The performance of cosplay, where participants don the costumes and fashion accessories of their cartoon character heroes, has continued to grow in popularity in Vietnam.
First taking root in Japan, ‘cosplay’, a simple contraction of the words costume and play, sees fans of comic books, animated movies and games transform into their favorite characters.
It takes a lot of preparation to convincingly bring a fictional character to life.
Bui Nguyen Tuong Van, 27, has called herself a loyal fan of cosplay ever since it started gaining popularity amongst young people in Ho Chi Minh City.
The ability to ‘live’ as the characters that were an integral part of one’s childhood, be it a prince, a princess or a housemaid, is what keeps the cosplay community alive and thriving, Van said.
According to Van, though cosplay is popular in many countries, Vietnamese youths tend to prefer transforming themselves into Japanese characters due to the huge popularity of the East Asian country’s comic books and animations in Vietnam.
In recent years, more and more Vietnamese cosplayers have taken an interest in characters from Vietnamese folklore, though realizing these characters has proven challenging given the limited number of visual representations, Van explained.
Twenty-two-year-old cosplayer Tran Minh Khoa said it could take months to finish the costume for a character, which includes clothes, accessories, and complicated wigs to mimic the character's often unrealistic hairstyles.
The cosplayer then has to practice the distinctive postures, movements and facial expressions of the character to give a convincing performance, Khoa said.
Around 20 cosplay events are held across Vietnam every year of various scales, with the biggest ones organized at stadiums where thousands of cosplayers and fans gather to celebrate the subculture, Khoa said.
According to Khoa, Vietnam’s cosplay community has grown large enough to gain international recognition, with top cosplayers from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City invited to perform at major cosplay events in Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia or even Japan - the so-called ‘sanctum’ of cosplayers.
Making a living from cosplaying
Accompanying her daughter to a cosplay event at Hoa Lu Stadium in Ho Chi Minh City, 44-year-old Le Thi Hong Nhung could be seen carefully braiding her daughter’s hair and doing the make-up for her transformation into a female comic book character.
“At first I thought this was just another nonsensical thing, so I attended an event out of curiosity to see what my daughter did there,” Nhung said. “That’s when it grew on me that the hobby was healthy and harmless, and a good way for my daughter to relieve stress after school.”
Not only does Nhung help her daughter with the costumes and make-up, she and her husband have also taken an interest in making the colorful costumes and accessories for their daughter’s transformations.
With the growing popularity of cosplay in Vietnam, stores dedicated to the selling and hiring of cosplay costumes have mushroomed in cities like Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang, where the hobby is most popular.
Specialty services such as cosplay photography and make-up provided by high school students and university graduates are also being made available in high numbers.
Dang Duy Hai, 32, has been selling cosplay accessories at Vietnam-Japan cultural exchange events for seven years, a job that has granted him a stable income.
“It’s not an easy job, as it requires great attention to detail to make a beautiful and realistic accessory,” Hai said. “Despite all the hard work, it delights me to see customers satisfied with what I make, as apart from being a means to make a living, cosplay is also my passion.”
Dang Duy Hai in the process of making a cosplay accessory. Photo: Tuoi Tre