It's 11 a.m. In a convention hall in Dhaka, there are merchandise stalls where fans can purchase merchandise from their favourite shows. Many can be seen wearing costumes, roaming around the venue and taking photos with fans. They are called cosplayers. Then a show starts; cosplayers walk on ramps and display some of the cosplay characters' moves to the audience. Finally, the show ends with announcing the best cosplayers and band performances.
This is a common scenario of Bangladeshi cosplay fests. In the global scenario, cosplay established itself as a huge industry. According to the Allied Market Research website, the market size is valued at USD 4.63 billion in 2020 and is projected to grow to USD 23 billion by 2030.
In Bangladesh, this culture has constantly been growing among aspiring cosplayers. This author reached out to two of the best cosplayers in the country, Sadman Alvi Rajkhan and Sakib Zaman, to understand how cosplaying works.
How they begin
(from left) Sakib Zaman as Ares, Shadman Ali as Iwatani Naofumi, and Sakib Zaman as Benimaru.
"I was always into comic books and anime since childhood, and when I went to the first few comicons and expos, seeing the other cosplayers inspired me. So I thought to try it and portray my favourite characters like them too," said Sadman.
At first, I had stage fright, but now I feel confident about performing on stage. My love for my favourite comic book and movie characters and my passion for cosplay led me to where I am."
Sakib, however, loved cosplaying much earlier, when he was in 10th grade. "That time, a friend suggested attending a 'Comicon.' I did not know what it was, but after doing my research and seeing cosplay, it grew in me, and I thought that it'd be fun."
"So, I made my first costume of Ichigo Kurosaki from the anime Bleach and attended 'Ultracon,' a cosplay event." Sakib continued, "I want to mention that crafting, making stuff, has been my passion since I was a child. It pushed me to go beyond my limit."
Cosplayers generally make cosplays of characters portrayed in movies, TV shows, anime, or even video games. For Sadman, the influence came from superhero movies, especially Iron man. For Sakib, anime has been the most impactful influence since childhood; after that, it's superhero action movies.
"My favourite moment in my Cosplay career was the first time when I got a prize. I was around 15 and won a laptop cosplaying Deathstroke (From Batman Arkham Origins). That winning moment led me to do more, and now I have won 35 awards throughout my cosplay career," remembers Sadman.
For Sakib, his most cherishable moment came in 2019, "I cosplayed Sven, Meranth Dragoon skin from DOTA 2 in the qualifier event of 'Predator Gaming League 2020.' I became champion there, and it made me the happiest."
Bangladeshi cosplayers are gaining recognition not only in the country but on international stages as well. Sakib was invited to represent Bangladesh in the finale of an event in the Philippines in 2020 but couldn't attend due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Sadman was recently invited to cosplay at a World Cosplay Summit event in Saudi Arabia.
Is cosplaying an expensive hobby? Well, both cosplayers have different perspectives. "Whether it is a fabric or an armour cosplay, the number of materials, props, wigs, and tools required for making it perfectly is expensive," thinks Sakib.
"But," Sakib adds, "anyone can cosplay if they have that passion. It's not necessary to make the costume 100 per cent perfect."
On the other hand, Sadman thinks cosplaying isn't that expensive. Instead, he suggests being street smart about buying crafting materials and seeking advice from other professional cosplayers.
"You have to know where to buy the right materials. Now, if someone wants to avoid making their costumes and order them from abroad, that would be expensive. We have a very supportive cosplay community called the 'Bangladesh Association of Cosplayers.' Here, we try to help all the new cosplayers, from material topics to cosplay tips and tricks."
Want to cosplay?
Sadman's advice is to focus on accuracy rather than the competition, "Try to focus on perfectly portraying your favourite characters, which would eventually lead you to every feat of cosplay. Being competitive is fine, but I think sometimes it eliminates the fun out of cosplaying, so try to take it as a hobby more."
Sakib emphasises starting small and working for growth, "Firstly, I would advise the new and aspiring cosplayers to choose the character they love and research all the details about them. Secondly, doing a big, complicated cosplay at first is not necessary. You can start small and gradually learn and grow."
"Finally, just do it! Don't worry about the details too much, and never let anyone drag you down. Be patient and keep grinding your skills."
Sadman Alvi Rajkhan Vulture
From his experience, Saadad shared a few challenges with a hopeful tone of overcoming them, "The interesting thing is these events bring youth, children and aged together; organising such a thing is huge."
"One of the challenges is Meeting the public expectations. People buy the tickets hoping to see something unique that will be worth their time and money. So making things perfect and providing what the public demands are challenging."
He believes that by understanding the audience's psyche, they can overcome these challenges.
Bangladesh's cosplay scenario is still in its early stage but has seen some steady growth in recent years.
Saadad Jahan Khan, one of the organisers of the recent Marvel Expo 2022, said, "We see so many new faces coming out to show their talent in every event. Although it's (cosplay in Bangladesh) not that huge at this moment, I can say it will grow insanely within 2-3 years."
Sadman stated, "Even though I couldn't attend the summit due to my finals, some of our decorated cosplayers will represent Bangladesh there, and it makes me proud that we have achieved this milestone. The bright future of Bangladesh's cosplay culture is clear."
Cosplaying is a passionate hobby, and organising cosplay events can also be a bittersweet experience for organisers. Though cosplay culture is still in its infancy in Bangladesh, this hobby's widespread influence and joy may bring more aspirants and make it globally competitive.