Ben Pobjoy’s Conventional Kids series is a collection of photographs that were taken of young cosplayers in 2011 at Montreal’s Otakuthon anime convention. The photos document cosplayers, their elaborate costumes, their social interactions and, above all else, their use of constructed identity to facilitate the self-exploration that is necessary to forge one’s own personal identity during adolescence.
While the birth of Japanese animation dates back to the beginning of the 20th century, the characteristic anime style that has since become ubiquitous was first developed by Osamu Tezuka in the 1960s. Now considered the ‘Godfather of Anime’, Tezuka’s early works gained increasing popularity in 1970s Japan and inspired three Meiji University students to organize Comiket in 1975; Tokyo’s first anime convention. Thanks to adaptations of both anime films and television series for overseas markets in the 1980s, the popularity of both anime and its fan-driven conventions soon spread internationally.
Anime conventions are typically fan-run festivals that promote anime as well as manga, video games and Japanese pop-culture. A large portion of the attendees participate in costume playing (which they refer to as cosplaying) where participants don costumes and accessories to represent specific characters from anime series. Certain cosplayers spend hundreds of hours creating their costumes and refuse to take ‘out of character’ breaks (which they refer to as ‘OOC’). Some participate in convention-related costume contests or attend the convention’s masquerade while others dress up for the sole purpose of representing their favorite anime character. A subgroup of attendees sport kigurumi, animegao-styled animal costumes which are very much in the furry tradition. What is evident within all cosplayers is their desire to be noticed, interacted with and validated by their peers.
Many cosplayers are young teenagers whose costumes challenge gender roles. Those who portray a character of the opposite sex participate in what is referred to as crossplay while those who portray a character who dresses as the opposite sex (from the cosplayer) participate in what is referred to as crossdress. A subgroup of cosplayers also invite physical contact from friends and strangers through ‘free hugs’ signage that is worn. As other teenagers explore gender, physicality and sexually away from the public eye, cosplay teenagers opt to do so on the public stage of anime conventions.