Festival gives chance to get into character

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Festival gives chance to get into character

Pass by the Seoul Yeouido Exhibition Center on a Saturday afternoon and you're likely to see something straight out of a fantasy movie. Here's a girl in a warrior's battle dress, wielding a spear; there's a man done up like a wizard, waving a wand; and there is someone in a black cape and mask.

Unusual, yes, but strangely familiar. That's it: They are characters from comic books and animated films. The girl is one of the female warriors in the Japanese TV animation series "Sailor Moon," and the masked man is a faceless monster from "Spirited Away," a Japanese animated film recently released here.

Who are these people? Not actors, as it turns out -- they're attending what they call a Cosplay Festival, held at the center once a month.

The term cosplay is short for "costume play," and was coined in Japan. It refers to dressing up and performing as characters from comics, animated programs and computer games. The festivals date back to 1989, when about 20 clubs of comic buffs started them. Now more than 500 clubs participate.

"The greatest charm of cosplay is that you can become bold through it," said a 20-year-old student, Lee Gyeong-hui, who is decked out in traditional Chinese garb. Ms. Lee took up cosplay when her high school staged a show. "I was really timid about everything before," she said. "But now I've become confident enough to let people take pictures of me in costume."

Participants in the festival are free to wear and do what they want. Noncostumed people are also welcome. But there are some rules: When you take a picture of a person in costume, you need his permission first; and anything that can be used as a weapon, such as a real sword or a steel chain, is prohibited. Most participants make their own costumes. But some buy theirs through Internet shopping malls. You can order a comic character's outfit online for about 80,000 won ($70).

So is anybody sounding the geek alarm yet? "People who don't know anything about cosplay criticize us, saying it's a waste of time," said a 17-year-old high-schooler, O Dong-hwi. "But once you get into cosplay, you're hooked." Mr. O is a member of a cosplay club, Dacodong, with more than 3,500 members, who range from elementary school students to adults in their 40s.

Cosplay came to be because today's comic readers want more than a vicarious thrill. "Unlike past generations, the new generation is more actively enjoying comics and animation, and naturally want to dress up like cartoon characters themselves," said Yu Jae-hwang, 29, who heads a local group of cartoonists.

Up to 40,000 people come for the festivals, including amateur photographers, families and foreign tourists, as well as the characters.

A tourist from the United States observed: "In the U.S. there are parades where people dress up as 'Star Wars' characters or vampires, but here the costumes are more varied and creative."

For schedule information, call 02-761-6100.

by Kim Pil-gyu

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