DUBAI // Anime characters are about to get a whole lot more animated. Fans of the Japanese cartoons are gearing up to compete in Dubai's third annual "costume play" contest, where they will dress and act like their favourite characters for a Dh3,000 prize.
The number of costuming, or "cosplay", enthusiasts in the UAE is growing – 20 anime fans competed in 2008, 50 joined in 2009 and 100 are expected at this year's competition, which will be held on November 29 as part of the World Game Championship tournament for video gamers. "If there were no cosplay in the UAE, I would not have come," said Nashua Abouelola, 22, who moved from Australia last month to teach middle school in Sharjah. "This is my first competition, so I am excited."
Since the winner will be picked by photograph, costumes are everything. Ms Abouelola hopes to win for her painstaking attention to detail. She once spent four nights colouring a purple wig with a black marker to achieve the exact sheen of her character Sailor Saturn's hair. She also hopes to wow the judges with motorised wings that flap up and down – if she can figure out how to build them. Gone are the days when she first began purchasing customised anime outfits on eBay for US$100 (Dh367). Two years and six costumes later, she has learned to sew and make her own patterns.
Homemade costumes look better, she said. "You can just tell." But many competitors in the UAE get the homemade look without the hassle by buying all the materials – cloth, beads, jewels, wiring –- and handing them to a tailor along with detailed instructions. A purchased costume did the job for last year's winner, Mahdi Sobhi, 29. "I didn't have time to make it," said Mr Sobhi, an Iranian, who is finishing a degree in 3-D animation in Dubai.
Mr Sobhi paid an online shop $300 for international shipping and the black suit and silver wig of Allen Walker, the hero in the popular series D.Gray-man. He jazzed it up, though, by sewing metal pins on his white gloves and adding small chains. Mr Sobhi fears he may not be able to afford the Dh1,500 costume of Suzaku Kururugi from the series Code Geass he is eyeing for this year. If not, he said, he plans to attend the event anyway to support his friends.
For many cosplay fans like Mr Sobhi, getting all dressed up and having somewhere to go and meet others is just as fun as winning. Noreen Kamal, a 25-year-old Bangladeshi from Abu Dhabi who won in 2008, has attended three costume parties this year dressed as a popular anime character. At the tournament two years ago, she relished attracting the crowds as she paraded around in her Yuuko Ichihara outfit, an abaya whose sleeves she replaced with red cloth.
"They were looking at us weirdly, saying, 'Oh my gosh'. We didn't care," she said. "We were like, 'We love anime', and we wanted to play our characters. It's a celebration."