Unravelling the World of Cosplay (by Sean Pineda)

Cosplay has become one of the most diverse and popular expressions of Japanese pop culture, which has been growing in popularity in Singapore. Sean Pineda speaks to four student-cosplayers from NUS on the appeal of dressing up as fictional characters.

Xan Awe, 24, strikes a pose while portraying Iguro Obanai from Demon Slayer. To him, the most important part of cosplaying is the opportunity to form meaningful connections with others in the community. (Source: Black Disc Photography)

For Xan Awe, Year 3, Accounting, his 10 odd years doing cosplay (costume play) have helped him befriend numerous fellow Japanese pop culture enthusiasts on campus and beyond.

“Growing up, cosplay essentially became my entire life. It’s hard to give up cosplaying when most of the friends that I had were solely from the hobby,” said Xan.

Xan, who is also a resident at Residential College 4, is one of many cosplayers in Singapore—people who wear costumes to represent fictional characters from anime, manga and video games. Cosplay, or kosupure in Japanese, has its roots in Japan, but has since become a global phenomenon with countless hobbyists across different countries.

According to Xan, when he first started cosplaying in secondary school, the community in Singapore was much smaller and tight-knit, consisting of only a few hundred people who were all acquainted through mutual friends or Facebook groups for the hobby. However, with the community growing exponentially larger, coupled with cosplayers shifting to other social media platforms like Instagram, it eventually became impossible to personally know everyone like before.

Nevertheless, Xan remains a staunch advocate for the ability of cosplay to bring people together. This motivated him to become a member and eventually the president of the NUS Comics and Animation Society (NUSCAS), a student-run society where anime and manga enthusiasts in the campus can appreciate and enjoy the different aspects of Japanese pop culture together. He has even conducted workshops to teach NUSCAS members about the basics of cosplaying and ease them into the hobby.

“As the president of NUSCAS, I hope to create a safe space for Japanese pop culture fans in NUS to form meaningful connections, just as cosplay once helped me to do the same,” he said.

Xan added that residential life on campus is ripe with potential for students interested in cosplay and other aspects of Japanese pop culture to find their flock, and encourages them to try creating their own interest groups or even conducting events such as cosplay showcases within their residences. In doing so, even more people can be introduced to the world of Japanese pop culture.

“I think engaging in activities like cosplay while staying in campus not only helps the hobby gain more exposure, but also can be something unique for everyone to bond over, especially considering that people don’t usually cosplay or see cosplayers outside of conventions,” says Xan.

“Speaking from my personal experience in the cosplay community, your interests feel much more meaningful when you partake in them alongside other people.”

Breaking the Mould

For 22-year-old students Isaac Soh and Oh Kai Ling, cosplay empowers them with the freedom to embody a diverse range of identities.

Isaac, Year 2, Nursing, who goes by the alias LabeefVA, started cosplaying in 2019, with his first cosplay being Tanjiro, the male protagonist of anime series Demon Slayer. Eventually, Isaac discovered “crossplaying”: the act of cosplaying characters of different genders from one’s own. This inspired him to try something different and crossplay as Exusiai, his favourite character from mobile game Arknights who happens to be a gun-toting female angel.

“I believe cosplaying is all about self-expression, as long as you really want to be that character you shouldn’t be afraid of any barriers to entry, whether it’s size, gender or anything,” said Isaac. “Just embody the character and enjoy the process.”

Similarly, Kai Ling, Year 4, Food Science and Technology, who goes by PepperSteak in the cosplay community, also enjoys crossplaying as it lets her pay tribute to the tough-looking male characters that she likes. Kai Ling points out that crossplaying is “nothing unusual” even in the Singaporean scene.

“To me, cosplay is about the journey of becoming a character that I love, regardless of gender or how popular they are,” she said. “In a way, this makes it even more rewarding when others recognise and appreciate my cosplay.”

With the outfit on and prop gun in hand, Isaac Soh, 22, transforms himself into Exusiai, his favourite character from Arknights. He sees cosplay as an outlet for self-expression and is not afraid of portraying characters of a different gender from his own. (Source: Sean Pineda)

Oh Kai Ling (right), 22, performs the signature pose of Kujo Jotaro from Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure alongside fellow cosplayer Tongatron. Her taste in anime characters is reflected in her preference to “crossplay” as tough-looking males like Jotaro. (Source: Coffeebenzene Photography)

Cherished experiences
For Katherine Whiteway, Year 2, Communications and New Media, while her interest in cosplay stemmed from her love for trying out cosmetics, this hobby means more to her than just playing dress-up.

“Cosplaying lets me show appreciation for my favourite characters and series,” Katherine said.

Katherine was introduced to cosplay by a secondary school friend whom she went to anime conventions with. She has since become more active in the hobby, often participating in multiple photoshoots during semester breaks.

Her Instagram account, Nekotsurin, has close to 2,000 followers since its creation in 2018. Apart from uploading pictures of her cosplay outfits taken during events and photoshoots, she also spends most of her time on the platform interacting with supporters and other cosplayers, a process which she says brings her joy.

To Katherine, the highlight of her cosplay journey was during Anime Festival Asia 2018, when the manager of YURiKA, a famous J-Pop artiste who was making a guest appearance that day, asked to photograph her cosplay of Diamond from Land of the Lustrous—an anime series that YURiKA sang the opening theme for—with the intention of showing Katherine’s cosplay to the artiste herself.

“Having someone that’s actually connected to the anime industry appreciating my cosplay is a once-in-a-lifetime experience I’ll never forget,” said Katherine.

Katherine Whiteway, 20, flashes a bright smile for the camera while dressed as Hanako-kun from Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun. For Katherine, cosplaying is her way of expressing appreciation to her favourite characters and series. (Source: Sean Pineda)


This article was contributed by Sean Pineda in collaboration with the AY21/22 Semester 1 run of the NM2220 module.

Know any other interesting stories of residents living on campus? Tell us in the comments or DM us on our IG @nusresidentiallife !

Bethany Low

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