Lincoln Tan is the New Zealand Herald’s diversity, ethnic affairs and immigration senior reporter.

A passion maid in Japan:

Cosplay rising in NZ but ridicule of fans a hurdle, says expert.

She has been a cosplayer since she was little, a professional cosplay maid in Japan for two years and now Michel.Sea (not her real name) wants to share her passion with Kiwis.

Dolled-up maids, fairy princesses and superheroes will take centre stage at a cosplay fashion show in Queen St next Sunday.

Michel.Sea, who says she is forever 18, lives the character from her cosplay life and has not revealed her true identity to anyone for two years.

"When I put on my costume, I become someone else ... I become an idol and a star," she said.

Sea has been interested in anime since she was young, but only became obsessed in cosplaying since working at a maid cafe in Akihabara.

Her mother was also an active cosplayer.

Cosplay is short for "costume play", a global role-playing craze that is building up a cult following here.

Last year, more than 60,000 attended the Auckland Armageddon expo, which has been hosting cosplay contests since 2002.

Muqi Chen, 20, who is participating in next week's fashion show, said it was an opportunity to "show off and share ideas".

Chen and her friends will be dressed as characters from multimedia project "Love Live!" - in which fictional school girls become idols to save their school.

"Cosplayers are always looking for a chance to dress up and show our costumes," said Chen, who in real life is a University of Auckland architecture undergrad.

Chen said they were comfortable wearing the short skirts and skimpy outfits because it's what the characters they are trying to portray wore.

Her group, called "A.O.Kola" started last February, and performs at events including Armageddon, NZ Akiba-Con and Japan Day.

Cosplay had allowed her to make friends and she has a network of connections around the country.

Dr Lorna Piatti-Farnell, director of the Popular Culture Research Centre at AUT University, said cosplay was reasonably popular here but its appeal tended to be subcultural.

"The Cosplay community has traditionally had a clear gender imbalance, with a number of female cosplayers being ridiculed and [suffering] a lot of prejudice," she said.

"The tide is shifting but there is ... work to do." People who cosplay tended to be fans of certain narratives - from manga to anime, television to film, animation to comic books.

The NZ Cosplay Fashion Show will be held at the Premier Institute campus at 115 Queen St on Sunday, 24 July.

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- Herald on Sunday

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