“It’s hard for me to just copy a cosplay,” explains Otohime Nami when asked about her unique costumes. “I would either put so much battle damage on it, or it’s going to be really redesigned. When I make a costume, I want a taste of me in it. Because for me, art and craft is personal.”
Originally from the Philippines, Nami already had a background in making costumes for pageants, but after seeing cosplayer and model Alodia Gosiengfiao she became interested in cosplay. Nami has put her own spin on costumes for pageants, such as Thor and Nami the Tidecaller from League of Legends. Citing Kamui Cosplay as an inspiration, she has also attended conventions cosplaying detailed armour builds, such as Night Elf from World of Warcraft, an armoured Princess Bubblegum from Adventure Time and Link from The Legend of Zelda crossed with Night Elf from World of Warcraft.
Our interview was conducted on the Friday of MCM London Comic Con, where Nami was cosplaying as D.Va from Overwatch. “She’s a gamer and a kawaii chick,” said Nami. “I actually relate to that.” During the MCM London weekend Nami also cosplayed Mu-12 from BlazBlue and Torbjorn from Overwatch, taking part in photoshoots with photographer Papercube in each of her cosplayers, photos of which are included here.
Joined by fellow cosplayer cam_pup, the convention was Nami’s third time attending MCM London; only this time she didn’t have her 3DS with her. “I lost my charger,” said Nami, “I usually have my 3DS and PSP all the time, because it kills my boredom. I get bored easily.”
During our interview Nami was considerate, opinionated and funny, but what came across over the course of the weekend itself was someone dedicated to her craft. We talked about her love for the stage, the cost of perfection, Patreon, and her cosplay ingredients.
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Who are you cosplaying at MCM London this weekend?
I have D.Va from Overwatch, a very popular character. She’s probably the most interesting character for me, because she shows that girls can be beautiful, but also badass. That’s why I like her. It’s not because everybody’s cosplaying her, it’s just that I can relate.
The other one is Mu-12 from BlazBlue. She’s like Noel Vermillion’s true form. It’s sexy, but it’s hardcore badass! I love things that have a bit of both. I can’t just cling on sexy, because there’s not much art in that. The body is already artistic, so I want to add a little more spice to it. Like a little more glitter, but more rusty (laughs).
The other one is Torbjorn from Overwatch. He’s not my main character, but the reason why I cosplay him is again for artistic reasons. He’s so not cosplayed, and there are so many people who love the character, but they [don’t see much] of him because he’s not the popular one. So I want to introduce him, but in a female form. It’s girly, it’s cute and it’s really strong.
How did you get into cosplay?
There was a cosplayer in the Philippines, Alodia Gosiengfiao. She’s the biggest cosplayer in the Philippines and really famous internationally. She appeared on television and she’s so beautiful, but she creates costumes as well. I’m like, “That’s interesting. I want to do that.” I always wanted to do cosplay, I just didn’t know so much about it. This was way back in 2008. I didn’t know there was a community about it.
When I started looking for cosplay I got into Kamui Cosplay and she had tutorials. I’m like, “Oh, this is interesting.” I was intimidated when I looked at her armour. Like, “How? I can’t do that!” Because I was just amazed, I wanted it.
What was the costume you saw?
It’s Alexstrasza from World of Warcraft, which I was thinking of buying. So I said on her thread, “Svetlana, how much is your costume? I want to buy it.”
She says, “No, I don’t sell my costumes. It’s mine, mine, mine!” It’s funny, but she proved her point that she’s not going to sell her costumes.
I’m like, “Okay, how can I acquire that? If she’s not going to sell it, I’ll make it. I don’t know how.”
So I try and make it. Since I have a background of costume making from pageants, it’s easy, but… not as easy. For my pageants, I would just have a base, then I will put rhinestones and feathers, and call it a day. For cosplay you have foam, a heat gun, dremel, and I’m like, “What the hell is that? Where will I get that?” So I research.
Little by little, I binge watch everything. I saw video after video. I didn’t know that it was already processing in my head. I learnt, I checked other YouTubers as well, but Kamui Cosplay is the one who actually teaches the more elaborate ones. The thing I like about her is that it’s genuine. She’s not trying to be funny, she’s not egocentric. She focuses on teaching people how to make cosplays. She inspired me so much.
You originally started out taking part in pageants. Did your interest in cosplay come around the same time, or before?
I was in the Philippines before I moved to Germany in 2011. We were not rich, so the only way I can make money is to make costumes. But to make costumes I have to have people buying them. I don’t have many connections, so I join competitions myself. Because of my creativity, the showmanship, the uniqueness of my costumes and wardrobe, which I made and beaded myself, I mostly won. Then the candidates are asking, “Where did you get that?”
I’m like, “I made it.” Then I meet clients because of that. I kept joining pageants and then I started making money.
Then people contacted you?
Yeah. They’d ask, “Where did you get that?”
My costumes mostly win. [They were] not cosplay related, but since 2010 I incorporated cosplay. For example, Thor.
Because you dressed up as a recognisable character, maybe that’s why you won?
Yeah, and it’s different. Everybody wants to be a gorgeous fairy princess. I’m like, “No, I want to be a superhero. I want to be a badass!” You can be beautiful and you can be strong.
You’ve described making costumes as very therapeutic. What makes it therapeutic for you?
It’s not for everybody. But for me, whenever I feel so bad, instead of throwing a tantrum on someone, I will just make something to pass the time and all my frustrations go there. But I get wounded as well, because I get frustrated as well! At some point you see it coming together, little by little. Then my anger starts to lower down. When you try to put [the costume] on, even just one shoulder pad, “Oh, this looks good!” And then, it’s gone.
Seeing the results makes you happy?
And you didn’t expect you could do that! Whenever I made a costume, I didn’t know that I could make it. Seriously! Everybody was like, “Oh, you’re so good.” I don’t know what I’m doing! It’s true!
You’re learning as you go.
Yeah. People are like, “Oh, you’re really good at this.”
I say, “Thank you,” but I’m not going to give a long explanation [of how difficult it is]. I do it. I focus. It happens. There are errors, but you don’t have to see it. But you have to know about it, by posting about how it’s so hard to do.
You’ve described how one of your biggest problems is that you’re impatient.
You say that you’re “intellectually creative and busy,” which causes you to “lose sleep and go nuts.”
Yeah, you need sleep when you’re making cosplays. You do desperately need sleep! If you don’t have sleep then everything will fail. Everything will go wrong. Because you’re forcing yourself to do something that your mind and body cannot do. You need your sleep to focus. The thing is I’m a person who’s not going to wait till tomorrow to finish this. I will lose sleep and that’s fine. I will keep failing and that’s fine. But I want to finish this now. The convention may be next year, but I have to finish this now! Because it’s important for me. That’s it. I’m very impatient. Especially the glue. I’m going to find anything to dry that glue quicker. I’m going to blow dry it, I’m going to fan it. I just don’t have time to wait. I want to finish it now so I can make another costume.
That’s another thing with me. When I make a costume I get bored easily. But I have to finish it.
Which reminds me; Midna from The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Have you not finished that costume?
I finished that, but I want it different. It wasn’t good enough… for me. So I scrap it and make another cosplay. I forgot about it. It’s still beautiful and I want to go back to it, but I have so much in my head, so many costumes to make.
You started out doing pageants, and you’ve taken part in a few masquerades at conventions as well.
You say that you love the stage. What is it about performing and walking on the stage that you love?
It’s just that for a moment, you are someone. You are someone who is different and who is very respected. No matter what you wear, on the stage, you are respected. You’re equal to everybody. It doesn’t matter what your skill level is. Yes, the audience will cheer more for others with a better costume, but backstage, everyone is one. When I took my Satsuki [from Kill La Kill] to Comic Con Palm Springs, I high-fived everyone in the line: “Oh, good job, good job.”
When you’re on stage, you don’t see the audience, you just feel it. You feel like you’re someone beautiful. There’s this extra power. That’s a different high that I constantly get. It’s not the attention; it’s just that I’m a star for that moment.
And the reaction when you’re there, when you hear people cheering?
The thing is, I don’t hear that when I’m on stage. You don’t see anyone because it’s so dark, but also you don’t hear anybody. When you’re down there, you can hear it, but when you’re on stage, you don’t. It’s either pressure, or you’re super confident. When I step on stage I’m just so confident. I don’t care about anything else. I just want a runway.
How does it make you feel when you see people react to your cosplay, in-person and online?
It’s mixed. There are people who just pinpoint what they don’t like and they discredit your work, and that pisses me off. It shouldn’t get to me, but it does, because you’ve worked hard for it. It’s your baby. You don’t want people insulting your baby, you want your baby to be seen as beautiful.
There’s very little hate, almost none. The beautiful positive messages, they’re very overwhelming. It gives you fuel, it makes you want to do more. Honestly, it boosts my ego when people say I’m doing really good. I’m not going to go down to how I started with armour.
You’re raising your level.
Yeah, I’m raising the standard of my work. For me, cosplay is an art and I have so much fun doing it. I want to make something really amazing. It’s like, I know I cannot do it, but I know I can do it. It intimidates me, but I’m still going to do it. If I fail, I fail. It’s my fault. But I know I’m not going to fail.
You say you have three cosplay ingredients when it comes to the costumes you create, the characters you cosplay: “Beauty, artistic and badass.”
You did your research!
Why are these three ingredients so important?
I have a background in pageants and I love seeing beauty in everything. I think women are a work of art and femininity is a gift. It’s good to flaunt it. You don’t have to shy away with your body. Whatever kind of body you have, you show it. That confidence, that’s beautiful.
Artistic because I always put my touch in there. I want to put something detailed and dramatic.
Badass, because girls can be badass as well! You don’t have to cling onto: “I’m a princess, I need saving!” Not every girl needs saving. Sometimes we’re the ones who need to save the prince! You can be in charge of whatever you want. You can wear a guy’s outfit. It doesn’t matter. You don’t have to cling on the standard that you’re helpless. I want my characters to be able to pursue their own dreams without the help of any other people.
You’ve said that you don’t strive for accuracy, you instead prefer to make the character/cosplay your own. For example, your costume of Link from The Legend of Zelda crossed with Night Elf from World of Warcraft. Or you put LED lights on them.
Yeah, of course!
Is it essential for you that your costumes are unique, different and one of a kind?
It is. It may sound arrogant, but when I make a costume, I don’t want to blend in. I want to stand out, because if I stand out I feel strong. I feel like I did a good job.
(Points to the D.Va cosplay she’s wearing) The reason I’m wearing this is because we’re just going to walk around. That’s the reason I’m wearing this today. But I’m not going to wear this if I’m going on a Saturday. Saturday at a convention is like the clash of the titans! It’s the battle royale! So when I go on a Saturday, I don’t want people saying, “Oh she’s just another blah-blah cosplayer.” I want people saying, “Who’s that!? What character is that?”
I want to avoid cosplays that everyone is doing. If people see the same cosplay at every single con… that’s fine, but I want to show that I can do other things too. I want to introduce new characters that you probably don’t know about. I want to introduce people to other video games that they might be interested in too. Okay, Overwatch is amazing, but what about this? It makes me happy that I did a good job and they don’t know how hard it is.
To the point where you’re thinking, “Someone stopped me and wanted to take a photo, or wants to talk to me about my costume. I must have done a great job.”
(Nods) You know you’ve done a good job when you step through the gate to enter Comic Con and someone already wants a photo. Or you just come out of nowhere and people are looking at you.
It’s like, “Okay, let’s do this!” For me it’s a show, it’s an art, it’s passion. That’s why I admire people who make elaborate costumes, because I relate to the creativity. We’re all broke, but it’s cool.
You’ve received a lot of praise on Instagram, but you’ve also received a few disheartening comments. For example, someone called you a fake cosplayer. At one point you embraced this and actually called yourself “fake cosplayer Otohime Nami.”
How do you deal with the negative comments?
Honestly, it gets to you. But you realise that if these people are really happy they wouldn’t say that. Then you check their profile, and they’re not cosplayers. So I realise that if I fight with them, it doesn’t make sense. It’s like you’re arguing with a wall. Everything you say will bounce back to you. There’s no specific proper answer. So I’m like, “Whatever, I’m just going to keep doing what I do and I will play with what you’re saying… so it will piss you off… but it makes me happy!” (Laughs)
You’ve said how when you moved to Europe, you were happy to teach people, but it became your downfall, because you found that some people didn’t necessarily want your help; they just wanted your success.
It’s a pageant thing. I was doing really great in pageants and I always helped people. I helped them and then afterwards, after they got their own wings, they just threw me under the bus. For example, they would rent my costume.
When people asked them, “Where did you buy that?”
They would say, “I made it!”
I’m like, “Oh my God!”
Giving you no credit?
No credit at all! So I’m done helping some people in the pageant world. But I’m still helping people in the cosplay community, because these people are young kids, people who don’t know what to do… and I was like that.
Have you encountered people like this during your time within the cosplay community?
In the cosplay community it’s hard, because there’s not a lot of hate, but there’s so much insecurity. The targets are people who are body confident. I don’t want to sound bad… because I’m very opinionated about this, because I’ve witnessed this myself.
I just think that in cosplay, people always target girls who are confident in themselves. We’re always put up on a standard that we didn’t ask for. I don’t want to be popular, I don’t want to be famous, I just like doing my craft. Yes, I have Patreon and that helped me so much to make better cosplays, because cosplaying is super expensive.
But then, you’re also striving for a particular standard.
Yes, I don’t just want to be a cosplayer. I want to be a really good artist. That’s what I’m going for. Because I do sexy, because I’m confident with my body, people will just say, “Oh, she’s a whore.” And the people who say it are other cosplayers that probably don’t do sexy. They have insecurities. Everybody has flaws. You can see that I have flaws. But they will point out things that they don’t have, they will turn it into anger, conceal it with a positive message, and then attack you, but indirectly.
This is not a numbers game. I don’t care if I lose followers. The most important followers to me are those who interact. Because I like to build a community that helps each other. But other girls have insecurities. They would attack on us. They would look for people to join their group and then throw everybody on our page. I’m like, “What’s this? I didn’t do anything!” And they will discredit our work, which is the most heartbreaking.
It doesn’t mean that because you’re a chubby girl you have to make fun of the skinny girl. Or because you’re skinny you have to make fun of the chubby girl. You can never, and you will never, have a ticket to scream at other people, just because you don’t have what they have.
Unrealistic beauty standards. For me, it is realistic. If you want a nice body, you can work out. If you really want that body that isn’t realistic, you can go to a surgeon. Everything is realistic. It’s up to you if you want to do it or not. If you don’t want to do it, carry on doing what you’re doing, have fun, but don’t call out people who do it because they want to do it.
I understand that Cammy from Street Fighter was one of your cheapest cosplays to create.
What is the most you’ve spent on a single cosplay?
The minimum I’ve spent on a costume is €600. Period. And the other parts are not included, like extra wires, materials that I’ve used from before. Because foam and worbla, it’s very expensive. Then resin, LED casting, all of those are expensive. Then there’s the trips… and the tickets…
All my cosplays are expensive, except for Cammy and Kaneki.
But you can’t put a figure on it?
You don’t budget!
So for you, it’s a case of, “I want this to look as good as possible, and I don’t care how much money I spend.”
Yeah! You just realise you’re broke!
You strive for perfection and you don’t care how much it costs.
Exactly! You don’t care about money. You should care about money! Don’t listen to me when I say you don’t care about money! You should care about money. It’s just that there are people like me who are so crazy about the art, who are so dedicated about the art, that money doesn’t matter. What matters is that you achieve the beauty that you want. That’s it. Because that makes you happy. Money can’t buy that fulfilment, that self-satisfaction.
You started Patreon earlier this year. You described it as “a fulltime job.”
Oh no I didn’t!
I said, “It’s like a fulltime job.” I remember that!
Yeah, you compared it to one.
Yeah, because I thought that it’s going to be easy!
What made you decide to use Patreon?
I’m broke (laughs). No, because cosplay is expensive. I want to make more costumes and Patreon will help. People kept telling me, “Make Patreon, we want prints.”
I’m not the kind of person who’s like, “Buy my prints.” It’s just a reward. People donate to the cause. And the rewards, they’re not mandatory. That’s why I say, “If you want prints, just message me.” Because not everybody wants prints, some people just want to help you. That’s why there’s Patreon. It helps a lot of cosplayers, but it’s a lot of work, because a lot of people want rewards. I didn’t expect that.
I understand that your next cosplay build is MS Girl “Physalis” from Gundam. You’ve said that this will be your “biggest challenge” and it will be funded by Patreon. What made you decide to make this cosplay?
To challenge myself. I love Gundam. [Not] enough that I’m obsessing over it, but I love it so much that the build looks so beautiful. It challenged me to think, “Okay, what’s your next step? Are you going to step outside your comfort zone?” So I’m going to make this. Like most of my cosplays, I don’t know how, but I know I will.
You did say that “making a Gundam suit is a dream.”
Yeah, it’s a dream! Since I saw that Vampy Bit Me did it… she did it right. I’m like, “I want to do it right!” This is hard and I want to do it.
Would you bring that cosplay to MCM London in October?
Of course! I have a lot of people here who believe in me!
Back in April, you asked your followers to share their thoughts on what cosplay is for them. You liked the comments so much, you said, “I wish newbie cosplayers or those aspiring would read this.” So I would like to ask you, what does cosplay mean for you?
It’s either having fun, or being free. Us cosplayers, we have to put behind the normal things that we normally do, our work, our suits, whatever we do as our daily job. And we all exert this to a place where everyone will treat us like happy people with artistic freedom, freedom of love, love of other characters, being a fan. If you’re an adult, it’s just being a kid again. And for kids, being a kid and seeing things that you really adore… it’s just like Disneyland, but a bit crazier…. but still so much fun.
Cosplay is freedom, love and happiness. It’s like candy!
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Thank you to Otohime Nami for taking the time for the interview. You can follow her progress on her Instagram page.
Thank you to Papercube for arrangement and photos. You can check out his work on his Facebook page.
Interview by Shalimar Sahota.