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Azmar Mudpongtua went from playing games to being a player of games. She did so through Cosplay.



    Cosplay, which stands for “costume play,” has become a ritual of sorts in some countries of Asia, principally Japan, Thailand and South Korea, where  young people assume the identity of famous fictional  characters of anime, manga, comic books, video games  and, in some cases, movies.  While in costume, they also select  a pseudonym or moniker and gather as groups to play out their roles, take photos, attend conventions  and just plain hang out.  
The practice is similar to what’s usually seen each year at Comic-Con, the multi-genre convention held annually in San Diego, where convention-goers dress up as their favorite comic book or science-fiction heroes.
    “Any entity from the real or virtual world that lends itself to dramatic interpretation may be taken up as a subject” in cosplay, and  it’s “not unusual to see genders switched,” says Wikipedia.  Through costume play acting, participants form social networks, much like Facebook, in which they share stories, photos, and what’s going on in their lives.
    Azmar got into the act after seeing a gathering near her home in Bangkok, Thailand.
“I saw people dressed up in a variety of cartoon costumes. I was stunned and suddenly fell in love with it,” she recalled.  “Some of  them were singing, some of them were acting, but they were all – wow -- nice.”
    A few weeks later, she attended a nearby gathering  or tournament, in which cosplayers competed for best costume or character representation.  After that, she was hooked.  “I asked my father for support me. He said that he would do anything to get me out from becoming a game-aholic, which I was at the time. So I became a cosplayer.”
    The character she portrays is modeled after the hero of a Japanese manga, or illustrated comic book, “Eyeshield 21.”

     “This character is more like my own self in the real world – a good man who looks bad to others,” she says of  Hiruma Yoichi, who began his fictional life seven years ago after sneaking into an American Army base in Japan and witnessing a football game. He studies the game and takes on the persona of a football player and goes about recruiting a team, which is used for good but sometimes borderline deeds.
    After an initial introduction, said Azmar, “I searched everything about cosplay through Google and Facebook and found a group of people. I asked them about costumes and props and started saving money, looking for the right price to suit my budget and ordered my first costume.”
When done playing, she added, “you can sell it as second-hand stuff.”
    The word “cosplay” was coined by a Japanese impresario, Nobuyuki Takahashi, after attending a 1984 science-fiction convention in Los Angeles. Since then, the practice has become a multimillion-dollar industry featuring magazines devoted to the subject, fashion stores and costume shops and websites selling related gear. But costume playing doesn’t end with the costume. It often extends to players using contact lenses of different shapes, sizes and colors to mimic favorite characters and adding temporary tattoos or body paint, hair dye and exaggerated hairstyles.
    Players adopt a character for several reasons. They may feel or believe the same way, simply enjoy doing something creative and, most commonly, seek attention.
The annual Comiket, or cosplay convention, in Japan annually attracts hundreds of thousands of participants and is larger than San Diego’s Comic-Con, and while its birthplace is Tokyo, its attraction has captured the attention of countries throughout Asia. As a result, conventions devoted exclusively to anime – Japanese cartoon – characters have risen in popularity in the United States.
While many adults see cosplay as youngsters frittering away their lives, for youngsters or young adults it’s a good thing.
    “Cosplay can do many things to help the community,” says Azmar, who also goes by the pseudonym“ Ayumu. For example, we used to do a student open hat donation for flood (relief).” Her group first did an it  without costume. The next day they came back in costume and raised five times what they had raised the day before.
    Costume acting also teaches youngsters teamwork, diligence and the value of practice.  
“Cosplay contests are not easy. We have to do a hard practice, have a costume done 100 percent, act with weapons and also have to do this so it fits into a budget,” said Azmar. “I don’t think all of this is nonsense, do you?”
    A member of Azmar’s group. Who goes by the name Ployly, chose the character Furukawa Nagisa, because of her innocence, sweetness and, of course, looks. The cartoon character Nagisa is a shy, clumsy girl who loses school time because of illness but bounces back to create her own drama club.
    “Another good thing about cosplay,” says Ployly, is that a gathering may feature someone who originated the role in the birthplace of Cosplay – Japan. “They come to Thailand and it makes us attempt to learn the language to understand our favorite cartoons.”
    Another player, who goes by the name Zero, said that assembling and paying for his own costume has helped him better manage his finances.
     “Some people think that cosplay is nonsense,” said Shin, who took part in fundraisers for an animal shelter and an orphanage. “It’s a different vision of a different group of people. In Thailand, most adults are still old-fashioned. Their hearts are not open to new things. But there are some adults getting to understand cosplay society.”
    Shin also sees cosplay as a daring attempt at self-expression and, in some cases, an incentive to enter a related career such as operating a costume shop or making props.
     “I don’t think any of this is nonsense,” she added.



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