The latest Mediamatic has a quirky article on the increasing reach of otaku cosplay (kosupure), offering an analysis that might have been faintly laughable if it hadn’t been presented at a time when the Japanese shinjinrui otaku seem to possess the planet’s only genuinely meme-powered youth culture.

“Today in Tokyo there are streets where cosplay is so abundant that not dressing up inadvertently turns you into a bystander, out of touch and out of control. Who’s the geek now? … If during the 90’s the otaku knew how to retreat into this coded landscape, the otaku of today insists on projecting his harrypotter-istic view of reality onto the world canvas. It’s a process that is effectively changing reality. Although the costumes of cosplay may not reminisce of the revolutionary uniforms of the past, they are battle-gear nonetheless.”

Hmm. I can’t help feeling that the author rehearses stances that sound all too familiar — akin to the Bolan-esque early-1970s belief that changing the world somehow involved dressing up like elves and reading LOTR — but nevertheless the article’s an interesting contribution. Because it raises the question: if moe otaku cosplay is being done ‘for the public’, will that ‘public gaze’ complicate and erode the nerdy lack of interest in ‘coolness’ that has (ironically) made the hardcore otaku and onna otaku the coolest of cultural phenomena?

Mediamatic also has a 2006 set of portraits made by Willem Velthoven at a Dutch cosplay gathering, with a link to the full set of 50 on Flickr.

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It’s interesting how western youth cultures re-interpret Japan’s otaku culture, without having much real knowledge of the undoubtedly-subtle cultural inflections that must abound in the original variations of otaku. Not that it matters; mis-interpretation is a hugely creative force. But perhaps here we’re seeing the cultural/language barrier serving the same function that ‘being underground’ once did — before the internet came along, able to launch any new youth movement overground almost before it begins — in a time when cultural mis-interpretations were easily come by.