“Oh my God… was it?” laughs Emma Langley Soryu, upon discovering that she’s actually been cosplaying longer than she thought. “Saukra Haruno was the first costume I ever did,” she says, referring to the ninja from Naruto, whom she originally cosplayed at MCM London back in October 2007
Upon pointing out to Emma that 2017 would mark ten years since she started cosplaying, she bursts out laughing. “That’s nuts,” she laughs. “I feel so old! I’ll still be cosplaying… forever I think!”
Over the years Emma has cosplayed characters such as Reira Serizawa and Nana Osaki from Nana, Saber from Fate/stay night, Babydoll from Sucker Punch, Rima from Vampire Knight, Kasumi from Dead or Alive and Marie from Splatoon. However, she is most known for cosplaying many variations of Asuka Langley Soryu from Neon Genesis Evangelion. “I just love her,” said Emma of the Eva Unit 02 pilot, describing Asuka’s plugsuit as her favourite cosplay.
Our interview was conducted on the Saturday of March’s MCM Birmingham Comic Con, with Emma cosplaying as Princess Leia from Star Wars: A New Hope. She later had a photoshoot with photographer Papercube in the cosplay (photos of which are included here). During our time Emma was cheery and delightful, as we talked about cosplaying Asuka, being a perfectionist, old cosplay photos and zombies.
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Who are you cosplaying at MCM Birmingham this weekend?
So today I’m Princess Leia [from Star Wars]. Tomorrow I’m Sansa from Game of Thrones.
How did you get into cosplay?
I got into anime through watching YouTube videos. Then I came across Fighting Dreamers Pro, a cosplay group back then.
I understand that Koicosplay played a part aswell?
Yeah! Those were the two that I was watching. I was like, “Aw, they’re going to events, I really want to do this!” Then I started watching vloggers at MCM London and I realised I could do that here. So I just went to the London one.
You started out buying cosplays?
Yes. Saukra Haruno [from Naruto] was a bought one. I still buy the odd one now. If it’s something that I probably can’t buy, or something I really want to make then I’ll make it. If it’s cheap enough to buy, then I’ll buy it. Just a bit of both.
You’ve been cosplaying for close to ten years and I understand that it’s not been easy. I was surprised to discover that during most of last year, due to space, you had been sewing on the floor of your living room.
I moved out of my parents house and I’m living in a tiny flat at the moment. There’s not a lot of room to put big pieces or patterns out.
Where does the passion and drive come from to endure, to continue cosplaying and progressing?
If there’s a character that I really like, then I think, “Aww, I got to do it. Just go for it.” Normally I prefer to cosplay with friends. If I’m in a group it gives me the motivation to think, “Ah, I’ve got to get this done, because I’m a part of a group.”
Over the years you’ve donned over 50 costumes. You might tell me there’s more.
(Laughs) I’ve lost count!
Have you kept all your cosplays?
I don’t think I’ve ever thrown a costume away. A lot of them are still in my parents home in the loft. I’m pretty sure they’re all there.
So there’s space somewhere for all the different costumes?
Yes. I’ve got a lot of them in my flat. I’ve got about two wardrobes now. There’s more cosplay in my wardrobe than there is normal clothes to be honest. And a second room that’s basically storage. We have most of my partner’s Lego and Warhammer parts in there, along with all my crafts, wigs and cosplays. We’re both terrible hoarders, and as our flat is small, everything is mostly stored in there.
I believe your favourite character to cosplay is Asuka Langley Soryu from Neon Genesis Evangelion?
I counted 15 variations of Asuka that you’ve cosplayed.
Wow (laughs)! It’s probably about that much.
What is it about Asuka that you like so much?
She’s a really strong character and ever since I watched the series I just liked her personality. I know a lot of people don’t like her, because she’s a bitch, but I think she’s just misunderstood. She’s an iconic character. Even though the series was made years ago, the new series and the films, people still recognise her. So she’s still fun to cosplay.
Is there a particular variation of Asuka that you enjoy cosplaying?
I really like her plugsuit, just because it’s the classic plugsuit. I still want to do that costume again. Even though I’ve made it, I’m still not 100% happy with it, so I want to make it again.
Well you have talked in the past about wanting to get a good plugsuit for Asuka.
Are you happy with the progress you’ve made with Asuka’s plugsuit so far?
Yes. The first plugsuit I bought was a latex one. It was alright, but it didn’t quite have the details. It was quite flat because it was latex.
The second one was the test suit. I brought a two piece latex suit, added the mesh part and added all the extra latex details on to the suit from some extra latex. I also added lights to the green parts on her suit. I had a battery pack in the backpack on the back, but some of the lights broke on me. It was my first time working with wiring.
The third was her 3.0 plugsuit that I made completely from scratch. It was made from 4-way stretch vinyl. That was okay for my first time making a body suit, but still not 100% how I would have liked it.
The last was the original plugsuit. It turned out okay, but I’m still not happy with the way it came out. There’s a lot of things I would do differently with it now that I’ve had the experience of trying it out.
So, happy with the progress, but you still see yourself perfecting the plugsuit?
You have previously said, “I’m probably more like Rei [Ayanami].”
And you have cosplayed Rei.
I just prefer Asuka. Rei doesn’t really have much of a personality, but I’m similar to her because I’m quite quiet and shy. I like Asuka because she’s kind of what I want to be. So it’s nice to play something opposite.
What is the scariest thing you’ve had happen to you when in cosplay?
I think it was one of the MCM London cons… I’m scared of zombies. I didn’t realise I was scared of zombie cosplayers until I walked past [them], and they’re in a cage… being zombies. There’s a crowd of people and I can’t get past. Then the next thing, there’s one next to me, in character, trying to eat me. I freaked out. I couldn’t get away. It was kind of like being claustrophobic and having this zombie next to you. I ended up having to kick the people in front of me to get out the crowd, as no one would move… and the zombie was still chasing me. I ended up having a panic attack after, which I’ve never dealt with before. It was a weird experience. Since then I just can’t [deal with] zombie cosplayers. So now I have to be extra cautious of them jumping out on me. It’s more the surprise that scares me.
You’ve said in the past that, for you, the least favourite things about cosplay is, “The pressure to look good”…
…and, “the few bad apples that may say something negative.” Do you still feel that way today?
I’ve never really had anyone say anything to my face. But when you go online… people will say nice things to you in person, and then you’ll get posted up on forums. Like, “Ah, that colour wasn’t right, or that wig wasn’t right.”
So, people indirectly talking about you, rather than to you?
Yeah. It’s just little things like that. I think the community as a whole is generally quite accepting. Like we’re all nice to each other, but it’s more the people on the internet that you don’t really know. And they’re probably not cosplayers.
But you never know.
Exactly. They could be your best friend. They could be anyone (laughs).
The pressure to look good and people saying something negative; these do feel connected. Have you had negative experiences in the past which have fuelled this desire to try and look perfect?
(Pauses) I don’t know. It’s a hard one. I guess when you’re cosplaying as a character, you want to do the character justice. Because I’m Princess Leia, I don’t want someone to say, “Oh, your buns are sloppy.” I think there’s always pressure to have good photos taken as well, so you’ve got to be very photogenic. And it’s hard. It’s not like you’re a model. You’re cosplaying.
Is that something you think about when you’re making the costume as well? The photos?
Sometimes. I’m someone that’s quite… hard on myself. I’m a perfectionist. So someone else could think it’s fine, but to me, if there’s a little thing out, I know it’s out.
So even though someone may come up to you and say, “This looks amazing,” you would think-
And it would be there in the back of your head, because you want it to look perfect?
Yeah, exactly. Just [being a] perfectionist… sometimes when I’m putting on my make-up, I think, “Aw, I got to get this perfect.” But then when I get [to the convention] I just think, “Oh, you know what, I just got to have fun.” If I’m not having fun, then what’s the point?
I remember you said something about this before. It was one of your Asuka plugsuits you wore to a convention, and the lights on it stopped working.
And it annoyed you for the rest of the convention.
Because I worked so hard on it. It’s like, “Ugh, lights not working.” And then… (shrugs shoulders).
But at the end of the day, you came to the conclusion that it shouldn’t just be about perfecting the costume, it should be about having fun.
When I first started cosplaying, I thought, “Everything’s got to be perfect.” Even now, I’m still like that. But if I’m not having fun, if I’m not relaxed… what am I doing? Why am I stressing? I think now, I’ve got what I call a really good cosplay family. I go with the same group of friends and we’re all very supportive of each other. It’s one of those things that you need sometimes. Like when you’re having a bad day… (acts out a bad day) “It’s okay if your eyelash fell off. It’s fine, I’ve got glue!” (Laughs)
You’ve described money and procrastination as your two biggest challenges when it comes to cosplay.
What do you do to motivate yourself?
Oh my God. Normally I just end up stressed. Stress ends up making me do it. I procrastinate so much and when it gets to a week before [the convention] I’m like, “Yeah, I need to do it. I need to finish this.”
Did that happen with your cosplay of Princess Leia?
No. Well (places hands on head), the buns I needed to fix and I fixed them yesterday. When I got the wig, it was pre-done. But the buns were up here (places hands on top of head), and it didn’t look right. So I had to take them off and hand-sew the buns onto the wig, because they’re separate.
So for you, when it gets closer to a convention, it’s the stress that motivates you?
Yeah. I’ll put it off, and then I’ll go, “No, it’s got to be done.”
In regards to money, do you try and budget, or do you spend till you’re happy?
I don’t really budget, I just kind of think, “Right, I need this amount, and then I need this amount in case I f**k up.” (Laughs) I just kind of wing it (laughs), which is really bad.
You say you’re a perfectionist, so are you just spending till you reach a level that you’re happy with?
I’ll have a limit. I’ll think, “Right, I can’t spend anymore on this. Because, I’ve got to pay bills. I’ve got to have money to get to the con.” Sometimes I’ll just be like, “I can’t afford the hotel, it’s expensive.” Or I’ll just re-wear something.
You’ve posted a few comparison photos on your Facebook page.
A notable one is how you looked when you first cosplayed Rima from Vampire Knight back in October 2009. You compared it with how you looked when you cosplayed her again nearly seven years later, in May 2016, improved with make-up, a styled wig and contact lenses.
How does it feel for you when you look back at your old cosplay photos?
It’s kind of cringy. It’s like, “Oh, if only I knew how to do this, or how to do that.” But back then I was such a baby. I didn’t really need make-up, because I was so young, [Didn’t] need foundation. But at the same time, contact lenses, eyelashes and wearing a wig, things like that, it all fits together. Because sometimes you can look a little bit washed out, or when you get a picture back, it doesn’t quite pick up tiny little things. It’s good with make-up to exaggerate your features, and then you get a good photo that stands out more.
So you would use more than you think is required, because you’re thinking “This would look good in photos?”
One of my friends said that when it comes to cosplay, if you think it’s too much, it’s probably just enough (laughs).
As for the comparison, showing people how you started out, you say it’s cringy, but you’re happy for other people to see that?
Yes. It’s fine, because cosplay is about learning. When I first got into cosplay I was looking up to cosplayers who had done it a while and just seemed to look great in everything they did. It can sometimes make you feel down, because you feel like you’ll never look like that or have the skills to make that. So when people upload comparisons it’s always motivating to see how far someone has come. [You] realise no one’s perfect and it takes time and practice to learn certain things. You don’t just get there, you got to learn how to sew, how to do make-up, how to do the wigs. It’s a big long journey, but you learn over time. So I hope that I can motivate someone by uploading a comparison.
What aspect of cosplay do you find the most fulfilling for you?
It’s probably where I am now. I’ve got a lot of friends, so it’s the social aspect at the minute. It’s nice to get in cosplay and be the character, but what’s even better is getting [to the convention] and being with your friends. You get your own jokes going, in-jokes, socialising, and getting to meet new people as well. Because when you’re in a costume, it breaks down barriers and people can come and talk to you.
Do you do that as well? Maybe when you see someone else who’s cosplaying Asuka?
Yeah, if I see someone that’s cosplaying a character that I really like, or I really like what they did. Why not go up to them and say, “Aw, I really like that! That’s cool!” Or ask them how they made it.
Because it’s been almost ten years since you first cosplayed, what is one thing you know now that you wish you’d known when you started cosplaying?
How much things like contact lenses, make-up, lighting and a good wig can change everything.
So what would Emma say to the Emma ten years ago?
Just relax. It’s fine. It doesn’t have to be perfect. If the wig’s not fine, it’s fine (laughs). Just have fun. Also maybe be less quiet, because I’m quite shy. But now that I’ve been cosplaying for so many years, it kind of brings me out of my comfort zone. People will just come up to talk to you, so… you kind of have to talk to them.
Lastly, hash browns?
What’s the deal with hash browns?
I just love hash browns. They’re nice! Normally whenever I go to a convention early, I go to McDonalds for breakfast, because McDonald’s hash browns are the best hash browns (laughs). So, everyone just knows me for liking hash browns.
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Thank you to Papercube for photos and arrangement. You can check out his work on his Facebook page.
Photos of Emma cosplaying as Asuka in Original Plugsuit by Chantele Smith Photography.
Interview by Shalimar Sahota.