Anime has only been on my radar for the past few years – if you don’t count the unavoidable Pokémon episodes I devoured as a kid. While considering what to take on for my first cosplay project, I was also taking my first timid steps into the world of Japanese animation. After watching Chobits at the recommendation of a friend, I knew Chi would be one of my first costuming endeavors.
This was back in late 2006. With that being said it’s obvious that this costume was a long time in the making. Technically, my first cosplay experience was dressing up as Lara Croft in early 2006, (which while good for a first effort, makes me cringe looking back) but this costume idea came almost immediately afterwards.
After my first successful cosplay run – a small comic book convention in Minnesota – I decided I wanted to give the whole cosplay thing my all. As I mentioned, that decision corresponded directly with me watching Chobits for the first time, and I immediately fell in love with the main character Chi. Who wouldn’t though?!? Her costumes are as adorable as her personality, and I knew I wanted to try and pull off the long pink dress she rocked in one of the later episodes. At that point I had no sewing skills whatsoever – as opposed to my questionable sewing ability now – so I looked to eBay for my first official cosplay purchase. I think GEN editor Kannaya and I spent more time in class on eBay looking for cosplay outfits for several weeks than we did on schoolwork. Eventually I found the dress online – which looked beautiful in the photo – and ordered it right away. I asked for it to be modified to make the sleeves short, but other than that no changes were made.
I purchased the dress for a total of $100 – very steep for me at the time. The ensemble came with the dress, foam Persocom ears and Chi’s little spool hair ornaments. I was really happy and excited with the purchase from the get-go. However, when I got the dress in the mail, I was pretty bummed with the results. In the eBay photo, you could not tell that the fabric was shiny and very heavy – versus the light and flowing dress that appeared online. The flower embellishments on the neck were much lower quality, and one of the sleeve tops was even sewn back on itself. The dress was also a much more vivid pink that I imagined. To make things worse, when I tried on the dress the front was much longer than it appeared in the photos. One of the reasons I chose the dress was because of the unique shape – a very short skirt in front contrasted with an overly long train in the back. The front of the skirt almost reacted my knees. The dress did not fit great anywhere, but since it was made custom to my size, I sucked it up and dealt with it.
I dealt with it by sticking it in my closet and never wearing it out, even to my first anime convention. It stayed there until I had an itch over a year later to try it on again. I just received a long and curly blonde wig in the mail, and wanted to give Chi another chance. Nope, the dress didn’t fit any better, but I decided to try and get some fun photos out of it anyway. I managed to negate the length problems by adding a corset to the costume. With that, I was able to tuck up around eight-inches of the dress under the corset, making it the appropriate length. Also, the black corset helped to block off the huge mass of pink. Without the corset, the large pink blob of a dress proved to be overwhelming to look at.
After I decided to shoot the costume, I went accessory shopping. I bought a little petticoat for under the dress to give it an extra “omph” and found matching thigh-high white stockings with cute satin bows on top. I finished the dress off with black pumps and the pink choker. I decided to use the long blonde wig I already had, even though it was not quite perfect to character. The really long wigs that are needed for so many anime characters are hard to maintain and more often than not look fake, so I chose to sacrifice a bit of accuracy for something I thought would photograph and look better.
As I began to plan the shoot, I decided I wanted to do a few quick photos in other Chi appropriate clothing items. Since Chi was almost always wearing Hideki’s sleep shirts in the beginning of the series, I thought it would be cute to throw on an oversized men’s shirt in some photos. I also grabbed a flowing white nightgown because I thought it would look nice with the blonde wig and some natural makeup.
Organizing the shoot was fun. I was able to work with an amazing makeup artist and photographer, who did not mind my babbling on and on about the character and series. We exchanged emails before the shoot date to go over makeup ideas, possible shoot locations and fun stuff like that. My makeup artist - Konnie Yang - and I had not worked together previously. When I sent over pictures of the costumes we decided to do a more natural look for the first shots in the sleep shirt and night gown. Even though we went for natural and minimal makeup at first – she still managed to my skin flawless and make my eyes even bigger than they already are. Also, she was one of the fastest working makeup artists I have ever shot with – which was fantastic due to the extra camera time we got as a result. Also, check out those eyelashes! Put on perfect!
Scott Walker, the photographer, was a friend of mine who I have worked with several times in the past few years. We had been talking about doing a cosplay shoot together for some time, so shooting Chi seemed like a good fit. He has a fantastic studio with lots of windows and interesting spaces to shoot in the building. Scott did a unbelievable job with the photos, and I can honestly say I have never seen a raw pictures come from the camera looking so good. I also loved that he rigged his camera up to the computer – so I had constant feedback on how the photos were looking and what poses were working best.
As I mentioned, we started the shoot with me in the nightgown and sleep shirt. When shooting, I tried to keep Chi’s personality in mind. In the early part of the series, she was very child-like and confused. She had the curiosity of a little kid and I tried to show that. Some of the pictures I am hugging a big bear – or interacting with it in some way such as pointing at its nose. Some of the photos I have a semi-lost expressions on my face, and others I have a big – and admittedly goofy – grin on my face almost like Chi was glowing from receiving Hideki’s approval. I also did a run looking out the window – trying to seem lost in thought as Chi often did. The “sleepy Chi” shots in the blue sleep shirt turned out cute as well. I have to say though; my favorite pictures out of that set are my “underpants” shots. One of my favorite Chobits episodes was when Hideki sends Chi out to go buy underpants. I loved that she did not quite understand what they were for or why she needed them. I picked up a new pair of white panties from the store before the shoot and played around with them in a few photos. It took a bit of explaining on my part for everyone there to understand what I was doing, but I think the shots are fun.
We moved onto the big pink dress after that – which required three sets of eyes the whole time to keep every ruffle in place. That dress is a piece of work to say the least. Konnie spruced up my makeup to make it a bit more glamour for those pictures. She added more color to my cheeks and gave me a smokier eye. With darker eyes, she decided to leave my lips with just gloss. We started shooting the dress in front of a white seamless backdrop – primarily because there was enough going on in the costume that we did not want anything to compete. I tried to approach these photos as a bit more mature Chi. She was farther along on the path to self-discovery at the point I was pulling from, and seemed a bit older as a result. We tried some full-body shots and some close-ups for the makeup and I varied both serious and fun looks. After shooting on the white background, we moved into the hallway to shoot coming up some stairs and by a different window. After a few photos, we got a fantastic profile shot and decided to end the shoot on a good note. I think I liked being blonde a bit much, because I left the wig on the remainder of the day.
Scott put up a gallery of photos a few days later, so I did not have to wait long to see our collaborative results! There were a huge amount of great photos thanks to the team effort. As far as post-production work, very little was required. Color-balance, focus and exposure were perfect nearly every shot thanks to Scott, and Konnie did a great job bringing out my features. I did apply a diffused-glow filter to some of the photos to play up Chi’s angelic nature, but most of the photos are pretty pure. I also changed my eye color to brown in order to mach Chi’s – but only because my eyes seem to reject contacts whenever I try. I thought about lightening up my eyebrows a bit – as I have already received comments that they give away I am wearing a wig – but in the end I figured it was not really that big of a deal.
So there you go! Way more information than I am sure you need to know about this costume! I doubt I will ever wear it to a convention, as it is hard to keep in check – but who knows, Chi may make a Minnesotan appearance at next year’s Anime Detour. I hope you enjoy the photos – a ton of hard work went into bringing Chi to life!