I’d always thought that dressing up as Sailor Venus would be fun. We had a lot of the same traits — long, blonde(ish) hair, a love of food, a desire to destroy bad guys, etc. But aside from Halloween, there wasn’t any point.
It wasn’t until years later that I learned about conventions and the culture of cosplay. I found myself in awe of the skill so many people possessed. Their ability to make everything from dresses to armor, amazing replicas of weaponry and items. Once again I thought it would be fun to deck myself out in character garb. The problem? Personal standards. If I did it, I would go all out. High quality materials, expert craftsmanship — I didn’t want to be stuck with a less-than-perfectly-pleated skirt or rely upon colored duct tape. I was hampered by my own expectations, which led to my next problem. I was not an expert. Moreover, I didn’t have the time to learn how to create such things, the money to buy so many materials, or even really the true motivation to fix those two issues.
Until one year it finally hit me like a kaioken-powered punch to the face — I could be Android 18 from Dragon Ball Z! She was perfect. Not only did I love the character, but her outfit was rather simple and something I could buy piece by piece. Brown boots, black leggings, belt, buckle, denim skirt, striped/black shirt, denim vest, and small gold hoop earrings. As for the hair? I refused to wear a wig — not when my hair could easily be cut the right length and dyed super blonde to match hers. Suddenly I was excited. I could do this. I could be Android 18 and finally cosplay. And I was going to have it ready by the time Planet Comicon 2015 rolled back into town.
I began my hunt immediately and was rewarded with the perfect striped shirt from Old Navy (clearance, no less!). I had particular standards when it came to her shirt. Most Android 18 cosplayers I’d looked up went the hard black stripe route, but in the show the lines are softer and more numerous. I couldn’t believe my luck and took it as a good sign. The hunt continued. Black leggings were easy (it was also then I discovered how awesome leggings are, as I’d never worn any before), and after checking just about every clothes store in the mall, I found a black sleeveless shirt I could wear over the striped one. Eventually I hit the jackpot again by stumbling upon Zulily and taking a chance on ordering a second striped shirt (for a potential second day of cosplay) and brown boots. They worked.
Then things got difficult. Denim wasn’t exactly in that year. The vest was difficult to find in the right color and style. I needed deep blue with frayed sleeves. There was no in between — either the vest was in fine condition, or the entire thing was “distressed.” I eventually settled on one, but the skirt was a whole new issue. Finding one to match the vest in color, in the right length, without a lot of nonsense going on in front or rhinestones all over my butt slowly turned into an act of God. As was the belt and plain buckle. It was as if these things simply didn’t exist. As I researched colored contacts, I discovered I needed to see an eye doctor to get the proper information just to buy them. I didn’t have the time, and I didn’t want to spend the unexpected money on an eye doctor visit. I managed to dig up some earrings, but then the entire process stalled.
I didn’t make Planet Comicon that year. I felt a bit defeated, and with life, the universe, and everything in the way, I didn’t make the other con I’d hoped to visit: RTX in Austin, TX. I’d even bought a ticket, but I ended up selling it. The shirts hung in the closet and the boots remained in their box. The leggings and earrings became a part of my everyday clothing collection, as did the denim skirt I’d bought online that turned out to be the wrong color, but kept anyway because it was so damn comfy.
When Planet Comicon began to loom again in 2016, I realized I needed to finish what I had started. That I had to find a skirt, belt, and plain gold buckle. I renewed my hunt, but was terrified to buy anything online due to color mismatching and my hatred of paying for return shipping. Then, on a trip to Kohl’s, I found a skirt. It looked like the right color, but it was too long and not in my size. Then I realized I couldn’t afford to be so picky anymore. If the color was right, I would just have to figure out a way myself to make it the right length. I ordered my size online, and when it arrived I was thrilled to find it was a perfect match. I managed to dig up a belt and buckle on another site, which arrived a scant few days before the con and barely fit because I apparently don’t know how to size belts. All that was left was my hair.
Like an idiot, I thought I would just go to a walk-in place at the mall on Friday (as I planned to make Saturday my con day), tell them to dye my hair, cut it, and voila, the end. I knew it would be pricey, but it was better than attempting to do it myself because I’d already failed once before. If I wanted to do this, I was going to do it right. Except when I got there, the place was closed. In panic mode, I went to other places seeking a chance to get my hair done. I found one. A Regis salon with a stylist named Salicia who was as bubbly as could be with a bold streak of fire-engine red in her hair. I explained I needed to be blonde and she brought out a book of various shades. Every blonde in it was still too dark.
“Oh no,” I said and handed the book back to her. “I need to be blonde-blonde. I’m talking stupid blonde.”
Note: It isn’t until now that I realize the unintended pun. But she caught my drift, cut off about 4 inches of my hair, whipped up two color mixtures, and brought out roughly a metric ton of tinfoil. And thus the process began.
It took about 4-5 hours. No, that is not an exaggeration. Though the result wasn’t a straight single color of blonde the way Android 18 is, I didn’t care because I looked fantastic. I tipped very well (and dear God, no I’m not telling you the total because it hurts my bank account to remember), and flounced out of the mall. I was done. I was ready.
I was going to be Android 18.
I woke up early to do some last minute tweaking. The striped shirt’s collar was too high and showed above the black sleeveless shirt’s collar, but several years back I’d bought double-sided fabric tape for hemming a pair of pants. I added a few strips here and there and put the two together. I’d worn them before in this way in my incomplete Android 18 outfit during Barnes & Noble’s Get Pop-Cultured manga event in 2015. The old fabric tape had long since stuck on the striped shirt, making it a hopeless cause to wear in public. But this goof meant I wouldn’t make the same mistake on the skirt. After carefully folding it under to make it the right length, I added velcro fabric strips instead. Satisfied they wouldn’t show, I suited up. Next was makeup. Simple enough. I’m already pale-skinned so my foundation was all I needed. Black eyeliner followed, mascara, a wee bit of sheer eye shadow, and nearly nude lipstick completed the look. All I had to do now was remember not to touch my eyes and smudge everything.
I drove to the Kansas City Convention Center excited and confident. I’d only been to one other convention before, RTX 2014, though not in costume. But I’d read up on cosplay. I understood my etiquette. People would ask to take my picture, and I would pose and be in character. I’d practiced my “I hate everything” face and various stances. I knew that performing any actual moves (primarily the famous side kick that broke Vegeta’s arm) would not be possible due to the very thigh-huggy nature of my skirt. A slight disappointment, but I could live with it. I was going to be Android 18 for folks who knew her, and carried only my phone, car key, driver’s license, and debit card in my pockets. I didn’t plan on buying anything in order to avoid having to carry something and instead fully concentrate on the character.
While in the Will Call line I gazed around at all the other cosplayers standing in line and walking into the main convention area. Right in front of me stood an entire family cosplaying, and I couldn’t help but keep glancing at the young girl, maybe 6 or 7, in her Black Widow outfit. Her outfit was fantastic and her rich red hair was in perfect ringlets. Scarlett Johansson would be proud.
Banded and ready, I entered the convention. It’s a huge space; everything about it grand and geeky. I began my trek to look at ALL THE THINGS. As an old character my outfit isn’t really anything of note; I could just be a girl who’s into wearing denim. But then it happened:
I was recognized. I also found myself surprised at just how easily I accepted my new identity. How the second I heard the name I turned around to find whoever called to me. At how comfortable I was with something I have never done before. The excited twenty-something gentleman behind me lit up because he was right — I was Android 18. After asking for my picture, he snagged a random passerby and we stood next to each other — me glaring menacingly at the camera — while the person snapped the photo.
From then on the convention turned into two things: looking at exhibits and getting my picture taken. Perfect because the entire goal was to fill my day with just that. Every time someone recognized me I got excited. It meant that none of my efforts had been a waste of time. And every person who recognized me was just as excited. Occasionally people shouted the wrong Android number (I heard everything from 15 to 19), to which I gave them a sassy but clearly amused glance and corrected them. I realized I hadn’t thought of what to say if people asked me about the other Androids, and I had to come up with a quick, quippy answer. Given some of the groans and shouts of triumph I heard, a few people had made bets with each other as to which one I was.
I was told to look out for Cell (I never saw him if there was one). I was told Vegeta and Goku were there. I took pictures with people or by myself. With an extremely excited Goku (sans Vegeta), with Harley Quinns and even with a few artists at their booths. Occasionally I posed in a pretend mid-punch stance. Mostly I made sure to pissed or indifferent. A few pictures I decided to sneak in sidelong glares at the person I was posing with as if to say, “Why am I taking this picture with you?” and hope the look would surprise and delight them later when they went through all their con pictures. The only time I felt remotely odd was while taking a picture with a guy who was thrilled he’d bumped into me and had a ton of awesome DBZ tattoos. He informed me that 18 was next and showed me the spot on his arm. It felt strange to be sort of idolized with his girlfriend taking the picture.
I’d arrived around 10am and eventually I’d walked every isle and looked at every booth. I passed Tom Felton and George Takei so many times I since decided that those men are convention beasts who are willing to stick around as long as they can for their fans. Seriously, at one point Tom looked like he needed a nap. I only took time to sit down in order to rest my feet since my boots weren’t the most comfortable ones in the world. I only went to one actual panel — partially to sit in a chair for a longer period of time, and partially because hey, it was a writing panel and that’s what I do.
Eventually I switched from looking at things to simply walking around to look at other cosplayers and so people could see me. I was the only Android 18 there and it’s easy to miss things at a big con (I was actively seeking out two people I knew where there the entire time and never once saw either of them!). I wanted to give any fan out there a chance to see me and snap a photo. Plus, it was fun knowing I was the only one there. I had a sense of pride in that knowledge and wondered if other cosplayers who are the only character of their particular fandom at a con felt the same way. At one point I simply stood in a hallway and let myself be recognized.
I left Planet Comicon around 5pm. I was there for 7 hours straight and my feet were killing me. I was proud of myself for remembering not to touch my eyes. I wanted to go back on Sunday, but I didn’t think my feet would forgive me.
I returned as Android 18 this past August 13th for Kansas City Comic Con and introduced my two sisters to the world of conventions. We weren’t there long when a girl cosplaying as Lydia Deetz excitedly asked for my picture. By the end of the convention, my older sister was contemplating who she could cosplay as — and who she could convince her husband to cosplay alongside her. I felt I accomplished something.
The experience was a wonderful, truly fun one, though I still don’t know if I count as a true cosplayer or not, if such a thing exists. Instead of making my costume I bought every bit of it. I know the creative process is a big part of cosplay culture, and in some way I feel as though I am cheating. Perhaps I’m not, but every time someone told me they loved my outfit, I thanked them and had the teeny-tiny thought of, “I hope they don’t think I made this myself.” I knew there was a cosplay contest and avoided it entirely because A.) mine was unspectacular and B.) none of it was made by me. I didn’t even realize until much, much later that creation of one’s costume actually was a requirement, which makes total sense to me.
Maybe it doesn’t matter, and in the end it’s the spirit that counts. I’m trying, I’m having a great time, and I’m bonding with fans. We’re all there to be geeky and delight in our favorite fandoms. Other people can all it what they want, but I call it a whole lot of fun. If you’re not having any fun in your life, then what’s the point?
My name is Nicole Taft, I am a 32-year-old woman, and I am Android 18.