The Brooklyn Botanical Gardens had their Cherry Blossom Festival last weekend and the Cosplay (costume play) that transpired was much more vibrant and colorful than the trees themselves (they actually have yet to bloom). I wandered around in jaw dropped amazement at this sub-cultures breadth and was shocked to see how its practitioners sat so comfortable in what seemed to be such a strange skin. The first day I was delighted to watch the proliferation of obese kids with bad acne dressed in neon blazing cartoon character regalia make the BBG their stomping grounds. The gardens were thick with kids playing handheld multi-player video games, posing and kibitzing with others also dressed as their favorite characters and watching them collide with the Japanese locals and tourists alike who were came simply to get family photos under the one or two flowering trees was a joy to behold. But, as I slowly discovered and going back the next day began to fully understand, there was something much deeper going on. Embraced by “geek culture”, dressing up as a favorite Manga (Japanese comic books), Anime (Japanese video cartoons) and other characters not only is a serious hobby and passion for some but, more interestingly, a bridge for peoples with social anxiety/awkwardness/Autism to belong to a like-minded community and a vehicle to help socialize with the seemingly unfriendly world around them. Charles Battersby, a long time cosplay practitioner, professional writer and Video Game Journalist noted that many of his fellow cosplayers self-identity as autistic or “Special” and said, “Cosplaying requires obsessive attention to detail and an encyclopedic knowledge of fictional universes. People who have those qualities for whatever reason often use cosplaying events as a way to come out of their shells and meet people who share their interests.”
An article in a local paper about this years event profiled a woman who had this to say about the effect cosplay has had on her life, “Before cosplay, I didn’t have a life besides schoolwork and just going to bed,….After cosplay, I had more friends, I got out of my house more and my parents actually saw me smiling”. Gender fluidity also prevails in the community and many people dressed up as characters who don’t share their own gender. On that subject, Battersby informed me that its the specific qualities of a character one may relate to and if an affinity develops gender be damned. A recent documentary about men who like to dress as characters from the cartoon My Little Pony chronicled this sub-culture and brought this unique sub-culture further into light. There is a review and discussion article about it here. And in this NYT article , from 2011 special series about children living with autism, cosplay is mentioned about young people with autism navigating the world of love.