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Machine to Man : Anthropomorphism in Cosplay

Sometimes a character comes along that you just love, and you really want to portray them because you really feel you could pull them off, but they’re a car. Or a cat. Or a Pokemon. What you need then, ladies and gentlemen and everything in between, is Anthropomorphism.

More recently known as “Gijinka” – the Japanese word for “humanisation”, anthropomorphism takes something inhuman and gives it a human form. Andew Lloyd-Webber’s smash-hit musicals “Cats” and “Starlight Express” do this with cats and trains; taking the essence of the structure of a locomotive, and placing it upon a human body, or taking the ideas of a feline’s patterning and ears and doing the same. In the case of Starlight Express, the main trait is wheels, a trait humanised by using quad roller skates. Carriage windows are mimicked by patterns on the side of arms and legs, chimneys by styled wigs, couplings by loops attached to belts.

An early design of Dinah the dining car from Starlight Express.
An early design of Dinah the dining car from Starlight Express.

The musical Cats uses a base leotard painted with patterns to mimic a cats’ markings, as well as including eared wigs and – of course – a tail. Having been introduced to the cosplay world by dint of my obsession with the above musicals, I feel I have acquired quite a bit of knowledge on the idea of anthropomorphism in cosplay, but I am by no means an expert.  For further informative reading, Belle of Belle’s Costumes has written an essay regarding the anthropomorphic designs of John Napier for Starlight Express and Cats.

RR_Cats
Some cats.

Anthropomorphism is most famously used in the cosplay world as a method of humanising Pokemon. Pokemon Gijinka is a large fandom that grows frequently as artists come up with new and different takes on what Pokemon might look like as humans. There have been variations such as “Moe Gijinka”, wherein the humanised Pokemon is designed to be as adorable or “moe” as possible. The fact there are many artists, each with diverse styles, means that a cosplayer who loves Pokemon but isn’t up for making a fur suit has a wide selection of designs to choose from, to create their favourite pocket monster. Having used three different artists’ variations of Pokemon myself, I can say that it is very freeing having so many options.

Personal design of Umbreon, Dark-Type Pokemon.
Personal design of Umbreon, Dark-Type Pokemon.

The phenomena gives cosplayers a whole new facet of creativity, a whole new world of ideas. I would feel that those cosplayers who take the ‘roleplay’ side of the hobby seriously would find it the most interesting; it offers a chance to personify a character that would usually be unavailable to a human, or even just unavailable to a cosplayer whose forte or interest may not be in the fursuit area. It is, I feel, a chance to get further involved in the characterisation of the cosplay, and not just the construction. Certainly with, say, Disney or Pixar anthropomorphic cosplay there almost becomes a need to portray the character’s personality with more clarity as the outfit may not always been completely self-explanatory. I would think that many such cosplays work even better in group situations than as solo affairs, though I would hasten to add that I don’t believe that is the only way it can or should be done. After all, cosplay is about enjoying yourself at the end of the day!

Although it became best-known as Gijinka via Pokemon, anthropomorphism has started to spread out from just the Pokemon fandom. In the years I have been cosplaying, I have seen anthropomorphism expanding from Starlight Express and Cats, to Gijinka, and out further to other fandoms, including Disney, Pixar and vintage children’s TV. Two years ago at Minamicon there was a Thomas the Tank Engine gijinka group, the most recent Minamicon saw myself and my son HRH as anthropomorphised cars from Pixar’s film “Cars”.

HRH and I at the Minamicon masquerade as Mater the Tow Truck and Lightning McQueen.
HRH and I at the Minamicon masquerade as Mater the Tow Truck and Lightning McQueen.

I personally feel that a lot of anthropomorphic cosplay easily stems from Disney, as their cast list features a large number of sentient animal-like creatures, the ubiquitous Mouse notwithstanding. The scope anthropomorphism gives to a Disney cosplayer is vast, from Robin Hood to Finding Nemo, all characters become available with a bit of imagination and creativity. I find it easy to get excited about the options available, find myself planning cosplays far, far into the future involving cars, planes, and anthropomorphic ducks.

There is a type of cosplay from Disney cosplayers known as “Disneybound”, which is slightly different to anthropomorphism and not something I have come across very much, as much as the idea interests me. As far as I have been made aware by fellow Disney enthusiasts, it is the method of taking the overall idea of a character and/or their costume, and wearing clothing that represents it. An example would be wearing a blue and white outfit and putting a bow in one’s hair to represent Alice from Alice in Wonderland. It is also a way for cosplayers to get around Disney’s very strict no adult costuming policy across the parks.

Thanks to some sharp Google-fu, I have found some links for those readers who would like more information on this form of anthropomorphic cosplaying: Disneybound Tumblr, DisneyBound on Facebook, How To Be Disneybound. It is definitely something I am interested in having a look at!

I, for one, am fascinated to see what direction this new interest in anthropomorphism in cosplay will take. Where will it go from musical theatre, Nintendo games and Disney? I can say for certain that it will be innovative and interesting, whatever the end product.

Brochure photographs of Cats and Starlight Express used with kind permission from Belle of Belle’s Costumes.
Minamicon photograph (c) Nert of ManyLemons Photography.

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