A brief History of Western Kigurumi
Preface: What you need to know as background, if you are new to this hobby.
It's difficult to imagine that Animegao Kigurumi outside of Japan has been around as long as it has.
By my research on the web, and interviews with the pioneers of Western Kigurumi, I can say that we have already surpassed the 10th anniversary.
In fact sometime this year may well be the 15th anniversary of the exporting of the art form.
Kigurumi, as a performance art, in its many forms, has existed for countless years before this.
My sources indicate that in Japan, what we now refer to as Anime face, or Animegao style, began about 1993.
I have not done further research to confirm those assertions.
Animegao style, is where Fans and professional theatre companies, create masks and costumes.
Reproducing in three dimensions, the artwork being drawn for popular Japanese Manga and Anime cartoons.
Bringing these characters to life as it were, they can now react with their audience on a more personal level.
This is much like meeting Mickey Mouse at Disneyworld.
There were several companies in Japan, such as Kameari Factory. (Which has been making costumes for TV and stage since 1997.)
They made commercial Anime and realistic style FRP masks for sale to the consumer.
These can be seen in photos posted on several Japanese Fan sites.
There also seems to have been several inexpensive plastic masks of Japanese TV show characters, much like what I know of as Halloween masks.
Then there were the professional theatre troupes, which had their own mask manufacturers.
All of these were used for the purpose of Animegao Kigurumi.
The other focus of this article is Western Kigurumi. A basic definition of which would be, Animegao Kigurumi that occurs outside of Japan and the surrounding Asian countries.
Western Kigurumi includes the UK, Russia, Australia, North and South America, to name but a few.
While there are stylistic differences between Japanese and Western Kigurumi, I am going to leave those aside for a time, and concentrate on the people, places, and things associated with the first decade of the Western Kigurumi movement.
The dawn of Western Kigurumi:
The start of Western Kigurumi seems to have happened in 1999. That's the year that Dolphin Factory and Buildup Studio Sigma, opened and began making Animegao masks.
These masks were made from Fiberglass Re-enforced Plastic or FRP for short. They were quite similar in fact to the fiberglass shell of an automobile.
These were sold both inside and outside Japan, and being generic faces were adapted to portray many characters.
Having commercially available masks outside Japan was the key to the spread of the hobby.
Wikipedia says Dolphin Factory is a noted Kigurumi costume maker in Japan that only makes costumes based on original characters. This studio is a large supplier of hobbyist Kigurumi facemasks of the animegao (アニメ顔 - Anime Face) kigurumi style.
There is no Wikipedia information on Sigma except the link to their homepage, under the heading Animegao. Sigma also provides a staff resume, and list of Suit actors on their site. They have galleries of characters that go back to 1999.
The Pioneers It has been confirmed by two sources, that Yuri Tsukino was the first Western Kigurumi performer. Her archived website Yuri's Kigurumi Paradise, suggests she began in 2000.
However, since the website was relocated in 2005 to a different server, that information is unverifiable. This website shows that Yuri was a practitioner of Japanese style Kigurumi. Separate sources say Yuri lived in the USA.
Information back from Neko Yumekuri in Japan, states that Yuri was interested in Kigurumi back in 1998, but did not get her first Kigurumi masks till 2000. Neko made her the masks, (Multi from To Heart, Sakura from Card Captor Sakura) so they definitely came from Japan.
Yuri also had Sailor Saturn and Sailor Moon masks on her site. Origins attributed to Kanakig in 2005. The idea known as KiguruMex, had its beginnings in 1998. They were the first Animegao Kigurumi group in Mexico and Latin America.
It took several years before their mask making skills reached the point where they were willing to perform at a convention. Princess Peach was created in 2001, and in 2006 a newer version appears to have debut at the TNT convention in Guadalajara.
The attending Japanese Kigurumi performers noticed her, and a relationship between the groups grew. In 2007 the mixed group, (3 girls and a boy,) began performing together, and in 2008 they officially took the name KiguruMex.
One thing you may note about this group is that the girls do not always wear a Hadatai /Zentai. Many of the pictures are of just them wearing a costume and their masks.
Masks that have been painted to match their own individual skin tones. Some have argued that these do not meet the strict criteria of being Kigurumi, and have labeled them Dolls instead.
Looking at her Facebook page, Reika Kurokawa claims to be the second Kigurumi performer in the United States. Her first mask came from Dolphin factory in 2002. While her website Rieka’s Kigurumi Haven appears to be defunct, she is still active. Her characters include Rika, Kumi, Haruka, Milk and Reimu.
Rabbit in the Moon is the pioneer of Western Kigurumi most people have heard of. Although she credits Yuri as being earlier, she informed me in an interview that she has pictures of her as 'Red', a mask made by Dolphin Factory, from 2002. However, she did not actually perform publicly until a year later, with 'Kitty' her other dolphin mask. In those days her characters generally wore street clothing as opposed to costumes.
Over the years, Rabbit has expanded her collection to include several custom made masks from Kanakig, including Bridget mouse, Minerva mink, and Jessica Rabbit. All of these characters used specifically cosplay costumes. Several videos can be found on Youtube, dating back as far as 2006.
Somewhere in California, Vandelay Masks was making specific masks from a thick stiff rubber compound. In 2003, Cassandra Lewis (Ignes) bought one of their Sailor Mercury masks, complete with molded in tiara and hair. This was her introduction into Western Kigurumi. She credits Rabbit and Yuri as being her inspirations. Later in 2005, like Jovina and Leigh, she bought one of the original Kanakig masks.
In 2003, “B” the owner of a Dolphin mask was convinced to Hall costume at Balticon 2003. At that time, Animegao Kigurumi was almost unheard of in North America. “B” herself participated in other forms of Kigurumi, and had the Dolphin mask for possibly a year at that time.
This may be the first outing of a Western Kigurumi performer at a convention. A-Kon 2003 was held about a month later, and that is where Rabbit believes she premiered Kitty. The Balticon outing was a one-time event. As far as anyone knows, “B” never appeared in public again.
In 2004 a new performer entered the stage. Lint's Kigurumi Dream website opened up. Lint Chisa was a homemade mask and an original character. While the website is long gone, Lint still remains with us via the Youtube videos that were posted.
Also in 2004, Western Kigurumi took a stride forward when Kanakig Studios began making Kigurumi masks. Located in Bangkok, Kana sold worldwide, using E-Bay initially, as his method of distribution. His masks launched many Western performers’ careers.
Cass and Leigh UK are listed as purchasing his first production model. During his run as a mask maker, he became known for making custom masks for several performers. He also made masks for other clients that do not consider what they do to be Kigurumi.
Kanakig shut down commercial production in 2011 due to the flooding of his workshop. He no longer takes orders, but still makes masks for his own personal use.
In 2004, Fantesca Design began making Kigurumi masks in the USA. To my knowledge, they were the first in North America to make FRP masks. These were essentially generic masks, in several styles and sizes. Fantesca did do some special orders, notably the Kos-mos mask that Yuri owned. Fantesca stopped production about 2007.
Western Kigurumi: The first wave.
The first wave of Western Kigurumi was triggered by this new availability of Animegao style masks in 2004. World wide, many kinds of performance arts involved encasing the suit actor in a complete body costume.
These Animegao masks were seen and discussed by fans of these other Kigurumi styles, and shortly thereafter, adopted. This is not surprising, as in Japan there also were several forms of Kigurumi outside the Animegao style, which were being followed by fans worldwide.
In effect, the first wave of Western Kigurumi, consisted of performers who added Animegao style to their repertoires.
Jovina made the crossover to Western Kigurumi in 2005, purchasing masks from both Kanakig and Fantesca. She wore her first Kigurumi mask publicly at Katsucon in 2005. Since that time she has advanced to make her own O.C. Masks.
I myself, purchased my first mask from Fantesca Design in 2006, and premiered it at a Montreal convention later that year. Since then, I have gone on to make more masks of Original Characters for my own personal use, have repaired masks for other Performers and have worked to bring new performers into the hobby.
Leigh from the UK bought one of Kanakig’s first production masks, but she doesn’t recall doing much with it until 2006 when she posted her first Youtube video. At that time she says there were only a few Kigurumi performers in the UK. According to her, Kigurumi in the UK did not pick up till 2009, when the Eurokig website went on line.
Hikarinaka our friend from Russia writes that she started thinking about Kigurumi in 2006. By 2008 she had developed what has become known as the Ball Jointed Doll style Kigurumi. This hearkens back to what in Japan was called the Doller style of Kigurumi, which was separate from Animegao. Hikarinaka has been credited with spreading Kigurumi to Western Europe and the Ukraine.
The second wave of Western Kigurumi.
As Wikipedia states in the entry on Animegao, interest in Kigurumi spread to the western world about 2005. What it doesn’t mention however, is the fact that the release of Japanese cartoons world wide, created a new generation of fans who had no interests in costuming or attending conventions or performing before that.
They were somewhat surprised to find there were other fans of other forms of media such as Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror etc, interested in Anime. They jumped into Animegao style Kigurumi head first, and were somewhat shocked to find practitioners of the other Kigurumi styles already involved. These new fans are the second wave of Western Kigurumi.
Cody Nakamura became interested in cosplay in 2003. He got his first mask from Fantesca in 2004. Cody does male characters, which are rare in Animegao Kigurumi of any style. He may well be the first Western Kigurumi performer doing male characters, certainly the first in North America.
Cody says that in the beginning, convention security would pull him aside because his mask was allegedly “scaring” the attendees. Kigurumi was that new to US Anime conventions. From Kenshin Himura in 2004 he went to Inuyasha in 2005, and most recently Edward Elric in 2010. Edward was made by Kigurumi Alice, before she retired.
The Kigurumi Lover’s Wiki, lists 2006 as when Miharu Nakashima first started Kigurumi. Wikipedia, notes that she designed the Tiger Miharu character, and had Dolphin make her the mask. Since then she has also designed Asteroth, which Dolphin also made.
Miharu is credited for running the first panel on Animegao Kigurumi at a Western Anime convention. This took place in Baltimore at Otakon 2008. It was held with her in full costume, using a microphone and a laptop running a voice changer application. Most of the audience also arrived in costume. It was estimated that only 2 people in the audience were not part of the Kigurumi community.
Otakon 2008 was also credited with being the largest gathering of Western Kigurumi performers to that date. They set a benchmark of eight characters. Miharu, Jaidera, Cloe, Milk, Ayane Kimie, Athena, and Inuyasha, all in one picture. There were also other performers there who did not appear in character. Previous to this, a private event Jovina hosted, had six performers in Animegao Kigurumi, as the owner of Fantesca Designs was a guest.
The Kigurumi Cosplay Society website came into being in 2007. It is a support and social networking website for people who are part of the Kigurumi Cosplay Community.
Through it, the members and guests, have access to a central point for information sharing. Several of its forums and tutorials discuss the aspects of making Kigurumi masks, performing, and many related topics.
It provides a means for members to contact each other, through a built in instant messaging, and allows members to voice opinions on subjects under discussion. Prior to technical difficulties in 2014, it had a photo gallery section where members could post pictures of their own works. Currently there are approximately 4100 members world wide. English is the common language.
Managed by Wyu Ri, the KCS also contains access to her line of commercial masks and bodysuits. Working from Singapore, Wyu began making masks as a sideline in 2008. Due to material restrictions, these first masks were made from paper clay. Wyu sold the masks world wide, and over the years developed many different models. Having developed a mask that blinks, She is working on the possibility of moving mouth masks.
Western Kigurumi has gone from the obscure, creepy and misunderstood, to become recognized and more commonplace at Anime Conventions around the world. While not universally accepted yet, the art form is at least recognized and a fan base of admirers is developing.
Western Kigurumi continues to grow as new Fans discover the fun and excitement of the art form, but Performers are still few in numbers, and complaints of distances traveled to meet other Performers persist. This limited exposure, has slowed the spread of the hobby, and most Performers stay in touch through the medium of the Internet. Still, certain events have become annual meeting points for Performers from all around the world.
Impressive things have happened in the first ten years that Animegao Kigurumi made it outside Japan, and there are some pretty incredible things that have happened since. But those stories are for another article.
Kiki FeegataJune 2014.
Addendum by Jovina; August 2015
Kanakig recently has reopened his mask making operations.
The KCS website went down for a while but is now back. The store is not functional at this time.
KigurumiOnline (Kig-O) is a recent addition to the kigurumi community.
Facebook now has many pages devoted to Kigurumi and Kigurumi performers.
Anime North 2015 has now become the largest gathering of Kigurumi performers in North America, perhaps even largest outside of Japan.