World Cosplay Summit
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The organizers pulled out all the stops in planning the event and their imagination seemed the only limit in design. Skyscrapers went up, a monorail line and airport were built, a theme park and robot museum opened. With the exposition behind us and we are left with the equivalent of a big hangover. The robot museum and Italia-mura shut down, international routes at Centrair are closing and the Linimo line is looking as big a white elephant as ever. We seem to be back to a Nagoya quite similar to what we had before the Expo…or so it may appear.
What is the legacy of the 2005 Aichi Expo? With the economic downturn that has gone from a possibility to a reality over the last few months, it is easy to focus on the gloom and turn the page on the festivities of not too long ago. You can’t expect one event to change everything, but if you take a good look there have been changes. The infrastructure that was created will remain, even if it isn’t being used to its fullest capacity at the moment. Events and organizations created for the Expo, such as the Nagoya Undokai (Sports event) and the still very active Expo volunteer group also endure, as well as strengthened friendship ties with participating nations and other Expo cities. One more event inspired by the Expo that continues to grow, despite hard economic times, is the World Cosplay Summit.
Some may have seen news items on TV or in the newspaper about the Cosplay Summit but still are not be familiar with the event. First of all, cosplay or “costume play” is a term coined by a science fiction producer Nov Takahashi, after seeing costume masquerades at conventions in the United States in the early 80s. “Trekkies” and Star Wars fans may have been his inspiration, however, the idea of putting on costumes and getting together with friends is documented to have been taking place back in the 70s in Japan as well.
The creation of the word is one thing but the concept itself is very human; all societies have some form of “cosplay” in their culture be it “Carnival” festivities in Brazil and Cuba or the celebration of Halloween in many countries. This may be a reason for the explosive popularity of this little understood subculture. Gatherings take place on a weekly basis in Japan and in the United States there were around 170 conventions in 2008 that held cosplay events. Approximately 50 countries around the world currently hold cosplay related events. From Costa Rica to Latvia cosplay is done in places where you would not expect at all. These numbers are only from organized events, it is near impossible to count how many cosplayers there are in countries without organized conventions.
The World Cosplay Summit itself started in 2003 by Aichi TV, with its sights set on the international 2005 Aichi Expo stage. The event has been growing year by year and in 2009, 15 countries will be participating: Australia, Brazil, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Korea, Mexico, Singapore, Spain, Thailand, USA and of course Japan.
The core events are held in Nagoya, Aichi: the Cosplay Parade in the Osu Kannon commercial district in and the Cosplay Championship at Oasis 21 in Sakae. These 2 main events are usually held consecutively on the first Saturday and Sunday of August and are accompanied by different satellite events each year. Some of these have included dressing up as maiko in Kyoto, mixer events with other cosplayers, or press conferences in Tokyo.
The championship itself is the highlight. As MCs and judges over the years a number of TV personalities, manga writers and voice actors have participated in the event. Guests like Shoko Nakagawa (A.k.a. Shokotan), Tomoe Shinohara (TV personality) and Natsuki Kato (model) have MC’ed. Go Nagai (creator of Devilman and Cutie Honey), Rika Matsumoto (voice actor) and Monkey Punch (creator of Lupin III) have taken part as judges.
With the support of organizations in each country, Brazil, China and Australia among others have gone on to start local national rounds. In Brazil alone there are 13 different regional events before the national finals in Sao Paolo.
As the biggest event of its kind, the WCS has transformed into something quite different from what it started out as. It has taken on new meaning as an interchange amongst youth, below the politically rigid environment of traditional East Asian rivals of Japan, Korea and China.
It means a lot to cosplayers representing their countries too. By winning their regional round they win a ticket to the country of their dreams. While the acclimatized may not bat an eye at a cute character dangling from a salaryman’s cell phone, or image mascots at every turn, for the representatives each encounter is a valuable treasure.
After the memorable performance at Aichi Expo in 2005 the WCS has set its next milestone as the Shanghai Expo in 2010. Beyond that continued growth and only time will tell what the future holds, one thing is for sure though, it will be exciting to see where things go from here.
Cosplay is a form of Japanese subculture that has ridden on the coat-tails of Japanese anime and manga into the hearts of youth around the world. This affection is now returning to Japan in different forms. It’s hard to say what is the greatest legacy left by Aichi Expo, but perhaps its greatest legacy is dreams. Cosplay and the WCS may be many of the things or none of them, perhaps it is just kids getting dressed up and having fun and living their own dream, nothing more.
This year the WCS will have 2 preliminary rounds in Osaka and Tokyo in July (dates not yet determined), and then the big event in August. It’s still a few months away but mark it in your calendar if you are interested in seeing something new this summer. For the daring that have a costume kicking around or are inspired enough to put one together, join the parade in Osu on August 1st, you will have a blast. If you just want to take in the show, come on down to Oasis 21 on August 2nd. Exact times are not set yet so check the World Cosplay Summit web page http://www.tv-aichi.co.jp/wcs/e/ for details.