Subculture Spotlight: All About Military Cosplay feat. Black Division Cosplay Group

Image courtesy of Black Division Cosplay Group.

If you’ve ever been to an anime convention, chances are you’ve come across a few participants dressed as military personnel. With their detailed outfits and weapons, you might mistake them for the real thing at first – but after getting to know them, you’ll soon learn that they’re part of the military cosplay or “milcos” community.

Like the mainstream cosplay community, milcos has its roots in the Japanese otaku subculture, specifically gunji (military) otaku. They’re known for their passion towards anything to do with the military, with some even being fans of military-themed anime and game titles such as Strike Witches, Girls Und Panzer, and Kantai Collection. Some gunji otaku were inspired to express their passion through cosplaying as military personnel themselves, which resulted in the birth of the milcos community as we know it today.

Cosplayers dressed as characters from Youjo Senki, a military-inspired anime series

To learn more about this unique hobby, we spoke to Pian and Gavin of the Black Division Cosplay Group, a military cosplay group based in Malaysia. Having been involved in the local milcos scene since 2013 and 2015 respectively, they both had plenty of experience to share with us in this article.

Getting Started

As total newbies to the milcos scene, we were curious to find out where military cosplayers sourced their gear and outfits. Both Pian and Gavin recommended online platforms such as Shopee as a good source of basic equipment, though enthusiasts can also visit their local tactical goods stores for more options.

However, it’s not exactly cheap to get started. Beginners are advised to set aside RM500-RM600 for a set of basic gear, with further enhancements potentially going into the thousands.

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Image courtesy of Black Division Cosplay Group.

If that sounds daunting, don’t worry – it’s okay to take it slow, and remember that you aren’t alone in this community. In Gavin’s words, “Do not spend big on the hobby, and start with small steps first. If in doubt, ask the seniors. We are more than happy to help.”

Do’s and Don’ts

Before purchasing your outfit, you’ll want to take note of your local laws surrounding military cosplay – in particular, laws surrounding imitation firearms and impersonating a member of the armed forces.

In Malaysia, anyone carrying an imitation weapon can be charged under Section 36 of the Arms Act 1960, while anyone found to be impersonating a civil servant may be charged under Section 170 of the Penal Code. Both charges carry a fine and/or up to two years of jail time.

While that might sound scary, it’s actually pretty easy to keep yourself safe. Here’s some tips that Pian and Gavin laid out for us:

Do’s

  • ✔️ Do mark your prop guns with red, orange or yellow tape at the end of their barrels.
  • ✔️ Do empty the magazines of projectile weapon props, including removing any batteries that might be inside.
  • ✔️ Do use prop knives made of non-lethal materials, such as foam or rubber. If you plan on using metal, make sure the knife’s edges are kept blunt. You’ll also want to check with convention organisers on their policy regarding metal weapons.
  • ✔️ Do practice trigger discipline by always keeping your fingers away from your gun trigger.
  • ✔️ Do prepare a large bag or carrying case to store your props before entering or leaving the event venue. It is not recommended to openly carry your props in public.

Don’ts

  • Don’t dress up as a member of your local authorities. In Malaysia, that includes local active authorities such as the PDRM, ATM, TUDM, TLDM or Malaysian maritime units. This also includes wearing patches belonging to any of the above.
  • Don’t aim your props at members of the public.
  • Don’t wear your costume (vest, pads, and upper uniform) outside of the event venue. Keep it off when you’re going home, or even if you’re just stepping outside for lunch.
Notice the orange tips on these cosplayers’ guns. Image courtesy of Black Division Cosplay Group.

They also had some words of advice for the general public and other con-goers. According to Pian, when asking for photos, con-goers should not request poses which involve pointing guns at their head. At the same time, the public should refrain from touching their weapons without permission.

Meanwhile, Gavin emphasized the importance of keeping an open mind. “The general public needs to understand that it’s part of our way to express our love towards shooting games. It may be understandable that the realism of our props may cause glares from passers-by, but we try our best to follow convention regulations.”

Thoughts & Advice

Besides getting the facts, we also wanted to get their thoughts on recent incidents where cosplayers caused a disturbance at public events while dressed in military uniform. Both shared some words of advice for new milcosers in the hopes of avoiding similar incidents in the future:

“Please behave like the army, because when we cosplay as military personnel we need to be disciplined like the real army. We need to always remember that we are carrying their image as the military in conventions.” – Pian

“As milcosers, we ARE NOT part of this hooliganism, as we have a different set of rules to follow that normally don’t apply to conventional cosplayers. It’s important for us con-goers and milcosers to exercise moderation and respect other people and their property.” – Gavin

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Image courtesy of Black Division Cosplay Group.

Of course, Pian and Gavin also had plenty of good things to share about their hobby and community. Pian’s favourite aspect of being a milcoser is “when the cosplay community sees us, and they enjoy and are amazed by our cosplay, discipline, and attitude”. Gavin reminisced on 2019, when he first began cosplaying as part of a group. “It feels like I’ve finally found true companions,” he shared.

Conclusion

After reading through this article, we hope you’ll have a better appreciation of milcos as a unique subset of the cosplay community, with its own rules and culture that should be respected. We’d also like to once again thank Pian and Gavin of the Black Division Cosplay Group for their invaluable insight.

Are there any other hobbies you’d like to see us do a deep dive into? Let us know in the comments!

Interview has been edited for clarity and ease of reading.

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