A Day Inside Australia's Booming Cosplay Scene


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A Day Inside Australia's Booming Cosplay Scene

Cosplay came to Australia around 15 years ago as a niche hobby. Now we're giving Japan a run for its money.

Within minutes of entering SMASH!, the Sydney Manga and Anime festival, I'm standing in front of one of Japan's most famous cosplayers. Takahiro "Goldy" Sakai is a man who dresses up in full body mecha costumes that he designs himself. Goldy looks like a robot straight out of Japanese anime film.

As I approach, Goldy's personal assistant is about to whisk him away from the fans jostling for a selfie. I quickly sneak in a question before he goes. "What attracted you to cosplay?" I ask. Goldy replies, via a translator, but it feels rehearsed. "Because it's a great way to be friends with people from around the world," he says. Somehow that doesn't feel like the whole answer.


A group of cosplayers outside the convention.

Over the weekend, an estimated 15,000 geek culture enthusiasts descended upon Rosehill Racecourse for the tenth anniversary of the event that's billed as the "driving force in Australia's anime and manga community."

A shellfish-faced cosplayer, and friend

At SMASH! the classics and today's favourites butt up against one another. Attendees bound around the foyer playing Pokémon Go on their phones while on the main stage voice actor Hideo Ishikawa is "live dubbing" the dialogue of Itachi, the character he played in the anime classic Naruto.

A cosplayer going all out.

What really grabbed my attention though were the thousands of people at SMASH! who'd gone all out to dress up like their favourite cartoon characters. Throngs of photographers hovered around them. I couldn't help but wonder just what it was about cosplay that had them so invested. It's a booming pastime, taken up by rising numbers of adults in Japan around the world.

Thailand's top cosplayer,Yuegene Fay

I find Yuegene Fay, Thailand's leading cosplayer, propped up against a wall, dressed as a police officer. She's working through selfies with a throng of fans. Yuegene has been donning costumes like this since 2000, and today her hobby funds her to travel around the world making appearances.

When she was younger, Yuegene says she was bookish. Cosplay let her step outside herself and become someone else. For her, cosplay is a form of escapism. "When I cosplay, I can be the character that I like," she says, explaining everyday life can be a bit depressing with work and study commitments. "Cosplay is like another world that we can enjoy and relax in."


Local cosplay legend Kenny Travouillon

One of Australia's local cosplayers is Kenny Travouillon, president of World Cosplay Summit Australia. The 34-year-old museum curator says cosplay came to Australia around 2000, but there were only a handful of people interested. Today he'd put the numbers in the tens of thousands, if not higher.

Kenny just got back from Japan, where he'd been chaperoning Australia's top two cosplayers at the world championships. "We just came back two weeks ago," he says. "We were in the finalists, so we did very well."

For Kenny, cosplay isn't just a hobby. He sees it as an art form, an important one at that. "Some people take it as more of an art. They'll make the costume themselves and they'll produce their own performances," he says, drawing the comparison to theatre.

Staff from the Maid Cafe.

I heard about the Maid Café, so I paid it a visit to see how the young women working there—dressed in costumes that ran the fine line between children's dress up and classic maid costume—fit into the cosplay equation. But Sophia, the assistant coordinator of the café, tells me they don't.

Maids are required to get into character, but that's just the beginning. "We wouldn't call it a cosplay cafe because it's more than that," she says. "It's about our hospitality and making you [the patron] feel really comfortable." And while there is a level of escapism to be found in the role of a maid, Sophia believes that's much more an aspect of cosplaying.


The café is based on the maid cafes found in the Tokyo district of Akihabara. The food is not why people visit them: it's the service provided by the girls. A patron will have their own personal maid to serve them. Sometimes the girl will sing to them, or even play a game.

The cafe is packed at lunch time.

As I gaze around the café and see all the women in these maid outfits, I ask Sophia whether it ever gets a little creepy. "We have quite a few rules in place for the one or two customers a year that get a little bit too keen," she explains, adding, "We're a big family here. We look after each other."

Melanie Low and Hannah Parkins

As the day wore on, I have to admit, the costumes just started blending into one. Until I met Melanie Low and Hannah Parkins, two administration workers from towns in New South Wales. Both are in their mid-20s. They looked like they'd stepped out of a Tarantino movie, rather than a Manga comic.

Melanie tells me she's been on the cosplay scene for about five years, Hannah's only been into it for the last 12 months. When I suggested people might be into cosplay because they want to escape their daily lives, the girls told me I'd gotten it all wrong.

Some cosplayers pose for photographers

For Melanie and Hannah, cosplay is more to do with exhibitionism, rather than hiding. Melanie admits she'd be lying if she said she didn't like the attention. "I like to look cute. I like to get photos taken," she tells me with a smile. "That's what I'm into and I like to receive it on the day, as vain as that may sound." Hannah tells me it's just another aspect of her life, not an escape.

"I'm average normally and so it's sort of nice to actually hear, 'Wow, you look great,'" she says. "And that's because I've never had that in any other aspect of my life at all."

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