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Kriti Chamling Rai cosplaying Zinogre from Monster Hunter. Photo by: Saajan M Shrestha/Nepali Times. Used with permission.

This article by Shristi Karki was first post in Nepali Times. An edited version is republished on Global Voices under a content sharing agreement.

On September 17, 2022, over 9000 people — mainly from Nepal, India and Bangladesh participated Otaku Jatra Fall 2022a Nepali anime and cosplay festival held in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Suki Manandhar grew up in Nepal watching anime and cartoons and reading manga whenever she could get her hands on it. Pokemon, Digimon, Dragon Ball Zand Haibane Renmei brought him joy and comfort.

At the time, Manandhar wished she could dress like the characters she saw on screen. She sometimes engaged in ‘closet cosplay’ (using her own items to recreate outfits), making costumes and dressing up as anime characters and sharing them with other anime fans on online forums.

“I had no idea what they meant when I was a kid, but I appreciate them more when I look at them now,” Manandhar says.

A cosplay artist attends the Otaku Jatra Fall 2022 pop culture convention in Kathmandu.  Photo by Sumit Nepali.  Used with permission.

A cosplay artist at the Otaku Jatra Fall 2022 pop-culture convention in Kathmandu. Photo by Sumit Nepali. Used with permission.

costumes (formed by combining the words costume and game) is an art form in which performers dress and accessorize like characters from across pop culture – anime, cartoons, comic books, video games and other sources of television and movies.

Although masked ballscarnivals and contests where people in costume have been commonplace since the 15th century, cosplay in mainstream media, and art emerged from fan culture through science fiction conventions in the 20th century.

The San Diego Comic Convention (SDCC) was founded in the United States in 1970. Five years later, Japan inaugurated its own convention, Comiket. But the subculture would only catch on in Nepal decades later.

Cosplay artists at Otaku Jatra Fall 2022. Photo by Suman Nepali.  Used with permission.

Cosplay artists at Otaku Jatra Fall 2022. Photo by Suman Nepali. Used with permission.

Rohit Shrestha started watching anime when he was in 8th grade, started cosplaying in 2014, and is one of the first cosplayers in Nepal. He is now one of the organizers of Otaku Jatra, Nepal’s biggest pop culture convention.

Suki Manandhar cosplaying Celty Sturluson from Durara.  Photo by Suki Manandhar/Nepali Times.  Used with permission.

Suki Manandhar cosplaying Celty Sturluson from Durara. Photo by Suki Manandhar/Nepali Times. Used with permission.

Realizing that there was a growing community of pop culture fans in Nepal, their collective OtakuClub teamed up with another collective, Otaku Next – which published its Nepalese manga magazine – to organize small-scale pop culture events that grew into smaller pop-up events, fanart and cosplay contests, and exhibitions.

In 2014, when she heard about the Otaku event, Suki Manandhar made her own costume, often sewing it out of sight of her teachers even as she attended her college classes. The day before the convention, with her outfit still not done, Manandhar stayed up all night to finish it.

Manandhar went to her first cosplay event as Taiga from the anime Toradora. She has attended many conventions since, but remembers dressing up as Mikasa Ackerman from The attack of the Titans as one of her most memorable cosplays. Depending on the characters, Manandhar spends up to five months creating intricate costumes.

The 26-year-old communications officer, who also illustrated and wrote a four-chapter manga, Birdsonghad been preparing for a year for the Otaku Jatra Fall 2022 which was held on September 17, 2022 in Kathmandu, working on her costume as soon as she had time.

Kriti Chamling Rai started cosplaying in 2016 after she and her friends visited the Otaku store, where they met organizers who informed them of an upcoming convention.

“We were so surprised that there was even a store that sold manga and anime props, let alone hosted conventions,” recalls Rai, who grew up watching anime and cartoons with his family. aunt. “We didn’t have the Internet; we would go to the DVD store and buy CDs.

For the convention, Rai started with characters that didn’t require elaborate props or detailed costumes, deciding to go as Tenten de naruto.

Suki Manandhar as Mikasa Ackerman in Attack on Titan.  Photo: by Prithibi Rai.  Used with permission.

Suki Manandhar as Mikasa Ackerman in Attack on Titan. Photo: by Prithibi Rai. Used with permission.

“I saw so many people dressed as characters I had grown up watching on screen and loved – it was amazing to see them walking around in real life,” she mused. “I’ve been to so many conventions since, but the first one will always be special.”

Rai’s cosplay as Saber from the Japanese visual novel Fate/stay nighton which she worked for three months, won her the 2nd prize at Comic Con Nepal 2017 and take him to New Delhi to represent the country.

Back in Nepal, Otaku Jatra finally held a full-scale convention — a Jatra — in 2017. By 2020, they had grown enough to be a special event within Visit Nepal 2020but those plans were scrapped due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“My hobby turned into passion and my passion turned into business,” says Rohit Shrestha of Otaku Jatra speaking with Nepali Times ahead of their convention which will include cosplay, animation, contests of K-pop, electronic sports competitions, arcade games, etc. After.

Shrestha remembers a man in his sixties attending a convention with a cowboy hat and a prop gun. He was happy to finally find a space in Nepal where he could express his childhood dream of being a cowboy. We also get a lot of expats, little kids dressed up as characters from Naruto or Dragon Ball Z with their parents in tow,” adds Shrestha.

Photo by Nepalese Suman.  Used with permission.

Photo by Nepalese Suman. Used with permission.

Otaku Jatra has expanded to India and approached content creators across South Asia to participate in events in Nepal with the aim of transforming the country into a mecca for fans of underworld pop culture. continent.

“We have mountaineering and adventure tourism. Why not pop-culture tourism? said Shrestha. “It’s going to take a long time to get there, but it’s a scramble.”

The collective is also exploring ways to expand its digital platform to help artists and content creators monetize their hobbies. Conventions like Otaku Jatra have also provided a space for them to showcase their work – whether it’s cosplay itself, animation, or other art forms.

“These conventions are also networking opportunities for artists and businesses,” adds Shrestha. “We hope content creators can expand their work beyond entertainment into something more sustainable.”

Additionally, the collective hopes to expand Nepali pop culture itself. One of his most recent ventures is the jacrossa digital universe through which they plan to introduce and incorporate characters from Nepalese folklore and mythology – such as the Yeti, Pisach and Kichkandi – into their art form.

Photo by Nepalese Suman.  Used with permission.

Photo by Nepalese Suman. Used with permission.

The cosplay community around the world has had to deal with racism, misogyny, harassment and homophobia. In Nepal, cosplayers say they faced sexism and body shaming, as well as a degree of ignorance and active denial when performers attempted to express themselves. In fact, body shaming and online bullying have kept many people out of the community.

For their part, organizers say they will ensure the event is a safe space for artists to express themselves. “Cosplay is not consent,” says Shrestha.

Suki Manandhar says, “It’s a community where you can be anything, no matter who you are. I’ve met many people who have chosen to be kind, understand consent, and stand up for each other.