How Japanese Cosplay Is Moving Closer to PornS

Its beginnings were humble. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Japanese fans went to manga and anime conventions dressed as their favorite characters. There's a long history of people dressing as their favorite characters in the West, too—notably, Trekkies.

Those were innocent times. As the 1980s wore on and turned into the 1990s, the idea of cosplay continued to infiltrate Japanese pornography, which had long placed great importance on costume and dress. Now, there's more importance being placed on the lack thereof&mash;impossibly small bikinis, bare buttcheeks, and even plastic cocks.

In the past, Japan used clothes as class markers, even permitting only certain classes to wear specific colors. During the 19th century and 20th century fashion became divided between traditional (the kimono) and the modern (Western dress), and the country became fanatical about European and American fashions. There's even an element of cosplay to the 19th century photos of the Meiji Emperor dressed in European style military garb, instead of traditional Japanese duds.

Love hotels began offering costumes for guests to rent. Ditto for many arcades, which offered outfits for people taking sticker picture photos. The costumes weren't anime or game characters, but usually nurse outfits, schoolgirl clothes, or business woman uniforms—the kind of costume play common in Japanese adult videos. Cosplay, however, still had more of a geek bent. It was fandom, not fucking.

During the late 1990s and around the turn of the century, with cosplay cafes popping up in Akihabara and with "image clubs" (places of prostitution where the girls dress up in outfits to create an "image") increasingly popular, erotic cosplayers began to take their initial steps. By around 2003 or 2004, cosplayers were wearing increasingly sexy outfits. The increase of skin seems to directly relate to both the explosion of the internet and the increase in quality of digital photography. By 2006, cosplayers like Ushijima Ii Niku arrived on the scene and were making names for themselves.

The new breed of cosplayers differed in that they weren't simply doing live action fandom. Rather, they were more influenced by erotic doujinshi (self-published works) that showed famous game or anime characters in suggestive situations. Likewise, these erotic cosplayers would dress up as famous characters and then flash their panties. It was a 3D version of a 2D fantasy.

Some of these famous ero cosplayers made the leap to hardcore pornography. Others made the leap from hardcore pornography to erotic cosplay. Some of them, like Ushijima Ii Niku, simply have ties to the adult industry, but don't work as performers. Famous cosplayers make money by releasing ROMs of their photos that fans can purchase at annual otaku events. Other charge for photo sessions. It's cottage industry, but some just do it for fun, not making a dime off of cosplay.

"In the past few years, yeah, the bar has been upped, and cosplay photos have become increasingly explicit," an erotic cosplayer told Kotaku off the record earlier this year. This particular cosplayer has been known to pose with dildos and other sex aids. When Kotaku asked her why her photos were so explicit, she was at a loss for words. It's now becoming a matter of everybody else is doing it, so why shouldn't I.

As the photos become increasingly sexual, the lines between cosplay and pornography are blurred. Many of the photos are softcore. The point of them is to arouse sexual excitement—which is fine. Most erotic cosplayers do not make any bones about what they do in much the same way that many models for men's magazines do not either. They're honest.

In that honesty, an entirely new cosplay subculture has been created, one in which women wearing micro-sized underwear make out and mug for the camera. They embrace their sexuality and their exhibitionism. It's still cosplay and many of the costumes remain impressive. Yet, the sexualized charged element is why year after year, cosplay alley at the Tokyo Game Show is getting more and more crowded and why costume photo studios are taking off.

It's still not pornography, because many of the female cosplayer refrain from showing their private bits. But just like those teeny bikinis, it's getting damn close.

Culture Smash is a daily dose of things topical, interesting and sometimes even awesome—game related and beyond.
(Top photo: PredatorRat NSFW | TwitPic)

You can contact Brian Ashcraft, the author of this post, at bashcraft@kotaku.com. You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook, and lurking around our #tips page.

How Japanese Cosplay Is Moving Closer to PornS

How Japanese Cosplay Is Moving Closer to PornS

How Japanese Cosplay Is Moving Closer to PornS

How Japanese Cosplay Is Moving Closer to PornS