(Aug. 6) -- Halloween used to be one day a year, but some self-proclaimed geeks have turned it a 365-day holiday thanks to "cosplay."
On the surface, cosplay -- a shortened term for "costume play" -- seems simple: It's basically adults dressing up as their favorite heroes from anime, manga, fantasy or sci fi, and either role playing or simply posing for pics in their chosen character's most famous poses.
But the lengths that a cosplayer will go to emulate that character can be quite extreme, according to Atlanta-based cosplay model and costume designer Candy Keane.
"Yes, cosplay is basically dressing up as a character," Keane told AOL News. "But cosplayers get more into the character. They know the history and practice the poses that they are most famous for. For instance, I have a friend who does the Terminator and he won't smile and says everything with an accent like Arnold Schwarzenegger."
To Keane, the attention to detail -- and character -- is what sets cosplay apart from merely dress-up.
"It's about being the character," said Keane, whose favorite cosplay characters are Wonder Woman and Princess Leia in her slave costume. "Many cosplayers spend hours making their own costumes or spend up to $500 to have one made."
Keane knows of what she speaks. Not only does she sell costumes to cosplayers all over the world, but when she dresses as Wonder Woman, she makes sure to convey the regal bearing of an Amazon princess.
It seems cosplayers are born that way. At least Keane was. The 35-year-old was always eager to dress up, especially around Halloween.
"Then I discovered cosplay and realized I could do it all year round," she said.
She also developed a cosplay cottage industry dressing other women. Since many female comic characters are both bustier and thinner than normal ladies, Keane has a few secrets to help her customers' get into the costume as easily as they get into the character.
"Lots of spandex undergarments and two bras," she laughed.
Cosplay is associated with Japanese and Asian culture, and that is where the activity has been taken to extremes, according to cultural critic Pat Kinney, who has traveled to Japan many times and observed the cosplay scene.
"To me, it's very weird," she said. "On Sunday, the Harajuku district of Tokyo is filled with cosplayers. It's like it's the one day where people live their character before going back to real life. When people meet another character, they each strike a pose associated with their character."
That aspect of cosplay is catching on in the U.S. with a whole generation of anime and manga fans adopting the lifestyle.
"I took a Japanese class in New York last year and two thirds of my classmates were American kids who learned a few Japanese words watching anime and wanted to further their knowledge," she said.
The cosplay culture hits close to home for Kinney. Her niece, Rebecca Richards, is a cosplayer in Texas. She started out cosplaying as her favorite video game characters and now is studying how to develop games.
"I hope to design characters that people want to emulate," she said. "Growing up, I tried to choose characters that I liked that I thought my mother would be able to make since she wouldn't be as familiar with the characters as I would be. I tended to pick characters whose costumes were either very realistic, such as a lawyer that wore a very exaggerated business suit, or easy to modify from a pattern, or a costume similar to a nun's garments."
Richards' favorite character is Lucca from "Chrono Trigger," a role-playing video game that first hit stores in 1995.
"Lucca's outfit required more work from me since the clothing was simple, but she wore an elaborate helmet," she said. "Since I like making helmets and head pieces, this required some planning on my time, but turned out to be a lot of fun in the long run."
Asian cosplay is not only focused on characters popularized in that part of the world, but it is more strict on attention to detail, according to cosplayer Samantha-Ann Roth.
"In Japan, it is seen as art. Everything must look exactly like the character, even the eye color," Roth said. "In the U.S., it is more relaxed and playful. There is room and understanding for slight changes in the costume. For example, if a person's eyebrows aren't the right shade, it isn't a faux pas."
But that doesn't mean there are occasional skirmishes among American cosplayers.
San Diego-based cosplayer Adrienne Shon says some people forget that "play" is the second syllable in cosplay, and take it too seriously.
"People sometimes get into groups and fight over who gets to be a certain character," she lamented. "Some people won't talk with you anymore if you decide not to cosplay."
For Shon, the thrill comes with being able to "pretend I can turn into a ball or jump high," but adds there are other ways to get her cosplay kicks.
"Sometimes, it's fun to go to a bar in character and make fun of each other -- in character," she said.
Because Asian culture is a relatively new import to many Americans, there is also a perception that cosplay is new as well.
But it's not, according to costume designer Kelly Ann Bonnell, who first got into cosplay in the early 1990s after participating in renaissance fairs with the Society of Creative Anachronism.
"The re-enactment component of cosplay is similar to what you see with renaissance fairs and Civil War re-enactments," Bonnell said. "People challenge their skills to improvise and see how well they can replicate the past, to see if they can really, for a moment, feel as if they're in the era they're recreating. We SCA-ers call it 'living the dream.'"
Anthropologist Paul Draper also sees cosplay as similar to Civil War re-enactments, but is most fascinated by how American kids are being inspired by the Japanese anime and manga characters.
"The Americans have this connection to the mythos of the East without really knowing it," Draper said. "There are differences. For instance, snakes aren't considered evil in that part of the world.
For example, Draper said female Japanese characters tend to be youthful and childlike while still being dominant personalities.
"Also, the anime and manga characters are more accepting of animal spirits, which is similar to Native American culture -- which has its roots in Asia," he said.
Draper said this aspect of cosplay culture has caught on in American high schools.
"You are starting to see an increase of kids who call themselves the 'Wolf Pack' and they wear ears and have tails," he said.
Cosplay is so well-established in Asia that there are conventions for it, such as the recent ChinaJoy event in Hong Kong. Although the San Diego Comic-Con is the main gathering for American cosplayers, the activity should get bigger in the U.S. if the good feelings Shon gets from it are any indication.
"Cosplay has transformative powers," she said. "You can be anything you want. I find it very therapeutic. It makes me believe that, well, maybe I can be limitless. Plus, it's just nice to pretend, joke around with friends, and be geeks."