Beneath the Layers – Urban Sidhe

School’s in session again, and cosplayers like my June/July interviewee Lauren are busy juggling classes and cons.  This time around I’m talking to another costumer in college, Jeanelle.  On-line folks may know her as Urban Sidhe or Rio B. In addition to being a cosplayer and an animation student, she’s an active member of the Dallas steampunk and lolita communities. She spend her free time having fun with her dog and cat, playing Star Wars the Old Republic, and setting up movie nights.

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. How many years have you been cosplaying? What is your favorite cosplay?

My first cosplay I did when I was 14 so almost half my life. My favorite cosplay to date was my Queen Chrysalis from My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic.

2. What is the best part of cosplaying? The worst part?

Best part is getting to “not be you” so to speak. Everyone really wishes they had that trait or this trait, but with cosplay, for a limited time you can have that semblance of being someone you’re not. I have to say the worse part is the misconceptions people get about cosplayers. Television doesn’t help and let’s be honest, a lot of cosplayers don’t help. But general society tends to view us as weird and so when I tell people that I cosplay, I get the strangest looks.

3. Has cosplay ever interfered with your working at a convention?

I normally work for the VG Corps Battle Pods. They’ve always been awesome giving me time off to run around in costume.

4. Have you been sexually harassed, bullied, or discriminated against while in cosplay? If so, please describe a couple incidents. 

Temari (Naruto)

I remember this one kid who had a fascination with my ass. A few years ago I did a cosplay of Rapid 99 from Jet Set Radio Future. She wears very small shorts. He spent a good 5 hours following me around taking pictures of my ass. He even told me that I have the most perfect ass. Kind of creepy.

One time on the DART [Dallas Area Rapid Transit], a little kid kept screaming if I was dressed up for Halloween. I was on the DART to go to A-kon which is in early summer. It’s a little kid; what else could I do? I ignored him. If his mom had been there, I would have said something about no matter what people look like that’s no excuse to be rude.

5. How do you feel about the idea that cosplayers should dress up as characters of their race, size, and overall appearance?

Let’s be real. No normal human can get even close to really looking like an anime character. Accuracy is nice but some things have to be forgiven. A lot of cons have the side discussions of the “Fat Hinatas”. But many heavy girls tend to identify with shy soft spoken Hinata. If race is a factor in cosplay, then Blacks and most Hispanics shouldn’t even attempt it. There isn’t a huge diversity of skin colors in anime or even in America cartoons. I say if you want to do a specific character because you like them, then do it.

6. What makes a cosplay stand out above others?

Personally, attention to detail, the accuracy of the outfit. In my Chrysalis costume, my proudest moment was when I was walking around with only the dress on and people still knew who I was. I actually turned people down to take my picture because I didn’t want a half-assed image floating around on the internet.

Queen Chrysalis (My Little Pony). By Arielle Fragassi

7. When does a costume become inappropriate or in poor taste?

Oh that’s a hard one. Age appropriate comes to mind. My all-time favorite con story was a girl who couldn’t have been older that 14 running around in a Bible Black [a hentai series] school girl uniform. On one side her dad, the other her mom. The people who recognized the costume were staring in disbelief. The 40-year-old overweight Li Shaoran from Card Captors also comes to mind.

I don’t like to show a lot of skin—Rapid 99 was by far my most risqué cosplay—but lots of comic and anime characters have very little clothing. There are plenty of costumes I don’t like on certain body types, but who am I to stop them? I think if you are going to a family-friendly event, don’t show up looking like you’re ready for a Fetish Ball. Be aware of who the audience is.

8. Does the response to your cosplays differ when you’re in at a sci-fi convention versus an anime convention?

Not really, but I dress for the occasion.

9. How about when you’re in steampunk or lolita versus cosplay?

By Camille Tessa Thomas

I get a lot of curiosity when I’m in any cosplay. Little girls tend to get really excited when I’m dressed in lolita. Men do too but for different reasons. On two occasions I was asked (very politely) if I was a dance/entertainer, a.k.a. a stripper.

10. How did you respond to that?

Well, how would any woman respond to that? Especially one who’s nearly completely covered? I took a breath and calmly explained that this is fashion, not for anything more than that. I made sure to also say it pointedly so that they knew I was offended by their assumptions. Both of them got embarrassed and apologized and told me I looked great, but how is that suppose to make you feel when they already made a comment like that?

11. A hot topic in the steampunk community is the disagreement over whether an outfit is steampunk or not. Lolitas are no stranger to this either. What is your opinion on the need for fashion rules and the critiques that happen a community?

I had a friend, who has never dressed in steampunk, tell me my outfit wasn’t steampunk. Steampunk is an imagination fairy tale. So how can something “not” be steampunk when it really doesn’t have a real world basis? Women are freer in steampunk than they were in the actual Victorian age so how do you know they wouldn’t have worn pants or shorts? One of my favorite critiques is “glue some watch parts on it to make it steampunk”. Now this is just silly. It has more to do than just “clock parts”.

Lolita is a little different. Ever since its conception, there have been rules upon rules. However, the rules of the original conception have changed. There are all sorts of sub-genres now: fairy, gore, sweet, country, ero. Ero especially denounces the rules of gothic lolita by being “sexy”, not “pretty”.

There have to be a few rules in a creative genre or else it would lose itself. But they should be fairly loose to allow all sorts of people to get involved. If you can’t grow, then your genre would never get very far. I don’t like a lot of Victorian wear, and if I had been forced into it, I wouldn’t have gotten involved. Same thing for lolita had I been forced to buy brand. Having a little creative leeway makes me happy.

12. What can people who dress up do to protect themselves from harassment and bullying?

I would say to extract yourself from the situation as soon as possible. Remember that you have your reasons for dressing up and its not their business.

SFE2012 - steampunk1

13. What are your tips for those interested in dressing up on managing time and money?

The thrift store and eBay are your best friend. Stalk and stalk. All of my wigs were bought off eBay. The corset dealer I found was from eBay. Most of my steampunk stuff came from Good Will. As for lolita, I don’t believe in buying brand for something I’ll wear maybe once a month if I’m lucky.

14. How has your life changed for the better as a result of cosplay?

I have a lot more friends and confidence. Something about being introverted but being a subdued center of attention is really exciting.

15. Any last words to fellow cosplayers and con-goers?

Thanks for showering! It’s been a while since I’ve come across a particularly nasty bit of con funk. Don’t let bullies and naysayers get you down. Live life the way that makes you happiest.

Many thanks to Urban Sidhe for her responses and cosplay and lolita photos.   More of Arielle Fragassi’s work can be found at Silvertree Photographic.


A-kon 23 Cosplay and Panels

My fellow blogger and steampunk, Jha Goh, once gave me this piece of advice: practice self-care.  We were talking about sociopolitical activism, but that advice is pertinent for anything one is passionate about: cosplay, journalism, and even just attending conventions.  I found out the hard way at A-kon 23, and I’d like to remind everyone to make sure you don’t push yourself too far in your work and play.  It’s not something you want to hear at the beginning of your weekend of fun, but other people end up being affected by the physical and emotional strain you put on yourself, whether it’s through dealing with a stressed-out friend’s moodiness or nearly getting puked on in an elevator.  Not to mention you might end up taking off more days at work because you got sick at the con (that’s what happened to me).

Now that I got my PSA out of the way, the highlights of my A-kon 23 experience can be found over at Purple SKY.  Click on the links to read my  Ayabie live report and -OZ- live report and interview.

The list of panels was quite extensive, and the writing panels were so specific that you almost had to have a work in progress to get the most benefit.  Same went for Music for Nerds, but we did have a good discussion on the state of music in America right now with Blair from Absinthe Junk providing some insight on how the industry works.  Rikki and Tavisha from Studio Tavicat also talked a bit about the American manga industry (though most of their panel was focused on their current and upcoming work).   On the fashion side, there were plenty of cosplay, steampunk, and lolita events both the beginner and the experienced.
A-kon23 Sunday04

This year, I saw considerably less Whovians and Homestuck trolls than expected.  Pokemon remained a favorite along with the Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt.  Cosplayers of the latter often attracted the most attention with their flamboyant outfits and sassy attitudes.  I even saw a Scanty and Kneesocks duo arrive in a limo at the convention with escorts in black suits.  My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and The Avengers generated the most buzz.  I missed out on seeing most of the Avengers cosplayers gather outside of the hotel, but I was able to visit the My Little Pony photoshoot.
A-kon23 Saturday11 A-kon23 Saturday16

One trend that really grew on me was the reinterpretation of characters.  There were gender-bent Avengers, steampunk Mario characters, and lolita ponies.  Cosplayers never fail to amaze me with their creativity, and it’s always interesting to see what they come up with next.
A-kon23 Saturday20 A-kon23 Friday11

I often hear negative comments about A-kon’s staff, but the people working at the convention this year were quite helpful overall.  There were a couple misunderstandings that could have been avoided (the rules probably should have explained that the Sheraton didn’t let people get on the elevator on certain floors), but I had more positive experiences.  A-kon seems to be learning from the criticisms it has received, and it’ll be interesting to see how they continue to grow in their new location next year.

For the rest of my cosplay photos, click here.

Listening to: “Oniajara no Uta” live by Kra

Anime Matsuri 2012 Cosplay and Panels

I wasn’t going to write this post originally since I covered the main events of Anime Matsuri for Purple SKY.  There, you can read my interview with Tomomi Nakamura and Masumi Kano, the designers of Alice and the Pirates and Baby, the Stars Shine Bright respectively, and live report of FLOW’s concert and an interview with the band.  I did attend several panels and watched the cosplay contest.  While my observations may not representative of The Woodlands/Houston cosplay crowd, it’s interesting to compare them to what I’ve seen in Dallas anime cons.
AM12 cosplay2 AM12 cosplay5

Despite the plethora of Marvel superheroes and Homestuck trolls, Anime Matsuri cosplay is still very anime- and video game-centric.  The ones who attracted the most attention also caught the cosplay contest judges’ eyes.  Saint Seiya, Alice: Madness Returns, and Final Fantasy were this year’s favorites though there were many amazing entries.

Best of Show winner Twinzik took cosplay to a new level with their Alice: Madness Returns skit.  With multiple “sets”, stage hands operating puppets, and lighting cues, it was a full-on theatrical production!  They definitely deserved their win.  You can check out the skit below and read about how they came up with it on Anime Matsuri’s website.

With Baby, the Stars Shine Bright and Alice and the Pirates present, it was no surprise that lolita dominated the fashion at Anime Matsuri.  I saw everything from goth, sweet, country, pirate, and original creations that didn’t fit into your typical lolita subtypes.  I didn’t see many steampunks, which was a bit odd considering that Airship Isabella originated in Galveston and Celestial Rogues are based in Houston.  However, the interest was obviously there, as Airship Isabella’s rack of goggles was completely empty by Sunday morning.
AM12 lolita3 AM12 panel2

I joke that I spent my most of free time at Anime Matsuri “stalking” my steampunk friends.  The con kept the Isabella and sister ship Neo Dulcimer crews busy with multiple panels each day.  Half of the panels centered on steampunk characters and world-building.  The others ranged from dieselpunk to ghost hunting.  Even if you’ve been to Isabella’s panels before, they always have new stories to share.  When they sharing information, the crews were manning their two tables in artists’ alley, as well as helping out Fallout Houston.

I also got to check out a demonstration of traditional Japanese music and swordsmanship.  The musicians, koto player Hiroki Matsumoto and “shamisen sensei” Kumiya Fujimoto, gave brief lessons to some audience members.  Finally, I learned a bit about the Takarazuka Revue, an all-female theatre troupe (the “Zuka Club” in Ouran is based on it).  It was quite interesting to learn about how Takarazuka blurs the lines of gender and mixes Western and Eastern theatre.  I even won a couple of flyers from the panel’s raffle.

Other things that the con had included a video game tournament, a special 18+ panel on Japanese bondage by Shinichi “Nabeshin” Watanabe (I was intrigued but too tired to stay around), two nights of dances with guest DJs, and a car show that included the Tumbler from Batman Begins (which I unfortunately missed).  The Woodlands may not seem like the most obvious place for an anime con, but aside from not many restaurants being open late, it’s a nice place for fans to take over.  I’m definitely thinking about making the trip again next year.

For more photos, click here.

Listening to: “1/3 no Junjou na Kanjou” by FLOW

2011 in Fashion, part 1

2011 was an interesting year for J-fashion.  On one hand, the earthquake aftermath brought an interest in minimalism and practicality.  Fashion was frivolous and even hazardous, as the Tokyo office ladies who had to walk miles home in high heels would tell you.  On other hand, alternative fashion hung onto a quirkiness that could be found in style icons like Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. Even with tightened purse strings and grave matters on their minds, the truly devoted lovers of clothing found a way to express themselves.

What was left behind in 2010
Headbands – By headbands, I mean the ones worn across the forehead (hippie style). The ones worn on top of your head were still common.

Mountains of accessories – With the decline of decora, hime kei, and the economy, less became more. Although street fashion remains outrageous for some, most individuals seemed to limit their accessorizing.

Nordic fashion – Nordic prints didn’t last too long, as plaid and animal print came back in style (not that they ever really left).

Yama Girl – After Yama Girl became popular, there were attempts to make other outdoor activities trendy with chic running gear and the Tsuri Girl (Fishing Girl). Neither really took off, and the Yama Girl became more obscure. Either practicality won out style or the fashionistas decided to stay indoors.

What carried over into 2011
Bows and berets – Headwear has been growing in popularity. However, hair bows and berets became the must-have accessories, whether you were a gyaru, lolita, or punk.
2011 fashion3 from Kera, Nov. 2011

Fur – Fur went away for a couple years, and then it came back with a vengeance. The animal ear hats were bigger and fuzzier than ever (and they invaded the U.S.), and stoles became a hot winter item.

Marine – Army style gave way to the navy in 2010, and marine stripes and sailor outfits became popular with both the Shibuya 109 and LaForet crowds.
2011 fashion1

What sprouted up in 2011
Androgyny – While no stranger to alternative fashion, more masculine looks made their way into the trendier magazines with Zipper having a “boy vs. girl” feature and Soup giving their models a tomboy makeover.

Denim – Jeans aren’t a staple in Japan, as they are in the U.S. However, they became more popular in 2011. There was also denim jackets, Not only have jeans become more popular, but there were jackets, dresses,

Ora ora kei – Ora ora kei is a mishmash of gyaruo and yanki. Key points include black track suits, tank tops, tanned skin, tattoos, gold accessories, and sunglasses. Its popularity in the past year probably resulted from a need for a manlier style and for the gyaru, a tougher and sexier style. Ora Ora kei for the ladies really took off with the birth of Soul Sister.
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Exile’s Atsushi is a style icon for ora ora kei guys.

Red – Perhaps in reaction to the neutral garments, red accents were seen all over the place: shoes, berets, and lips to name a few. Lolita also seemed to embrace the vibrant hue, as even the pastel-dominated brand Angel Pretty had a few red dresses.

Retro – 2011 fashion trends traveled through the decades. We had pleated skirts from the 1950s, maxi dresses from the 60s, wide-leg jeans form the 70s, and baggy shirts from the 80s. Rockabilly and old school punk influence the mainstream a bit, and Lumine paid tribute to the 60s and 80s at the Tokyo Girls Award fashion show.
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Aya Omasa, who played the frilly fashion student Miwako in Paradise Kiss, shows off a simple 70s-inspired look.  From non-no Aug. 2011

Fashion seemed to change drastically in the past year, and yet there were many things we had seen before: black glasses, plaid, and fur. 2011 also saw a dichotomy of hard versus soft with the rise of ora ora kei juxtaposed with the softer vintage looks. Neutral tones and bright 60s-inspired palettes also provided an interesting contrast. It will be interesting to see where things go next year.

Listening to: “Wonder Woman” by Namie Amuro feat. AI and Anna Tsuchiya

International Lolita Day

Today is the second International Lolita Day of 2011.  It is a day for Lolitas around the world to get together and proudly show off their frilly outfits.   Wait, don’t Lolitas do that more than two days of the year?

That is true for most, but International Lolita Day was created by a member of the egl Livejournal community named kittyhot (with input from others) to increase the visibility of Lolita.  It’s a chance for those who may hesitate to dress up for fear of being the only person in town with a petticoat; some people just feel more comfortable in a large group.  This was also a way to strengthen the bonds between Lolitas from all around the world.

To accommodate different seasons, which may impact a person’s decision to wear Lolita, there are two International Lolita Days: one on the first Saturday of June and the other on the first Saturday of December.  Originally kittyhot had proposed the gathering to be on Sunday, as it would mimic the gatherings of fashion enthusiasts in Harajuku.  However, because Sunday is typically regarded as a day of rest and worship in the West, the day was changed to Saturday.  The first International Lolita Day took place on December 3, 2005.  Six years later, Lolitas (along with their boystyle counterparts) from around the world are still getting together and sharing their love of this fashion style.

Other plans are keeping me from attending the meet-up in my area (which was moved to tomorrow), but here’s a photo from the summer International Lolita Day gathering:
Lolita Day Social5

The great thing about International Lolita Day is that it helps dispel the myth that you must be a girl under 25 of a certain size or race to dress in Lolita fashion. You can be a high school student, a parent, a skinny girl, a curvy girl, a guy, any race, any religion (these Muslim Lolis have some adorable coordinates). Wherever you are, wear your frills (or dandy outfits) proudly!

Since we’re talking about Lolita and Christmas is fast approaching, here is a great guide from Geek Menina on what to get the Lolita in your life. Because all Lolis have at least a moderate interest in the country that produced this subculture, I also suggest these calendars, which donate proceeds to aid the victims of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami last March.

Listening to: “Intermezzo” by Kalafina