Cuban cosplayers hold annual festival at La Cabana Fort

HAVANA (Xinhua) – Cuba’s 18th-Century La Cabana Fort teemed with elaborately dressed cosplayers over the weekend, providing an ancient backdrop for an ultra-modern pastime.

Dressed up as their favourite comic, cartoon or video game characters, hundreds of cosplay fans attended the fifth edition of the annual OTAKU Cubano Festival (OTAFEST), held at the hilltop fortress overlooking Havana’s harbour.

As they strolled through the esplanades of the stone fortification, cosplayers were regularly approached by onlookers who wanted to take a selfie with them.

“People walk up to you and say ‘Can I take a selfie with you?’ and you feel important, recognised. To be a cosplayer is to play at being famous,” said Fernando Javier Gonzalez, a young mechanic dressed as Prince Ashitaka, the star of the highly popular Japanese anime epic Princess Mononoke.

Gonzalez began to dress up to avoid the long lines that always formed outside the festival venue, but what started out as a trick to bypass the crowds turned into a hobby. He has cosplayed as six different characters, including Bender, the sarcastic robot from the animated series Futurama.

The festival, organised by cultural promoters and event organisers working for Cuba’s state-owned radio and television company, also offers opportunities to play video games and stock up on cosplay paraphernalia.

“In the beginning, to organise a cosplay event, we used to go to second-hand clothes stores to buy something that resembled the costumes and then modified it at home, even though we knew very little about sewing and crafts,” the festival’s director Enrique Mayo said.

Today, “the costumes are better quality” because “we have learned to buy the fabrics and make the costumes from scratch”, said Mayo.

Many of the accessories the characters use, from hats to weapons such as the swords, are handmade with polyfoam and wood.

“The quality of the participants has increased tremendously as has the size of the audience,” said Mayo, who said he likes the idea of dressing up as a cosplayer, but has decided to focus on organising the annual festival.

“OTAFEST is currently the most prestigious cosplay event in Cuba, not just because of the elaborateness of some of the costumes, but also because it is a venue where the youngest can liberate their imagination and share a few moments with their favourite characters,” Mayo said, with evident satisfaction.

While the majority of people attending the festival are children and teenagers, there are a few adults among the crowd.

Silvia Hernandez, 50, was accompanied by her nephews, who are regulars at OTAFEST.

“It’s very nice that they can see their favourite characters come to life,” said Hernandez, confessing that when she was young she liked to dress up as Paul Stanley, the lead singer of Kiss, a rock band known for its outlandish outfits and makeup.

But not everyone pretends to be the star character of a well-known game, movie or programme.

Festival-goer Javier Jubert, a student of English at the Pedagogical University of Havana, came as Bill Clave, the villain from the animated TV series Gravity Falls.

“I do it to have fun and amuse other people, and because he’s a very extroverted character with whom I can identify,” said Jubert.