By Aparmita Das
Donald Khumlo (alias Zacky D.) and Garry Nelson Syiem (alias Jester Scar), two Shillong-based youths, are true cosplay aficionados. They have devoted countless hours to the creation of their elaborate costumes, including the rehearsals of their performances… all in pursuit of the chance to represent India at an international cosplay event in Japan.
Their tireless efforts were finally rewarded – while they won the contest in 2020, organised by Nagpur Anime Club, in collaboration with the Embassy of Japan, cosplayers from Manipur won the contest in 2022.
Following this, they were selected to travel to Japan to attend Pop Culture Hiroshima in 2022.
With the global pandemic raging, the event was cancelled in 2020-21. The duo waited patiently for two-and-a-half years to visit… certainly, a proud moment for Meghalaya.
The journey began with anticipation of embarking on a 14-day adventure. As the travel dates approached, the excitement mounted. The main event was set to take place on November 5 and 6.
They arrived in Japan on November 4, and attended a welcome party with cosplayers from various Southeast Asian countries, France and Austria.
The following day, the event was held in a unique underground venue, possibly a metro station, and the team participated in rehearsals for their performances. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Zacky D and Jester Scar to showcase their creativity to a global audience, and they were determined to make the most of it.
The sun had just begun to peek over the horizon as the people of Hiroshima gathered in the streets, eager to see the day’s parade. Soon, colourful floats made their way through the city as a sea of smiling faces looked on, filled with excitement. Children, in particular, were thrilled to see their favourite anime and video game characters come to life before their very eyes.
After the parade, the crowds made their way to the metro station for the main event. It was here that they were treated to a variety of performances, including a skit by the Meghalayans and a Japanese song sung by Zacky D. The atmosphere was electric, with the energy of the crowd fuelling the performances of the talented artists on stage.
They dressed up as characters from the anime Overlord, with Zacky D as Emperor JIrchniv and Jester Scar as Ainz. The next day, they changed their costumes to popular characters from newer anime series. Donald dressed as Obanai Iguro from Demon Slayer, while Gary donned the costume of Fumikage from My Hero Academia.
As day one drew to a close, the participants were interviewed about their experiences, thoughts on the parade and their time in the city. That the day made an impact was clear from the way the audience felt about the event.
On their second day, they visited historical heritage sites, including the bombing site of Hiroshima. As representatives of India, they donated paper cranes and paid their respects by bowing and ringing a bell – a touching gesture of peace and love from India to Japan.
On the third day, the organisers treated the team to a delightful excursion to the idyllic Miyajima Island, just an hour’s boat ride away from the docks. “The island was a natural wonder, teeming with friendly deer that roamed freely throughout the town, inviting interaction with the visitors,” Jester Scar recalled.
Zacky D shared his perspective about the impressions of the Japanese people about North East India, specifically Meghalaya. He chuckled as he remembered how they initially thought he was the Japanese translator for his partner, Jester Scar.
Both added how they had to rely on Google translator to communicate with locals and organisers.
He (Donald) went on to explain that at first, people in Japan did not believe that they were from India due to their unique features. They had to pull out a map to show where they were from and explain repeatedly why they looked different, including their deep love for Japan. Despite not living in metropolitan cities, the duo made an effort to travel to the country because of their admiration for the culture and people.
Speaking about Japanese cuisine, Zacky D stated that the food was bland, but it also depended on what one chose to explore. He mentioned that he may have chosen the wrong dish and did not enjoy it. At the same time, he highlighted that the food is generally healthy and that Ryokucha green tea is often served when one enters a Japanese restaurant. “The Japanese have a healthy lifestyle, which could be a reason for their high life expectancy.”
For the uninitiated, Pop culture Hiroshima began in 2017 and has since become a major event in the world of cosplay. Those who win at the regional or national level are allowed to become cosplay guests or alumni, representing their country at the event each year. As an alumnus, accommodation is covered, but the individual must pay for their flight. In this way, winners become ambassadors for their country in this world.
Our conversation steered towards the global lockdown and what it meant for them.
“The trip was initially planned for 2020, but had to be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Donald said, adding, “Due to the lingering fear of the virus, the visa process was difficult and we struggled for a month to obtain them.”
Despite the disappointment, they remained hopeful for the future and were thrilled to finally be able to make the trip to Japan. Soon, they received their visas.
Donald discovered cosplay by accident, initially trying it out just for fun while watching anime daily, only to fall in love with the hobby. He started participating more frequently. As time passed, his skills improved and on discovering its potential, he realised he could pursue it professionally. Now, it has become an integral part of his life and he cannot imagine leaving it behind.
Speaking about cosplay and its entertainment value, he pointed out, “Cosplay is not just about costumes. It encompasses performances that resemble theatrical plays, complete with skits, musicals, and choreography. It appeals to a wide range of individuals who have a passion for pop culture.”
Donald shared that his team has been hosting private cosplay events, as well as collaborating with annual events. Among them, the Shillong Cherry Blossom festival. He expressed a desire to expand this passion, with the objective of bringing it to a wider audience through various activities and events.
Accordingly, he reached out to the Department of Arts & Culture (DAC) for support, stating, “artists like us are thrilled to have seen the potential of the newly built Shillong International Centre for Performing Arts & Culture (SICPAC) and would be grateful for any support in collectively helping us grow this passion further.”
No longer are we cut off from the bigger world. Zacky D and Jester Scar show us that passion is all there is. Being true to this takes one and all to spaces they could only dream about once upon a time.
Reminiscing with lost looks on their faces, they said, “As we look back on our experiences (in Japan), we are filled with fond memories of the diverse individuals we met along the way. Though it was difficult to say goodbye, we hold onto the hope that we will, one day, return to relive those special moments. Our journey does not end here. We are determined to take the craft of cosplay with us wherever we go, sharing it with others and creating new memories. We are optimistic about the future and excited for the adventures that lie ahead.”