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Cosplayer, a community built to resist

Using creativity to be free


"They're around me, but they don't talk to me / They're like me, but they feel better" sang Frankie Hi-Nrg Mc in one of his most famous songs, Quelli che benpensano. Emptying them of all possible negative meanings and the original criticism of the well-thinking bourgeoisie, these verses could also fit today to describe the Italian cosplayer and LARP (Live Action Role-Playing) communities.

We are talking about boys and girls, men and women who live among us. They may be our shy colleague or the neighbor next door, but we often do not notice them. Or if we do, we struggle to understand them. Instead, they are people with a passion for films, video games, anime and manga who share inspiration and values through a pastime that is in effect an art form, albeit an unconventional one.

From creating costumes to interpreting characters, to participating in events and competitions both physical and online, this activity gives them an opportunity to express their creativity and be part of a community. For some it is a hobby, for others it has become work.

The Eastpak campaign

It is for these reasons that the American brand Eastpak has involved cosplayers in its 2024 campaign, linking the historic slogan Built to Resist to the courage to be oneself in every possible way; a message that nerds and fans of geek culture have been carrying for decades.

According to Eastpak, who also organized a themed event in Milan in March, these communities have been the vanguard of positive resistance, standing up to peer pressure, bullying and stifling routine. The invitation is therefore to defy monotony and express one's personality also through bags and accessories, a further way of allowing everyone to manifest their own style or alter-ego.

Some of them explain it best.

Being a community

"Being a cosplayer means being part of a huge community, where everyone can express themselves" says Luke Nakamura, a mechanical designer from the province of Novara and a cosplayer for some ten years. For Luke, what he and the others are part of is a micro-world where "you can be anyone, including yourself without the masks you are forced to wear in everyday life".

Also according to Matt Love, safety-man from Turin, "being part of a cosplay community means breaking down the walls of diversity through creativity, respect and collaboration". Cosplay, he says, "unites different people and shows that differences can be a source of inspiration rather than an obstacle".

The Italian community is "synonymous with sharing" for Atena, an Italian-Brazilian cosplayer and cosmaker with a passion for gaming. What she particularly likes is the absence of judgment and the ease of making friends of those who populate this heterogeneous group. Cosplay, however, can also be a means of tackling important issues, she explains: "One of the most frequent for me" she explains "is sexual harassment" that cosplayers can suffer live and online and about which she and others raise awareness.

A form of art and freedom

Cosplay for Matt Love is a “unifying art form" that he has approached since 2018 and thanks to which he has been able “to get out of difficult times”. The opportunity to put his creativity to use has helped him find his place in the world and now he couldn't be happier.

On the other hand, Athena emphasizes the uniqueness of the interpretation that each cosplayer tries to give to their character “which will never be identical to another one of the same”. Everyone is then allowed to “impersonate any character without any kind of limitation or barrier, including gender identity. A boy can play the character of a girl or the other way around without any problem.

Luke also speaks of a free community whose basis is inspiration and inventiveness: “a common point is the desire to create or reproduce something, some do it by building and sewing, others by replicating images or even scenes”.

Study and passion

Matt Love took about six to seven months to make the Dragon Ball GT Super Baby Vegeta costume from scratch, working in his spare time. It doesn't end there. It is just as important to study the behavior of the character one is playing, the three cosplayers explain, because once you are at the fair or on a competition stage, it is very important to "be" the character you are portraying.

Athena too is keen to convey "the dedication, time and satisfaction behind this world that is often still seen as a carnival". Her characters are mostly inspired by League of Legends, like the latest, named Samira, and are created by her from start to finish, "both the tailoring and the props and wigs".

To create the Gray Fox character, Luke says it took him 250 hours of designing, as many hours of 3D printing and over 500 hours of building, painting, finishing and assembling.

Behind all this effort, however, there is much more than a following on social media or winning a contest. It comes back to positive “resistance”, sharing and continuous discovery. As Atena goes on to say, “we transform ourselves for fun, but sometimes also to learn more about ourselves.



Illustration by Gloria Dozio - Acrimònia Studios

Images via Probeat Agency