The Animation-Comic-Game Hong Kong (ACG) was already packed with visitors in its first afternoon on Friday, even before people flocked there after work. Many were cosplaying as their favourite fictional characters.
Among the sea of people in colourful wigs and elaborate costumes, five rotund blobs attracted more attention than perhaps anyone – or thing – at the yearly gathering of animation fans. The armless cartoon astronauts, from the American multiplayer game Among Us, saw a non-stop stream of visitors wanting to take photos with them.
A sign printed by the Among Us cosplayers read “boobs hidden, legs covered, nothing pornographic, [we] abide by the organisers’ rules.”
Their slogan accurately reflected their oversized, inflated polyester costumes, which covered them from head to toe. Two holes on either side of the costume were just wide enough for them to stretch out their hands and promote their Instagram meme page on their phones.
Held at the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai, the ACG is Hong Kong’s largest annual event for fans of anime, comics and games. The gathering attracts thousands of visitors, as well as exhibitors selling themed artwork and merchandise.
For the first time since the ACG was held in 1999, the organiser of the four-day convention introduced guidelines for cosplayers’ attire. They called on female cosplayers to avoid showing their underboob and wearing stockings that revealed “too much skin,” while male cosplayers were told their bottom costume must be “larger than briefs.”
The Chief Executive Officer of the ACG, Leung Chung-poon, said in a press conference ahead of the event that the guidelines were made because there may be families with children at the fair. He added that cosplayers were consulted in the making of the guidelines, which would not be enforced as rules.
The Among Us cosplayers, a group of senior secondary school students, told HKFP they had ordered their costumes online the day after the guidelines were announced.
Wing, who was part of the Among Us crew but was not dressed in the costume himself, said he believed cosplayers should be allowed to freely portray the essence of a character.
“Of course I know that some people have worn relatively revealing clothes [at the convention]… but they were trying their best to bring the characters to life and maybe take pictures with other sub-culture lovers,” Wing said, adding that their enthusiasm “should not be erased.”
The student said the core message behind his action was that “outsiders should not dictate what insiders do.”
One of the Among Us cosplayers, dressed in a green costume, said the act was more of a parody than a serious protest. “Everyone laughs when they see our slogans. We are bringing happiness to people,” he added.
But Wing said the emergence of such guidelines meant that the organisers wanted cosplayers to do as they say. “If they truly don’t care, they would not have announced them,” he added.
A group of two men and three women, all cosplaying a maid character from popular game Genshin Impact, were waiting in a queue for an anime merchandise stall.
Wearing stockings and an apron over a dress, one of the men said the organiser’s guidelines were “hypocritical.”
He pointed to the exhibition’s “Doujin Zone,” where booths stock merchandise related to anime, comics and games.
“A couple [of] metres over there, you literally have people selling photos of either anime girls or girls in real life that are in their bikinis or censored in some bits, because they showed their actual private parts,” he said.
The cross-dressing cosplayer added that he came to the ACG because he wanted to “be a sexy maid.”
He did not give HKFP his name, but asked to be referred to as the “cult of Yae,” as Yae was the name of his friend who had “dragged” him along to the ACG.
Beyond the comfort zone
Dressed as a Lolita-style maid with black lace stockings and a purple wig, another visitor said he had cosplayed as different female characters at previous ACGs.
This time, the barefoot 23-year-old – who had a string tied around his neck for his friend to lead him around the exhibition – said he wanted to “break out of [his] comfort zone” and try something new, so he decided to play the role of a sex slave.
The cosplayer, who asked to be called Ray Yumi, said he was inspired to begin his journey in cross-dressing in 2016, when he first went to the ACG and bumped into a cosplayer wearing a long skirt in the male bathroom. Ray thought he was in the wrong toilet, but the cosplayer reassured him that he was male.
Ray said the encounter left a big impact on him and made him realise “possibilities” that had never crossed his mind. From there, he began learning about make-up from his female friends and by researching online. This year, he completed his look all by himself.
“If you truly love the character, you will be motivated to work on cosplaying,” he said, adding that he had taken a day off from work to attend the exhibition.
Ray thought positively of the new dressing guidelines as he said Ani-com was a “family-friendly” event.
“Some people might have shown too much skin and gone over the line [in the past],” he said. “It is better that now there is a reminder for them to bear in mind.”
“As long as it is not compulsory, I think it is still fine,” he said, adding that the most important thing was for all visitors to have a good time.
Holding a large cardboard sign over their heads written with the words “free hug” in capital letters and a smiley face, two secondary school students literally welcomed strangers entering the exhibition with open arms.
Wearing a long blonde wig, one of them told HKFP that she wanted to let people know that cosplayers were “loving people.”
The student, who asked to go by the name Stitchy, said she there was criticism that cosplayers – sometimes wearing revealing costumes – did “indecent work.”
“Recently the image of cosplaying is not very good in Hong Kong, so I want to bring happiness and love to everyone,” Stitchy said.
Stitchy added that she thought the new dressing guidelines were too restrictive, as cosplayers were not recommended to show their legs.
She said she understood that the remarks were merely advice, not rules – but “usually when there is a guideline… people normally would not want to break [it].”
“The Ani-com might be the only place for them to act as the characters they love. Now… the event is less cheerful compared to in previous years.”