Why do fans dress up like their favorite anime character?
The standard answer is “It’s fun.” I’m sure it is. But why is it fun?
First, it’s a way of advertising a show. I’m a fan of the Studio Ghibli movie Whisper of the Heart, which never got a significant audience in America. I think that’s a shame. One way I can get attention for it is to dress up like one of its characters (as I did at Otakon a few years ago).
It can also be a way of identifying with a character. I think this is less common than it’s normally perceived to be; few people who dress up as Light from Death Note fully agree with his philosophy. But identification doesn’t need to be complete. Fans think that Light (and Spike Spiegel and Goku and Naruto) are interesting people, and thus worth showing off to the world.
It’s also distinctive. Fandom is a culture, after all, and members of a culture seek ways to differentiate themselves, to show that their culture is unique. Cosplay is a perfect way to do that; who else would dress up in garish colors and wear a wig for a weekend?
Finally, let’s not forget that fun factor. Cosplay is a remarkable way to spend one’s time, and helps fans to believe they’re individuals. There’s nothing wrong with this; as much as we say we believe we’re unique individuals, we need physical actions to demonstrate it, to reinforce that to our minds.