Cosplay: The Fictional Mode of Existence – Review

cosplay it is one of the pillars of the celebration of pop culture. Whether it’s sci-fi, fantasy, western or eastern animation, it seems you don’t have to look far these days to come across people showing their love for these mediums in a very literal way. Okay, in my passive research, a lot of media use cosplay as an extension of the nerdy fandom or otaku culture, but it is very rarely considered as a focus of cultural importance in itself. So as someone who has cosplayed for the last decade or so with fluctuating participation in the largest cosplay community, do I think the text achieves that goal of proper focus and attention? Yes, I do and with flying colors to boot.

best way to describe cosplay: The fictional mode of existence would be that it is an incredible scheme for a cosplay 101 class that could be taught in a college semester. Yeah, I get that to some people that might sound silly because there can’t be that much informed history and social analysis to teach a class over an extended period of time… right? I admit I was one of those people. of course i knew cosplay it had to have started somewhere and that the way things are now probably wasn’t the way they were 20 or 30 years ago. However, the vast extent to which things have evolved leading up to this point shocked me to the core with questions I didn’t even think could be asked. A speculative but thorough look at the origins of cosplay and spaces that celebrate them? Often in different cultures and places? Check. An extensive breakdown of the parasocial relationship that cosplayers have with their performances, as well as with the costumes they wear as a form of love and artistic expression? Check. How the evolution of cosplay how a social construction correlates with how collective people evolve as a culture? Check.

This is the most scholarly and direct approach to the idea of cosplay that I have ever seen. Okay, I didn’t search much for media like this, but I feel like this book covers a lot of ground and then some, you might walk away feeling like you just took an extensive course on how interesting this medium is from an angle where you don’t even have to cosplay yourself. I feel like I could write half a dozen pages on some of the interesting passive and direct influences that the very concept of cosplay has had on society and vice versa. I don’t feel confident proclaiming whether or not Lunning is considered a cosplayer or as part of the larger cosplay community. But the sheer love and respect shown early on in this book seems to deserve equal recognition as well.

Though I will say I’m curious if the author had an extra year or two to include how recent difficult events have affected the cosplay community as well, as COVID-19 not only shut down most of the events discussed in this book, but in my personal experience, it has also brought to life a much more prominent online culture born of people filming from home. That’s the funny thing, things are always changing and cosplay has always adapted and grown with the times dating back to before the term cosplay was even developed. There was a sentence towards the end of the book that really caught my attention”cosplaySo, it is an art form that may or may not last, but even if it doesn’t, it will always – as it does now – evolve.”

Fortunately, the book does not attempt to present itself as some kind of definitive bible on how cosplay plays. Also avoid implying definitions that revolve around culture or history over others, as some accounts of events may be contradictory and different places may consider different angles. If anything, the book makes it clear from the start that it is the culmination of several different thoughts, opinions, and definitions from dozens and dozens of people who could give even a passive insight into this evolving culture. This not only included cosplayers old and young, but also photographers, historians, scholars, artists, writers, etc. they are all very well cited and documented at the end of the book in a way that it is easy to refer to them with proper citations (although I will admit reading this one in PDF format was a bit difficult as I had to constantly scroll back and forth. Definitely get a physical copy.) The book is even filled with images from a variety of different conventions, plays, and countries to add more context. to some of the key examples being talked about.

Unfortunately, that general thoroughness and passion for detail could end up becoming the book’s greatest weakness. This is not a book that I think most people could reasonably absorb in a short period of time. The text not only covers a wide spectrum of eras, cultures, and fandoms, but also presents that information in an extremely direct and scholarly way. Obviously, given the overall intent and theme, such density is to be expected. Yet this even bleeds into sentence-by-sentence prose. Granted, I don’t have the most astute attention span, but when certain sections can be filled with sentences that are 5-6 lines long at a time, it’s easy to get lost and not properly absorb the wealth of detail without a couple of re-reads. None of this is helped by the fact that reading this as a cosplayer it can be a bit of a double-edged sword because while you may appreciate information that many people aren’t commonly aware of, some sections can feel redundant in how they explain or set up events that are already obvious to those who have had those experiences. Looking back, I think some sections could have been a bit more condensed or maybe there could be a more efficient way to ease readers into the bulk of the story that is about to befall them.

However, the fact that I found a historical and cultural analysis of cosplay overwhelming is a kind of achievement in itself. Each section was packed with new information that only made me grow more and more respectful of the medium. It was amazing to see this almost logical progression of cosplay culture from the earliest days to the present day and a culture that is still evolving as I write this review now. In any case, this book made me proud to be a cosplayer at a time when circumstances make certain forms of expression more difficult than they used to be. I have nothing but respect and appreciation for the amount of love, thought, and care that went into this book. You may have to set aside a fair amount of time to read it, but I definitely think it’s a must read for those curious about cosplay or for those who are interested in where things started or want to theorize about where things might go next.