As Mumbai powers down from its sixth edition of Comic Con, we turn the lens on to a fan-driven cosfest in Kohima, which features stunning costumes to rival those in the big city.
When Animax launched in India in 2004, it fed the imagination of a new generation. Weaned off Scooby Doo and dealt a heavy dose of Dragonball-Z, fans like Ayimyaba Longkumer met up with friends in school every day to discuss their favourite series. “I grew up learning about Japanese culture and watching Japanese movies. I was so into their culture and I really wanted to cosplay.” When the fan page Nagaland Anime Junkies (NAJ) decided to host the city’s first cosfest —an event where fans could cosplay as their favourite characters without having to travel all the way to Mumbai — it was a dream come true for most of the region’s teenagers. From around 500 visitors at the inaugural event in 2013, they now have a footfall of over 8000. Although that may seem paltry compared to Mumbai’s attendance of over 170,000, it’s no reflection on the strength of their passion.
“We have very limited access to the materials that we need here. So usually, our cosplayers, they just buy fabrics from any regular store and stitch it themselves. We use cardboard boxes and thermocol to make our props. Thermocol is really expensive here, so we try and get the boxes from the frozen section of the store. Even that’s not for free, we have to buy those,” laughs Biebe Natso, the founder of NAJ and organiser of the cosfest.
When she founded the page in 2011, it was just a place for young anime fans to share and discuss anime, manga and Japanese culture. “It was just a fan page, not meant for events or anything. We were not sure if there were people who like anime in Kohima.” The response was strong, with a following swelling up to over 16,000. “Earlier it was called Naga Anime Junkies, but then we started getting requests saying, ‘We are not Nagas, but please can we join your page?’ So we changed it to Nagaland.” Natso is quick to laugh off compliments on the astounding costumes, but she has her own theory about them. “Cosplay is very closely related to fashion; it’s all about clothes. And the people here, we love anything that’s in fashion.” At the intersection of Saturday morning cartoons and fashion design stands a community that thrives on Japanese culture and devotes itself to accurate replications of their favourite characters. Without aid or recognition from the government or corporate sponsors, they’ve set up an event that is a manifestation of their fantasies. Longkumer, now a member of the core organising team, sums it up wistfully. “I don’t know if I can turn this hobby into a profession, but I really love cosplay.”