MANILA - For a whole decade now, Filipinos have been bringing their favorite film, TV series, game and comics characters to life in a unique event called "Cosplaying."
Short for "costume playing", Cosplaying involves dressing up in costumes and "becoming" a fictional character by mimicking their actions, speech, habits, and even their signature fighting styles.
This entails a lot of research and preparation for many devoted Cosplayers, who are usually avid fans of animé series, superhero comics, multiplayer or role-playing games, as well as films and TV series.
"It's really addicting," admits Pablo Bairan, administrator of Cosplay.PH, the country's biggest Cosplaying website and an organizer of Manila's biggest Cosplaying convention called "Cosplay Mania" that was held last September 13 at SM Megamall.
Bairan has been Cosplaying since 2003 (when in his early 20s) and has lost count of the characters he has played.
He "has been" Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Prince Arthas from the Warcraft games, Storm Shadow and Snake Eye from G.I. Joe, Iron Monger, Astroboy, Kimahri and Bahamut from Final Fantasy games, Davy Jones from the Pirates of the Caribbean films, Cyclops from X-Men, and the list goes on.
Cosplay Mania '09, where tickets sold at P100 each, drew hordes of Cosplayers clad in wigs, make-up, face paint, contact lenses, and all manner of glittery and frilly costumes and intricately-designed "weapons."
Hundreds of teens, children, and adults - all clad in costumes - filled half of SM Megamall's 5th floor such that many mall-goers mistook the event for an extremely early Halloween celebration. The event featured play-acting contests, choreography and costume-making workshops, fashion shows, and costume-building contests.
Cosplayers can experiment with different genres, from mecha (robot-looking characters) to schoolgirl characters in skimpy uniforms. Preferably, a character should match their personalities or body types, though nobody complained when they saw a chubby Wolverine at the Cosplay Mania show.
Part of the hobby's appeal is how Cosplayers can act out their fantasies without fear of being judged.
"It's like being able to live out the life of your idol, your hero, even for a day. That's like a wish fulfillment," Bairan said. "It's total self-expression, you know. Because if you're worried about people thinking bad about you, just wear a mask so that they can't see your face. And you can literally be anything you want to be."
Bairan said many parents and onlookers think Cosplaying is just a waste of time and money. When he started Cosplaying, Bairan said he was often scolded by his parents for the messes he made when making props and costumes.
However, he says spending a small fortune on something constructive and creative is much better than spending on vices like drinking, gambling, and smoking.
"We've had a group, and this is a true story, who used to be a gang and then they were doing a lot of bad things. Then they went into Cosplay and they became a Cosplay group. They started going to events and competing to the point that they became a dance group," Bairan said.
Cosplay organizers encourage families to attend the event. Bairan said he and his family are in the habit of making costumes together to bond, and has even seen entire families Cosplay as families from anime series.
Mark Cerezo, Cosplay.PH marketing officer, also insisted that the hobby is also has income-generating potential. After learning costume-making skills from Cosplay Mania workshops, a 14-year-old participant set up his own booth of customized masks and costumes.
Cerezo also moonlights as a bona fide Cosplay costume-maker in between his job as a Marikina City Hall employee, receiving costume orders from home.
| Scenes from Cosplay Mania's main event, "Costripping", where Cosplayers act out their characters in fights sequences and funny dances.
Filipinos have also made leaps and bounds when it comes to making world-class or "road-grade" costumes.
Bairan's own Iron Man costume, that painstakingly re-created the look of Marvel's red-and-yellow superhero, was one of the first Iron Man suits to be made available for the Cosplay world. "It became very popular and it brought attention to a lot of Filipino costumes," he said.
In fact, many foreign Cosplayers order custom-made gear from famed Filipino costume-maker Guy Singzon on his Web site http://pagawanaman.multiply.com.
Clients ship materials, have them made here, then have the final costumes shipped back to them at an affordable price. Singzon, a former social worker who turned Cosplay artisan, sells rubber costumes for about P6,000 to P10,000 depending on the intricacy of the design. He also rents out costumes for about P2,000.
"Actually, [other countries] should be the ones to catch up to us because Pinoys are more creative," he said in Filipino.
Environmental awareness was also included in Cosplay.PH's advocacies. This year's Cosplay Mania included costume-building contests that focused on using recycled materials.
Rubber is the favored material for making costumes because it is cheap (P162 per sheet), flexible, and versatile.
Sword props can be made with “palo china” wood from box crates, while robot costumes can use spare car parts.
"Junk shops are very popular places for Cosplayers because there, they can buy the materials and have someone else make them. And they can have them at a fraction of the cost," Bairan said.
Since the Cosplaying phenomenon hit the Philippines relatively late (circa 2000), Bairan said the country is still playing "catch-up" with countries like Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, the U.S., and Russia - where Cosplaying has been around for decades.
"But with the Internet and making the world smaller, we're able to catch up in many ways," Bairan said.
For one, online platforms like Cosplay.ph or the Philippine Cosplaying Compendium keep Cosplayers in touch beyond events and inform them of upcoming conventions.
"I think it's grown exponentially from a hobby that almost nobody knew about. We used to have [Cosplay] conventions when there were 30 Cosplayers maximum. Now we have hundreds and hundreds, sometimes thousands. It seem slike almost everyone's into it now," Bairan said.
Cosplay Mania organizers say the hobby cuts across all income brackets, lifestyles, and ages.
According to Singzon, the oldest Cosplayer is 55 years old, who grandly essayed Queen Amidala from the Star Wars movies.
There have also been movements to promote homegrown characters like Darna, Lastikman, cartoonist Pol Medina's Pugad Baboy characters, Kubori Kikiam or Culture Crash, and even celebrities like Manny Pacquiao.
Though communities outside of Metro Manila have yet to tap into the Cosplaying trend, Bairan said groups from the provinces have expressed interest in Cosplay events.
"As a community, I think it is our responsibility to spread the joy that is Cosplay," he said. Report and video by Kristine Servando, abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak, with reports from ANC's "Shoptalk." Pictures by Nico Servando.