use a photo on a blog (everyone says fine), and most people have cosplay business cards listing their blogs—which, now that I think of it, is a brilliant way to attract traffic.
Between camera work and the mad excitement of seeing familiar and unfamiliar characters done so remarkably well, I was never bored just walking around in circles. Over two days, I never even went in to look at the merchandise inside... though I did come a little closer than I'd like to getting heatstroke.
I got invited to play Okarin again at the December edition of Comiket. Although I only made it out for one day, I managed to effectively categorize four kids of fun you can have with a day of cosplay:
(1) You can have fun taking other people's pictures.
(2) You can have fun getting your picture taken.
(3) You can have fun getting pictures of you with your favorite characters.
(4) You can have fun collecting all the characters from your show so everyone else can go nuts taking millions of pictures of you.
Number (4) makes the day the most exciting—particularly when you are part of a large set. My friend Em. and I managed to flag down three other characters from the series Steins;Gate, with much photography ensuing.
I also discovered that cosplayers will often have business cards of themselves in their various costumes, meaning that many carry multiple variant cards. We met a guy who came up all the way from Nagoya with three costumes—one for each day of the convention. He was one of several people we re-encountered from the August edition of Comiket.
Highlights for me included Final Fantasy characters, a Gantz team, the cutests Tachikoma I have ever seen, and some guy who decided to turn up as Tora-san. And did I mention that half the event is essentially otaku T&A? It was amusing to note the skin-colored tights and heat paks applied by all the girls who still turned up in skimpy outfits.