The church in Christian-majority Nagaland is wary of satanic cults. And when Nagaland Anime Junkies (NAJ) organised the State’s first cosplay event in 2013, they were presumed to be anti-Christ.
Cosplay (‘costume play’) is a hobby-turned-global-event where participants wear costumes and accessories to represent comic book characters, specifically Japanese anime and manga.
“It was a time when gravediggers and church-raiders (who left behind signs of the ‘Devil’ with the blood of sacrificed animals) were troubling Nagaland. Some 500 cosplayers were believed to be anti-Christ because of their face paint and fancy get-up,” says Biebe Natso, the founder of NAJ.
After their ‘initial suspicion’, the church is no longer wary of cosplayers. And the State’s new groups — Otaku (Japanese geeks who wear graphic tees and sport spiky hair) and Wapanase (who follow the fashion trends of Japanese film stars) — are forging ahead, populating manga and anime content with home-grown superheroes and villains. A series of events starting in the early 2000s opened doors to the new subculture riding on comic books and animation films. In 2002, a group of Japanese religious leaders visited Nagaland to apologise for the invasion of 1944 that led to the Battle of Kohima. In 2009, Japanese musicians performed in Kohima and in 2011, Nagaland’s popular rock bands organised a fundraising event for Japan’s earthquake and tsunami victims.
Japan over Korea
NAJ, the anime lovers group, was formed in 2011, the year the cult Japanese film Crows Zero series about teenage delinquents took Nagaland’s teens and pre-teens by storm. Major retail outlets set up manga and Japanese film kiosks, and anime clubs were formed in schools and colleges. “Club members kept to themselves, demarcated areas and even fought,” says Akemtemsu Jamir, an Otaku and cosplay fanatic. Crows Zero led to formation of school gangs too, forcing the government to ban its CDs and DVDs.
But a decade before Japanese culture made inroads into Nagaland, it was Korean pop culture, or K-pop, that ruled. “It is not that the Japanese tide has replaced the Korean hallyu (wave). But while K-pop has stuck to standard Korean music and TV series, action-packed manga and anime and the range of issues they cover is more appealing to the younger generations,” says Ayim Longkumer, NAJ’s graphic designer.
Natso who graduated in political science in 2008, also does event management besides organising cosplay contests. Longkumer has an M.Tech. degree, Jamir is a final year student in a Bachelor of Dental Science course in Wardha, and Alo Semy, another NAJ member, is an engineering gaduate.
“We are passionate about manga, anime and cosplay. It’s a hobby. Slowly, the perception that our tribe is wasting its time or is good-for-nothing is changing,” says Angutobi Shohe, NAJ member and a geology graduate. Indeed, parents have tended to discourage Otakus while elders of community-based organisations in Nagaland have been sceptical.
“Some may think we are crazy or not conforming to what society deems normal,” agrees Semy, but points out that they consciously shun habits such as smoking and drugs, and also promote local handicrafts with an anime twist.
Not all elders are discouraging. Thejakhrienuo Yhome, who created Carnaby Black , the first digital manga comic series from the Northeast, was fortunate in her teachers who put up with her obsessive sketching during classes; and her parents who let her pursue her passion.
The self-taught 24-year-old is a production artist based in Bengaluru. Her job requires her to conceptualise and draw settings where stories take place and create characters. “Nagas generally assimilate sub-cultures with ease. And the artistic freedom I was allowed at home helped me work on Carnaby Black, which is about whimsical magic. It was after watching an episode of Pokemon that I began drawing,” says Yhome. She was halfway through the story — on characters dealing with terminal illnesses, growing up, and their relationships, all cocooned in a sense of mystery — when NAJ proposed to sponsor and print it in 2013. She is now working on the next in the series.
Carnaby Black’s ‘global theme’ involving elves and wizards spurred the desire to produce comic strips with local content. Kohima-based construction entrepreneur Imtizulu Jamir owns the manga and anime studio Basement Empire, which is producing a series set in a futuristic Nagaland — a Nagaland that was never colonised, and has kept pace with science while preserving tradition. The story revolves around two friends Anouk and Helozu.
The Naga villages are the last oases on an earth ravaged by wars with robots. The series is created by Assam’s Abhishek Choudhury, now working as an art director with an ad agency in Delhi. The second volume was out last year.
“It is an effort to tell a story with local symbols, elements of history, the culture of the region and blending it with cyber punk. There is a craze in the Northeast for Japanese characters but a vacuum in terms of local content by local creators for local people,” says the 27-year-old Choudhury.
One of the worries for local content developers is the possibility of offending tribal organisations by using Naga legendary figures and folk characters such as Ghothali, a Sumi Naga warrior princess, to tell contemporary and futuristic stories. “But it could be a way of making children and youngsters read and learn about our own culture. I mean, they know Japanese history, economy, politics and everything else through manga and anime,” says Natso.
Theja A. Therie, secretary of Naga Tribes Council, says he doesn’t see any reason for discouraging such experimentation “as long as the content is not defamatory or Naga symbols and motifs are not misrepresented.”
Imlisunep, undergrad and hardcore Otaku, goes by the name of Tsuyoshi Shiba, his Japanese alias. Like many Otakus, he peppers his conversations with Japanese words such as kudasai (please), jaa mata (see you) and shimatta (damn).
He is keen on getting into animation. “There is a lot of scope to go professional. Cosplayers have become models, fashion designers and digital artists, since it involves a certain degree of specialisation,” he says, a glint of hope in his eyes.
Whether or not it translates into a career, fans agree their passion keeps them young at heart and in mind. And that matters more than anything else.