It’s all a role-play

DUBAI — Nashua Abouelola never thought she would be drawn into the colourful world of cosplay, short for ‘costume play’ where enthusiasts role-play a character out of Japan’s popular fiction, when she curiously made her first visit to a public convention in Australia about two years ago.

By Farhana Chowdhury

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Published: Sun 28 Nov 2010, 11:18 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 4:12 PM

Now the culture has turned into this 22-year-old Sharjah resident’s passionate hobby and she owns a portfolio of experience dressed up as various fictional characters from anime and manga (Japanese comics).

“When I saw the amazing costumes people had made, I had decided I would want to give it a shot one day. Unfortunately, due to lack of time and money back then I kept putting it off. I started to cosplay seriously only from April 2010, which was when I’d started selling off some of my anime collection on eBay to support my cosplay projects,” she said.

Abouelola’s interest let her break out of her shell and discover a talent in creating things from scratch such as sewing fabrics for her costume to styling wigs and customising shoes to match the character’s features.

“I have never been the arty type as all I did was study growing up. The fact that I am able to make these creations is teaching me a lot about the art world,” she said.

Abouelola is not alone as the trend is slowly gaining momentum among adolescents in the UAE. Its popularity became obvious when the World Games Championship, hosted at the Dubai World Game Expo 2008, saw the first gathering of cosplayers in the country.

The number of participants grew from 15 in 2008 to over 30 in 2009, according to Nerza Del Rozario-Manalastas, Project Manager at INDEX Conferences and Exhibitions, organisers of the Dubai World Game Expo.

Nerza said they had received around 50 online registrations for this year’s cosplay contest to be held on Tuesday, and more are expected to sign up at the venue.

“Back in 2008, we were not sure if there would be people who would actually come for the Cosplay Contest because as you know this is a country with conservative culture - no skin, no short attires, and nothing vulgar. But that is where creativity came. Abiding by the conservative culture, they have opened a lot of doors to those who were shy to dress up and be on character,” she said.

Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter have helped connect those with similar interests while local-based online forum, Dubai Anime Club, provided a platform for fans to discuss their likes.

“I was pretty amazed, especially when I landed upon a web page about ‘Coscon’ (short for Costume Contest) back in 2008,” said 18-year-old Saeed Al Khaja, an Emirati student of American University in Dubai. “Sadly I’ve never had any (cosplay) experience but hopefully that will change. I’ve decided to go as Roxas, a character from the Kingdom Hearts series, and already got everything prepared. I’m just hoping I can pull it off.”

Abouelola admits that while it is fun to dress up, the task of finding the right items for cosplay is difficult here compared to her home country, Australia.

“I see a lot of potential here in young people in the UAE. I hope to see a growth in art supplies and hardware supplies stores here.”

Nerza added that self-made attire seems much more appealing than commercially-manufactured ones.

“Costumes by UAE cosplayers are more intricate and labour of love is evident. Because of lack of cosplay shops here, they create their own costumes, and they are as good as those you can buy in other countries,” she said.

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