For a definition of cosplay the activity, please check out Wikipedia. I'm going to venture ahead with the assumption that my readers would have some basic comprehension of the hobby. After all, even Grandmama knows cosplay, how can internet savvy you not have heard of this eye catching hobby?! What are you doing on a Cosplay blog if not so ?
Anyway, I digressed.
"Is cosplay still as popular as it was years ago?"
While popularity of such nature is hard to evaluate and quantify, significant growth of the cosplay communities across the world have proved that this hobby is still going strong.
The first event I ever went to had probably 30 cosplayers while mega events like Comic Con or Comiket probably sees some 3000 cosplayers. Of course, take my numbers with a pinch of salt since I obviously didn't go around the event with a counter. But I'm sure the fact that cosplayers have grown exponentially is undisputed.
Once an unsightly manner of garnering booth customers and a small insignificant demographic, Cosplay has since taken over every Animanga event like a typhoon. Their influence have encouraged organizers to set aside extra floor space, develop new PR initiatives and introduce cosplayer friendly facilities such as 'cosplay resting zone', 'changing rooms' and 'baggage drop' - all to facilitate the needs of Cosplayers and encourage them to partake in their event. Cosplay has become such a marketable asset that popular Cosplayers are regularly invited as guests to boost the appeal of the event and attract fans (who are often fellow cosplayers) to attend. In fact, a meet-and-greet session with a popular cosplayer is such a staple event highlight, one might even question the value of the event and wonder how it intends to set itself apart from it's competitors without it.
With the flourishing of the hobby, markets connected to the hobby has benefited too. Fabrics, sewing machines, lace, wigs and coloured contact lenses are just some of the products that suddenly have a new group of customer. Even though The demand for these products were already abundant prior to Cosplay, the new demand Cosplay introduced is arguable. The hobby have given jobs to tailors across the world with many fans themselves, turning their passion into their profession. Costumers and prop makers are all viable job options now thanks to this growing demand. While the individuals who make it are few and far between, can we overlook the economic boost ?
Kamui Cosplay is a German based full time Cosplayer
However with great power (or influence ) comes great responsibilities. On a personal and slightly sentimental note, I do agree that cosplay is losing its popularity. More specifically, it is losing its' novelty. With its' neon coloured wigs, intricate armours and showy flesh, cosplay has dominated many media headlines and SNS. And for many years.
A reality TV on Cosplay Heroes was created in 2013 and in 2016, a movie based on it was screened. People outside of the community are interested in the hobby; so much so that mainstream media has picked it up and started cradling it. While I look upon this eventual situation as the community being one step closer to being understood, it also made the hobby closer to being mainstream - which really isn't a problem at all. It's just not that new kid on the block anymore. Being constantly bombarded with terrific cosplay photographs or videos making waves and going viral, our expectations of the hobby has only been fed higher and higher. While I continue to stay in awe of the beauty, effort and passion of fellow Cosplayers, desensitization has also found it's foothold. It takes more to wow me and the rest of the world now. Humans work in strange ways don't we?
I understand my opinion is biased and a unsightly reflection of the shift in my own life. Anime and Cosplay has grown smaller in my life; I place lesser priority on completion of a costume and care lesser about getting the perfect cosplay. While I still like Cosplay and Anime, I have moved on - like many other people. And obsessing over something that you have moved beyond doesn't match up. Cosplay has lost it's popularity in my world but I cannot say for sure what it looks like in someone else's world.
Has too much of a good thing become a problem here?
I don't know, I don't think we can conclude for sure. Whether something is too much or too little is high on the shelf of subjectivity and I see nothing wrong with that. I have shared my humble opinions on the matter and I'll leave it at that.
"Is the cosplay community burnt out?"
As we've discussed above, the community is not showing any signs of fatigue or slowing down. More and more people are stepping out of their comfort zone to embrace this hobby for themselves. Rather than generalising the community as a whole, we should address the individuals.
With so much competition and pressure on the shoulders of cosplayers to be better at their craft (which really is just a hobby they earn nothing from), more and more cosplayers are showing symptoms of being burnt out. Manifesting itself in various psychological and physical forms such as stress and illnesses (yes, cosplayers can suffer from overwork too), more and more cosplayers have chosen to leave the hobby.
The stress of being compared to fellow cosplayers drive some cosplayers up the wall as they struggle to cope with this unrealistic and unfair expectation where they are expected to be good at everything (dressmaking, wig styling, Armour making, make up, photo editing, be a team player etc ), perfect at every angle and magically conjures money out of nowhere. With more cosplayers around, it is increasingly harder to garner attention for your work and many amazing cosplayers get overlooked. While cosplayers understand they do this hobby solely for themselves, the lack of attention and appreciation often leads to discouragement and demoralisation. Some cosplayers are even driven by the competition to take extreme counter measures such as cyber bullying. And don't even get me started on how angry, bitter and elitist this community can be against its own people (cosplayers against cosplayers).
With such mounting stress, it's no wonder casual cosplayers grow distant as the ROI (return on investment) looks bleak. Moving on with life to discover other meaningful priorities can also be a reason for displacing the hobby. While factors causing it could be entirely external (new life plans etc) and irrelevant to the hobby or community, significant amount of cosplayers around me have been observed to exhibit signs of being burnt out, myself included.
However, there's also the other side of the coin where dedicated and passionate cosplayers goes against all odds to create the most jaw dropping rendition of well loved characters and move on to be known for their talents. Some of them even craft a career out of their passion and earn enough to sustain their lifestyle.
So is the community burnt out? Well, yes and no but mostly … no. The community comprises of multiple individuals that churns out disparate quality of cosplay, responds differently and function in isolation - it is impossible to quantify the emotional state of the community as a whole as individual experience and sentiments are too diverse for unification.
"Are the quality of cosplays and diversity of characters dwindling ?"
I'd like to give a flat no. Anyone who thinks otherwise has never seen the cosplay events more than ten years ago. Everyone then were either cosplaying Naruto or Angel Sanctuary and I wish I’ve kept the photographs from back then to prove it to you.
Cosplay then were limited not by creativity but by the limitation of animation and manga titles foreign fans have access to. With the boom of fiber internet and proliferation of fan subs; anime fans abroad has never been more up to date with the trends in Japan. Naturally with the chance to see more and love more, fandoms for a wider variety of series has mushroomed. That naturally translates to a wider diversity of cosplays.
That said, I would like to implore the community to attempt and embrace a wider spectrum of Cosplays. Hopefully we will see more individuals cosplaying beyond the archetypes of human characters and venture into the genres of non-humans such as monsters or mecha or more. I also hope cosplayers can remember to not take themselves too seriously and remember that cosplay is really, as cliche as it sounds, about having fun.
What do you think? Are you tired of cosplay yet? Comment and share your opinion.