Although my childhood memories are primarily punctuated by cartoons like Batman: The Animated Series, DuckTales, and Disney’s Gargoyles, I was exposed to a handful of anime in my youth. One offering in particular – Studio Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke – resonated with me for years to come. To some degree it retains a special place because it was one of my first forays into the world of Japanese animation, but it additionally warrants fond recollection for a powerful story and moving performances. When I was invited to Katsucon 2012 as a cosplay guest – a massive honor and an amazing experience – it only seemed natural to take on San’s deceptively simple garb from the Ghibli film.
Construction of the costume took about a month, working a few hours here and there after work. I started with San’s mask, as in my eyes it’s the most iconic part of her costume. The mask began as a bamboo bowl from Target, which I chose because of its light weight and durability. I shaved down the bowl with a razor, plotted out the eyes and mouth, burned the sockets in with a soldering iron, and began mold the clay accent pieces. When everything was shaped, I popped it in the oven to bake. After cooling, I filed off any paint that still adhered to the mask so the natural grain would show through.
My primary goal in the costume was to ensure everything looked hand made, and as such little sanding was needed. I actually carved lines into the dry clay to make it appear made of wood, too. When it came to painting I avoided oversaturation, so that the rings would show through the bright pigment. I hand painted the small details, again, not really worried about achieving perfection.
The ears were made similarly, entirely out of clay and carved to look like wood. I also made the teeth on San’s necklace out of clay – painted an off white and then slightly yellowed for a realistic look.
The crystal dagger was fairly easy. I ordered a glass napped point on Etsy, and painted the back with blue nail polish. It’s a simple trick that works very well and doesn’t compromise the transparency of the glass. I used a friendship bracelet and some leather cording to finish off the piece.
San’s actual dagger – her primary weapon – is made out of Wonderflex. I left the edges intentionally serrated so it would appear to be made out of bone. Again, I used a slight off-white color. A spare piece of curtain rod became the handle, completed by wrapping leather cording around the grip. I also made the earrings out of Wonderflex, painted a pearlescent shell color.
I completed the dress and vest in one night without the aid of a pattern. I chose a thick, rough looking linen for the fabric, knowing it would fray and look more authentic as I wore it. I used the same fabric for the head and arm bands, attaching beads accents I purchased to match the design.
The shoes used to be some ugly fashion boots, complete with fur and a massive zippers. I stripped them down to the bare bones, and hand-sewed on new soles so they wouldn’t look manufactured.
The fur cape was a last minute addition, and something I was very concerned about leading up to the show. When my order arrived, it was a very distinct silver color – not the pristine white I had ordered. I almost settled due to a lack of time, but my boyfriend surprised me with a new, accurate order that arrived the night prior to my departure. Cutting it up and securing it in place wasn’t difficult, but was very messy.
The day of the convention, fellow Katsucon guest Linda Le helped me paint my face, as I’m absolutely horrid at anything involving symmetry. She also cut and styled the wig for me, making it look as light and feathery as San’s own hair. I finished up the costume with a bit of “dirt,” which was in truth black and brown hairspray diluted with water and stippled on my arms, legs, and face.
I spent the first half of the day in my full Mononoke ensemble, which was very well received by other Ghibli followers. I then returned to my room, removed my mask, and bloodied up my mouth and hands. Fans of the film recognized the look as the first time they see San, attempting to aid her wounded wolf-kin.
I shot with both Anna Fischer and LJinto at the show, and am so, overwhelmingly happy with the photos. The Katsucon hotel was an ideal place for the shoot – the lighting and atmosphere was perfect, and there was even a little stream running through the courtyard.
I am by no means through with San – I intend to wear her again to several more conventions this year. All I need now is to find myself an Ashitaka!