IT’S not easy being a celebrity cosplayer. Just ask Aza Miyuko, 23, who has to patiently pose for photos with hundreds of fans at every event she goes to.
But that’s not even the toughest part. While most of those fans are perfectly harmless, there will always be a few who take their love and admiration for Aza a bit too far.
“I forgot to turn the location setting on social media off once and found fans waiting outside my house,” said Aza, whose real name is Kang Yun Jin, from South Korea. “One managed to get my handphone number so I started receiving a lot of calls from unknown numbers.”
She insisted on not calling them stalkers, though. Clearly, she’s a glass half full kinda person.
“My normal speaking voice is very different from my cosplay voice – it’s much deeper – so most hang up thinking it’s a wrong number. I also look different without the costume and makeup so fans don’t often recognise me.” Even in Malaysia, Aza’s fanbase is pretty impressive. She was here earlier this month as a special guest at the Garena Cyber Games, and there was a long line of admirers waiting to get a picture with her.
“I was in Thailand before this, and I saw a fan there who also came to Malaysia! I’m really thankful for the fans who fly down to meet me.”
But things aren’t as bad with the crazy fans these days, said Aza.
“In the past, some fans found out my flight schedule or hotels and would be waiting there, but now that I partner with big companies like Garena the information is not leaked as easily.”
Despite the legions of adoring fans who attend her meet and greets (and she has around 270,000 followers on Facebook), her family is not 100% comfortable with her chosen occupation.
“I cosplayed in secret at first, since my parents really opposed the idea of cosplay. But since I started winning awards and working overseas, they’ve become more supportive,” she said through an interpreter.
“I tried to get my younger brother to cosplay, but he scolded me,” she said with a laughed, “My family do wish me well, even though they’re still not very supportive of cosplay.”
Her parents aren’t the only ones who aren’t big on the idea of cosplay, which – in case you don’t know – involves people dressing up as their favourite fictional characters. But it’s not just about renting costumes – you’ve got to make the costumes yourself, so it’s quite the artform.
But when you become a pro cosplayer like Aza, you often have teams of people that help construct the costumes and take professional publicity shots.
Many like Aza build their reputation by competing in local competitions, before moving on to international ones like the World Cosplay Summit in Japan. Aza competed there last year, but didn’t win.
She’s clearly #winning in life though. For the past two years, she has been part of professional Korean cosplay team 2AO, led by director Kim Hyung Sun (better known on the scene as Eugene), who accompanied Aza to Malaysia along with costume designer and general manager Hyung Ah.
Aza was speaking to R.AGE exclusively at the Garena Cyber Games, and she told us how some eSports athletes in South Korea are full-blown celebrities. Cosplay, however, remains a subculture, much like it is in Malaysia, though perceptions are slowly changing to become less negative. 2AO, for example, just signed on another eight cosplay models to their roster.
“There was a misconception that cosplayers are nerds obsessed with anime and manga, or that they have family problems and turn to cosplay,” said Aza. “I get a lot of supportive comments from people saying I changed their perspective, and that makes me feel empowered.”
While Aza is pretty nifty at costume-making, at her level, it takes an entire team to make the characters come to life. After all, Aza represents 2AO at international conventions and competitions.
“I taught myself how to make costumes in the beginning, without any help from the internet,” she said. “But still, people like Hyung Ah can make a costume twice as fast as me. It would cost more as well, since I’d need more expensive materials to get the same quality as what the team would produce.”
We were able to check out the process of putting Aza’s Slay Belle Katarina and DJ Sona costumes together at Garena Cyber Games. Hyung Ah focused mostly on assembling the costumes, while Eugene focused on the props, which included a pretty sophisticated helmet with voice activated lights.
Hyung Ah added that the Katarina costume cost a relatively cheap US$100 (RM430). More elaborate costumes would cost around US$300 (RM1290).
A long-term cosplay career may seem like a dream for local cosplayers, but Aza is dead set on making it a reality, and she has no plans to branch out like other popular cosplayers have.
“I’m tone deaf, so that rules out moving into singing, and acting is best left to the professionals. If I could I’d cosplay forever and do it with my future child.”