Standing at about 180cm tall and wearing a black t-shirt with sweatpants, A. Xiu Lan takes a long draw from his cigarette. Looking at A from afar, one would see a skinny young Chinese man with dishevelled hair and deep sunken eyes standing aimlessly while smoking. However, beneath A's simple exterior is a beast that is waiting to break out. A beast of cosplay.
A. Xiu Lan, one of China's top cosplayers, has been doing cosplay for over 14 years. Having won a myriad of awards and featured in various publications, A recently led a group of amateur cosplayers, or cosers, as they call them in China, to victory in the group skit competition during this year's China Joy.
"Chinese cosers are as good as the rest of the cosers around the world," said A, before taking another drag out of his cigarette. "We may not have the same awesome costumes but the desire to 'play' and show, is second to none."
A theatre director by trade, A said he started to cosplay because he had what was called a "second-grade dream". During his second year in high school A got caught up in Japanese comics and animation and started to cosplay. To A, the idea of cosplay comes from an internal desire to become a hero or a character he really enjoyed.
"What do you call cosplay? Can you make a living off cosplay?" asked A. "Cosplay is imitation, acting, and entertainment, if you make it into a living, it loses its 'play' element."
To A, cosplay is a lifestyle choice. Having won 280 different cosplay-related awards in China, A says many of his cosplaying peers have left the cosplay world because of its standing in China.
"Domestically, it's really hard to make it solely as a cosplayer; you need a means of support. For instance, my day job is being a theatre director, while others have turned into prop makers for movies," said A. "The reason is because in China there is a feeling that cosplay is relegated to the realm of children, something that young people do and that's it."
The part that A enjoys the most about cosplay is the 'play'. This year A portrayed the first generation and third generation Dio from Jo Jo's Bizarre Adventure. A's picked Jo Jo as an entrance point to showcase his and his compatriots' wild love for cosplay — he calls it "Our burning love for comics."
To prepare for a role, A says he spends months and months learning the look of a character. To prepare for Dio, A said he started earlier this year by watching Jo Jo's Bizarre Adventure. After watching the show, A would start watching the show while attempting to "recreate" the look and expressions of the characters. After he's satisfied with the look, he starts practicing in front of a mirror. He says the final step is to wear the costume and try to perform.
Winning or losing, A doesn't care; he chose his skit to solely show his love and dedication to cosplay. Despite A's stance on winning, he and his troupe won "best group skit" at China Joy 2013, along with a ¥10,000 ($US1,632) prize.
A's main focus in cosplay, as he puts it, has always been on "making himself happy."
Photos by MoDaShi