Believe it or not, there are residents in Dubai who regularly spend Dhs1,500 on authentic fancy-dress costumes so they can show off their outfits and stage battle reenactments in parks around the city. This subculture of ‘costume play’ (aka ‘cosplay’) originated in Japan, but appears to be growing steadily in the UAE, with fans now staging their own local costume competitions and conventions.
Cosplay is essentially a form of performance art in which participants don costumes and accessories to represent specific characters, many of which are drawn from Japanese comics and animations. Fanatics will often go to great lengths to ensure the authenticity of their costumes and performances, with many spending months perfecting their look.
‘It’s my ticket out of reality,’ says 22-year-old Dubai resident and self-confessed geek Nashua Abouelola (below right), originally from Australia, who describes the phenomenon as the ‘gateway into the awesome world of Japanese manga and anime’. Nashua is one of the main forces behind the Dubai cosplay scene and helps to run new online forum Dubai Anime Club, as well as the Dubai Anime Convention facebook page.
I’m anally retentive towards detail,’ says Nashua, who makes all her own costumes, right down to the wigs. She sources items from fancy-dress shops and souks, with more specific details delivered from overseas, explaining that it can take up to two months to make each outfit. Her favourite character is a leggy, short-skirted Japanese beauty called Sailor Mars, from the Sailor Moon manga series. ‘I see a costume on TV and I want to create that costume, to look up to someone’s creation and imitate it. It’s the ultimate flattery,’ she explains. Nashua is proud of her recent first place and Dhs3,000 winnings at Dubai’s Cosplay Photo Competition, at the Dubai World Game Championships last month. The contest’s popularity has soared in recent years, attracting more than 30 entrants this year – two years ago, there were only four contestants.
‘If you are artistic or like fashion and make-up, you’ll like cosplay,’ believes 19-year-old Dubai cosplayer Dianne Benedicto, from the Philippines. Dianne likes to dress up as a cold villain called Lightning from Final Fantasy. ‘Your character should become an extension of yourself,’ she explains. Cosplayers will study a character in minute detail until they can perfect their movements and actions, in order to mimic them in a strange yet entertaining performance. ‘There are different genres for different personalities of cosplayer,’ Dianne adds. ‘There’s fantasy, adventure, even a world of robots.’
Cosplayers tend to be magnetically drawn to Japanese culture. ‘My friends call me a Japanophile,’ says Nashua. ‘I love every aspect of it, from the fashion to the morals, the technological savviness and the fact it is cool yet traditional.’ She also believes the culture is booming. ‘It takes a while for things to spread.
I know cosplayers who started by watching things like Pokémon when they were kids.’ Surely this means they’re a little to old to be dressing up as cartoon characters? ‘At first I thought it was just for kids, but it’s really not,’ says Dianne.
Dubai resident and manga fanatic Morvarid Okami Jalali, 19, from Iran, agrees. ‘The plots are complex and psychological; they’re way too dark for children,’ she explains. Our Dubai cosplayers are looking forward to their next dose of escapism at the Middle East Film and Comic Convention, taking place in April in Abu Dhabi. The event will feature a cosplay and performance competition, with points awarded for accuracy of costume, role play, performance and audience response. In the meantime, see if you can spot the Dubai cosplayers in a park near you, where they’ll be swapping tips, chatting about comics and perfecting their cartoon moves.
For more on Dubai Anime Club, see www.facebook.com/dubaianimeclub