We go all the way to across the Pacific to find this month’s Beneath the Layers cosplayer (to check out my previous interview, click here). Mika is a fellow assistant English teacher from northern Japan. Although some know her as “Mikachu” or “Mallet Girl”, she typically opts to use her real name. When she’s not busy with high schoolers or costumes, she enjoys dressing in Lolita and going to concerts. Mika has frequented conventions and cosplay events in both the U.S. and Japan, giving her insight on what both cosplay communities can learn from each other.
NOTE: As this interview series aims to help banish harassment and bullying of cosplayers, any inappropriate comments made toward the interviewee or cosplayers in general will be deleted.
1. What is your favorite cosplay?
My MOST favorite cosplay may be Lady Asuka from Rayearth but that was worn ONCE and retired since it was heavy and long and had white fabric that I had to tell people not to step on. Right now [the uniform from] Shuffle! may be my favorite since it is easier to wear.
2. What are the best and worst parts of being a cosplayer?
The best part about it is losing yourself in what you do: becoming that character for how many hours you are in said costume.
The worst part is making all the insane cosplay props. I am no good at them. I have super glued my fingers together before so not a fun part of making any prop or cosplay. I guess the cosplay-related injuries fall in the bad part.
3. What are some of the big differences between cosplaying in America and cosplaying in Japan?
For me, I feel you get more respect in Japan at events than in America. People follow the rules for the most part and know when to back off. I tend to feel more comfortable in Japan since they do actually enforce the rules and regulations here whereas in America, it would have to be something big for it even got noticed.
4. What can cosplayers and photographers from each country learn from one another in terms of etiquette and attitude?
Oh a lot, but I will keep it short. Ask permission to take a photo or anything else. Do not touch the cosplay that someone is wearing and no jumping on people. These all pertain to cosplay in the States.
One thing the Japanese cosplayers and photographers can take away is don’t be shy. No one likes to be followed around waiting for another to ask for a photo. Just ask. The worst that can happen is we say “no”.
5. Do you ever feel like you get treated differently as a foreigner at cosplay events?
Hell yes I do! The fact that you stand out does not help. Most of the time people are scared to talk to you because they don’t know if you will understand them. I even had one guy pull out an iPhone and start talking through that until I spoke Japanese to him. I never think too much into it especially at tiny venues. It’s not common for them to get many foreigners, let alone ones that really stand out. Never been turned away or anything bad. I usually just get the deer in the headlights look and them looking mortified because they think I speak ZERO Japanese.
6. Why do you think there is this popular belief that Japanese cosplayers are better than others?
I guess it’s since most of them go all out when cosplaying. I have seen amazing Japanese cosplayers, but I have also seen really good foreign ones. Also the fact anime comes from Japan could be why people assume that by default Japanese cosplayers will be the best.
7. Have you been sexually harassed, bullied, or discriminated against while in cosplay? Please describe one or two incidents.
Bullied, no. Sexually harassed, yes. It’s sad that I push it off as a convention mentality. I tend to cosplay many things, but that does not make it a reason for anyone to touch you or even ask for sex. I love many ero games and venture into the uniform realm, but dressing like a Bible Black character does NOT make it okay to touch me because I “should be in character”. It NEVER makes it okay.
I guess that was the worst one in the States—being cornered by a fan after asking for a photo. It’s fun to play around in character, but when you mistake me for that character and attempt to copy a scene from that show is when I draw the line. Once my friends realized it was not a joke, I was more than happy to have them jump in and intervene and stop the unwanted roaming hands.
Japan is a bit better though depending on the photographer, harassment ends up being in the form of “Lean back this way or just move your skirt a centimeter or two higher”. I would take that form of harassment any day compared to what I put up with in the States though I wish both could be eliminated.
8. Do you have any stories of glomping gone wrong?
Yes. I had decided to break out a cosplay I have been working a year on, Lady Asuka from Rayearth—part hand-beaded monstrosity and massive amounts of fabric. As fate would have it, another cosplayer from the series got a little too excited and pounced on me, causing me to lose a couple beads that took forever to find, and stepped on the white lower half, getting it dirty as well as ripping the back bow out. I was so upset I only wore that costume once and retired it after that incident.
9. What can cosplayers do to protect themselves from harassment and bullying?
Be aware of your surroundings. Stay with friends and in a group you can trust if possible. This is to help the harassment issue. NEVER change yourself or what you like doing. If you stop wearing what you like because of harassment, they have won. If you are bring bullied, inform a close friend or family member.
10. How can the relationship between cosplayer and photographer be improved?
By having a mutual agreement. Photographers need to be more open with cosplayers. I know most pictures will end up on facebook and am fine with that. I just like to know where I will be and have approval power over it ‘cause not all of us like 4-chan or want anything there.
11. What should conventions do to help prevent harassment and damage to costumes?
I guess no matter how many guards there are, it’s hard to help. Most places have a “no glomp” rule to prevent damage, but cosplayers need to be firm with telling anyone whether it’s okay to touch a costume since some people ignore the rules.
Harassment should be taken seriously. If someone complains, check it out don’t just ignore it. Make it a known issue. If people know it happens and look for signs, maybe we can help by policing each other, being a tight knit community.
12. How do you feel about the idea that cosplayers should dress up as characters of their race, size, and overall appearance?
When people say you should only cosplay who you can pull off, I then usually tell them that if that were the case, no one could properly do it, not even the Japanese. How many naturally blonde, overly busty, and big blue-eyed Japanese girls are there? Hell, I have seen some pull off a great Himemiya [from Utena] cosplay and none of them were tanned skin. No one told me that I could not be a Sailor Scout because I was not pale. If it does not matter to the country that made anime, it should not matter to cosplayers.
Cosplay is something done for fun and to make YOU happy. Don’t let your body type, race, age and everything else stop you from having fun. I plan to be doing this FOR YEARS and no one will rain on my parade!
13. In your eyes, when does a costume become inappropriate or in poor taste?
When there is too little clothing. Kids will be at the cons; showing too much can be inappropriate. You can cosplay without showing all of your goodies.
14. What makes a cosplay stand out from others?
Being in character and presenting yourself right makes it stand out. I have seen many Yuki cosplayers from Haruhi Suzumiya. When they are too bouncy and bubbly, I don’t remember them well, but when they are quiet and in character, I seem to remember them more. The costume helps, but the way someone carries themselves makes a big deal.
I say this because some cosplays are so simple say a simple white dress and a wig (Luka from the “Just Be Friends” PV). Not many will know it, but if you borrow actions or personality, you will become much more memorable and maybe people will remember who you are cosplaying.
15. How has your life changed for the better as a result of cosplay?
I have made many new and life-long friends from all over the world. I may not be the best cosplayer and have seen so many amazing ones, but in the end, we all have this hobby in common. It’s nice to know that other fun and crazy people like me exist and that once the con ends and you leave the Big Sight on the last day of Comiket, your phone will ring and you have a new friend who wants to get to know you as well as the cosplay you.
Even with all the bad that can and will happen, I would not change a thing. It’s hard to believe that a lot of my friends came out of small events or from a simple “Hey you’re cosplaying my sister! Let’s take a photo together” type of situation. That’s what makes this hobby worth while!
16. Anything else you would like to tell the cosplay community or con-goers?
Have fun. Treat others how you would like to be treated. Respect and a smile go a long way. We remember that, and the kinder you are, there is a high chance we will remember you.
どうも ありがとうございます Mika-sensei, for sharing your experiences and providing all the photographs (except the one of Multi).
Listening to: “Kimi no masshiro na hane” by exist†trace