Saudi Arabia may be a newborn when it comes to cosplay, but the dress-up culture has spread like wildfire due to the massive interest shown by youth towards video games and anime characters.
Cosplay can be defined as an artistic form of self-expression in which the cosplayer puts on the robes of an anime, movie, comic book or game character and then acts out that role.
Cosplayers spend days and sometimes months creating, designing and crafting weapons and armory, choosing the right items through trial and error.
Some may view cosplaying as an eccentric hobby, but to others, it is a lifestyle, and a way to let off steam and meet like-minded people who enjoy dressing up and acting like tortured assassins or dark knights.
“The point is to meet kindred spirits, and to see the community expand in GCC countries and Saudi Arabia,” said 31-year-old Ahmed Al-Yazidi, a full-time banker and part-time cosplayer known as ahmeddragunov on Instagram.
Al-Yazidi first discovered cosplay in 2009 while browsing the web for photographs of his favorite character. The character blinked back at him from the screen, looking very human.
“As a gamer and anime lover, growing up like any child, I wanted to be that hero in the story – I saw these people living my dream, becoming Spider-Man or Superman or whoever they wanted in a creative way that made the character their own,” he said.
Mobility is an important factor for some cosplayers. Al-Yazidi prefers wearing costumes (as well as armor and shields) that he orders online or gets tailored locally, so he can portray the character he is cosplaying to the fullest and to move with agility.
“I don’t want to be worrying about my outfit collapsing while I’m moving about on stage,” he said, describing how the wrong armor can restrict his movement and disrupt his role-playing.
Saud Al-Hazzani began cosplaying in 2011 after coming across a Facebook ad of an anime event, Banicon Bahrain, which held a cosplaying segment. He decided to try it out and went as a shirtless Ace, from the anime One Piece.
Al-Hazzani, or Vega Cosplay as most people know him, usually picks a character he likes from games and anime. And when the character is intricately designed and poses “crafting challenges,” he wants to look that challenge in the face.
A common struggle cosplayers have is the lack of resources and material. Al-Hazzani’s costumes are almost always handmade, and he found it difficult initially to get the hang of things.
“It was hard to find specific materials, but it got easier once I knew where to look and we got easier access to the market online.” In spite of the difficulties, for most, it is worth it. Al-Hazzani’s sense of passion and energy was revitalized through cosplay, and building his character from scratch gave him purpose.
Cross-dressing is also common in cosplay, where females can cosplay as male characters and vice versa. One cosplayer, Wafa Suwaileh, (edithvii on Instagram) first began experimenting with cosplay in 2014 when she attended an all-female convention, GCON, where she was surprised to see “the majority of attendees in cosplay.”
She has since cosplayed as popular game and anime characters such as Alucard from Castlevania and Cloud Strife from Final Fantasy VII. The latter she described as her favorite cosplaying experience in terms of “making, progress and meeting other fans of the character.”
Ahmed said that the key to cosplay is “starting ahead of time by gathering all the references and replicating every detail. The practice has enabled me to build my pieces of furniture, sew my clothes and give myself a haircut – the Internet leaves it all in the palm of your hands,” she said.
“I had to start from ground zero, but the sources were out there for the taking,” she said. Ahmed becomes creative and resourceful by using materials found around the house, building her skills bit by bit, from “a simple dagger made from a cheap material like foam to a 150cm sword that almost matches my height.”
For Abdullah Al-Jughaiman, who is now a fully-fledged cosplay player from Al-Ahsa, it started in 2012. A portrait photographer who enjoys capturing the essence of a person, he finds that cosplay reveals a cosplayer’s true heart.
The photographer’s passion for portraying his subjects has earned him a name in the GCC as a cosplay photographer, and organizers strive to have him when a convention is taking place because he also captures the experience at a convention. Despite this, Al-Jughaiman retains a humble personality; he is as honored to take pictures as his subjects are to be there.
“During cons like TGXPO, Comic Con, Gamers Day, I came across cosplayers that were kind enough to pose in front of my camera,” he said. “I could see the smile reflected on their faces once they see the photos I’ve captured, and they tend to share them a lot afterward.”
Cosplay originated in Japan in the 1970s and the term cosplay (costume play) was coined by Nobuyuki Takahashi in 1984.
In Saudi Arabia, the Riyadh TGXPO in 2011 was the first time people cosplayed at a gaming event. It has since been followed by Comic Con, GCON (Gaming Convention), and many other such events.