Arne Hendriks


or how a bunch of dressed up kids are changing reality

In the nineties the otaku spent life in a cocoon, locked in gadget-filled bedrooms, surfing the web, consuming information like there was no tomorrow.

They hardly left their homes. Reality only entered into the otakus life in a pre-mediated format. Not the tree but the picture of a tree. Not the sex and violence but pornography and mangastyle slashing and bashing. Some felt guilty for not providing these kids with the right social skills to tackle the real world. But while they worried about saving a lost generation from slipping into oblivion, the lost were brewing visions of another future. Like the sea just before a tsunami, the otaku retreated almost beyond the horizon, consciously or unconsciously building momentum for a very big wave. The unlikely avantgarde of this wave is the cosplayer.

In a simple but firm denial of the context of first-reality, they make and publicly wear costumes based on characters from manga-comics, anime-movies and videogames. On top of this there are unwritten rules of engagement that include extreme enthousiasm for everything involved with cosplaying and the firm denial of anything that might kill the illusion. If you’re not part of the alternate reality you will be ignored. This impenetrable space, a strong simplification of reality and a ritualization of language and behaviour enables the cosplayer to enter into the most hostile of environments without having to succumb to the outside pressure to ridicule the moment, as long as there is a group.

Unlike the oldschool otaku who didn’t care much for meeting his peers in the flesh, cosplayers use their shared interest as a reason to get together. Conventions to this end have popped up all over the world and the numbers of active participants are growing fast. During highly energetic get-togethers cosplayers act out sketches from favourite films, perform mock fights, para para dance, draw mangas and exchange lots of costume-making tips. A visit to one of them is like entering a stitch-and-glue universe populated by spotty princesses and skinny superheroes wearing plastic things that go BLEEP BLEEP. Most of the time they are jumping up and down with excitement, frantically exchanging info; do exclamations of how much they love this or that, how great it was at this or that convention and what the coolest episode of this or that anime is.

Communication is reduced to a mantra of sound bytes and dress coded gestures. It is not so much THAT the otaku loves but the compulsive way in which they do, overturning common sense and the rational order in the surrealist strategy of Mad Love. Their hyper enthusiasm and hyper consumption is appropriating everything none-hyper. First-reality people don’t have the right tools to process and understand. It’s an intimidating first glimpse of a future yet to come and it gets more so when the cosplayers start to leave the marked territory of the convention centres and enter first-life. If during the 90’s the otaku knew how to retreat into this coded landscape, the otaku of today insists on projecting his harrypotteristic view of reality onto the world canvas. It’s a process that is effectively changing reality. Although the costumes of cosplay may not reminisce of the revolutionary uniforms of the past, they are battle-gear nonetheless.

Today in Tokyo there are streets where cosplay is so abundant that not dressing up inadvertently turns you into a bystander, out of touch and out of control. Who’s the geek now? These living sculptures created themselves. They didn’t need a Pygmalion, or God for that matter. They’ve pulled themselves from invisibility very much like Baron von Munchhausen pulled himself from the swamp by denying first-reality and creating a second-reality for himself in which he was the glorious centre. Ignore the context until it can no longer ignore you. Now it’s just a matter of continuous cosplaying until critical mass is achieved. By turning the real into a myth and thus controlling its destiny, the ones who live there become a mythological people. If the otaku stops believing in the first world, it will disappear, along with those who live there.