If you’ve scrolled through Instagram Reels recently, it’s likely you've come across at least one reel using Japanese anime-inspired audios like “Nyah! Arigato” in the background. If you’ve scrolled through Netflix recently, you’ve probably seen titles like A Silent Voice and A Whisker Away.
Years after the channel Animax and Dragon Ball Z got off our television screens, anime has found a fanbase for itself in India again. Instead of being closeted otakus (someone who is a geek for anime), anime has become the new cool thing for Gen Z, so much so that people are emulating the appearance of, or cosplaying, their favourite characters.
“My journey with anime started when I was a kid, with Animax and the show Naruto,” says 20-year-old cosplayer Tulip Hazarika from Delhi. “It’s just like how artists like to draw their favourite characters, cosplayers use their body as the canvas and embody the characters they love.”
Her first cosplay was Disney's Ariel from The Little Mermaid because she had a top that matched the character’s. As she got further interested in cosplaying, she attempted to take on anime characters where every look required a lot more effort and time. “It’s a very expensive process, everything needs to be customised from head to toe. Sometimes I stitch it with my mom, at other times I pay the seamstress to do it for me. I’m able to afford it because of my side job but even though it’s expensive, the passion, the love for the characters and the sense of creative fulfilment keeps us going.”
Hazarika has over 20,000 followers on Instagram where she showcases her skills as a cosplayer. She’s been able to start monetising the account, with a couple of brand deals and hopes for more recognition of cosplaying as an art in the coming future.
“As a cosplayer, you are not just someone who dresses up as a character but so much more like a seamstress, a hairstylist, a makeup artist, a painter, a designer, a craftsman, and sometimes even an electrician for props. You have to go out, explore and work with all kinds of materials from foam to wood and iron,” explains Delhi-based Akankasha Solanki, who is a professional cosplayer and commissions from clients to make costumes for them.
While cosplaying is considered akin to a professional sport with high-profile competitions in Japan, it’s still gaining momentum in other parts of the world. “There are quite a few cosplay contests in India as well, ranging from the local to the national level which can then land you on international platforms. These platforms include Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo (C2E2), which requires one to win the Indian Championship of Cosplay, or specifically anime focused events like World Cosplay Summit and Pop Culture Hiroshima (PCH), which let the winners perform in Japan. There are many other international platforms which India is not a member of yet, and I hope in the coming years, we get to experience it,” says Shillong-based Donal Khumlo, who goes by the alias of Zacky D. for his cosplaying adventures.
Khumlo and his partner Garry Nelsn Syeim are representing India at PCH after winning the national qualifier in Nagpur last year. He explains that it takes up to a few months and many sleepless nights to finish up a costume and its props for the competitions. Had the pandemic not taken over the world, they would’ve gotten to perform in Hiroshima, Japan, on a fully sponsored trip. “At C2E2, there is a prize pool of as much as ten thousand dollars. While some contests don’t have prize pools, they offer trips and merchandise which is still worthwhile for the recognition.”
For those who love anime, but can’t afford to fully commit to cosplaying, there is anime-inspired fashion. Comicsense.xyz, that also goes by the name of Senpai’s Cart on Instagram, is a rapidly growing anime merchandise store founded in 2016. With everything from apparel to night lamps already available, the brand is still yet to reach its potential, according to head designer and co-founder Nitin Sajwan. Under the cosplay category, there are staple items of popular anime characters like Naruto’s Konoha headband and Karasuno High School’s black bomber jacket from the hit sports anime Haikyuu. “We’re trying to combine cosplay and anime fashion so these items can be a part of fan’s everyday wardrobes as well.”
While their target audience is mostly college students, Sajwan explains that some of their old customers have become parents and continue to shop from the store.
He credits a lot of the recent popularity to OTT platforms and rightly so, as Netflix tweeted in October last year, “the future is looking more animated than ever.” The streaming giant has partnered with some of the biggest anime studios like MAPPA that produces the mega-hit Attack on Titan and Bones studio that produces My Hero Academia among other big hits, to roll out new shows and even release episodes in India at the same time as they air in Japan.
Sajwan believes the age group that loves anime will keep diversifying over the years because “once you start watching and enter the world of anime, you’re too engrossed to get out.”