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Modern and Traditional Japanese Culture: The Psychology of Buddhism, Power Rangers, Masked Rider, Manga, Anime and Shinto. 在日イギリス人男性による日本文化論.

Friday, July 06, 2012


Cosplay Mimics the Visual Visually, Impersonation Mimics the Voice Vocally

Silent Cosplay Mimicing the Visual Vs. Impersonations Mimicing the Voice by timtak
Image* Hatsune Miku in Bangkok by Colodio (who retains copyright) isolated, only the right and side, rather badly by me.

Cosplay refers to wearing a COStume to play or mimic a cartoon (anime) or comic (manga) character. It is particularly popular in Japan where there are large events held periodically where costumed people like the lady above, get together. Cosplayers can also be seen in the Harajuku area of Tokyo, and all over Asia, and now the world, since Cosplay has spread out from Japan. In Japan it is far from being a widespread phenomena. It is the sort of thing that like dancing, the Japanese would not want to do badly. Cosplayers will go to considerable lengths to get their clothes, hair, make up and poses just right.

Cosplay is doubly visual. Firstly, cosplayers rarely speak but rather just pose, often for photographs. Their mimicry is a visual art. Secondly the object of their mimicry - the cartoon and comic characters - are particularly visual existences. I will argue that Japanese comics are more visual, hyper-visual when compared with Western cartoons and graphic novels in another post but here I want to suggest that cosplay is the predominantly visual mimicry of the predominantly visual.

These Japanese cosplayers are strange eh? I can feel "conformist," tripping off readers' lips, because isn't copying always conformism? Yes, copying is always to an excent conformism but please see the last paragraph. And futher, the Japanese are not, Asians are not, particularly conformist. Does this lady look conformist to you? Doesn't she look weird? She may still look conformist because she is not speaking. Without speech it may seem as if she has less personality than an endless loop tape recorder (see previous post) but, that is because Westerners are logocentrist.

Performing a Nacalian transformation, the Japanese Cosplayer in the imaginary is equivalent to the Western voice player, more commonly refered to as the impersonator*.

Back when I lived in the UK I used to mimic vocally a purerly vocal existence: "Mr. Angry" of the "Steve Wright in the afternoon" radio show. I was the UK equivalent of a Japanese Cosplayer. I was as conformist, but probably not as good. I would not have done it had I thought my mimicry would not be recognised however. My voice (like the appearance of the Japanese) is not something that one plays with lightly.

It seems to me that Western impersonators are Nacalianly transformed Cosplayers because they predominantly vocally mimic predominantly vocal existences. This is not to argue that Japanese cosplayers say nothing at all, or the Western impersonators do not change their appearance at all, but there is a strong difference in emphasis. The personality or self that is mimicked and does the mimicking is felt to reside in the face and appearance in Japan, and the words and voice in the West.

Please have a look at some impersonators on Youtube. You will see that not only do they change their appearance very little, but also that they choose particularly characteristic voices to impersonate. For that reason, Christopher Walken, and Al Pachino are comon favourites. Cosplayers choose characters that are easily visually recognisable such as Hatsune Mikku above. While the days of radio - such as the Goon show - are gone, and all characters these days have visual and verbal aspects, the characters that are impersonated in the West are defined, as Westerners are defined, above all by our words and voice.

Here are some Western cosplayers, Impersonators.

Finally it should be noted that to a degree Westeners are all impersonations, and the Japanese are all cosplayers, because the self is nothibng more or less than self mimicry, there is not self, no individual other than in this attempt at duplication. The self is created through an attempt to visualise oneself, or narrativally impersonate oneself into existance.

This post was inspired by a kind question from Mudakun.

*There are also impersonators in Japan, just as their are fancy dress parties in the UK but I argue that Japanese impersonation (monomane) even or especially rakugo, is extremely visio-imaginary. Please see this introduction to rakugo in English.

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This blog represents the opinions of the author, Timothy Takemoto, and not the opinions of his employer.