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At Anime Boston, fans take cosplay seriously

With just days to go before Anime Boston, Lyndsey Zusi’s house is a wreck. “It’s like a fabric explosion went off in my dining room,” Zusi says. “Working on cosplay is not neat.”

Cosplay is the art of dressing like your favorite character, and Zusi has been working hard on her costume for this year’s Anime Boston convention, which invades the Hynes Convention Center and Sheraton Boston Friday through Sunday. In past years, Zusi has portrayed, among other characters, Saber from the anime “Fate/Zero” and Link from the video game “The Legend of Zelda.” This year, Zusi has selected Howl, a wizard from 2004 fantasy film “Howl’s Moving Castle.”


To transform herself into Howl, who wears a pink- and blue-checked jacket and blond wig, Zusi, 32, must hand sew the bias edging on two jackets; style the wigs for herself and a friend ; paint the sets for the skit she and her friends will perform as part of Anime Boston’s Masquerade — the theatrical performance where fans display their costuming and acting skills; and shoot test photos to see how well her makeup holds up under different lighting.

“It’s hard to be in a mad rush when dealing with sewing machines and sharp little stabby pins that poke you if you go too fast,” says Zusi, who is Anime Boston’s volunteer Masquerade coordinator, “but yes, I am certainly in a rush to finish up.”

Rhea McCullough worked on her intricate “Game of Thrones” costume in her South Grafton apartment.

A serious cosplay event like Anime Boston (or “AB” as it’s known to devotees; anime is an animation style that began in Japan) brings out the diehards, those for whom getting the details perfect — from handcrafted chain mail to making sure Tony “Ironman” Stark’s chest-mounted “arc reactor” glows the right shade of blue — is of utmost importance.

With some 25,000 attendees, Anime Boston is the largest such event in New England and the fifth largest anime convention in the nation, according to animecons.com. This weekend, AB features celebrities, panels, gaming events, screenings, concerts, art shows, and vendors. But cosplay is the main event. You don’t have to attend in costume, but roughly one-third of attendees do.


There are two cosplay scenes at AB: official events, limited to characters “that are Japanese in origin,” and the general attendees in the halls, where “anything is fair game,” Zusi says. Hence, you’ll see not only Astro Boy, Goku, and Shinji Ikari, but Marvel and DC superheroes, Doctor Who, Gandalf, and characters from video games like “Mass Effect” and “Strife.” Even brightly-hued horsies from “My Little Pony” could make appearances.

“Cosplay is about self-expression, creativity, craftsmanship, and passion,” says Victor Lee, 40, Anime Boston’s chairman.

Indeed, the passion runs wild. Take Rhea McCullough, a Tufts veterinary student and of South Grafton resident, who has been working on a Daenerys Targaryen costume from Season 4 of “Game of Thrones.” McCullough, who won Best in Show two years ago and is now a performance judge, is attracted to Daenerys not only as a crafting challenge, but also for the traits the character embodies. The intricate costume McCullough has been crafting is an homage to the one used in the TV show. McCullough lives for the moment of seeing people “light up with excitement” when they notice “their favorite character walking around.”

Lindsay Aries, 25, has managed to make a part-time living as a cosplayer. The technical producer from Somerville gets hired by video game companies to make costumes based on characters and model them at gaming conventions like PAX East and GenCon. She’s made some 200 costumes in her career as a cosplayer, and keeps a white board of current and future projects.


“When I first started, my mom bought me my sewing machine and was like ‘good luck!’ ”

Now, she has her own molding and casting equipment and can make elaborate silicone costume and armor parts and props. “Cosplay is one of the greatest things people can do,” Aries says. “It uses every portion of your brain. And in the end, you get to be your favorite character.”

Cori Leyden Sussler dressed as Commander Shepard from the video game “Mass Effect 3.”The Wasp's Nest

Cori Leyden-Sussler, 25, a veteran cosplayer and one of AB’s craftsmanship judges, first got into anime in middle school.

This past weekend, Leyden-Sussler led a workshop for about 15 cosplayers at MakeHartford, a studio space in Hartford where she demonstrated 3-D printing and armor building. “I always like to push myself with each and every costume I make,” says Leyden-Sussler, who has a BFA in costume design and works in costuming for a living.

For this year’s AB, she’s bringing four costumes, including a Kyoshi Warrior from “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” two Pokemon characters, and a suit of “Lagombi armor” from the video game “Monster Hunter,” which she made “because I really liked the design, with all its plush fabric and bunny ears.”

It’s not unusual to bring multiple costumes. “I do know of friends who have done as many as 15 in a weekend,” says New York native Mario Bueno, 29, who is a Masquerade emcee and remembers what first drew him to AB. “I loved the idea of being able to wear costumes and do performances, effectively, for the price of admission.”


Do cosplayers hoard their tricks of the trade like dragon’s gold? Aries finds the scene more collaborative than competitive. The Internet is a huge resource for makers. You can type in whatever costume you want, she says, and someone has posted an online “how to” tutorial.

If you can’t make the costume yourself, “it’s easy to find people who make those costumes and commission them,” Aries says. On AB’s online cosplay forum, guests post on topics such as “Gun prop help” and “Chains, spikes, whips, lashes.”

As the week draws nearer, someone posts: “Anybody else having the nightmares yet?”

“I’ve definitely experienced the panic that comes from getting things done at the last minute and pulling all-nighters the day before a convention to finish a costume,” says Robert Scholz, 34, who’s been cosplaying since 2004. Five days to go before the convention, and he was finishing up two props — “short summoning staffs from the Japanese video game ‘Final Fantasy X’ ” — for his wife and a friend. Rolls of crafting material block his home’s entry. A sewing machine and a serger occupy his kitchen table. Costumes in various states of completion hang from door moldings, lamps, and stair railings.


But despite the chaos, he says he’s in good shape for this weekend. “I’m pretty relaxed and confident we will be ready to go and actually get some sleep the night before the con.”

Related coverage:

- ‘Cosplay World’ by Brian Ashcraft and Luke Plunkett

- 5 things to do in Boston March 29 to April 5

- Somerville spot hosts robots and those who build them

Ethan Gilsdorf is the author of “Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks.” Contact him at www.ethangilsdorf
or follow him on Twitter @ethanfreak.