It has been a long time since I wrote something here. I think the sheer size of what I have to say now necessitates putting it here. It has to do with personal experiences, but I think this will resonate with many people who cosplay, and I seriously believe others as well will find things they have experienced; in particular, I think writers may find common ground. This might sound a bit like gamers versus US Marines, and I’m sorry that it does. There are many people who work as hard as I did all the time and don’t get thanked for it. But I’m writing this because it might make interesting reading; as I blush to admit, I might also be writing because to write is possibly a therapeutic act.
The things that happened suggest the existence of preternatural powers. Saying this at the outset is, I understand, rather reminiscent of the 1997 Berserk adaptation, which I haven’t found time to see yet (but don’t stop reading this on account of that). One of those things that makes me say this is that I seem to have a slight power of premonition. It’s quite unpredictable, and, needless to say, does nothing to lift me off the mortal plane. I don’t think I can erase time yet, but I did fall asleep once and wake up quite suddenly when I was a child. Anyway, about my cosplay, since this is what it’s about: on Saturday, I got the feeling that I should say I failed. I already had a lot to say and I planned to write it – maybe on Facebook – but with the crippling exhaustion I felt then and with my cosplay due by Sunday, I accepted failure. Of course the first things that came to mind were that I hadn’t really failed, and that there are silver linings to failing, too. Nevertheless, I failed. On Sunday evening, as I watched people on stage, I accepted failure in the present as well.
I tried, I really did – just like that deep-fried meme with the gun. I must have got the idea to go as a gender-bent Nero (Fate) early this year; I thought I’d dress as a man for a change. When a senior cosplayer who I’m friends with went as her, I asked her if it was okay if I did it, too. Of course it was. It’s just that cosplay is something you dedicate yourself to fully, when you make a costume. I want to talk about this; I want whoever’s reading this to understand a little about me, and what this dedication itself means. There are doctors I know who stay up after busy days working on foam. There are students I know who go without sleep to bring Batman villains to life. I have the privilege of knowing an Indian soldier – or he might still be in training – who makes time for cosplay. What exactly do I do, and what went wrong this time?
Now, if I have an aesthetic, it’s cloth. After last year’s Comic Con Delhi, I knew I wanted a costume that you can put in a bag and wash if you want. Just stand in the rain if you want. Go for a walk in it, eat in it; ideally, sleep in it if you want. I recently finished watching Naruto and I have mad respect for that guy Deidara – man turned himself into his art, he loved it so. And cloth isn’t easy. You might have heard about some small controversy not long ago; I saw this post by a cosplay judge on Facebook about cloth cosplays. Apparently, some fools somewhere didn’t like the decision to award someone in a cloth costume. To them, I myself have to say, “By DIO, I will give you a taste of my shoe”. Cloth cosplayers dedicate their hearts. Just because foam looks different, and armour can look impressive, doesn’t mean it’s simple to tailor something to your body. Even with professional equipment, you need a great deal of experience – and that’s if you have the equipment to begin with. Cloth is like water: take a metre of polyester and it will fall around your skin. It’s also like a shy pet: sometimes it does what you want, and other times you take life as it comes. In short, just because some people make it look easy – and I’m not there yet myself – doesn’t mean it is.
I was telling my friend a while ago today that I can’t let someone else make my costume. It’s okay if someone does, and obviously, you can buy a costume from the net, but when I wear a costume, I feel compelled to shape it. Cosplay is about appearing, and to me, that ‘appearance’ has to start by making it; you can think of it as a sort of Green Lantern suit, being materialised by the wearer’s own will. Like the triadic bed, for me, making a costume is envisioning something foldable and washable on my body, based on a fictional costume. For instance, in this case, whether I went as the Nero in the franchise or a male one, the dress she wears doesn’t look like she could put it on herself. Now the historical Nero that made it to the Throne of Heroes probably had someone to dress her, and as a Servant, she can use prana. But at Comic Con, I won’t have that luxury, or I can’t count on it, so I tried to make something I could put on myself. Planning began around July, or maybe a little earlier. My parents are quite supportive of their disappointment of a son, and they suggested that I should start working. Looking back, there’s no way my initial design would have worked (not that my ultimate one did, either).
I like to avoid last-minute panic, and I hate hard work. This last one is my defining quality. I didn’t score enough in my 10th tests to stay in my school, and I didn’t take any entrance tests (really, not one) before college. My marks were too low to get into most places in Kolkata, and the one that did take me couldn’t have a year later when the cut-off was slightly raised. One thing led to another and I found my way to Delhi as a Masters student. My rank wasn’t very high but I don’t think I cared. These days, though, I have to study just enough to keep myself afloat, but between open-book tests and a wide scope of study, that’s not so hard if you’re going for a ‘B’. As it is, however, October is when you finish one set of submissions and start another, and November ends with final tests. Cosplay needs focus and leisure – the kind of leisure that implies not ease, but the freedom to work. Quite simply, you’ll think about nothing else and do nothing else. As I said, there are full-fledged doctors out there making new costumes every few weeks, but I’m the kind of guy that barely logs in to Fate/Grand Order every day, because tapping screens is hard work for me. So I tried to get started as November rolled on, but I could only do so much until my tests ended on the Saturday before Comic Con.
It’s sad, really. Maybe if I had a better sense of time, I could have finished. I only had about a week of dawn-to-night work for my Robin Hood. But it’s not as though I didn’t try, and I always finish my assignments early. Maybe it’s experience I lacked. One of my friends said a week would be more than enough, when I told her some time ago. I told her it’s not easy, but she said she knows the kind of work and it’s not hard. Despite my inner irritation, I found myself apologising for my lack of skill. She even gave me a tip – pull your needle up when you’ve made a few stitches. It was unpleasant to hear this at the time, because I thought it was the first thing to know anyway, but I really would do something like that; only I did that thing like a running stitch where you fold the cloth itself in on the needle – saves time by hours. But the work isn’t easy. Even if you know the tricks of the trade, and really, even if you have equipment, it’s not easy. It might be easier, than, say, a hundred-man kumite or surgery or something, but that doesn’t make it absolutely easy.
As I said, my tests ended on a Saturday. I’d read enough to write a few pages, but I think I was still the first to leave. I pulled my bicycle up the ramp and cycled out of campus to a mall to buy makeup. I don’t really have any and I’ve never bought any; one of my older friends, a rather famous cosplayer, had given me a list of things to look for, and when we were waiting for the question earlier that day, a classmate had said the mall has a nice store. Only I couldn’t find it after going around all the floors, and I thought she must have meant the other mall when I saw an ad – not sure what they’re called, ‘banners’ or ‘legends’, probably – and I took the escalator down to finally find it. They looked happy to see me, but of course I was very nervous. I can’t actually afford makeup in that sense. After enquiring what shades those were that the lady had shown me (hoping to buy online), I blurted out that I needed a lot of things since I’m a cosplayer. She showed me a palette of contours and highlighters that could double as foundation. It wasn’t very expensive, so I asked for it. Five minutes later, they said they were out of stock, so I agreed to take something 50% more expensive as long as it worked (I’ve never bought makeup before, so giving me a brand name doesn’t tell me what shades I need; I need a human being to tell me what to wear). They swiped my card and asked for my pin; it declined, so they asked me again, quite nicely. Payment failed a second time. I affected a nervous laugh and asked if there was another machine we could try. She wasn’t smiling when she said that the machine was fine.
I went up to look for the ATM they said there was, and when I did find it, I couldn’t take out cash. I had to slide it in just right and hold the card there, and when it did work, it still wouldn’t give me cash. I let people go ahead of me twice before giving up. A man guarding a store said there weren’t any other ATMs here, so I’d have to walk. I thought of apologising to the store, but left. Back on campus, when I tried to take out cash, they said my card was blocked. I might have been on a strict diet for the Con, but this made me cave and I went and bought lunch with some of the cash I had, feeling doubly guilty while spending. The bank’s helpline stressed me out even more by asking my card number, of all things, but anyway, the fact was that my card would have to be re-issued from my home branch in Kolkata. They said I could withdraw cash with a cheque. I walked up to my room, took out my chequebook, walked back down and cycled to the bank on campus. The token machine was offline but the man at a counter generously offered to cash my cheque for me. I’d never done this with a cheque before, so I made a dumb mistake the first time. There was an error with the passbook, too. Anyway, I got that over with and cycled back. My tests were over, but the real test was only beginning. I remember downloading anime to watch because I thought I should kick back and rest, but I spent the rest of the day taking makeup guidance from a good friend who is another well-known cosplayer. I almost ordered some expensive makeup online, but there was no guarantee it would be my shade, and that it would come in time. I can’t remember starting work because I couldn’t focus without getting my hands on the makeup. Yes, that sounds childish, but I’m sure it’s understandable. Remember that my Robin Hood had taken about a week, and I was only going on Sunday, and I’d already done some work. Little did I know that all would be lost.
My phone chargers were busted so I was surviving on borrowed cables and battery mode. I took screenshots of the directions to a dedicated makeup store near me, and, after cycling down busy roads, across a never-ending river of cars, and up and down streets and lanes, I had not found it at the end of what must have been several hours of searching. I took a risk and tried using my phone’s map, and I wasn’t far. I found the lane. I parked my cycle at an unimpressive market, and walked around to where the store was supposed to be. I found 98 and looked back at 96, which was just a large house. I stared at the back of the market building and decided to look inside; inside, there was a dog with a splint, as I recall, and several pet food stores. Thus, I cycled all the way to the mall from the other day, and went into the still more lavish mall next to it. More searching, and all for nought, because they didn’t have what my friend had recommended. Back to the other one; resting exhausted on a public couch, and nagging my friend for more help; a visit to the store from yesterday, where they still had my palette, and seemed to have my original choice in stock as well. But now a different man suggested I buy either of two palettes for contouring, while a man upstairs had what my friend said was an acceptable alternative to her recommendation. This latter being cheaper, that’s where I went. After waiting in line behind one man for quite some time, I was allowed to leave.
It’s not easy for me to describe the next few days. I can’t distinguish them, for reasons that will become clear from the details I can supply. Already I was on a strict diet, with single-minded determination to walk into Comic Con in full costume. This time, I thought, I would give my all, and make my first full costume – makeup, earrings, contact lenses, and all. My friends would be there – Sasuke, the Akatsuki, the photographer who also cosplays… At first, I certainly took my time. Between spare meals, I knew I had to focus on working, so I can’t say I really took breaks. I did watch the Golden Age trilogy, but I paused to keep working (I’ve read the manga anyway. Call me when they animate Lost Children). There was also the problem of my sword in mind. I didn’t want to do without a sword, but how would I fit a sword in a bag? Interfacing wouldn’t work. Maybe buttons… or elastic here, elastic there… maybe I’ll make a sleeve and – but I don’t have a cane… Meanwhile, the shorts I had made as a masculine form of Nero’s clothing were giving me a great deal of trouble. Normal shorts or pyjamas, made of cotton, are cut quite loose. If they are to be contoured in a certain way, elastic has to be brought in, which I did, and stitches have to be strengthened, which I hoped to be able to do. What I did make was surprisingly functional; yet it only gave me more and more problems. More than anything, my goal – or, as it was quickly becoming, my dream – was to make something I could ride an Uber in, and hypothetically be able to wear for days on end. It should function, if I may suggest so, like male clothing, analogous to what Nero can normally be seen wearing (as a matter of fact, I added an element that had much in common with her Bride costume).
My upper clothing, moreover, steadfastly resisted me. A year from now, when I hope to know more, perhaps these will seem like the faltering steps of a child, but this time it was overwhelming. I would take measures and cut cloth, but on the whole, the thing wouldn’t sit right. That really was the final problem. It began with my left sleeve. Let it be wide at the hand, and cling to the rest of my arm, I thought. Surely this just needed elastic? No: flexing my hand would make this difficult. At my level of experience, it became impossible to make a tapered sleeve that fit my arm; I can’t count the hours – possibly whole days, though not nights – I spent trying to solve this, till a certain set of measures, together with copious ugly sewing, finally gave me a working sleeve. I dimly recall posting on Facebook that my design had worked. I must have made the right sleeve after this; I don’t remember exactly. I made it too loose but that would be the least of my problems. I thought this was almost done. “Some cloth here, some there, and we’re done. Golden borders if we have time,” I thought. The white waistcoat could be fixed, I decided, since that might save time. “I must get a Santa bag. I’ll walk around singing the Padoru and give lozenges to people all day,” was what I was still thinking. Around this time, after vigorous pacing in my room, I hit upon an idea for my sword which would really serve me well; when I ran out of time later, like someone drowning, I thought I’d change it into a whip. “Male Nero, with a rose whip, just like the other rose bishounen,” was what I’d clung to before I completely failed.
Phantoms began to haunt me then – possibly around Thursday, or earlier (deadlines magnify while one’s sense of time shrinks, as one works). I stitched and stitched, often with my phone switched off, and now eating small amounts of normal food rather than small amounts of diet food. I thought of what my friend had said, and I began having endless arguments where I kept saying to various listeners that it’s not easy. The harder I worked, the louder these voices spoke in my head; on one level, the level that kept me going, I knew my ideas were untrue. My friend does not look down on me; it’s my brain looking for illicit excitement with unpleasant memories. I’d read that brains do that on a comedy website (you know the one). My mental safety net, like the one I use to submit by Monday if the weekly deadline is Wednesday, was being pushed back. There was no time for despair. Get up, try it on, works (or not), sit down again, keep sewing. I would keep fighting till it came out, take one good night’s sleep, put on makeup in the car, and that would be that. Yet at the same time, this mysterious costume, being materialised from a world of fiction – summoned, as it were, by this poor amateur who’s only ever summoned three SSRs – would not work. Parts were deducted, others added, but to no avail. If I raise my arm, the whole thing rides up, or might split. If my epaulettes are fixed here and here, then suddenly it’s too small. My perfectionism did not leave me. I had to make raised shoulders like Nero had, with frilled epaulettes that would hold up my manly lapels. These were nearly impossible to make. Interfacing doesn’t let you make tetrahedron-like shapes so easily. What if I cut a diamond shape? I did so with great care, to no avail. Surely just stitching these at an angle wouldn’t work? If only I could solve the problem on one arm, the other would follow. ‘Victory’ was always just a few more hours of do-or-die work away. But try as I might, if I fixed one thing, no matter with what difficulty, another problem would crop up; and I hardly solved anything.
“Ashol ‘fighting gold’ to ami-i,” (“I’m the real ‘fighting gold’”) I thought to myself, referring to the opening song of Part Five of the JoJo anime. It was around Friday that I reached the limits of life as I knew it – my “inochi no kagiri”. I had to get more cloth for my boots, contact lenses, powder, and other things. I walked to some stores, was briefly watched by a creepy stranger, almost wasted money on long-term contacts before finding the ones I needed down the road, and was walking back towards my room exactly two hours after I’d left, armed with a small packet of coffee. I hope my mother doesn’t read this, because what follows is a common but pitiful story. I’d allowed myself to have breakfast, and didn’t have time for lunch. As my friends know and my parents don’t, going without food is child’s play to me (ironically, the expression for “child’s play” in Bangla means “rice and water”). All day long, from four in the afternoon when I’d come back, I worked. Scissors going blunt, a sense of defeat constantly battering me, real fatigue weighing me down as the sun set, I sewed. I feared for my eyesight, having watched needles so closely as I tried to thread them; I had to cut thread again very fast to make it clean enough to use, and the expelled piece flew off like bullet casings. Work was always almost done. Soon, very soon, I would be done, and it would be over. And still I struggled, always on the verge of quitting. I’m the kind of guy that hands in work early because I don’t like to work too hard, come what may. On Friday night, I knew with an animal’s instincts that I could not and would not sleep. Coffee with honey was my dinner – calorific, true, but as I have neglected to mention, a sudden sore throat had become a fever by Wednesday night, and the only concession I had allowed myself these past few days had been oranges. I must have eaten oranges for lunch, and helped myself to honey that night, and then I plowed on.
As preparation for something I want to write, I chose to play some music (a friend had lent me his charger), and I had found a three-hour long album of Salil Chowdhury’s music on YouTube. This was already in its second cycle, and still no end came. You can imagine what my only break was; that, and coffee, while I was sometimes working even as my kettle boiled. On Saturday morning, I would wash my gorgeous costume and take a nap, I thought, and then get ready for Sunday. I can’t remember what the night brought; it would be difficult to say. Orion passed in the unusually clear night sky. Surely the stars would pity me, too, like in the song? Something I did take note of for later writing has stuck in my mind; as I talked to myself, I knew I would set this all down; I had known for days that I would write of my struggles and my frustrations. Near four or five in the morning, I had a bizarre idea. I was sewing cloth onto my shorts, when the thread gave me the idea of a story of two people, a man and a woman, whose exes were each other’s exes, or something – or that they were the ones who the exes had cheated with, or something like this. It’s not that I don’t remember the impression, just that I don’t know what the whole sensation means; I truly cannot put it into words, and I don’t normally say that. But what gave me this idea? Nothing of the sort had ever happened to me, and I couldn’t think of anyone to whom it had. I made this commentary on the idea itself as I sat there. I knew my stumbling, teetering mind had finally lost control, and that I had to sleep, but I made sure to finish what I was doing, even though my hands were shaking. I was doing this for me, as I had assured my mother over the phone on Friday; I’d talked longer than usual because I would be too busy afterwards.
I slept for about an hour and a half, and woke naturally. After coffee and honey for breakfast, I went back to my work. Yes, it was my work. By now I’d started thinking of it as “my art”, like our friend Deidara, and I had invested enough in it to call it so even in general terms, as it were. Cosplay is something I take pride in. In my heart, I even harbour certain unseemly thoughts about other cosplayers, which – to go by an outdated model – my ‘superego’ is forced to push down. I allow myself to feel pride in cosplay. It hurts no one, and yet it takes skill – it’s one of the purest things to take pride in. I had planned ahead to eat lunch downstairs, where I knew the food would be good, and I ate as I always do when I’m truly hungry. I knew there would be no dinner, and quite probably not much to eat on Sunday. Onwards and onwards I sewed. I had become a different person, or a different expression of the same person. Working for a damn grade meant nothing to me; this costume was now my “ultimate art”. I did this for myself, and it was the tangible product of my pride and dedication as a cosplayer. But this concerns a different discussion. At one point, I discovered a different version of a ladder stitch that made work much easier. I wondered that I had never made the connection before. But I have Naruto’s complaint; I pick things up when I apply myself, but I’m not too sharp on the whole. This discovery was like Deku realising he had legs. It made me ‘power up’. It was coupled with a closely related understanding of sewing which would make my subsequent work much faster. It must have been around this time that I felt like writing on Facebook about being a failure; that I’d failed as a cosplayer, whatever my consequent experience and regardless of the silver linings. I would add my comments on people who don’t respect cloth cosplay enough. I anticipated the comments, but I knew what I meant; as it is, I’ve seen this kind of reaction before. My second premonition would prove much less pleasant.
It might have been around evening when I though to myself, “Heh, be pretty bad if I lost this needle”. That night, at around 10:44 or so, I did. I hunted for it like a madman and wailed out, as you can imagine. This was the night before my cosplay. I was ready to believe a lot of things; I’m glad I stayed strong. The gate was closed for some reason, but I was let out; I cared nothing for my light clothing as I walked. The man at the late night store had several kinds of scissors, but no needles. The other stores were closed. It was then that I decided to borrow a needle. A man I knew on the first floor didn’t have any, but insisted on going around to five rooms he knew with me, where they had no needles. I came up; here, no needle; there, no response; there, a locked door. Misanthropes and loners are the true wretched of the world. One person did generously lend me their needle, but it was so thick that it needed double thread, so I set it aside. An hour had passed by now, and then, through the crack in my door as I looked back to see if someone would answer, I saw someone pass. Maybe I could ask a random stranger? But wait – it’s the man from across the corridor! And a needle he did have, which he generously fished out by standing on a table. I couldn’t thank him enough, and he said I could keep it as long as I needed to. Thus began the last leg of the struggle; and to think I was still going! More and more I worked; a piece I’d set aside without having use for came into use. I had never gone without a night’s sleep, even if I’d taken that sleep in the morning. Normally I just sit down at nine or ten at night wondering how to pass the time till sleep and breakfast. Now, I applied my new skills to what I had left. Thus the morning came. What happened in the meantime must be understood. I kept working. I wasn’t done by ten; I wasn’t done by eleven.
I can’t remember how far I got when I decided to get bathing and shaving over with. It must have been around two, or thereabouts, and the only reason there was water left to be used was that it was so cold it hurt. I shaved, and, in short, by 3:15 or so, I’d gotten ready enough to bundle everything – not forgetting the wig – into my backpack and call an Uber. This poor man didn’t know where to come, so after wasting some time, I found his car, and clipped my nails and sewed more in the car (I was careful to get the clippings inside my bag – which reminds me, it needs cleaning). There I made my way behind the stalls and sat down to finish my work, which went on and on as the day progressed. I saw some friends, who spent time with me before getting back to their own costumes. There, on a carpet at the con, I sewed more. If only I knew I’d made a fatal error – or rather two. The cotton I’d bought for boots was useless, and even bold improvisation failed. The sun set. Seams in my shorts had given way, leading to unacceptable conditions. I stood there in the dark, with no white cloth in my bag, just some red I’d brought to tie my hair, trailing on the ground as I tried to just hide it, however badly. My needle I stuck through a paper bag. Elastic snapped. My lapel had gone on the wrong way. One last mad effort to dab makeup on in the men’s room while the men styled their quarter-inch hair in the mirrors with tap water. Hadn’t brought scissors or the right colour… they were in the bag with my friend whom I’d given everything to. Then, as I ran through the dark, in shoes, bare legs, a joke of a short/skirt, a top coming off from the shoulder, and a stupid wig, holding my paper bag in front of me like a lantern, I was about to feel different. I looked at the cosplayers already on the stage – the contest was well underway – and felt that it was time to quit. It didn’t feel like giving up. The urge simply came from within – or rather the wish. Here, my story ends.
As my Facebook cover reads, I am a failure. As I have insisted while presenting on Halberstam, focussing on the silver linings of failure isn’t a good method of thinking. Failure is failure. I make cosplay costumes to wear them to events, and I couldn’t wear it to stage. But I will, again. My mother didn’t have to console me when she asked how it went, this morning. That is because this is what I do now, and this is what I am now. For the first time in my life, I went without sleep. Whether I have been transformed or have come into my “true form” is irrelevant. What matters is I can answer her now. A senior of mine once said, “Oh, so you’re a cosplayer!” when I said I’d gone as Robin Hood. The appellation embarrassed me. A cosplayer was an experienced, dedicated artist, and I knew many respected cosplayers, some of whom had inspired people they had never met. Who was I to even think of myself as one? You see, I once read that if you suffer a wound in the French Foreign Legion, you’re given automatic citizenship, because you’ve shed blood for France. I did the unprecedented for cosplay, so I’m now a cosplayer. Sewing things like this is what I call “my art”. I have ideas for my next costumes, and I’ll be sure to sew them well this time. They will be washable and durable, and they’ll fit in a plastic bag like a wig.
Between the archetypes of Indra and Ashura, I felt I’d been channelling Indra a lot, drifting away from people. This cosplay made me rely on people, and I’m grateful to them. To those who have been concerned, rest assured that there’s no one to blame. And to those who insult cloth cosplay, verily, I say to thee – katsu!