Amanda Suriya Ariffin lifts the mask off a popular anime culture icon
EVERYONE loves to play dress-up. Some love it more than others and subsequently become famous for it. Enter cosplay, a contraction and amalgamation of the words “costume play”, a slightly left-of-centre subculture that is fast becoming part of mainstream culture, spawning its very own icons and seriously enthusiastic fan base.
It was with this newly-learnt nugget of information that I was able to understand and appreciate the near-hysteria surrounding the arrival of Japanese celebrity cosplayer Kaname, (pronounced Kah-nah-may) who flew into Kuala Lumpur recently as part of the line-up of real-life star attractions at the pre-event press conference as well as at the upcoming first-ever satellite Anime Festival Asia (AFA) in Malaysia.
To those unfamiliar with this 34-year-old popular icon of Japanese cosplay culture, Kaname is a celebrated cosplay artist when he isn’t living what he terms his “regular life as a normal human being” complete with a full-time job as a salaried employee (though he demurs shyly when probed on this subject and offers a coy response that hints that he is involved in the defence industry).
Though widely known in his homeland, he is becoming increasingly recognised by J-pop culture and anime fans in the Asian region, evidenced by the reception he received at the previous AFA in Singapore in 2011.
“When I came to Malaysia when I was 12, I didn’t know the Japanese subculture influence here was great but I think it is great seeing that influence of Japanese anime culture compared to 20 years ago,” he revealed at the press conference, his slim, wiry frame belying his confident voice and commanding but approachable demeanour.
Very fetching fiery red hair aside (the fanfare of the occasion of having him present on stage seemed to overshadow the necessity of asking him if that was, in fact, his real hair or a wig), Kaname strikes a friendly figure with a disarming boyish charm that seems incongruous with the piercing stare behind the hazel-coloured contact lenses that goes with his rock-star-ish ensemble.
But a rock star in the musical sense he is not, and even if he is considered comparable to one in Japanese anime pop culture by fans, he downplays the beginnings of his passion with cosplay.
“Three months before I turned 30, I realised I did not have a network of like-minded friends within the cosplay community, and as I love anime, it was natural that I wanted to take my love of anime further, as anime is a great escape from reality, especially when reality and routine make you less than happy,” he shares.
He reveals that watching televised anime was very much part of his daily routine that brought him happiness. Therefore, meshing cosplay into his life and performing (in costume) some of his favourite anime characters was a happy outlet.
Known for his amazing repertoire of cosplays that includes Cloud of Final Fantasy VII, Advent Children, Ichigo of Bleach and Portgas D Ace of One Piece, Kaname’s enthusiasm becomes apparent as he says one of the best parts of being a cosplay artist and performer (aside from indulging his hobby of purchasing anime-related merchandise and items) is finding something new within cosplay, creating new personas and characters, or themes, stories and performances. In essence, the avenue to give free rein to his creativity. It is the novelty in new cosplay experiences that keeps Kaname very much engaged in this passion.
That and the fans, he admits warmly. “I understand that cosplay is very popular in Malaysia and it is great to be able to meet the fans and be part of this inaugural AFA Malaysia.”
It is not difficult to see the attraction of this young man, who is the AFA Cosplay Ambassador, as he hands us a card that depicts him blonde-haired with his various online media pages and social network accounts. It certainly takes a confident, talented and very lucky person to share a passion that clearly entertains many anime culture fans.
Where it’s at
THE Anime Festival Asia Malaysia 2012 will be held at the Tun Razak Halls 1 and 2, Putra World Trade Centre, on June 9-10.
Spurred by the overwhelming popularity of the Anime Festival Asia in Singapore over the past four years that saw an increasing number of local fans and visitors, the organisers of this year’s festival are confident of drawing some 40,000 visitors to the event.
In addition to an extravagant display of cosplay, other highlights include performances by anisong (anime song) artists such as Kotoko and Maon Kurosaki, and the latest trends and content from the very wide and eclectic entity that is anime and J-pop culture.
While the AFA Regional Cosplay Championship in Singapore has attracted some 3,000 visitors, the Malaysian preliminaries held during AFA Malaysia this June will hopefully produce a Malaysian winner to represent the country at the upcoming regionals in Singapore. For more details, visit www.animefestival.my