Our girl Georgie puts on her blue bob and 7-inch platforms to joins 80,000 wig-wearing guests celebrating Cosplay at the Hyper Japan Festival

A BLUE bunny bounces through the crowd and gestures at me to follow – curious, I totter after him.

We pass a killer whale sitting on a stone and a wounded Japanese warrior wiping blood off his Samurai sword.

Olivia West – The Sun

Our girl Princess Fairy Kei aka Georgie wears a fruity tutu and 7in platforms for the Hyper Japan Festival[/caption]

A panther slinks by as twirling princesses twist magic lamps above their crystal-encrusted veils. They pause and gawk at my blue bob, fruity tutu and 7in platforms.

It may sound like the set of a fantasy film but I am in fact just one of the 80,000 wig-wearing guests at Hyper Japan Festival in London to celebrate Cosplay — costume role play — and Japanese culture.

Youngsters from across the UK are dressed as their favourite characters from anime — a type of animation featuring futuristic heroes in action-led stories — as well as from cartoons, video games and comic books. Even the odd US comic supervillain is wandering round.

Olivia West – The Sun

Georgie with Efe as Golden Jaguar – on a break from his day job as digital director[/caption]

Olivia West – The Sun

Ready for an action-led adventure with Anime hero Gang Orca[/caption]

Olivia West – The Sun

Fellow anime character Squirtle poses with Georgie at the event which attracted 80,000 guests[/caption]

All have been warned to not wear outfits smaller than a swimsuit as it is a “family event”.

One of the first to greet me is Efe Aighorr, 28, a digital director from Canada Water, South East London, who has more than 45,000 followers on Instagram.

He is dressed as Golden Jaguar from Marvel’s Black Panther. He says: “I’ve been doing it for two-and-a-half years and love it. I have a serious job so it’s great to morph into a different person and have fun.”

Olivia West – The Sun

Matt is believable as a Japanese warrior – he is a street performer after all[/caption]

What is Cosplay?

SHORT for “costume play”, the trend began in New York in 1939 and grew popular among anime fans in Asia.

But it was not known as Cosplay until 1983, when it was used by film director Nobuyuki Takahashi in Japanese magazine My Anime.
Japan hosted the first ever Cosplay world summit in 2003 and championship in 2005.

The doll-like Kawaii style is common here among young British girls — and is the one I have opted for.

As Princess Fairy Kei, I have blue hair, fake eyelashes, pink eyeshadow and am in a pastel dress adorned with cartoon ice creams.

Another popular choice is Lolita fashion, a street style inspired by Victorian dolls. Fans include pop stars Gwen Stefani, Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj.

Olivia West – The Sun

Neon sights… Sade has ‘blown’ £10,000 on her neon-heavy Harajuku street style[/caption]

Olivia West – The Sun

Kawaii girl Jess says Cosplay can be hit and miss – some love it, some run away[/caption]

Olivia West – The Sun

Tabitha as Mercy from Overwatch and Laura as Morrigan from computer game Dragon Age[/caption]

All this does not come cheap. I meet impeccably dressed Sade Kaye, 20, a student, from Stratford, East London, who has “blown” £10,000 on her neon-heavy Harajuku street style, which originates from the Tokyo district it is named after.

She says: “It’s an expensive addiction. I used to spend £1,000 a month on clothes. At the time I was working in a call centre and taking home around £1,500 a month.

“I live at home so saw it as disposable income but just wasted it on outfits. I buy some I don’t even need.”

She adds: “I once had an interview at a stationery shop. They were gobsmacked when I rocked up in silver space boots, a mini skirt and crop top.”

Olivia West – The Sun

Princesses Harriet, Shannon and Jade made sure to match their favourite anime[/caption]

Olivia West – The Sun

Emma gets to be Asuka from Neon Genesis Evangelion and Saya escapes from her ‘boring job’[/caption]

A job is not the only thing she struggled to get. Sade’s look is stopping her from getting a boyfriend too, as “a lot of guys look and think I’m crazy”. But she admits she would “rather have amazing clothes”.

She is in the right place. An entire floor is devoted to exhibitors hawking schoolgirl outfits, maid uniforms and other cute dresses, along with wigs, accessories and make-up. There are also craft shops where designers teach new Cosplayers how to make their own outfits.

I run into London street performer Matt Johnson, 35, who is dressed as a Japanese warrior, and later Tabitha Hastie, 27, a software developer from Canada Water.

Her outfit, inspired by Mercy from the Overwatch video game, cost £200. She has another which cost £500. She says: “I dread to think how much I’ve spent. But I love the whole experience and feeling part of a community, so it is worth it.”

Cosplay quick facts

60% are aged between 23 and 39

40% of Cosplayers are male

£300 the amount most would spend on a costume

 

It is easy to forget that away from Hyper Japan, these are all normal people with normal jobs.

Laura Johnston, 26, is a civil servant. But today she is Morrigan, from computer game Dragon Age.

She says: “I wear office attire to work but as soon as I’m home I dress only in Cosplay. My fiance doesn’t understand it. He doesn’t know it yet but I’m going to take weapons to our wedding.”

Cosplaying for confidence and escapism are common themes.

Olivia West – The Sun

Many Cosplayers cant wait to change into their colourful costumes after a day at work[/caption]

Olivia West – The Sun

The looks come complete with make-up and hair dos[/caption]

Olivia West – The Sun

Playing Connect Four at Hyper Japan Festival[/caption]

Emma Langley Soryu, 27, a warehouse worker from Birmingham, is dressed as Asuka, from Nineties’ Japanese TV series Neon Genesis Evangelion. She tells me how she is quite shy but “gets to be a different person in my costume”.

With the compliments and selfie requests rolling in for me as I walk round, it is easy to see why Cosplaying is so addictive.

Saya Elyn, 29, an accountant who has flown from Belgium to be here, says: “It makes me feel special. I like creating costumes and being someone else, as my job is so boring.

“It’s a great way to make new friends. Everyone is so supportive and guys really like it, too. I even Crossplay, which means I dress as a man and become one of them.”

Olivia West – The Sun

Many girls say Kawaii makes them feel confident and sexy[/caption]

Olivia West – The Sun

Our girl can vouch for the fact that dress-up makes people feel special[/caption]

Upstairs, a fashion show is beginning. A long queue of Cosplayers and Kawaii girls wait backstage, keen to show off their over-the-top costumes.

Essex student Shannon Gallagher, 22, Harriet Day, 22, a pharmacy assistant, and Jade Mogford, 23, a waitress, are turning heads in their Arabian princess outfits. Each have tailored theirs to match their favourite anime.

Shannon says: “We love dressing up and have hundreds of amazing outfits. We are getting stopped for a lot of pictures today, it’s great people love our outfits so much.”

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Olivia West – The Sun

Guests tell of the sinister side to Cosplay: ‘People think they can touch you and lift up your skirt’[/caption]

Like others I have spoken to, the three girls are single — a common theme. Perhaps it is because the scene can be hard to understand as an outsider.

Kawaii girl Jess Redman, a single 24-year-old customer service worker from Bristol, says: “Sometimes people love it and say you look great and other times people look terrified and run away.”

Yet there is a more sinister side to Cosplay. A 15-year-old female guest tells me: “People think they can touch you and lift up your skirt. It can be scary if you’re by yourself.

“They see Lolita as a sexual thing but that’s because some people try to turn it into a fetish. Those people aren’t welcome in the community.”

But not all the youngsters I spoke to had a problem with Lolita being perceived as sexual.

Olivia West – The Sun

People want to be heroes – it’s a form of escapism[/caption]

Olivia West – The Sun

Kawaii means cute in Japanese and the look has many variations[/caption]

Olivia West – The Sun

Cosplayers and Kawaii girls wait backstage at a fashion show[/caption]

Emma Barnes, 20, a student, started adopting the style when she was 12, as it “made me feel confident and sexy”.

She adds: “I was an outcast in school, no one looked at me. But when I’m in my cute Kawaii costume I feel like a million dollars.”

I can vouch for the fact that getting all dressed up makes you feel special, but after eight hours my feet are killing me, I am sweating under my wig and my body is aching under the heavy outfit.

Now, where are my Primark PJs?

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