Otakus, katakots and the ‘Man-ime’


They say imitation is the best form of flattery.

Maybe that’s why we Pinoys have been so good at cosplay—because we love to impersonate. And since we tend to overindulge in anything that is free, we’re also such frivolous flatterers.
The name Mark David Cerezo has become synonymous with his rubber cosplay creations—Optimus Prime, WWE belts, and the Gears of War battle suit among others.

Cosplay or “costume role play,” is a type of performance art in which participants wear costumes and accessories to imitate or represent a specific character or idea. The object of cosplay is interpretation:
One attempts to become one’s character much as a stage actor inhabits a role. Cosplayers typically come from the ranks of “otaku” (oh-tah-kooh)—a Japanese term used to refer to people with “obsessive” interests, particularly anime, manga, or video games (and now movies). In modern Japanese slang, the term may refer to a fan of any particular theme, topic, or hobby. In modern Pinoy slang we simply call them “addicts.”

But just as we’ve managed to “Filipinize” every foreign term, concept or product that comes our way, we’ve also managed to create our version of otaku. According to Edgar John Ilaga co-administrator of the group Anime Alliance, the Pinoy “otaku” is more collectivistic and emotional, as opposed to the portrayal of the Japanese otaku as being individualistic and impersonal.

Ilaga says Pinoys see conventions not just as venues to satisfy their interest in anime/manga but also as a place where they can socialize and meet people. Simply put, an otaku here in the Philippines is closer in meaning to a passionate and expressed (as opposed to closeted) fan than the portrayal of an obsessed and antisocial person that the Japanese media tries to present.

The concept of cosplay is nothing new. In fact, one of the prominent organizations, Cosplay.ph has already celebrated their 10th anniversary. Yet it has only gained a lot of attention in the last couple of years with cosplay events becoming more frequent.

Cosplay Royalty

In the local cosplay world, no other name comes close to Alodia and Ashley Gosiengfiao. The sisters have become sort of royalty and due to their popularity have greatly helped in bringing cosplay into mainstream culture.

Others such as Jin Joson, Chienna Filomeno, sisters Myrtle and Hye, Stephanie Sumbe, and Mary Grace Roldan have also made names for themselves in the cosplay world. But for every budding cosplay princess, there are only a handful of aspiring cosplay princes—not because of the lack of good male cosplayers, but because cosplaying can be a lot tougher for men.

Man-ime, the men in cosplay
Getting into cosplay is no more different for men compared to women—choose character, craft costume, strut stuff, says Ilaga. “There is however something of a gender and social stereotyping that happens with male cosplayers, especially with regards to the more “mature” (read: Old-fashioned) segment of Philippine society, which I would say regard costuming males as an eccentricity and counter-culture expression (read: Immature),” he adds.

This can intimidate male cosplayers a lot, especially older ones who feel the need to conform to social expectations. This may be the reason why there aren’t that many male cosplayers (who continue or start) past their mid 20s.

Unlike female cosplayers, men may find it harder to justify cosplaying when they reach a certain age. Little boys will always be cute, young men will look cool, but grown men still portraying anime characters may look downright katakots (scary) instead of otaku.

It takes guts to go up the ramp and parade your costume, especially if you’re male, because chances are the crowd will only pick on the male cosplayers to heckle.

There are of course exceptions such as Pablo Bairan of Cosplay.ph, cosplay legend Guy Singzon, and Abraham Cruz to name a few, but these guys have made names for themselves for being able to create mechas, and masked characters. As Guy Singzon once said, “From the start I always wore a mask. If I looked like Jericho Rosales then I’ll never wear a mask!”

The Noob 

Eji Suarez, has only been cosplaying for less than a year although he has been a fan since 2004. “The first cosplay I did was Momochi Zabuza from Naruto, and I only tried it out after joining a group.”

Since then he cosplayed different versions of Jiraiya from Naruto. “He is so cool and funny especially when he sees sexy girls,” he says. But quickly adds that he himself isn’t much of a ladies’ man.

Unlike others who cosplay to walk down the ramp, Eji says he prefers to cheer for his friends. He says he isn’t ready yet and wouldn’t even have the guts to cosplay if he didn’t belong to his group Team Konoha Gakure. For him cosplay opened up a new way of meeting friends and expressing himself.

“Cosplaying isn’t easy as it looks. Making your costume can be costly and there will always be people who will ridicule you—but when someone compliments your costume and asks for a picture—it all becomes worth it.”

The Rubberman cometh
The name Mark David Cerezo has become synonymous with his rubber cosplay creations—Optimus Prime, WWE belts, and the Gears of War battle suit among others.

“I started Cosplay way back in 2006; back then I was a theater actor here in Marikina, and cosplay was an entirely different world that I wanted to try out.” After joining a cosplay workshop, I created my very first costume and joined the “Hataw Hanep Hero 2006.” By God’s grace, I won my very first competition and that inspired me to continue cosplaying.”

He says his favorite costume is the one that made him famous—the movie version of Optimus Prime. It took him seven-straight sleepless days to build the seven feet tall rubber costume, but as soon as he paraded it during the World Cyber Games Cosplay event in 2008, everyone knew it would be the start of something big.

Cerezo, now known as Marikina’s Rubber Man, works as an artist for the local government and is being considered as a national artist of sorts. He has become a regular guest in TV shows and the costume creations he posts on his Facebook account ( [email protected] ) can fetch up to P35,000.

Still, Cerezo says he doesn’t cosplay for money, “I cosplay because I want to inspire kids to be creative, learn to recycle and express themselves through art. I don’t care if they call me isip-bata [immature] for continuing to cosplay. Cosplay has taught me a lot and I just want to share what I have learned.”

All dolled up
Now if being a male cosplayer can be hard on the average guy, imagine how difficult it would be parading in women’s costume. But that is exactly how Yaten Kou made a name for himself. Yaten was one of the earliest known Filipino cosplayers to dress up as girl characters (from way back in 2001). He says crossplaying allowed him to feel how it was to wear girl clothes and feel how it is to be a woman.

“I’m a guy, and I will be all my life, so I know how it feels to be the guy character, there’s nothing new.
Only through crossplay will I ever be able be in a girl’s shoes.”

He has cosplayed a number of female characters, some of which were famous ones like Utena, Hikaru Shidou of Magic Knight Rayearth, Kasumi of Dead or Alive and even Mai Shiranui of Fatal Fury. Whenever he was asked if he was gay, he would simply tell them it was for a gig.

“Honestly speaking, there have been a lot of encounters that I was mistaken for a girl, rather than a gay guy. They probably thought I was just an ugly girl.”

Crossplaying might be the one of the most difficult aspects of cosplay since people will always be quick to judge, but beneath the lace and make up it’s all just an act of self-expression and shouldn’t be a measure of masculinity.

Mainstream hobby
“It’s interesting to see how cosplay has become something of a mainstream activity, rather than just a niche phenomena [as in Japan], thanks in no small part to the exposure given by the mainstream media to cosplayers and their stories,” Ilaga says. “Unfortunately, with the mainstreaming of cosplay as a hobby, and the prevalence of the “cosplay to express, not to impress” philosophy that quite a number of cosplayers at this time use to justify their hobby, I’ve personally observed an increasing tendency over the years for people to portray characters from mass-media products rather than niche series. This is especially disturbing for me as it points out to a commercialization of the hobby, as opposed to the purists who see cosplay as an art and a science fueled by a passion to embody the character they wish to portray.”

Cosplay has indeed gone mainstream, and while this opens more venues for cosplayers to showcase their costumes, it has also become an avenue for attention-whores looking for their fifteen seconds of fame.

So while Petrang Kabayo is a character, choosing to cosplay her might be overstretching the concept way too much and could induce violent reactions. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Source: Yaten Kou Crossplay Eye for the Straight Guy www.cosplay.ph
Pictures taken with permission from the interviewees’ Facebook Pages.

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