There was more than just prizes up for grabs for the best cosplayers at last month's Amecon anime convention.  Cosplayers were also given the opportunity to vie for Britain's final qualifying spot for the inaugural Euro Cosplay Championships, joining the winner of the May MCM London Expo's cosplay competition in October's final against the best cosplayers from across Europe.

Cosplay - short for 'costume play' - is one of the aspects of anime culture that has really exploded internationally.  Near enough every anime convention and expo across the world featuring cosplay competitions or masquerades, and for many cosplay is the main reason to attend these events.  The idea of an pan-European cosplay competition has been mooted several times in the past but has always stalled either because of organisation or money.  However, with the financial backing and event experience of the MCM Group, organisers of the ever-growing MCM Expos and Memorabilia, the Euro Cosplay Championship has become a reality.  This October the Expo is flying in the winners of 30 affiliated cosplay competitions from 18 separate European countries to compete for the grand prize of a trip to Japan. 

For a first time event the scale of the Euro Cosplay Championship is pretty impressive.  For an international cosplay competition to feature competitors from eighteen countries is unprecedented, even the long-established World Cosplay Summit - a televised Japanese contest which is seen as cosplay's marquee event - only features fifteen, but a lot of the interest is no doubt down to the way the competition has been organised.  Unlike the World Cosplay Summit, which features countless guidelines and rules on everything from costume choice to performance structure, the Euro Cosplay Championships is refreshingly open.  Each

affiliated event runs their cosplay competitions in their usual way, selecting their winners by their own rules.  These winners are then brought to England to be judged in the final by the same rules applied for the Expo Masquerade, with marks given for accuracy, construction and stage style.  Each contestant is interviewed by the judges about how they made their costume and why, as well as showing the costume off on stage before the wider audience.  To avoid claims of bias the organisers are using judges from non-European nations, all of whom will be experienced cosplayers in their own right.

 So why has it happened now?  "It's (expo organisers) Paul and Brian's crazy idea!" laughs masquerade organiser Joe 'Granny Gertrude' Sutton.  "It's been in the pipeline for years and with the size of the Expo Masquerade establishing it as the most prestigious cosplay competition in the UK - in terms of an actual competition with defined prizes - Euro Cosplay seems like a natural progression.  Cosplay at the Expo has been growing and will have its own dedicated area and stage at October's event"  Needless to say the Expo's support is the main reason why the event is able to go ahead, earlier attempts to co-ordinate international cosplay competitions have generally fallen down because of the costs involved - no fan-run convention could afford to fly cosplayers in from other countries

or pay for their accommodation.  The Expo can, but it's still a cost that could bite if the event doesn't take off.  "Euro Cosplay is in the interests of both the Expo and the fan community" explains Joe, "The Expo gains the prestige of hosting an international event and hopes to raise its profile both with individuals and the media industry.  For cosplayers it raises the profile of the UK cosplay community both at home and abroad, bringing the hobby to wider attention.  It's a win-win situation if the event is successful."

Even with the financial backing though a hell of a lot of work has gone into making the event happen.  Contacting numerous international events, pitching the Euro Cosplay idea to them and co-ordinating everything was a mammoth task, so how did it all come together?  "Because James is a legend!" says Joe, referring to fellow organiser James 'Ilpala' Funnell, "He's put in years of work behind the scenes building contacts and getting them on board."  James is heavily involved in the organisation of the cosplay and fringe events at the Expo, and it's clear that he's put a colossal amount of work into making Euro Cosplay happen.  "It was quite tough for a while." he says, "people were cynical because of failed attempts in the past, but once we got a couple of events on board, more followed.  It was like a cascade effect, we found interest from countries we never expected and we've had further interest since the cut off.  If this year's event is successful we already have another three countries who missed the deadline but could participate next year."  Was the eventual level of interest surprising? "A little" says James, "cosplay was bigger in some countries than we expected, but we aimed to be as inclusive as possible so we're happy."

The inclusivity is certainly something that has impressed us about the event.  The Euro Cosplay qualifiers in the UK were open to anyone as long as they made their own costume and were 18 before the date of the final.  They were also not restricted to cosplaying as anime characters, any inspiration was allowed as long as it was a recognisable animated or illustrated character.  It didn't even have to be Japanese.  These restrictions are all that governs the final, and even pre-recorded skits are allowed.  "We wanted to get the real feel of each country's style of cosplaying."  Joe explained, "we didn't want to force people to do things our way, we wanted each country's best cosplayers by their own standards.  It'll make the final more diverse and interesting".  The open atmosphere has spread through the competitors too, there's no sign of any Eurovision style rivalries and pacts here.  "Although the finalists are competing several of them have got in touch with each other" says Joe, "It's been really friendly and amicable.  There's a great atmosphere, a real community feeling.  Cosplay crosses borders."  It's probably helped that the judges are not from any of the competing nations. "They're not even from the same continent!" says James, "We've got one confirmed judge from Brazil, and the others we can't announce yet but will be well known international cosplayers who will be big enough to be guests in their own right."  The first judge was announced to

be Thas Jussim (better known as Yuki).  Yuki has become one of Brazil's most recognisable cosplayers since performing for her country in the World Cosplay Summit and is a regular guest at Brazil's Video Games Live show and several other South American anime and game events.  She's also participated as a guest in Rio de Janeiro's famous Carnival Parade.  Keep an eye on the Euro Cosplay site and listen to the MCM Buzz podcast for up to the minute news on the other judges, we get a feeling they could also be quite impressive.

So what about the future?  "At the moment we're really hoping this event is a success" says James, "If it is then we hope to do it again next year, it would probably be in the same format due to the problems with co-ordinating changes internationally, but it should have more competitor nations.  The three who missed out this year include Latvia, so they'd be in next time, and we hope to get the word out into the Balkan states too.  It's quite hard to find out about events there."  Joe agrees, "it's all dependant on how the first event goes.  If it goes well it raises our profile, word spreads and more people want to compete.  We've always had positive feedback on the Expo Masquerade from overseas attendees so we are hopeful we can can give a good experience to the finalists and make the first Euro Cosplay Final a successful event."  The belief in the event and the love of cosplay Joe and James share is a driving force behind Euro Cosplay, and if anything will make it a success it's their genuine enthusiasm.  "We wouldn't give up our time and take on all this stress if we didn't think it was worth it" says Joe, "I think Euro Cosplay could have a positive impact on cosplay in the UK, and could potentially have side effects that are bigger than the event itself for the community as a whole.  It's aspirational, and will hopefully inspire people and increase creativity.  Cosplay is a creative hobby that nurtures transmutable skills, there's a lot you learn from making a costume and performing on stage.  Practical skills, mental preparation and presentation skills.  Then there's the discussion you have with the judges in the competition, which is great interview practice for employment and education."

Neither Joe or James would reveal who their money's on for the final.  "There's no dark horses, we're going to see the best of Europe's cosplayers going all out.  All of them have won at least one cosplay competition, they're all seasoned cosplayers.  It should be spectacular!" says Joe. "We just want to pull out all the stops, show the rest of Europe how big cosplay is in the UK" agrees James, "We want to impress, and hopefully the costumes on show can surprise the countries in the World Cosplay Summit."  We hope so too, Euro Cosplay is a chance for the UK to step up to a new level when it comes to international anime fandom and also push the Expo into a bigger league than it already occupies.  We look forward to the Finals with great interest, to echo Joe's sentiments - it should be spectacular!

Euro Cosplay @ MCM Expo