For the past seven years, fans of Japanese pop culture who dress up in costumes as their favorite character have swooned over Alodia, one of three Ani-Mates, Animax?s version of an MTV VJ. Not only does she look like a comely anime heroine, she actually breathes and lives cosplay
ALODIA spelled backward is ?aIDOLa.?
The name, which her mother picked out of a baby book 22 years ago, has turned out to be prophetic of what she has become: the undisputed queen of Philippine cosplay.
And if Alodia didn?t exist In Real Life, some genius otaku would have invented her anyway in the virtual realm, because every geek needs a goddess to worship: ?Star Wars? geeks have Princess Leia, ?Lord of the Rings? geeks have Galadriel, anime geeks have the girls of ?Tenjou Tenge? or Kagome from ?Inuyasha.? For uncounted hordes of the fanboys and fangirls who follow anime and Japanese pop culture in the Philippines, it?s Alodia Gosiengfiao.
Okay, let?s back up a bit:
?Otaku? is a Japanese term loosely translated as ?geek.? It connotes someone? usually male?obsessed with a particular pursuit, commonly computers, videogames, toys, manga or anime. Originally derogatory, because it implied social maladjustment, it has become a badge of pride among the geeks themselves.
In the Philippines, ?otaku? usually refers to fans of Japanese pop culture, whether anime, videogames or music. A popular otaku pastime is ?cosplay? or ?costume play,? a kind of performance art in which they dress up and play characters from anime, videogames or some other fantasy figure. Starting out as an underground subculture, cosplay has been growing exponentially. There are scores of local websites, forums and blogs devoted to cosplay, and cosplay competitions have become a regular highlight of toy and comics conventions. Cosplayers spend an inordinate amount of time, money and energy getting their costumes and their characters just right.
It?s not hard to see why Alodia has reigned supreme in this hermetically sealed world for the past seven years: sure, her costumes have always been spectacularly detailed and well-executed, but even scrubbed of make-up and in plain jeans and tee, she looks like a figure from some otaku?s wet dream, with long straight hair, pert Asian features, and a slender body that could have been the model for one of the vinyl figurines of comely anime heroines that otaku love to collect.
Alodia inspires moe, which is an otaku term that refers to an extreme attraction?desire sublimated and directed toward an idealized figure, usually a fictional anime character. (Whether it?s the characters that she plays or Alodia herself that inspires moe is open to debate).
Anyway, with the current explosion in pan-Asian pop culture, in which Korean girl groups mingle promiscuously with Japanese anime, with English sub-titles and Tagalog dubbing to boot, otaku culture is poised to go mainstream. Koreanovelas and Naruto have already won over the ?Wowowee? masses: now the second wave is about to be unleashed.
Leading the way is Alodia, who was recently chosen, along with her sister Ashley and model Stephanie Henares to become Animax?s ?Ani-Mates,? which is analogous to music television?s VJs. One of two cable networks devoted full time to anime (and now also Korean pop), Singapore-based Animax Asia broadcasts all over Southeast Asia, and it is significant that they chose their first on-cam talents from the Philippines.
Of course, the choice of Alodia was a no-brainer: her otaku credentials are impeccable. Alodia took the cosplay world by storm when she joined it at age 15. After countless wins, she is now a senior figure in the scene and no longer competes, though she still cosplays. She usually comes in as a judge or featured performer.
Her Internet presence is formidable. Not only does she blog for Animax as part of her regular duties as Ani-mate, but she has been maintaining her own blog at www.alodiagosiengfiao.com since 2004. Her online cosplay group (www.cosplaycircle.com) now has over 2,000 members worldwide. She also features prominently in fansites, blogs and online photo galleries.
Alodia has also gone global: last July 3 she performed along with sister Ashley in Singapore?s Mascot Parade, singing the theme from ?Paradise Kiss.? She was invited to judge the cosplay competition of the recent Akiba Festival in Chile. She has also been invited to be part of a documentary film on geek culture, to be filmed at the San Diego Comic-Con by Morgan Spurlock (?Supersize Me,? ?Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?).
Not too long ago, uber-otaku and Japanese pop culture maven Danny Choo featured her desk in his book ?Otacool.? She was also featured on his Tokyo TV show ?Culture: Japan,? which was also rebroadcast on Animax.
Indeed, so huge has Alodia become in the otaku world that the inevitable backlash has been spawned, in the form of the Alodia Haters Club. Incredibly strange as it may seem to non-otaku, Alodia fans and haters have been burning up the Internet forums with their heated debates on whether or not Alodia deserves to be where she is now, or whether she has gotten too big for her Japanese schoolgirl breeches. There has even been a punch-up or two between fans and haters at geek gatherings. Most of the hate comes from the disproportionate media attention she attracts, and her dominance of local cosplay events, but some of it is showbiz-nasty, with rumors and intrigues and mudslinging worthy of ?The Buzz.?
If that?s not a sign that one has truly arrived, I don?t know what is.
Back in her lair, surrounded by her collection of moe figurines, comic book heroes, paints and videogame consoles, Alodia seems untouched by it all. Here she reverts from idol mode back to the geek she admits to being.
?I?m proud to be one,? she says. ?I?ve been into videogames ever since I can remember. My mom started it all. I wasn?t even born yet but I could already hear [Super] Mario.?
From an early age, she says, she?s always had a rich fantasy life. Cosplay was a way of channelling this.
?We were always into fashion and art, and we also loved anime and videogames. Cosplay is a fusion of those hobbies. We learned about cosplay through our friends online,? she recalls. ?We had this forum called Anime Club, and we used to have eyeballs and events.?
Always interested in drawing and painting, Alodia found in cosplay her ideal art form.
?I loved everything about it,? she recalls. ?We would get really excited and hyped up when we were doing a new costume. We would hunt for the cloth, look for the materials for the props. I got to do it with my mom and my sisters so it was our bonding time as well. And when you?re finished with your creation, it?s heartwarming when people enjoy seeing you wear it, to see people appreciating your work.?
Creating the costume is only part of it, however.
?It?s also like acting?you have to learn about your character, you have to research what kind of personality that character has. You watch the anime so you can practice the gestures, how the character speaks, so you can be more convincing.?
Alodia graduated with a major in Information Design from the Ateneo de Manila University last year, but she has been one of the lucky few otaku who have managed to make a career out of doing what they love. Apart from her gig with Animax Asia, she has also become the image model for Kojie-san?a cosmetics line aimed at the Asian market.
?Their theme is somehow Japanese-ey, so they invited me for a go-see, and I got in because they knew that I was really into Japanese culture. It wasn?t just because of the product, it?s how I really am.?
Not surprisingly, Alodia has also dabbled in a little ramp modelling, but cosplay remains her passion. She has done more than 30 full-blown characters since she started, and still looks forward to the excitement of doing more.
?I prefer girls that are kick-ass, because my sister and I are kind of feminists,? she says. ?It?s really cool to see girls that are as strong as guys. The Lolita thing is okay because it?s cute, but I prefer heroines. We?re thinking of doing the Shiva sisters from ?Final Fantasy XIII? but it?s kinda complicated. I?m still figuring out how to do the costumes in real life. I also want to do the Black Widow from Marvel comics.?
?I usually choose my characters based on how much she?s been cosplayed already,? she adds. ?If she?s been over-cosplayed, like Sailor Moon, she?s off my list. I want to do something that?s never been done, something unique.?
Alodia is not averse to trying something new, but one rule she has is?no bikinis.
?I have audiences who are still in grade school, so it?s not okay,? she says. ?The most daring cosplay I?ve done is the Witchblade costume we did in Singapore.?
Be that as it may, it hasn?t stopped the likes of Uno, Maxim and FHM pestering her for photo-shoots. She was ranked 76th in FHM?s ?100 sexiest women? poll for 2010, and Uno magazine has named her one of the most influential women in the country. Unfortunately for the country?s hentai otaku, a men?s magazine pictorial is not in the offing.
?I still want to work with Animax, maybe go to more conventions abroad, and strengthen my cosplay group. Since I also like drawing and fashion, I would love to have my own fashion line dedicated to gothic Lolita outfits, cosplay, funky clothes?something you wouldn?t normally find in a mall.?
Alodia herself is her own art form?her cosplay and virtual presence online a way of externalizing her own fantasy life.
?I?m an introvert,? she says. ?Before I got into cosplay my dream was to become a concept artist for videogame companies like Squaresoft or Blizzard. Cosplay is also an art, a means of expressing yourself. I still have a lot of dreams, and hopefully?if I become a great artist?I can share them with the world.?