Echo Chronum, 17, is a quiet and reserved Brooklyn high school student who often buries herself in her homework.
But there is another side to the shy teen that her classmates might be surprised to learn about.
This Sunday, Chronum will walk down a runway in front of media cameras and a crowd of thousands at the 5th annual Cosplay Fashion Show at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBG). Cosplay is short for “costume play” or dressing up as a fictional character, especially those from Japanese Manga or anime.
“Before cosplay, I didn’t have a life besides schoolwork and just going to bed,” said Chronum, who provided a pseudonym for privacy reasons. “After cosplay, I had more friends, I got out of my house more and my parents actually saw me smiling.”
Chronum will be cosplaying as Princess Sakura from the manga series Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles in a handcrafted outfit that took more than 100 hours to create.
Some 40 cosplayers will be in Sunday’s show, which is part of the 33rd annual Sakura Matsuri Festival.
“We have an application process that is quite selective,” said Anita Jacobs, director of public programs at BBG. “We are only looking at outfits that are hand-sewn and hand-designed.”
This is Chronum’s second time participating in the fashion show at BBG. She began cosplaying two years ago when she attended New York Comic Con dressed as Lena Lee from D. Gray-Man.
Her life has changed since then, Chronum said, adding that she met her close friend and future college roommate through cosplay.
“It’s a really supportive community, so part of this is about people finding other friends with similar interests,” Jacobs said.
For 27-year-old Anna Nakhodkina, the craftsmanship of cosplay is one of the biggest draws. Her father, a Ukrainian immigrant, taught her how to sew when she was younger, and he still plays a big role in the creation of her costumes.
“Back then, we had nothing. My father basically sewed a lot of my clothing,” Nakhodkina said. “Growing up, I watched him with our giant, clunky old sewing machine.”
She eventually began helping her father and even sewed clothes for her Barbie dolls.
“My father taught me everything I know. This is a family affair,” she said, adding that her father will be in the audience on Sunday.
The Brooklyn college student, who plans to pursue a career in business, will be cosplaying as Yoko Kurama, a demon fox, from the manga series YuYu Hakusho.
While Chronum and Nakhodkina have been cosplaying for a few years, other participants have been practicing the art for decades.
Charles Battersby, a 43-year-old actor from Brooklyn, said he began cosplaying 20 years ago.
Dressed in a blue, Victorian gown worn by Elizabeth in the video game BioShock, Battersby said he enjoys seeing people’s reactions to his costumes.
“People will run to you from across the convention floor just to shake your hand or take a picture of you, because you like the thing that they like,” said Battersby, who is well known for cosplaying as Princess Peach of the Super Mario series.
Standing next to Battersby, Chronum recalled when she dressed in all pink as Taiwan from the series Hetalia for last year’s fashion show.
“I made a lot of little girls smile. I made their day. I stopped kids from crying,” she said. “It was a great experience.”
Before you go:
Sakura Matsuri: A Celebration of Japanese Culture
April 26 and 27: 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.
$25 for adults, $20 for seniors (65 and older) and students (ages 12-17)
Children 12 and under are free
Full schedule of events is available at bbg.org/visit/event/sakura_matsuri_2014