The spirit of cosplay during Anime Boston at the Museum of Science

By Paige Colley
BU News Service

Sam Royston was more than happy to show his friends around the museum, even if he was half-naked in an orange robe with blue arrows painted on his head. His clothing choice was not random. In fact, it had won him first place in a contest earlier that day. Royston was cosplaying at a convention.

Anime Boston Weekend at the Museum of Science kicked off on Nov. 2 with a fashion show competition showcasing cosplays by participants of all ages. But as the day progressed, the costume fun became a curious sight next to the museum’s exhibits.

Cosplay, a mashup of “costume” and “play,” is a common sight at conventions, with attendees crafting elaborate and detail-oriented costume reproductions of fictional characters. The term “cosplay” was coined in Japan, and has since become a staple at pop culture conventions across the country.

Royston won the advanced category with his homemade cosplay of Aang, the lead character in the hit American cartoon “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” In addition to the blue paint and orange robe, his costume also included a belt with medallions representing the different nations from the show. 

The first step in developing a cosplay is choosing a character. For Royston, it was easy.

“I was bald. But also Aang is such an iconic character,” Royston joked. “He’s the first time western kids’ animation dared to be more than for kids.”

Royston, a science teacher, says his favorite thing about cosplay is that anybody can do it. He’s met people of all professions willing to create elaborate costumes, including doctors, nurses, and lawyers.

Royston put together his costume over two years, taking his time and working on it piece-by-piece. He estimates that if he had done it all at once, it would take about a month.

His cosplay, entirely homemade, featured many different pieces. His favorite part of the costume was the hand-carved medallions that were part of a belt.

“It all came from a tree that I essentially cut down,” Royston explained. “I used a dremel to do some of the outside detailing… to make it as authentic as I could.”

Despite the unusual location for an anime convention, Royston was more than excited to be in the Museum of Science. Being a science teacher, the museum has always been an important place to him.

“I love this place so much,” Royston explained. “It’s a little embarrassing to come back in front of all my peers and wearing a robe. But I’m okay with it because it’s all in the spirit of getting people to come here.”

This is the second year in which the Museum of Science has offered to host the convention. The previous year, which was only held on one day, was more successful than expected, according to Kate-Lyn Gingerich, the assistant director of programming in charge of the weekend’s convention. 

Gingerich wants to make sure that the venue isn’t entirely overlooked. Regular museum programming was still scheduled, so visitors could engage with the exhibits and daily activities outside of the convention. Gingerich also gives a talk each year titled “Science in Anime” to blend the two.

But cosplay still played a critical role in the development of programming.

“The fashion show was surprisingly one of the biggest events,” Gingrich said about the previous year, “and we thought it wasn’t going to be, but everyone loves to see their kids on stage and stuff like that. So it’s one of the main events now.”

Luckily, the Museum of Science offers a fun backdrop for cosplayers to take photos in unusual places, such as with spaceships or dinosaurs. One group of kids balanced on a seesaw while making sure their costumes didn’t get in the way.

Not everyone in attendance was dressed up. For some, the idea of starting a cosplay can be overwhelming. To help, Mel Coombs, an experienced cosplayer who goes by the name Groosetastic Cosplay led the talk “Creating a Cosplay.” She covered the basics for beginners and more experienced cosplayers alike.

“There are many reasons to cosplay, of course,” Coombs said early on. “The first and foremost being that cosplay is all about having fun.”

Coombs has been attending conventions for the past 16 years and cosplaying for 11 of them, despite having no classical training in costume design.

“You really don’t have to have a skill set to begin with, you can dive right in,” she said. During her talk, she outlined basic tips to follow, including setting realistic goals and being prepared for unexpected challenges. She once had to remake a costume for her nine-month-old nephew three times because he kept out-growing the costume.

For Coombs, cosplay was a way to meet people with mutual passions and interests; it allowed her a way to communicate with others and share her enthusiasm with like-minded attendees. From there, it turned into an inclusive hobby that everyone was welcome to enjoy.

“This is a hobby, so if you don’t get it done in time or it’s not as complete as you want it to be, that’s okay.” Coombs said. “You should still wear it with pride.”

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