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Costume festival captivates thousands

To view a photo slideshow of the colorful characters at CosParty 2011, click here.

Yu-Min Huang had posed for photos all day. Bystanders kept asking for shots of him. Finally, he moved toward his wife so that they could take some photographs together. He wrapped his arms around Pilar Huaman’s pregnant belly. And someone snapped a photo. On the digital camera screen appeared the portrait of the happy couple. Huang, 27, wore a conical rice hat and a blue smock over his white jumpsuit. His whiteout contact lenses, which gave the impression that he lacked pupils, matched his wife’s bleach-white wig and dress.

This was CosPlay’s most popular couple. CosPlay, a portmanteau of the words “Costume” and “Play,” is a type of performance art originating from Japan where participants dress up as their favorite fictional character.

At last year’s CosPlay convention, Huang proposed to Huaman, 28, while performing on stage. Both were dressed as characters from the Japanese anime (cartoon) series Bleach.

“In front of 4,000 people,” Huaman said. “He asked me to marry him.”

A year later, they’re planning their CosPlay wedding. But first the couple couldn’t miss the 2011 Costa Rica CosParty. So there they were in costume: Raiden (a god from the video game Mortal Kombat) and Villeta Nu (a female pilot from the anime series Code Geass).

The third-annual CosPlay convention was the largest yet. Thousands of people, many disguised as characters from Star Wars movies, Batman comics, Super Mario Brothers video games and other more obscure personalities, arrived at the La Antigua Aduana in downtown San José for the two-day event. More than 4,500 people showed up April 10, giving the convention a total of 7,000-plus participants, according to event organizer José Pablo Morales, 28. Not bad for an event that looks like it should be taking place on the last day of October instead of mid-April.

“The public is very enthusiastic,” Morales said. “They’re very interested, especially when we have a place like this with a lot of space.”

Inside the building, Indiana Jones posed for pictures with Harry Potter. Comic book superheroes sang karaoke with anime stars. The boldest Cosplayers acted out their characters’ personality on stage. Some attendees not in costume competed in fantasy card games and video games. On Saturday, musically inclined Cosplayers took part in a Battle of the Bands. Merchandisers hawked clothes and posters displaying emblems of favorite series. Those feeling overwhelmed by all the color and glitz could take a break at the Maid Café, where waitresses served food dressed as, well, French maids.

The CosPlay atmosphere is galvanized by a do-it-yourself punk attitude, which participants channel into something a little more geeky than mohawks and tattoos. Cosplayers make their own garbs. Elaborate costumes can cost hundreds of dollars. They wield swords grafted from foam and epoxy. They cut up cloth and sew together eccentric designs, and paint their faces. Cosplayers are supposed to act as if they embody their characters personality.

Alexa Muñoz, 17, made her costume a month before this year’s convention. She used cardboard, tape and silver paint to turn herself into a shaman named Iron Maiden Jeanne from an anime series called Shaman King. She has red eyes, flowing pearly hair and a pair of funky boots that reflect her charismatic personality.

Any other day I’m “totally another person,” Múñoz laughs.

Most CosPlayers at the convention range from teenagers to their late 20’s. Some players coordinate costumes for an entire group. Sisters Ruth and Melanie Jiménez wore complementary outfits from the manga (Japanese comic book) Kuroshitsuji, which earned them dozens of photo requests.

And then there’s Huang and Huaman, who everyone seems to know. They run their own costume shop together, of course. They hope to have their CosPlay wedding in the upcoming months. When Huang proposed onstage to Huaman last year – and she on trembling legs immediately answered, “Yes” – most people thought it was an act. Just another charade at a convention fueled by over-the-top performances. But once onlookers realized the ring he gave Huaman wasn’t make-believe, they started clamoring for a CosParty wedding. 

Said Huaman: “It one of the moments in my life I’ll never forget.”

The couple had a small formal wedding in December for family. But next up is a ceremony at a Japanese botanical garden in Cartago, where the dress code will be: Costume.

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