The Life of A Cosplayer in NTU

23 April 2020

By Nicole Ong

It’s not just make-believe. Cosplay enthusiasts bond over costumes and shared interests.

Surrounded by faux leather and fabric of various colours, Ethel Hong, 19, sits on the floor of her hall room with a hot glue gun, decorating a pair of flashy roller skates.

Beside her, a foam wig head sits on her desk, next to her lecture notes.

As a first-year student at the School of Art, Design and Media (ADM), Hong is trying to strike a balance between cosplay and her new university life.

Hong finds that working on new characters and costumes helps her deal with pressure from school.

“It might be a lot of work, but it's really fun! It’s an escape from reality and an outlet for stress relief. I feel like I can express myself freely and creatively when I do it,” she said.

Hong fondly recalls her first cosplay convention in 2014, the annual event Cosfest, held at Downtown East D’Marquee.

“In that moment, I felt so loved and accepted, especially when people asked for pictures with me,” she said. “This feeling of validation is something I wouldn’t find anywhere else.”

According to her mother, Hong’s interest in cosplay stems from childhood influences.

“When Ethel was younger, I let her go for Disney princess photoshoots,” said Mdm Clarissa Then.

“Together with her interest in anime in her teens, it's probably what developed her curiosity for cosplay,” she said.

However, not everyone is accepting of the unconventional hobby, said Hong. Some members of the public have even misconstrued cosplay as a sexual fetish.

“I think people behave like that because they aren’t familiar with it. Some of my relatives and strangers may think it’s weird or lame, but I'm not hurting anyone and what they say doesn’t bother me,” she said.

Hong still believes cosplay is an easy way to connect with people.

Since the start of her first semester, she has shared her cosplay life with a few classmates from ADM, as well as her friends from Banyan Hall who are interested in anime.

The friends Hong has made in the community continue to inspire her love for dressing up as fictional characters.

“Half of my friends are cosplayers, and I find it hard to separate my personal life and my cosplay life. It’s a part of who I am, and I plan to do it for years to come.”

Some 645 NTU students with an interest in Japanese pop culture make up the Visual Arts Society (VAS).

Emily Yeo, 23, an alumna from the School of Humanities who graduated last year, donned her first wig and costume nine years ago.

She actively participated in VAS in her last two and a half years in school.

“I personally consider cosplay a very niche activity in NTU,” said Yeo. “But I know many members who cosplay, and I believe it connects the many aspects of Japanese pop culture that VAS represents.”

The student club has conducted makeup and prop-making workshops hosted by experienced cosplayers, said member Zaimie Teng, 23, a final-year student from the School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences.

“They teach people how to craft props, apply cosplay makeup and sew costumes. I think it’s a good place to start if you’re a cosplay beginner!”