Cosplay: When Anime Becomes More Than Just a Great T-Shirt

Cosplay: When Anime Becomes More Than Just a Great T-Shirt


Every July, thousands of people descend on downtown Los Angeles to enjoy what is arguably the world’s largest anime convention. The event is called Anime Expo, or simply AX for short. It is quite an event. There are celebrities, concerts, short films, tons of merchandise, and more cosplay than you can shake a stick at.

Speaking of cosplay, it is more than just wearing an anime T-shirt. Cosplay is going all-in to not only portray your favorite character, but also to become that character for a short moment of time.

The Psychology of Cosplay

Many anime fans will be happy to buy a few anime T-shirts and sweatshirts from the Umai brand. They would wear those T-shirts and sweatshirts as everyday clothing. But when something like AX rolls around, the big guns come out. AX calls for a full-fledged costume.

LiveScience senior writer Mindy Weisberger wrote a piece about the psychology of cosplay back in 2016, in response to the annual New York Comic Con event. She talked to mental health professionals in hopes of finding out what was going on with the cosplay thing. She apparently learned quite a bit.

Becoming the Character

According to her sources, some people go all-in on cosplay because it allows them to express themselves through the characters they become. Weisberger brought up the example of Batman. If you know his history, you know that part of what drives the Caped Crusader is having witnessed his own parents’ murders. Weisberger’s research suggests that some people who choose the Batman character for cosplay have their own childhood traumas to deal with.

Expressing a Creative Side

Researchers told Weisberger that other people go all-in on cosplay because it allows them to be creative. They get a kick out of researching characters and assembling materials for costumes. They enjoy getting dressed up and putting a smile on someone else’s face.

Regardless of the motivation, one of the most fascinating aspects of observing cosplay is watching people immerse themselves in the roles. That accountant who loves to crack jokes around the water cooler suddenly becomes a Jedi Master who is all business.

He is joined by a young lady who, by day, is a life-saving ER nurse in a major metropolitan hospital. But when she goes cosplay, her favorite character is the violent Harley Quinn of DC Comics fame.

Historical Cosplayers

When the media talks about cosplay, it is almost always in the context of fictional characters from our favorite TV shows, movies, and comics. But the cosplay idea isn’t original to that crowd. Long before there was a Comic Con, men and women would get dressed up to reenact battles from the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. They still do.

Likewise, there are living history museums all over the country staffed by historical interpreters who wear authentic costumes and play historical roles perfectly. They take on their characters with every bit as much enthusiasm as the Comic Con attendee.

The whole thing might seem quite puzzling if you have never tried it before. You might not understand that there is something unique and special about putting on a costume and taking on a role. Cosplay is an opportunity to momentarily live out your dreams and fantasies.

Is cosplay healthy? That depends on who you ask. There are some mental health professionals who think it is a good thing. They encourage it. There are others who frown on it. In the end though, it all seems pretty harmless. People putting away their anime T-shirts in favor of full-fledged costumes are enjoying themselves. What’s wrong with that?


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