Monday, January 7, 2013

Comiket 83: The Hunter Becomes the Hunted

Comiket 83 ero-cosplay with otaku.
If you've ever been to an event with cosplay, then you're familiar with the fearsome tribe of otaku cameramen, the Camera Kozoh. Barking orders, demanding lewd poses, and pressing for contact information at the end of a grueling shoot, by all appearances they are unrelenting sadists that get off on dominating innocent models. But step into the personal space between the shooter and subject and you'll find that it's the exact opposite. The model has the cameraman wrapped around her little finger, and he would beg for the opportunity to grovel at her manicured feet.

Cosplay is an expensive hobby. The costume itself can easily run hundreds of dollars depending on how complicated the design and accessories are, not to mention hidden fees—upkeep and storage, makeup, trips to the salon, transport and entrance to events—the bills quickly add up for the model, who is likely either still in college or pinching pennies at an entry level position. For girls that plan to get serious about their hobby, first they need to find a way to monetize it—or at least avoid going too far into debt.

Enter the Camera Kozoh.

A good Camera Kozoh will round up a stable of girls that strike his fancy, then organize private photo shoots that serve as the model's main source of income. The photos serve as free advertising and materials for a future photo book. A pretty face might land a girl a few groupies, but to gain name recognition she'll need to tap into the gated community that the cameraman is member of.

Once he gets chummy with a cosplayer, maybe he'll act as her caddy, chauffeur, editor, web master, or even self-appointed manager—all pro bono, of course. To the Camera Kozoh who has already dropped thousands of dollars on monstrous camera rigs, footing the bill is a small price to pay for some facetime. His commitment holds the community together.
ComiketDay3 (6 of 20)
To the casual observer, this is where the arrangement falls apart. Aren't these cameramen just creepy middle-aged losers doling out cash for attention from young girls? To a certain degree, yes, probably. But economic constrictions keep any ulterior motives in check. Studio rental fees are prohibitively expensive and easily run half a grand for a session, so they need to buddy up to split the burden. Plus you need a crop of models to rotate between takes, with each asking for a hundred bucks or more to cover costs—a girl's 'gotta eat, after all.

This well-oiled system makes it easy to organize shoots, promote yourself, and make friends along the way for both the cosplayer and the Camera Kozoh.
Comiket83 (10 of 26)
It also places both parties in a prisoner's dilemma, except without reward for taking a risk. The cameraman wants to make a move on a model, but knows it would ostracize him from his peers and ruin his reputation for private shoots. The model wants attention and money, but if she gets too entangled with a single cameraman she risks alienating fans and the income they represent. “Bros before hoes” has never been a more fitting maxim.

The Camera Kozoh that seems oppressive at events is rendered mostly harmless from internal pressure and external economics. His weakness is obvious to everyone within the community—and most profitable to the ero-cosplayer.
Comiket 83 ero-cosplay and Camera Kozoh.
Her revealing costume seduce scores of willing men to purchase CDs filled with photos or videos of the model splayed out in compromising poses, legs open to men with open wallets. These salacious disks, or ROMs, are normally sectioned off from cosplay photo collections at Comiket, or even given adult-only events.

This doesn't stop these succubi from snaking into the photo pit to pass out business cards and promote their wares. If you see a semi-circle of telephoto lenses with flash bulbs strobing, chances are that behind the press of bodies a ROMer is working hard at a sales pitch.
Cosholic (1 of 2)
Cosholic, the premiere ROM-exclusive event, is conveniently held in the evening following the second day of Comiket. This allows the model to busk during the first two days, see her new fans at night, then follow-up with a meet-and-greet at her official booth on day three of Comiket.

Ever since the ROMers moved in during the early 90's, the Comiket Planning Committee has been wracking its collective brain-trust trying to find a way to host nudie cosplay without incurring the wrath of the law. Adult dojinshi are comics and as such exist in a legal gray-zone—erotic cosplay, on the other hand, falls squarely under Japan's pornography laws, particularly those outlawing the display of genitals.

Manga can get away with striking out a tiny strip of the offending region with a black bar or a heavy layer of mosaic chaff. If a ROM pulled the same stunt, it could be confiscated as indecent material under article 175 of the Penal Code, with Comiket held accountable as an accomplice.

A scrutinized event like Comiket wants to avoid giving more ammo to the media and more jurisdiction to the authorities at all costs. Hence they have introduced tighter standards of decency—tighter even than those for the off-the-shelf porno mags you find at the conbini. The planning committee may ban a ROM if it doesn't meet their criteria, but this plays right into the hands of the ero-cosplayer. The label “Too Hot For Comiket” is a masturbatory seal of approval and all the more incentive for a fan to visit Cosholic to pluck a bushel of forbidden fruit.
Cosholic (2 of 2)
Another major draw are photography tickets. Though the exact stipulations vary from girl to girl, buying a ROM gives the cameraman the right to interact one-on-one with the model and snap to his heart's content, or at least until her handler calls "time." While not as intimate as a studio shoot, it's also nowhere near the hassle—especially for pariahs that have burned all other bridges.

Though it's hard to argue against the predatory nature of models, blaming them for exploiting the cameramen is a knee-jerk reaction. Lonely guys seeking emotional fulfillment have any number of alternate money sinks.

The argument boils down to value—they must feel like they're getting their money's worth, or else would invest into soap lands instead. Likewise, the model needs to maintain a careful balance of professional distance and platonic romance to buffer the dream against reality. Cosplay is defined by role-playing where both parties are expected to perform their parts at all times. If you find this school of method acting too extreme, I suggest watching the drama unfold from the sidelines. Or through a the lens of a camera.
Comiket 83 cosplay of Harajuku street snap fashion.


  1. the more you read the more lame you find them, i always though they where a bunch of creepy free going photographers, but now there is a money inversion... go figures, internet is no longer a satisfaction to these guys... and i guess the red light district is too desperate, but lets face it, the middle ground would never be cool, even among the line of lameness that is hiring hoes or consuming porn addictively. so rather than this role-play relation being extreme it comes more as a half-ass, but well an erotic business that is law regulated can't aspire to more than that...

  2. The dark back alleys of otaku culture never fail to fascinate and amaze.

  3. Wow, I was not expecting such venom directed at these dudes!
    I should stress that these dynamics do not apply to all cosplayers/cameramen. Groups that gather in parks on weekends, or costumers that wander the pit aimlessly, should be given the benefit of the doubt. When someone monopolizes a model for more than a few minutes, or a flash mob congeals around exposed flesh, well, save your contempt for them.

  4. I may have come across as more harsh than I intended. I find this stuff fascinating and weird, but what shocks me is the sheer amount of effort these dudes are putting towards a titillating pursuit with so little reward. That's where the creepiness comes from: the sterile meticulousness of the hobby. Not because these guys are bad or doing any harm.

    1. If it helps you feel any less queasy, some of them do hold down jobs as cameramen, professional or otherwise. When you compare it to the other ways you could waste time--MMOs, Youtube, 4-chan--at least they're dumping it into something creative.
      Not that this excuses them from making a mess of the cosplay pit! Though the desperate models are equally at fault.

    2. No one with a hobby that they dedicate wanton amounts of resources toward, both monetary and chronologically, has the proper right to criticize another's.

      To a neutral third party I am sure my hundreds of meticulously collected vintage videogames are as incomprehensible a pursuit as that of the Camera Kozoh.

  5. There are some truths in this article but they pertain only to a select tier cosplayer/photogs in Japan.

    Its safe to say that the MAJORITY of cosplayers/photogs do not follow this pattern.

    Please don't form a solid opinion after reading an article targeting an extreme nich group but instead gather some more sources =D.

    1. I'd be interested to read about the positive aspects of the Japanese community. Do you have any links?

  6. Its simple. Like other social hobbies, most cosplayers get to meet new friends, roleplay in their favorite characters, talk about fandom, and just enjoy a con with like-minded company.

    Majority of cossers in japan actauly take pictures of each other for convinience and being able to process it themselves. I've attached my own picture of such case in the last winter comiket 83 that just took place.

    Also, specifically designed cosplay Studios aren't nearly as expensive as stated. I will attach another picture of one such studio with the prices I've taken recently. Also gotta remember they usually rent them in groups of 4+ to share the cost and also to have more fun!

    1. I'd love to see your shots from inside the cabaret club. The lighting must be real moody. In the meantime, let your fellow crossers know that the place is hiring at a competitive rate: