Mangu: Base of the Shantou Cosplayers

    Three young guys were walking down to center of the room. They all dressed in black costumes like ancient Japanese warriors. One of them had really long hair and held a long sword. The one with red hair held a giant sinker. The other with white hair had a giant gargoyle hand. They were brandishing their own “weapons” while posing. Then they began to fight.

    But their fighting is more a form of fun than any real conflict. They are called “Cosplayers.” On the Christmas Day of last year, a cartoon book store named “Mangu” was stuffed with cosplayers and their fans. Packs of youngsters were holding a party there. It is a frequent gathering place for fans of comics and cosplay.

    “We are the first cartoon book store in Shantou that publicly support cosplay activities,” said Wang Yang, the owner of the book store.

    Cosplay is a short term for “Costume Play.” Cosplay is something like role play, but not actually the same. Many people thought cosplay comes from Japan. Japan is the creator of the nowadays’ cosplay style, but the root of cosplay is America. In 1955 Walt Disney established the first Disney Land in the world. Disney had performers dress like Mickey and other well-known cartoon characters in order to attract visitors. This is the original form of cosplay and Mickey in a sense is the primogenitor of today’s cosplayers.

    Cosplay reached mainland China very late, compared to Hongkong and Taiwan. In 2000 the mainland successfully held the first cosplay contest. However, according to Wang, the comic bookstore owner, cosplay is not widespread and is only popular in a few coastal cities.

    Shantou is not one of those open cities; it lags behind Guangzhou and Shenzhen in opportunities and places for entertainment. However, there are certain cosplay leagues in Shantou such as Ling Wu She, Zhi Yin She, Can Yue She, Fei She. Cosplay fans often join a favourite league so that they can actually pick one favourite character to cos, which means perform in the character’s costume themselves and act like the character. Only by joining a league can they take part in cosplay contests and participate in activities. Ling Wu She is one of the most sweeping leagues in Shantou, according to its founder. Most of the leagues are spontaneous youthful organizations that were established by cosplay fans.

    Wang, the comic bookstore owner, is also a big fans of cosplay, although he knows cosplay is not so popular in the region where he lives. “Many people think cosplayers are freaks and sniff at them, especially parents, but I really don’t think they understand the culture of cosplay.”

    One of the cosplayers, Liku, has pursued his passion for two years. Once Liku’s father suddenly broke into her room and tore up her costume up when she was making it. Another cosplayer Dan Qi said that sometimes they were called un-patriotic when wearing Japanese costumes.

    Wang pointed out the reason why parents don’t think cosplay brings any benefit to their children. As far as he knows, some students indeed don’t do well in their studies after they have pursued cosplay, but it doesn’t mean they don’t want to study. By taking part in cosplay activities, they can absorb another kind of culture outside school.

    To support the development of cosplay in Shantou, Wang made up his mind to establish a place for cosplay and catoon fans to gather, hold meetings and parties. “By then I can take part in the cosplay activities as well,” said Wang.

    Cosplay contestants usually make costumes together and hold meetings in Mangu before a competition. Soon after Mangu had been constructed, it became a base of the cosplay unions. Wang says he’s offering more than just materials for sale; he’s offering a community and home.

    “I don’t just sell cartoon books. I also offer foods so it’s more like a book bar for people to relax. My customers love to come by after school or during the weekend, reading cartoon books and sharing news with one another,” Wang said.