See more photos in “Southern California Crossplay.”

Crossplay is exactly what you think it might be, cosplay that involves crossdressing. It's not the same as gender-bending an existing character, as Gender Bent Justice League did this year at San Diego Comic-Con. With crossplay, a female fan will present herself as a male character and vice versa.

Ultimately, crossplay is no different from cosplay, it's a fan-oriented art form that can take many different paths. Some people don't make a major effort to conceal their actual gender. Others take painstaking measures to resemble the opposite-gender character as closely as possible. The choice is up to the fan.

While you may stumble upon crossplayers at any event that encourages costume, the phenomenon is most common within the anime fandom. Sure, we may see a few girls portraying male characters from The Venture Bros. at San Diego Comic-Con, but nothing draws the sheer amount and diversity of crossplayers like anime conventions. In Southern California, we tend to see the most crossplayers at Anime Expo and Anime Los Angeles.

Credit: Shannon Cottrell

Credit: Shannon Cottrell

The obvious reason for this is that there are simply more cosplayers at anime conventions. You might see a lot of costumed photos in photo galleries from San Diego Comic-Con, Long Beach Comic Con and other similar comic book events, but that's not the majority of the crowd. At conventions like Anime Expo, if you aren't in costume, the assumptions are frequently either that you're a newbie, you're there for work or you're there to keep an eye on your kids.

Whether you're a woman intending on appearing male or a man planning to appear female, there are some preparations you'll have to make for a convincing crossplay.

For women, a big part of this involves binding your breasts to appear flat-chested.

“It's very common,” says Romy Meyerson, who was crossplaying as Izaya Orihara from Durarara!! when we met her at Anime Expo. “It can be easy, you can use a sports bra and an ACE bandage, or it can be complex as getting a compression shirt.”

For men, stuffing a bra may be a relatively simple task, but trying to mask facial hair is a much more time-consuming.

“I had to research mustache concealer,” says Bryce Masunaga, who was dressed as Fate Testarossa from Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha at Anime Expo.

More often then not, when we see male crossplayers, they're dressed as characters who wear skirts. The art of crossplay, though, becomes trickier if you're taking on a character who wears a skintight outfit, like Celty Sturluson from Durarara!! (and we have seen at least one Celty crossplayer). Tucking is the best-known option for temporarily concealing the bulge, and, if you read the tutorials, you'll gather that it's not that easy.

Credit: Shannon Cottrell

Credit: Shannon Cottrell

Within the anime fan community, there are certain franchises that attract more crossplayers than others. For female fans, anime and manga that feature bishonen characters are amongst the most heavily crossplayed.

Bishonen is a Japanese word that means “beautiful boy” and it's frequently used to describe a very specific type of character in manga and anime. These characters are young and gorgeous in an androgynous rock star sort of way– think of David Bowie in the '70s or Suede's Brett Anderson and Placebo's Brian Molko in the '90s– and they're really popular with female manga readers and anime watchers. Bishonen characters, and their corresponding voice actors, are often the ones who draw the most screams at convention panels. The characters are frequently placed into slash pairings.

In addition to the popularity of the characters, if you're a young women, it may not be terribly difficult to transform yourself into a beautiful boy.

“It's a natural sidestep to go for a more female looking male then it is to go full-on into the female [characters'] world with the huge boobs,” says Romy.

Hetalia and Black Butler are two commonly crossplayed series at conventions. The core characters are male and the manga/anime series have massive female followings in the U.S. (in the case of Hetalia, the fanbase appears to be almost exclusively female). However, you're also likely to see women dressed as male characters from Naruto, One Piece, Durarara!! and other shows at conventions.

For men, Touhou Project, a long running video game series, attracts a lot of crossplayers.

“Touhou tends to be a really popular one because it's really popular with guys, especially in Japan,” says Bryce.

Despite the popularity of Touhou Project, and despite the fact that there are fewer guys who crossplay, we've noticed a little more diversity in this regard. You're as likely to see sweet, now-retro characters like Nurse Joy from Pokemon and the Sailor Moon girls as you are to see sexy dullahan Celty from Durarara!! or scantily clad badass Yoko Littner from Gurren Lagann. There may be a lot of reasons for this, but, certainly, one of them is a person who was known in the Southern California anime community of the '00s as Man-Faye.

Credit: Shannon Cottrell

Credit: Shannon Cottrell

Man-Faye was the cosplay name of a guy who showed up to Anime Expo dressed as hot pants-loving anime character Faye Valentine from Cowboy Bebop several years ago. While Man-Faye eventually disappeared from the annual convention, and his Wikipedia entry has since been removed, the legend of the cosplayer who dressed as a super sexy anime lady, while still looking very much like a man, has remained.

“I liked how gutsy he was, how he just came and dressed up like Faye Valentine,” says one crossplayer, who only wanted to be referenced as Johnny. “Everyone was shocked by it. I like how he said, 'if you want to wear it, you should.'”

Johnny cites Man-Faye as an “inspiration.” Around the time that Johnny first learned about Man-Faye, the cosplay novice had been watching The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya.

“I really loved the character of Haruhi a lot,” he says. Johnny contemplated cosplaying the teenage girl Haruhi Suzumiya to show his admiration for the character.

“I was having thoughts about it and Man-Faye was like, 'just do it,'” he says.

Since he began cosplaying in 2008, Johnny has become one of the most easily recognizable regulars at L.A.-area anime conventions, where he frequently shows up at conventions as underdressed female characters. This year at AX, he portrayed both Panty and Stocking Anarchy from the recent hit anime Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt.

“I guess people around here know me as that person who dresses as revealing girls and I'm a guy,” he says.

“I met a lot of accepting people,” adds Johnny. “At first, I thought people wouldn't be accepting of it. I was very afraid of what people thought. Then, after I did crossplay, it made me more of a confident person. Not only is it something that I can do, it makes me better at making costumes and stuff.”

Credit: Shannon Cottrell

Credit: Shannon Cottrell

For women, crossplay may have something in common with a project like Gender Bent Justice League. When we spoke with the members of GBJL in San Diego, they expressed a desire to use cosplay as a way of pointing out the differences between the portrayal of female and male superheroes in comic books. The female crossplayers we met frequently mentioned that one of the reasons they choose to dress as male characters is because they don't necessarily relate to female characters in anime and manga.

Japanese and American comic books may rely on different genre conventions, but one thing remains similar. When dealing with the human form, they frequently rely on extreme presentations. Some female anime fans simply aren't comfortable portraying the extremely cute, buxom, panty-shooting heroine.

“I also don't like how the anime girls are portrayed,” says Romy. “Sorry, I'm not going to pack myself and do things like that.”

But, there's more to female crossplay then simply not relating to the characters. For some, crossplaying as a male character helps young women avoid unwanted attention at conventions.

“What I notice is that I avoid a lot of creepy fanboys if I'm not cosplaying a sexy character,” explains one woman who goes by the name Jo Luffiro Sauce. “In general, if you're a girl character, you get fanboys.”

When we met Jo, she was dressed as One Piece character Monkey D. Luffy from an omake, or bonus story, where he plays a detective. Jo says that she's acquired a collection of about 31 costumes since she began cosplaying in 2008. She estimates that more than 70% of those costumes are for male characters.

Jo recalls dressing as Nami from One Piece, a very pretty female pirate dressed in tiny outfits, at an event.

“I wore it to a gathering and let's just say that I was the only one standing and posing with ten photographers around me,” she recalls. “I was like, 'Woah, this is weird, go shoot someone else.'”

Crossplay for women poses a completely different situation.

“For crossplay, the better you do, the less fanboys you get,” she says. “If you get less guys stalking you, you're good.”

Undoubtedly, sexy female characters will consistently attract the most attention at conventions. We had to wonder, though, if that holds true if the person in the miniskirt is male.

“If you're going for the sexy crossplay and you pull it off, like they can't tell that you're an actual guy and they really think you're a girl,” says Bryce, then the answer is yes.

“It's more like, can they tell or not?” he adds. “At that point, they're going for what you're dressed as, not your gender.”

Overall, crossplay is about testing your costuming skills, challenging yourself to bring an animated character into the real world, and having fun while you do it.

“It's cosplay,” says Bryce. “I really like cosplaying.”

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