Tell us about your first cosplay experience. Who, what, where, when, and how did it go?

My first experience with cosplay did not involve my own cosplay actually. I had planned on attending my first anime convention for a day at Anime Expo 2000 and then going to Disneyland the rest of the time because I wasn't familiar with just how popular conventions were. After seeing all the cosplayers walking around in costumes, especially those of my favorite shows, that sparked my interest in looking up exactly what the hobby was all about. I commissioned a simple costume for Ani-Magic that following fall because it was a first year convention, and I felt too intimidated to do more than that. I cosplayed Tomoyo Daidouji in her school uniform as I hadn't had any experience with wigs, and I could use my natural black hair for it. It was a lot of fun, and I met some really amazing people who are still my good friends to this day, such as Hichan, Tristen Citrine, WayneKaa, and Muralasa. I'm very grateful for that fateful convention because of the lasting friendships I was lucky to have made from that first experience.

What was it about cosplay that attracted you the most?

There were three factors that sparked my own interest in cosplay. First, I just loved how everyone seemed to really enjoy themselves when posing for photos in-character and just how much they loved the character they were cosplaying. The second factor was the amazing craftsmanship and the prospect that I could really learn how to improve my own sewing skills by attempting to make, to the best of my ability, costumes that I would enjoy wearing. Thankfully, my relatives have business related to the fashion industry so when I first started the hobby, I could ask for help on certain things such as where to buy speciality fabrics.  I have since found my own routine on what I prefer in materials, and working with friends on costumes helps me learn beyond basic clothing construction while keeping me interested in cosplay. The third factor is the friends I've made that drew me further into the hobby. Some of my closest friends are cosplayers who keep this hobby fun and enjoyable.

After cosplaying a number of years, you have large a collection built up. Are there any differences between now and the past regarding who you choose to portray? (type of character, reasoning, trendiness, etc.)

LOL I hadn't realized just how large a list I had until recent years when I redesigned my personal website. I can see in the past, I've had a tendency to keep to characters of shows I liked that seemed to fit my more quiet nature, but as my confidence grew to be less afraid to cosplay in public (which still intimidates me to this day), I've taken on some rather unlikely costumes such as Suzuka from Angelic Layer with her impossibly short kimono skirt and Light Yagami from Death Note. Recently, I've taken on some costumes I would never have dreamed of cosplaying but only under very amusing circumstances involving a musical parody ( I basically decide on my costumes simply by what I like and the character / character designs. We cosplayers invest so much time and money into this hobby that it's only reasonable to do what we would enjoy the most. That's probably why some of my favorite costumes are from later years such as my Takarazuka Elisabeth gown, Sakura from Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles, and Reira Serizawa from NANA.

The musicals like Sera Myu and Sakura Taisen are quite a phenomenon. Can you give a little insight into their appeal?

I think a lot of people in Japan, and now outside Asia, enjoy the musicals, or "kayou shows," because there's a certain appeal to seeing a favorite anime actually acted out. This would definitely apply to my other favorite animes-turned-musicals: Prince of Tennis and Bleach. I certainly love to watch these shows knowing the background stories ahead of time, and the attractive actors do not detract from the show a bit. *laughs*  It's especially exciting when it's a show that has original seiyuu (voice actors) filling in their respective roles such as in Sakura Taisen. It's also very cute when you can see just how different they are physically from their character, but they are so enthusiastic about their role and the audience that it puts a smile on your face to watch. One of my favorite actors who fits this description perfectly is Tanaka Mayumi, the seiyuu for Kanna from Sakura Taisen and Luffy from One Piece.

What's an anime or manga that you'd like to see turned into a kayou show?

Oh, that's very difficult. There's one title in particular that was made into a kayou show and is now infamous for not doing well: Utena. I've even seen Naruto get the musical treatment. A lot of the shows I enjoy would probably be very difficult to turn into kayou shows because they would require too many special effects, but I think Victorian Romance Emma would be a lovely romance to put on stage because it is a period piece. Takarazuka did a very good job with Rose of Versailles, which I was very lucky to watch in person last year in Tokyo and Takarazuka City.

When you're going through a low period in life, how do you get back into an upswing?

I have a lot of  'downtimes' during the year from being very busy with my everyday tasks and career, so that helps in giving me a focus away from cosplay if I get burned out from con season rush. It's really a wonderful thing to travel when you're still young and to spend time with your friends. The best times are spent with good friends, having a great meal, and talking about anything and everything with them. We usually just get together for eating, karaoke, movies, and general mayhem (in a good clean way, of course). LOL Whenever I'm able to afford to do so, I like to travel, and it can be a small local trip within the state to visit to our Northern California friends, to Vegas to visit with more wonderful people, or if I'm very lucky, I try to go out of the country for a week or two. So far I've been to the UK and Japan but I'd like to visit more countries too. One place I'd like to go back to is Brazil as I used to travel there as a child to visit relatives, and I'd like to see it as an adult.

A lot of fans get together with friends to make skits, but not too many make a regular group like USA Musume. How is that experience: the practice, the matching costumes, the group dynamic, the slave driver producer-san?

We've been very lucky in that we are all friends who have known each other for years, and when some members aren't able to perform, we have others who are ready for a particular routine. I've known a few of my fellow members since I started cosplaying back in 2000, and our friendships have really stood the test of time. Our group will all work around each other's schedules for work and school, and we try to meet for scheduled practices on weekends with costume pieces done by certain times and lines memorized first. A few of us are sent to get the materials for the whole group, and our director, Tiffy, will have blocking arranged before our formal practices. Since we've been doing this for many years now, it's "business as usual," and we all know what we must do to get our performances ready for the show. LOL Our 'evil' producer is great about providing us with practice videos and music arranged to our respective performances so our group dynamic is very fluid at this point.

Living in L.A. surely has its advantages when it comes to buying supplies, but the abundance could probably be overwhelming. Share some tips for finding "ingredients" without getting distracted by impulse buys.

Ah yes, we are very lucky to have the fabric and garment district at our disposal here in Los Angeles, but as any Southern California cosplayer will tell you, a lot of the stores will eventually start looking to same if you go through the whole of the fabric district. The trick is to know what each store's prices are, to write it down, and to go back to the best priced fabric. If you go for the first great deal, you might be unhappy to find the same fabric at next store for cheaper than the first place. It takes a bit of time, but it's usually worth it in the end, especially if you have a lot to buy! Another great advantage to Los Angeles is the wig stores down in Hollywood. Since these stores cater to the entertainment industry, they usually have a great variety of styles out on display and will allow you to try on with a wigcap before you buy so you can see whether a wig that looked great on the wig stand would really work for you. Otherwise, I do the same thing as everyone else does for other accessories - I shop online!

What's your favorite tool of the trade, and how does it help your costumes?

My favorite tool right now is definitely my Babylock serger. It automatically adjusts for tension which is fantastic because I work with a lot of odd fabrics for my costumes, especially when it comes to vinyls, sequins, and satins, and I don't have the time to re-adjust it every time a new costume comes up. It has a really long warranty should one of my crazy costume ventures mess up something, but so far, it's worked wonderfully. I had to think a lot about what to invest in, and in the end I decided it was worth the splurge because I can't seem to stay away from the sparkly and pretty costumes!

Speaking of sparkles, what's the secret to sewing confetti dot fabric without gunking up your needle?

For confetti dot, I use this wonderful product called Sewers Aid which is a silicon liquid you can dab on the needle to keep it from gumming up, and I also dab a bit on the fabric if I don't have either a teflon or a rolling sewing foot on the machine (both also great for hard to sew fabrics). Lately, I've been sewing on sequins that thankfully do not have the gumming issue, but they can easily unravel from areas where the invisible thread holding them down has been cut (one of my big issues with the Light Yagami sequin suit), so I'll reinforce those sequins by sewing over them again.

There's a variety of other things I use depending on the fabric. For instance, vinyl is really difficult to get through the machine because it has a tendency to stick to everything, and sometimes, I'll go that extra step in topstitching it to finish since it can't be ironed. In those cases, I've used water-soluble stablizer sewn directly on top of the fabric. It can easily be washed off without affecting the vinyl material

Do cosplay and your career cross paths or run on separate tracks?

Oh, I'd say completely separate tracks. I work in the 'boring' industry of finance so cosplay is a nice distraction from a career path that gets very stressful at certain times of the year when we all pay homage to the trio of letters that begins with I and ends in S. Cosplay is so different from that; I can throw myself into it and really enjoy my time outside of work as a stress release from everyday concerns if I'm running around in a costume and goofing off with my friends.

Have you made any cosplay that had an emotional attachment that made it more than just a costume?

Indeed, there are two such costumes on my portfolio that fit under that description. Takarazuka's Elisabeth is among my very favorite shows of all time, and I was incredibly lucky to see it live in Japan during the winter of 2005. I was really much too intimidated to take on the task of an entire ballgown, but after watching my favorite top stars, Ayaki Nao and Sena Jun, in an amazing performance live from the orchestra seats, I knew I had to push myself and just do it. It took me a bit of time to gather materials and then to actually construct it with the kind help of the very talented Aimee Major and Tristen Citrine who both graciously did a small group cosplay with me at Pacific Media Expo 2006. Tristen made the wig which was just a work of art in itself. I learned a lot from my friends in the process of creating that costume and I appreciate all the people who were involved in the process including the amazing photography provided by Ziggy and dmk26. We even recorded our own music and singing for the performance at PMX, and it was one of the best experiences ever. We felt like real Takarazuka stars, and Elisabeth is probably going to be one of my most treasured costumes ever.

The other costume is the Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles Sakura costume I made for a group cosplay with Hichan and iPLAY cosplay with Muralasa, Makkura, and Ha-chan. Hichan and I were having a holiday lunch with Muralasa since she had been away for her final year of school and we hadn't seen each other in a long time. I hadn't participated in a group other than USA Musume for a very long time and had been wanting to start cosplaying again but didn't know what to do. Muralasa suggested we all join together for Tsubasa since we had all expressed interest in making costumes from that series. We're all very big CLAMP fans, and it worked out to be one of the best experiences I've had in cosplay in a long time. We took some creative license in embellishing each costume the way we wanted it while staying true to the stylized look of each character's artwork from the hardcover versions of Tsubasa. We made these costumes more for our own enjoyment than for competitive purposes, so it was a really wonderful surprise to win Best Group Craftsmanship at Anime Expo 2006. I came away from the experience with some very close friends who are very dear to me and with my interest in cosplay renewed after a year away from it.

Here's your space for additional comments and the dispelling of rumors

LOL I really don't know of any rumors out there, and if there are some, I'm sure I'd rather not know about them! Well, if you heard that I like to shop and eat... that's not so much a rumor but a way of living! As Wolfgang Puck once said, "Live, Love, Eat!'

And to the Tomoe family, thank you for picking little ol' me. ^^ I'm very honored!

see more of Aria's costumes

Outro: Aria, your joy is apparent in your cosplay, and the close relationships you've forged must make conventions a friendlier place. As we all go through phases of running out front and hanging back, we can look to each other for creative renewal and energy. We hope you'll continue gracing the scene with your elegant creations and your lively pop performances.
~Mrs. Tomoe