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Through the Eyes of a Cosplayer

Updated on May 16, 2014
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Goku: The Beginning

“So you want to talk about cosplay?” He started the conversation, just as eager to tell his story as I was to listen.

“Sure, but first I wanted to ask what was your very first anime – ever.” I could tell he was thinking back, far back, to the beginning. There is where many cosplayers start their passion, with one anime sparking an interest that lasts years. Some may watch their first Japanese animation in high school, some may get into anime in college. Yet with Patrick, a 25 year-old artist, I could tell this passion started far earlier, while he was far younger.

That is where his story begins.

“My first anime ever was DragonBall Z,” he recollects. “I think that when I was a kid, on TV, Sailor Moon and DragonBall Z [were on].” He smiles, a look of nostalgia crosses his face. “I thought the Sailor Scouts were hot,” he laughs. With outfit changes that seemed to take forever, the Sailor Scouts would transform into powerful, magical women. Who could resist? But he continues.

“I wanted to be Goku [from DragonBall Z],” Patrick states matter-of-factly. Yet this was only an idea, a dream that a young kid still in elementary school had. It was the impact of that dream that would determine the rest of his life.

VHS Cities and Ramuné

The mind is an amazing thing that sometimes goes unnoticed. Children often have imaginary friends, adults may daydream, but it takes an extraordinary few to make an imaginary world come to life. Patrick made sure of that while he was growing up.

“I would get cardboard boxes and have my mom help me [to create] whatever,” he explains. “I would make ears, I would make spikes, I would make rings.” For him, the world of Sonic the Hedgehog was just one cardboard box away.

Godzilla, too.” This time, Patrick would recruit his best friend and partner in crime, André, to help destroy Tokyo. “We would take all the VHS tapes we had, make a city, put on Godzilla [in the background] and kick down that city.” Patrick was no longer just a child; he was whatever he wanted to be. Together, the two friends would bond over their love of anime, manga, video games, and even Ramuné.

“We would save our pennies and split a Ramuné,” he tells me. This popular Japanese soda among many in the United States features a marble at the mouth of the bottle. The drinker must push in that marble to get to the carbonated beverage. Once done, the marble is forever encased within the bottle, clinking as it rolls back and forth while the person takes a sip. It has always been a form of entertainment, and an accepted challenge to those who wish to free it from its glass cage. “We tried to get that marble out,” Patrick states with a smile. It still eludes the two friends to this day. As the years went on, the two would dive even deeper into anime and Japanese culture as a whole.

More Than Cardboard

Growing up only made Patrick’s VHS cityscapes and cardboard cutout ears morph into swords and kimonos. More importantly, his passion for anime helped morph him into who is today.

“Anime really influenced me into doing martial arts full time,” he explains. Does anyone remember that fun-loving, often troubled but morally sounds wanderer Himura Kenshin (of Rurouni Kenshin)? Patrick does; from how that character lived, to what type of sword he used. Although more expensive than Ramuné, Patrick was able to save up for a bokken, a Japanese wooden sword traditionally used to train samurai in place of real swords. For Patrick, it was training for him, too.

“We got kimonos and ran around the backyards together. We would find snowmen and fight them [with the bokken].” Yet it was more than just martial arts or mock fighting for Patrick and his friends. He was taking on more and more of the culture behind the anime he watched.

“One of the oldest books I have is Hagakure (In the Shadow of Leaves). We carried [the book] in our pockets all the time.” During the 17th century, samurai Yamamoto Tsunetomo comprised this book as a practical and spiritual guide for warriors to follow. With passages explaining how to reach contentment, to ways in which to face death, Hagakure became known as “The Book of the Samurai”. For Patrick, it was one step closer to becoming those characters he saw within the anime he watched. However, Patrick did not try to become a full-on samurai, as interesting as that may seem. Instead, he immersed himself into the artistic side of anime and manga.

“Drawing anime got me into art school,” Patrick expressed. He was no longer trying to just emulate the characters he watched; he wanted to create those characters from scratch. Through art school, Patrick became an illustrator to pursue that passion. He strives to become a concept artist, and more importantly, to tell stories of his own.

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Robots and Masks

Illustration is not the only art form that Patrick chooses to embrace, and for good reason. Although anime and manga have taken a large part into molding Patrick into the man he is today, there has always been a gap, or disconnect, that he feels while cosplaying. To get over that barrier, he has taken up sculpture and prop-making; a way for Patrick to become a complete character.

“Because I am black I gravitate towards robots,” Patrick starts to explain, bringing a realization to many who may not have recognized this challenge before. For Patrick, props became more than just an extra detail in a cosplay, whether it be a sword or a full robot suit.

“Dressing up is one thing… I never quite feel like the character without a mask on. But it’s a robot, you can act like the character. But if not, then there is always [some] kind of a barrier.” It may be relatively obvious through watching multiple anime that there is an extreme lack of black, or brown, or any non-Caucasian characters; at least it has been that way in the past. Yet Patrick doesn’t let that bring him down or exclude him from cosplay. Instead, Patrick overcomes this disconnect by taking a cosplay to the next level through the props a character may use.

“If you take the prop and hold it, you can actually feel like that character,” he goes on to say. “I want to make Kirito’s swords, from Sword Art Online, because I just want to hold them. I just want to hold them and pose. Like, ‘I. Am. Kirito!’” His face lights up like nothing else as he positions himself in a way that emulates the character. “But if I just put on the jacket, I won’t feel like [him].” Nevertheless, this by no means has kept Patrick from trying his hand at cosplaying characters of different races.

“[I cosplayed] Soul from Soul Eater. That was a changing point for me. It’s not crossplay; it’s a black guy being a white guy.” Being in art school helped him flesh out the idea through drawing everything he needed to succeed at this cosplay. Patrick wouldn’t let the color of his, or anyone’s, skin come in the way of a favorite character of his. In fact, when asked about the popular anime Attack on Titan, how there is an influx in cosplayers for the anime, he smiles and brings up another good point.

“My favorite type of cosplay is cosplay anyone can be,” he begins. “All you have to do is have will. Anybody in the world can be the world’s hero.” Because there are so many changing characters within the Attack on Titan series, you don’t have to just play one of the mains. You can still be part of the fighting force against the titans, no matter what you look like. And on the flipside, “Technically, if we all take our clothes off and drooled, we could all be titans.”

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A Future in Cosplay

With his idea of an “anybody” cosplay with an emphasis on props, Patrick plans on making costumes that incorporate a whole slew of people to pull off.

“I really want to be Green Lantern… Anyone can be a Green Lantern because it’s about will. When I run around like Green Lantern, it’s my Green Lantern. And people will be in green spandex to play out my powers.” As a future possibility for a masquerade, or just for fun, Patrick lets his creativity run wild. Plus, who he cosplays is not the most important aspect for him.

“The biggest thing about cosplay is to be at the convention and meet new people.” It is about community and friends, to see what others are doing, and how to make it. It is about making new memories, and to have fun. In a way, cosplaying is like joining a large, extending, sometimes wacky, family. And the future is bright.

“Anime is literally my life – [has] defined my life. Kingdom Hearts. Evangelion. Without them, I don’t think I would be the person I am right now. Even if I’m 30 years old, I will still try to make those cosplays. Those stories are the reason why. I like the ideals of who they are. That’s why I cosplay them.”

In other words, “It’s who I am.”

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