“It’s funny, it’s still fresh in my mind, the sensation, the feeling,” said Ju Tsukino of cosplaying for the first time at a convention. “If I close my eyes I can see the people.”
From São Paulo, Brazil, Ju first began cosplaying in July 2004. Since then she has launched her own store, presented cosplay panels at conventions, took part in contests and has won numerous awards. She has made over 150 costumes (she stopped counting in 2012), citing Sailor Moon as her personal favourite. Now living in the UK, Ju is often invited to conventions around the world.
Our interview was conducted on the Friday of MCM London Comic Con, where she was cosplaying as Supergirl (she had planned to cosplay as Astrid from How to Train Your Dragon, but the hot weather put a stop to that). Being fans of Sailor Moon, we spent a moment talking about Sailor Moon Crystal (“In the beginning it’s awful,” she said. “It’s terrible to say this about the thing I really love. But now, the third arc is very nice, it’s so much better.”).
The interview took longer than expected, with answers to questions sometimes veering off onto different topics, as we discussed selling cosplays, being a perfectionist, criticism in the community, Patreon and unfinished cosplays. During our time Ju was outspoken, expressive and funny. Concerned about taking up her time, she was also courteous and following one question said, “Most people ask me about the same things. No one’s ever asked me about this before. It’s very interesting. This is why the answers are so long.”
How did you end up getting into cosplay?
It started with anime. I was very young. More and more anime was [broadcast] on open TV. Some manga [was published] in Brazil. I started reading Fushigi Yûgi, Saint Seiya, Inuyasha. I read them all and I wanted more. It was very difficult to find this stuff in Brazil at that time.
I had a friend who downloaded anime straight from Japan and the USA. We started to watch it in English or in Japanese. Even though we didn’t know Japanese we watched anyway, because it’s nice! After school we would watch hours of anime and talk about it! It was so crazy. He told me, “We have a convention in a few months in the next city close to here. You want to go?”
I say, “Yeah, of course.”
For me, I thought [it would be] a place to watch anime, and that’s it. This was my idea of an anime convention. We go there, then I saw people dressed up. I’d never seen this before. The first one I saw was Cardcaptor Sakura! I said to my friend (imitates tugging her friend), “Look, it’s Sakura!” It’s blowing my mind! Why is the girl dressed like Sakura? I don’t understand why. I ran to this girl, saying, “Oh, my God, you’re dressed as Sakura! I love her!”
The girl was very nice, very sweet. She explained to me, “This is a cosplay. You wear your favourite character. You can go around and enjoy your character.”
I saw a lot of cosplayers, I took pictures, talked to everyone. I told my friend, “Next time, I want to wear a cosplay too.” So I start to do it. I’m very skilled in sewing and crafting since I was very young, like 7-8 years old.
I decide to make Chi from Chobits. I did some catwalk fashion shows when I was young, so I had some very nice dresses, all cute. So, I have a nice dress, I sew some ribbons and laces to make it more cute, because Chobits is very cute. I made the ears by foam. And I find a wig… a very awful wig! Voilà, I have the cosplay! I go to the convention and everybody goes so crazy, like, “Oh my God, Chi, let’s get pictures.” Everyone loved it, and I like the sensation, where everyone knows what I’m wearing. They like to take a picture and talk to me. It’s very nice and I like this reaction from the people. [After that] I said, “Okay, I want to do that again.” Since then, I’ve never stopped.
July of 2004 was the first time I wore a cosplay… so, it’s a long time ago. I’m still friends with some people I met at that convention.
So you’ve made long lasting friendships from cosplaying?
Some of my best friends I met in the cosplay world. It started as a hobby, just for fun, and then it started to become more… serious. After so many years I created my own store in Brazil and… it’s nice (pauses). It’s crazy.
I started to be invited to conventions in Brazil, to be a judge, to do panels on the construction of cosplay, styling wigs, all this stuff. I started to appear in more [conventions]. Then the internet helped to spread the word about the cosplay world. So many people know about my work. It stated to become very huge.
Because it’s been almost 12 years…
(Nods and smiles) Don’t ask my age (laughs)!
During those years, how many costumes would you say you have made?
I don’t know anymore. I counted to 150. After that I just stopped counting. Last time I stopped counting was four years ago. So [in those] four years I made… maybe 50? I don’t know. So, more or less, 200… I think… not sure (laughs).
You can’t keep all the costumes you’ve created…
Oh no, definitely not.
You sometimes sell them on?
Yeah, almost all my cosplays I sell. Imagine, let’s say it’s 200, cosplays, weapons, wigs, shoes, accessories; it’s too many to keep. My first cosplay, I don’t keep it. It’s ugly in the beginning!
So Chi is gone?
Aww, Chi is gone… sold it. I keep some. I have one from 2006. It’s Sailor Moon, of course! Eternal version. I really like the fabric and how I made it, so I kept it. It’s the only old one I still have. All the other ones I sell, or I remake and create new ones, reused the fabric.
Do you feel a sense of sadness when you do sell them on?
Some people ask me about this! To be honest, no!
Is it just a case of moving straight onto making the next one?
Exactly. For example, Sailor Moon, the Eternal version, I made this version four times. I still have it with me, but I’m not wearing it again. I keep it because, it’s Sailor Moon!
Yeah! But I made Princess Serenity, like four times. I sold all with no sadness. Because I want it more perfect. I made it four times and I’m still not satisfied. So I sell with no sadness at all. I think this is why selling is not a big problem, because I know if I can make it again, I can make it better. Some cosplays I remade. I posted on Facebook my first Super Sailor Moon, it was a version from 2005 and…
You did a comparison shot.
Yes, and you can see the difference. Woo, it’s huge! You can see how I improve my skills. Even my face [when posing] changes over the years. In the beginning you just do this in all the pictures (poses by smiling and doing the victory sign). You can see the picture, from this comparison, the face, the body, everything changed over the years.
I love showing this picture to everyone. Some people are so ashamed to show their beginnings, because of course, it’s not nice. My first cosplay is not awesome at all. It’s ugly. It’s terrifying! But I’m not ashamed to show it.
Was there a certain turning point where you found you were having to change things in your life to accommodate cosplay?
Unfortunately, yes. Because I lived in a small city, near the beach, small cities don’t have much stores, you don’t have much things to do or places to work. If you want to work with art, you have to be in the big city.
15-16, I start to make cosplays for my friends and I realise, “Okay, I can get some money from this, I can make this my real job, because I like it.” I start to think this will be my career in the future. I decided I will move to the big city, I will make my store there, I will build my name. I want this from my life. I was studying fashion design, all this stuff. So, this I want for the rest of my life.
You had that ambition there from that point?
Yes. 16-17, I had this idea. And I made it. [When I was] 17. I said, “Mum, when I hit 18, I’m going to move to the city and live by myself, because I want this.” Two months after I hit 18, I say, “Mum, I’m leaving.”
She said, “WHAT!? What you mean you’re leaving?” I let her know before, but only then she just realised. At 18, I moved to the big city. To live by myself, in a quiet place in the big city, it was so weird! But I say, “This is what I want. I’ll build my future here, my career here.”
Because you’ve been cosplaying for so long, where does that drive come from to carry on and continue progressing?
This is so awful, but yeah, I’m a perfectionist. I try to do my best every time I do a cosplay for a client. This is the thing I have on my mind. I always want the best. Pushing myself to always create something new, always create something better, always learn something, to improve the skills, to improve myself everyday. I don’t know if this is a good feeling, but this I have on my mind; I have to always be better.
We did touch on this briefly. You’ve gone back to characters such as Sailor V from Sailor Moon, and Kitana from Mortal Kombat and you posted comparison shots on Facebook.
How they looked when you first cosplayed them and how they look updated. How does it feel when you look back at those old photos?
I look at the picture and say, “Wow, look how much I’ve learned.” The choice of fabrics, how I make the wigs… the first cosplays, I never wore wigs, always using my hair. I dyed my hair so many times because of cosplay. Everything changed. I grew up so much over those years.
After 12 years I’m still doing Sailor Moon, because I love it. You can see how big the difference is from the first one and the last one. I said to myself, “Okay, I’m doing a good job.” I’m very proud to show this picture on the internet. Everyone needs to know, we’re not always on the top, we’re beginning from the bottom and going on until we be where we are right now. We don’t just pop up here on the top. It’s not like this! I had to build my cosplay career for a number of years. It’s not a easy thing.
I [posted those pictures] because I like to see my journey, but I do this especially for everyone to see. For example, “She started with this very simple cosplay. So if she’s there and started like this, I can do that.”
So, if Ju did it, I can do it?
Yeah. If you want it, you can do that. You can go so much further from where I am right now. You just need to want it and go for it. If you want it, do it now. Don’t wait for tomorrow.
I understand your favourite character to cosplay is Sailor Moon and you have cosplayed many variations of her. What is it about the character and the cosplay that you like so much?
There are lots of reasons (laughs). But I think it’s the first impression, because it’s the first anime I saw. I love shoujo. Cardcaptor Sakura and Sailor Moon; I have so much love for these two. I grew up with these two. In Brazil, many years ago, the first anime they put on open TV was Sailor Moon, Saint Seiya and Yu Yu Hakusho.
At that time I was at school, from 1pm to 5pm, and Sailor Moon starts at 5:15pm. So I run home to watch Sailor Moon. I want to watch the opening every time. I saw that girl, so silly, a crybaby. The first arc of Sailor Moon from the 90s, she’s so stupid, and she grows up and she saves the world! This silly girl grows up to be a princess, save the world and help her friends. Even with so many difficulties she’s still strong and keeps going.
When you’re a teenager, you’re so full of dreams about the world. It makes a very huge impression. So maybe this is why I like Sailor Moon so much, because of her personality. I prefer the manga rather than the first anime. This is why I like the [third arc] story from Sailor Moon Crystal right now. In the manga she’s more grown up, more like a woman, not like a kid. And the outfit is nice too (laughs).
So for you, it’s more the character and the personality rather than the costume?
For Sailor Moon, yes, it’s more the personality. If you realise, it’s kind of a very simple costume, the battle outfit, sailor fuku, and just a small skirt (laughs). Many characters these days I do because of the outfit, not because of their personality. I don’t think that’s nice, but that’s life.
You’ve done a few cosplay tests which you don’t always continue to work on. For example, you did a preview test of Jinx from League of Legends…
Oh, okay (laughs).
I thought it looked good, but you ultimately did not cosplay her. What is it that makes you decide to stop and not continue with a certain cosplay?
Yeah, I do that a lot (pauses). To be honest, I don’t know (laughs)! I have no idea! I just change my mind. In my place I have so much fabric, wigs, things to create cosplays. Sometimes I just look at the fabric and think, for example, “Oh this fabric could be nice for Jinx. I can make it.” And I made it. But I really don’t think, “Oh, I want to make Jinx.” So I just… stop.
You’re not feeling the enthusiasm?
I just want to do it, because I love sewing. So I made it because I have the fabric there and it’s nice. But it’s not a character I’m really passionate [about].
But Jinx… in Brazil at that time, League of Legends was very huge. Like, BOOM, everyone talking about League of Legends. Every time they release a character, a new skin, everyone wants to do it first, because they want to be the first to do that cosplay. Like, “Oh, I want to be the first one in the world to make this character.” Okay, do it if you want to. But if you want to do it with just this feeling, there’s no point. In Brazil, many girls do that. Even if the cosplay looks very awful, they don’t care about the quality, they just want to be the first.
You feel that they’re just following what’s popular?
Yeah, they’re just feeling the hype. Of course, some people do it good, but in Brazil at that time, they didn’t care. When they released the character… oh… my… God… so many girls started to make it in the same second. I said, “Oh my God, they just want to be the first one.”
So Jinx, I made like a joke. I never really thought about making Jinx. At that time I had blonde hair. I don’t know if you’ve seen Cammy from Street Fighter, but she has the bangs too (motions hand towards her hair). My friend was at my place, we were playing video games, and my friend said to me, “Jinx has the same hair as Cammy, but it’s just blue.”
I think, “Ah ha. Okay, I’ll make a joke, because I have the bangs.” It’s the same hair as Cammy, but another colour. So I make the hair for Cammy, I put the bangs for Cammy, and I just Photoshop the hair and paint it blue. I post on my Facebook and say, “This is a preview of Jinx.”
You have no idea how far this picture goes in one day. Everyone started to share the picture. At that time my name was hyped in Brazil, so everyone talking about it. I just made a joke and I had no idea that this joke would go so far. And they post on the forums of League of Legends, talking about it! I posted some tests before, but they don’t go so far. This one I posted as a joke. It’s just Photoshop! It’s not real hair or make-up. Afterwards I say, “Sorry people, I’m not going to make Jinx. I just made a joke.”
But really, you have no idea about how much fuss this picture caused. People say they have lovers and haters.
The haters, my God, they say, “She can’t do Jinx, because she’s not so slim to make Jinx. She has too much boobs to make Jinx.”
The lovers say, “No you have to prove it [to show that] anyone can do it. It doesn’t matter how the body is.” And they start to fight with themselves. There’s no point in fighting because of this. Crazy.
In a video you put on YouTube, you mentioned how when you got around to watching Disney’s Frozen, your mind was elsewhere…
Because rather than the story, all you were thinking about was how to cosplay Elsa. Does this still happen, when watching a film or playing a game, once you’re hooked on a character, all you can think about is how to cosplay that character?
This happens all the time! A few years ago I tried to avoid the hype, because I think people lose focus when they just try to follow the hype. They don’t care about the character. Like, “This character is famous, so I will do this character because I can get more followers, more Likes.” A few years ago I tried to avoid this stuff.
Have you had this happen recently?
(Pauses) Yes (smiles). Overwatch. I say I tried to avoid the hype, but not anymore. I just do whatever I want and I don’t care (laughs). I played Overwatch and I really, really, really like Tracer. It’s not just about the outfit, because the outfit is so simple. The personality of the character is very funny. I know she doesn’t look like my body type. She’s tall, thin and with a British accent. But, I like that she’s funny. She’s a happy and cheerful person.
When Overwatch was released, everyone said, “Do D.Va. She is perfect for you. She matches you. Do it.” D.Va fits better for me than Tracer, but I don’t feel the same thing about the personality for D.Va than I do for Tracer. I want to do Tracer! Tracer is more for the personality than the outfit. But the outfit is so nice too.
So I’m playing and thinking, “This armour I can do by foam. I have to buy new tools to make this. I have to buy a new airbrush to make this.” So playing and thinking I have to do this and this. I said, “Okay, it’s going to happen.” Sometimes I love the character and start to think about cosplaying her.
Then, you’re not concerned about the story anymore?
In this case I’m concerned about the story, because… it’s so cool! At least for Tracer, the whole package, it’s okay. Because the character is good, the personality is good, the outfit is good and the game is very good. So it’s all okay.
But I know I make some cosplays where I just care about the outfit. Yeah, I do it. The thing is, I don’t feel the same passion about the character I’m wearing. I don’t even know how to pose, because I’m not into the character.
A while back you posted a cosplay cost breakdown for Saber from Fate/stay night.
You wrote that it came up to $876 (Brazilian Real) (around £216 at the time) and that you spent over 200 hours working on it.
I don’t remember. Maybe (laughs).
Is Saber your most expensive cosplay?
No (laughs). If I post my most expensive cosplay, people would say, “You are crazy” (laughs).
You don’t want to tell people?
No (laughs). But with Saber, that’s usually what my elaborate cosplays cost. Something simple like this one (motions to the Supergirl cosplay she’s wearing); I don’t spend hundreds on this because it’s so simple. But if I do something more elaborate, it’s more or less that much.
The picture about the cost breakdown of Saber, at the time, many cosplayers were doing that, to show people that cosplay is a hobby, it’s fun, but it’s not cheap. Some people, when they’re going to buy a cosplay, they say, “I want a very good cosplay, but I want a very cheap one.” It’s sometimes impossible to find this – good quality and a good price. So, many cosplayers were doing that to show people that good cosplay costs money. This is why we try to make some money, why we sell prints. This is why some conventions pay us to go to them, because we spend a lot of money doing the cosplays.
We don’t make just one. Imagine, in one year we make 12… 15… it’s so many cosplays. This costs a lot of money. If you want good quality costumes, you have to spend more money. The tools, and the wigs and the shoes, it costs more money. Just one thing is not expensive, but put all the things together, it is. So, this is why.
You’ve described yourself as a perfectionist and that you’re never satisfied. Would you say you’re constantly spending to try and reach this level of satisfaction?
Yes, exactly. My most expensive cosplay is Esther from Trinity Blood. I [first made] her a long time ago in 2007. At that time I spent a lot of money and it was so far from what I wanted from that cosplay.
I say, “I’m not prepared right now to do this cosplay.” So I let it go. I sold it. In a few years when I feel more prepared, when I feel I can do a really good job, I’ll do it again. I remade Esther in 2013. It’s so different… so much better… but… it’s still not what I want! And I spent so much money on that cosplay! I realised, “I spent this much money on this cosplay, and it’s still not what I want!? Okay, just leave it! I don’t want to do this anymore (laughs).”
What’s the point in spending so much money on one cosplay, and it’s so difficult to wear? Because it’s so heavy, it’s so big, so warm… it’s so many things (laughs). It’s so beautiful, but it’s very complicated to wear. I brought Esther to some conventions where I was invited, but I can’t wear it for a long time, because it’s too hot and heavy. Not much point to make a cosplay when I can’t wear it. So I just leave it.
This is [another reason] why I try to make cosplays I can wear everywhere. Because I’m travelling a lot, travelling with heavy costumes is so complicated. I was at Monaco in February. I made Julietta from Sakizou. It’s big.
You’ve mentioned Julietta, but I haven’t seen any pictures.
Because I don’t have any good pictures. I have two pictures [only] from the stage. It takes me so many hours to get prepared. And in Monaco it’s so, so, so hot! Being on the stage, it was very hot. After the show, I just take it off. I don’t take any pictures.
In a video you uploaded, you mentioned how usually days after a convention you would come across complaints, people leaving negative opinions…
After some conventions, people are very jealous. There are haters.
At that time you mentioned how it’s not worth being a part of the cosplay community if there are so many complaints. That was over a year ago, but do you still feel that way sometimes?
I had that opinion, like, two years ago. In 12 years, I’ve thought about stopping cosplay six or seven times, because the community is so hateful sometimes. They can put you up and they can put you down, in seconds.
I don’t know about here, but I can say about Brazil. Not all conventions in Brazil are bad. People were happy just saying bad things about other people. In groups, they post pictures, making memes, and you look at that and think, “Oh my God, why are you doing that?” And not just about me, but everyone. If some girl wearing cosplay doesn’t have a perfect body, they’ll make a meme. Like, “She shouldn’t wear this, because she’s too fat.” You can’t just enjoy the character you like. It’s like you have to be the perfect character or someone will say bad things about you.
That was then. Do you still feel this way?
I still think about quitting (laughs)! I just avoid being close about this stuff. Because we’ll always have someone who’s jealous… or they don’t have a life, nothing to do, just spend the whole day on the internet doing this. It’s true. You’re always going to have this. I’m too busy to pay attention to all this s**t, so I don’t care anymore. You want to say bad things about me? You want to say I’m fat for this cosplay, too skinny for this cosplay? Say it. I just don’t care anymore!
A few years ago, I really cared about it. Like, “What are people saying about me? [Do they] like me, hate me?” I paid a lot of attention to this. They say many good things and many bad things. I’d say, “Why these f**king people hate me?” I tried to realise. They don’t have a reason; they just like to do that. Some people, or some groups, they don’t have a specific person that they hate. They hate everyone. I say, “Oh… okay. I can do nothing about this.”
But I still think about quitting sometimes, because cosplay takes up so much of my life, my private life. Like at the beginning, I had to change my private life. So sometimes it’s difficult to let go of some things, because of cosplay. Or, I can’t go somewhere, because I have to finish my cosplay (laughs). Of course, it’s amazing, it’s so nice, but sometimes it’s tough too.
You set up a Patreon account earlier this year.
What made you decide to do that?
At the very beginning when Patreon started, I look and say, “Ooh, that’s nice, interesting,” but [did nothing]. After a few years some cosplayers start to use Patreon. I looked for opinions on the internet, and there’s so much hate, again (laughs).
I just want to fund for real art. If you talk about what is real art, I really think cosplay is a real art. Look at some cosplayers, look at their armour; it’s even better than some movies! They’re so skilled in this. If you look, every detail is so f**king perfect. I think it’s art. I think it’s amazing!
When I started [thinking about] Patreon, I said, “Of course it’ll help me a lot, because cosplay costs a lot of money.” After a few months, Patreon started to be more accessible to everyone, and I saw the same people who criticised it at that time were [using] Patreon now! So many people [using] it and I think I can do it now.
I’m still learning about Patreon. Like, what do people want, and what can I give to them? It’s very nice because I feel like the people really want to support me. Some people support me and they want nothing in return. I have some gifts and goods that I give to people every month, but some people say, “I want nothing. I just want to help you to make your dreams come true. I just want to help fund your art.”
With Patreon I can be more close to the people. So, we share videos, Skype conversations, the people feel more close to me and I feel more close to them. It’s nice to feel that people really want to fund my art.
You mentioned how you could finally fulfil a dream cosplay earlier this year, cosplaying as Asuka from Neon Genesis Evangelion with the plugsuit from Andromeda Latex.
(Does a little dance) Yessssss!
I watched Evangelion so many years ago. I love it. I always had this idea on my mind since I saw that anime, thinking “How can I make that? Is this plastic, some rubber?”
Then in 2009 I think I can do it. I find some nice fabric, vinyl. I made it and I hated it! Because it’s so f**ked up from the idea I have in my mind about the plugsuit for Asuka. I say, “One day, I will have a perfect Asuka plugsuit.” Over the years I know more about materials, more techniques. I discovered latex and this is the idea I have on my mind for the plugsuit, but it’s so complicated to work with latex. So I just leave it.
A few years ago, I saw this guy [Andromeda Latex]; he put this picture on the internet, with the Asuka with plugsuit. I say, “(dramatic intake of breath) Okay, this is what I always have on my mind. This is perfect. This is my dream!” I talked to the guy, I say, “How much?” He gives me the price… HUGE! It’s so expensive! I say, “Just leave it.” But I always look at it, on the website, staring at that picture. I tell my friends, “One day, I will have it.” I say this for two years.
Now, with the funding from the fans from Patreon, they helped me to make my dream come true. Now I have the perfect plugsuit! When I opened the box, I say, “Oh my God. The texture… they made it so well.”
The shoes, the gloves, it’s all one piece. The way you wear in the anime, you have to wear in real life. (Anxious) It’s so difficult to wear that cosplay! But it’s perfect, it’s amazing! I was so happy when I wore that cosplay. I looked in the mirror and said, “Oh my God, this is exactly what I had in my mind a few years ago.”
What part of cosplaying do you find the most fulfilling for you?
I still think it’s the reactions of the people. It’s what motivated me to keep going in the beginning. I’m not looking for approval from the people, because I do the cosplays I want to do, not the cosplays they want me to do. Sometimes they give me nice ideas, and they like that I do it. But I’m not doing something just because of the hype, just because of Likes. I do it because I like it.
Like the reactions when you’re here at MCM London and people want to take photos with you?
It’s so nice. Like, “Oh, Supergirl! Hey Supergirl, how are you?” I’m playing like I am Supergirl. I have some fun. It’s a good vibe with the people. I like this feeling, so this is why I’m still doing cosplay. I like this feeling from the people, and I’m happy too. Everyone is happy.
Thank you to Papercube for arrangement and photos. You can check out his work on his Facebook page.
Interview by Shalimar Sahota.