Yau Wong Siu-lun wants the world to know that underneath the make-up and outrageous costumes, cosplayers are real people, too.
"Most of us are just dressing up for fun," she says. "We don't really think we are these characters, although that is what a lot of people seem to think about us. We know it's not real and we just want to have some fun."
Next week will see Hong Kong's legion of comic, animation and game obsessives dusting off their costumes before the annual Ani-Com & Games fair kicks off at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, which this year runs from July 25 to July 29.
Cosplayers use the occasion to come out and greet the public dressed up in the guise of their heroes (the phrase comes from a combination of the word "costume" and the phrase "role playing") and for the past seven years, Wong has been a shining light of the fair's cosplay competition: last year, she won again, dressed impressively as the Spider Queen from the video game Diablo. This year she'll be using her skills for a greater purpose, says the "20-something" hospital worker. "I've been asked to be a judge this year as I have won the event seven times now. I think it will be more fun letting someone else have a chance and maybe giving them advice."
Cosplayers have had a bit of a tough time in recent years with the more conservative of Hong Kong's thought police questioning the effect that living out such fantasies can have on young, growing minds. And various schools have moved to discourage students from joining cosplaying groups.
While respectful of such concerns, Wong believes people sometimes miss the point when it comes to cosplaying. "It's about getting together with friends. We don't do any harm to anyone. I always tell students that cosplaying is for fun and they shouldn't forget their homework or make it all they do in life. This is important - things like family are important, they come first. You can't make cosplaying your whole life, but it is great to make it a part of your life."
Over the past year, Wong's success as a cosplayer has led to speaking engagements with schools and social groups, and she has been spreading that positive message. "Everybody knows that life is about balancing things," she says. "So I keep telling the students this."
Wong says she has found many like-minded individuals among the student population: the path that has led her towards cosplaying is a common one, she believes. As a child, Wong bought comics and was captivated by animation on television and on the big screen - and now, by the animated imagery that surrounds us.
"Comics have always been part of life in Hong Kong, so I started out reading them and watching animation when I was very young," says Wong. "I think it is the same for most kids here."
The success of the Ani-Com & Games fair - and massively popular international geek gatherings such as Comic-Con in San Diego in the US - have presented cosplayers with public platforms for their hobby, and competitions at these events mean that preparations are taken very seriously.
Wong says it's impossible to calculate the amount of time she has spent over the years researching, sourcing and preparing her costumes. It's the same for any cosplayer, she says. "I started out making my own costumes but … they didn't really look any good. Then my family took me [to the mainland] to have some custom-made, but in the end that was just too expensive.
"My mother then suggested I learn properly how to make the clothes myself. She has been a great supporter, teaching me how to make clothes and showing me how much fun that can be."
Wong says Edward, the lead character in manga artist Hiromu Arakawa's wildly successful Fullmetal Alchemist series, is her favourite. "I don't think I am a very beautiful girl so the boy characters suit me more. Most of the comics I love have boy characters who are more important than girl characters, so there are more to choose from. It's harder to turn yourself into a boy. It takes more time to work on some of these costumes but it's a great feeling when you get everything together and are able to show off what you have done."
This month around, Ani-Com & Games sees the Hong Kong faithful gathering each week to prepare for the competition and public there is at least one event every month.
"But it's not just about having your photo taken," Wong says. "You make so many friends when you attend events and you get together with people who have the same interests, like the same characters and comics. I'm not very good at [acting]. I am better with make-up and costumes - but it's still me underneath. I don't think it's important to pretend you actually are that character, or live in that world. I sometimes might look a bit strange, but it's my own personality that is still there inside."