Wong, better known as Yugana Senshi, is quite the anomaly in the local cosplay scene.
For one, as the 30plus Sarawakian herself readily admits, she is something of an “old timer” for a cosplayer. It’s teens and young adults who dominate this practice of dressing up as a character from a film, book, or video game that was popularised by fans of Japanese anime and manga (cartoons and comic books).
Wong is also a full-time housewife and mother to eight-year-old daughter Maya, making her one of the rare local talents who still indulges in the hobby while juggling such responsibilities. (That's Maya in the main image above, with mum, showing off Wong's take on the Joker from Batman.)
Her fame has grown over the five years she has been cosplaying, even taking her overseas, most notably as a cosplay judge at this year’s Asia Pop Comicon in Manila – an event that included the likes of Ready Player One’s star Tye Sheridan and the Iron Fist himself, actor Finn Jones.
Wong will be appearing at the Star Supa Comic event as a featured guest judge for the Best Cosplay Competition held on Dec 29, along with Leon Chiro from Rome and Onnies from Thailand. Here, she speaks to us about her start in the hobby, and the dual life she plays as doting mother and cosplay advocate.
Proving A Point
While Wong always had an interest in cosplay, she only became seriously involved when she decided to challenge herself.
“One of my aims in starting to cosplay was to do something crazy. It was actually supposed to have been a one-off thing after I had given birth.
“I wanted to do something everybody said that mothers could not do. I wanted to prove that a woman of 30 could do it despite having huge obligations (as a mother),” she says.
But the start of her cosplay journey was not an easy one. Her past demons proved to be stumbling blocks.
“Years ago I was struggling with weight issues so having cosplay be my motivation to keep fit helped me maintain a healthy lifestyle. Also I was recovering from a bout of depression.
“But today I’m living my dreams, and touching lives as well,” she says.
Her first cosplay, a female version of the villainous Clown Prince of Crime, Batman’s Joker, turned heads during her debut at the Anime Festival Asia 2013 Singapore.
From there her works received critical acclaim, which led to judging gigs in and outside the region.
She even roped in her little Maya, doing joint costumes as mother and daughter.
“Once you enter the cosplay scene it’s a little hard to quit because it’s such a beautiful world,” says Wong.
Her most memorable experience so far was giving a grieving brother a sweet reminder of his late sister and their childhood.
“I was cosplaying Beetlejuice (from the 1988 movie of the same name) and this man just approached me to say thanks.
“He said that the character had such a big impact on his childhood, being his sister’s favourite character, and it had also touched his heart because she was no longer around.
“I was speechless. Nobody had ever said that to me,” she says. “I am the impossible.”
Strong words. But they are words that accurately sum up Ann Wong’s cosplay journey thus far.
Safety concerns in the world of cosplay are very real.
It has long been an open secret that many practitioners suffer harassment and scorn from within and outside the community.
Tales of indecent shoots being forced upon newbies, cyber bullying and the like are rife among the many message boards online.
The bad press cosplay tends to carry has also given birth to many stigmas, more so in conservative cultures.
Concerns that the hobby is unhealthy, a detriment to studies, and a waste of time are often repeated by parents.
Wong says that, as a parent herself, she is aware of these concerns.
“Like acting and modelling, there’s a safe way of doing it and an unsafe way. If you see a red flag such as an unsafe photographer, you stay clear. It’s your choice.
“However, if you are underage I would prefer if your parents are involved in your hobby. I know kids don’t like to hear about this but listen to your parents. Don’t just fight. Show them you can still be a responsible human being even with cosplay.
Many young cosplayers have turned to Wong for advice, and there are times she has been forced to play devil’s advocate.
“If your parents are concerned that your grades are suffering because of cosplay, and you don’t do anything to prove them wrong, how do you expect people to change their minds?
“And for those who want to dabble in more risque costumes, I always ask if they fully understand what they’re getting into, and more importantly, are fully prepared for it,” she says.
Negatives aside, Wong says that the hobby has its strong points as well.
“It’ not like you’re doing drugs or out there robbing people. Cosplay is multilayered. There’s the crafting that goes into your costume. Those interested in performances can develop their artistic skills in skits. The list goes on.”
Wong insists on focusing on the good, especially when her daughter’s upbringing is concerned.
“I don’t force Maya to cosplay. She knows that there are good and bad people in this world.
“For me, I am incorporating the positive aspects of cosplay into her upbringing. The creative aspect of the hobby and the opportunity to meet new and exciting people has given Maya a chance to view the world more openly.
“Through cosplay Maya has learned to accept people (for who they are) and I’m very proud of her for that,” Wong says.