The Goku Cosplayer – Jah’lon
In this Dragon Ball Fan Focus you’ll get to meet Jah’lon, the official cosplayer for Goku at the FUNimation booth at most major conventions in the United States.
That’s something nobody else can say they do and it’s a story I want to share with others, to see what it’s like to work with FUNimation, and to be part of the American Dragon Ball and anime scene.
Let’s jump into it!
Derek: Hi Jah’lon. Thanks for taking the time to interview with me today. I’ve wanted to speak with you since we met at Anime Expo because it seemed like you had a real love for Dragon Ball.
Jah’lon: Thank you for asking me. I knew when we talked we had a connection with Dragon Ball of course, but I feel it extends beyond that into anime, the atmosphere that it brings, and the people it connects together. I really appreciate this.
This is a privilege for me to be the official cosplayer, that people are allowing me to do this, and it makes me feel like I belong. I wanted it and FUNimation allowed me to do so because of how much energy and presence I evoked.
Why Get into Anime?
Derek: Before we talk about FUNimation and how you started with them, can you tell me about yourself?
Jah’lon: I’m turning 30 this upcoming year and I have been cosplaying for over 10 years. I’ve pretty much been into anime since around high school, but grew up watching cartoons, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and so on.
It wasn’t until I was older that I started to see what was going on with anime and understand what was behind it. Out of all the bastions that pop entertainment can offer, anime stuck with me. It was a match made to be.
Derek: Why do you say that?
Jah’lon: It’s realism placed in an unrealistic setting. You see a lot of American shows and cartoons that don’t really emphasize real world things, physics and logic. That’s not to say they’re not good, but in Japanese animation they take a lot of real world things that real people deal with, and evoke mythology and legends, theoretical science, and they have an intelligent way of putting it together, not just visually but as a story. They know how to mold it in a way people can understand even without prior knowledge of what they’re displaying.
Derek: How did you first get interested in Dragon Ball?
Jah’lon: Funny story actually. I was a sophomore in high school and over at a friend’s house and he showed me a tape he got from Comic-Con. I didn’t know what Comic-Con was at the time.
For those who don’t know, Comic-Con International in San Diego is the biggest comic convention in the country. For a big portion of my childhood I had no idea what it was, even though it was down the street from where I lived. He went to Comic-Con like clockwork.
So he sat me down and showed me the 13th Dragon Ball Z film, Dragon Fist Explosion! If Goku Can’t Do It, Who Can? and FUNimation called it Wrath of the Dragon [aff].
I’m looking at it and getting skeptical, “Oh, so who is this guy related to? Whose kids are these? Why did he change color? Wait, they became one person? Oh, let me guess, he’s going to fight this big evil dude?” I completely ripped into it.
But later on when I got to watch Dragon Ball Z, the series, something occurred to me. “Like, oh my gosh, Goku’s not human, yet he looks completely human. He’s humanoid but has this physical strength, speed, and generates this energy with his hands.” That was mind blowing to see something so creative.
Also the chronological aspect of Dragon Ball, the fact that not only was the story about Goku’s childhood, but Goku becomes an adult and has his own kids, and you connect to them across his entire span of life in the series. That grabbed me because it was so involving. Like how American’s can see themselves being Superman or Batman, someone can see themselves being Goku, because he’s so strong and nice. He looks human but there’s something else about him that you won’t really know unless you figure it out for yourself.
Derek: Exactly. He’s relatable and you get to see his whole life unfold and you start to relate it to your own life in a way. But he’s also supernormal. He’s a human but he’s a super human, and it’s just fascinating to watch.
Jah’lon: Yeah! To tell you the truth I was never a popular kid, but I had a strong imagination. “What if I had super powers? What if I was strong?” Goku is the embodiment of what that kind of person would want to be. He wants to be strong, fast and fly. In certain aspects Goku is completely relatable.
Derek: So you started to get more into Dragon Ball and eventually started cosplay?
Jah’lon: I was into Dragon Ball so much that I started buying the rare figurines on eBay. Things like the Freeza spaceship camera and rare Bandai toys of limited releases for one movie only. It wasn’t until my friend took me to Comic-Con in 2001…
I go in and it was a geek’s, nerds, otaku’s paradise. You’re looking at comics, vintage toys, video games, movies, TV shows, and celebrities all over the place. It wasn’t until I saw grown people dressed up as superheroes… I’m thinking to myself, “It’s not Halloween, but there’s a Green Lantern and Wonder Woman in front of me, and they’re twice my age.”
I’ve always been into costumes, when I was little I would modify my costumes to look cooler, and yeah, that’s how I got into cosplaying and haven’t stopped since.
Derek: You started off with Goku?
Jah’lon: It was Goku 1.0, haha, because there were a lot of upgrades to be made.
I remember the first night I decided to dress up, I went into my closet, grabbed two soccer shirts, orange shorts over blue sweat pants, took a piece of paper and cut out the “Go” symbol (悟) for Goku, and then put some blue paper on my shoes. I walked out like that in public! Haha.
Derek: Well you’ve got to start somewhere.
Jah’lon: The funny thing is that I went like this to a Dragon Ball Z English voice acting autograph session at Comic-Con. That’s where I first met Sean Schemmel (the voice of Goku), Eric Vale (the voice of Trunks), and Meredith McCoy (the voice of Android 18). When I met Sean he said, “Oh my god that’s amazing.” I said, “Dude, you do not have to lie.” He said, “No no, seriously!” And it turns out that later when I saw him at other conventions he said he was being honest, so that was a real treat to hear him say that.
Derek: How did you end up working for FUNimation as the official Goku cosplayer?
Jah’lon: I was on the floor walking around as a volunteer, and I saw this guy dressed up as Goku, absolutely owning it at the FUNimation booth. I asked him how he got in the booth and he says to “talk to Henry,” in this pink shirt he’s always wearing. I talk to Henry and he says to sign up on a website, put up some pictures, and they’ll post out what events they have.
The site is called ACParadise.com, which stands for Anime Cosplay. It’s a social networking site for cosplayers that companies tie into. They place cosplayers into big promotions. FUNimation is closely knit with certain cosplayers they work with, and when they have events they send out emails to ask for help.
So that very weekend I signed up and posted pictures. To this day I have the record on the site for the most Goku cosplay pictures. Throughout the weeks I would periodically send an email asking for feedback and it was really hard to get a hold of them. I was waiting and waiting, and I knew that not only did they have Comic-Con but also Anime Expo, so I was hopeful.
It was less than a month before Anime Expo and I get an email saying “Hey, we want you to be a part of our Dragon Ball booth at Anime Expo.” So I go in my Goku 7.0, no, 8.0 costume, and they have me do stuff like hand out fliers and things like that, but me being an actor and being good at projecting, I went all out. “Hey, sign up for the FUNimation channel!” “Give me your energy, sign up for FUNimation!” They were happy with that and then I did the same thing at Comic-Con.
After that the convention manager at the time, Josh, pulled me aside, and said, “You know what, you did a really great job for us. Whatever convention you’re at, you’re free to come with us and we’ll cover your expenses.” I was completely taken aback.
Derek: They were so impressed with your Goku that they wanted you to be Goku all the time?
Jah’lon: I think they were just more impressed with me, because I wasn’t even aiming to be Goku. I was still learning how to cosplay. I basically ended up trying to take Goku’s character and mesh it with my own character, with me, and create a persona that everybody can understand.
If I just acted like Goku, people would be like, “What the heck is this guy’s problem?” And if I were just me, people would say, “I don’t think Goku should do that.” So it took a lot of practice to get into a mode where I can personify the character but still make the character my own.
Derek: At this point you just got offered the opportunity go with FUNimation on their convention circuit. How many conventions a year were you attending and where were they located?
Jah’lon: The thing about FUNimation, and this goes for a lot of companies that go through conventions, they pick and choose where they go. It just so happens that Anime Expo and Comic-Con are the biggest that they do. After I got offered that I got to go Sakura-Con in Seattle Washington, and Kumoricon in Vancouver Washington.
Derek: Mostly the West Coast?
Jah’lon: Only the West Coast, although this upcoming year I’ll be doing my first East Coast convention, Katsucon in Washintgon DC, that FUNimation is going to in February.
Derek: Great. Everybody who goes to Katsucon can see you there.
Jah’lon: Yeah, in all my Goku glory! Haha.
Derek: What is it that you do at the convention?
Jah’lon: With FUNimation I usually hand out information on new shows, news on what they’re doing, and so on. This year FUNimation is pushing their tablet App’s for people who are into FUNimation and anime on those devices.
I’m probably more tied in with FUNimation Channel than with FUNimation Entertainment. They’re kind of run differently. FUNimation Entertainment does merchandise, while FUNimation Channel is trying to get anime into not only an On-Demand setting, but on a regularly scheduled broadcast. That’s where my focus was on, and this year I got my first commission from them for some TV work. For those who have FUNimation Channel you may have seen me dressed up as Goku with the wings, interviewing people at Comic-Con.
Derek: You have both a base form Goku and Super Saiyan Goku costume. What is the difference between the two costumes and what made you want to have both?
Jah’lon: When I started out I figured I would wear the basic outfit, people would recognize it and take pictures of it, and that’s all well and fun. It wasn’t until I met this one cosplayer named Tyler as an impressive Super Saiyan Goku. His upper body was in good shape and I took a look at that, and the pictures of us together, and I thought, “What am I doing?”
I had this afro and it wasn’t long before people started calling me Gokule, the fusion of Goku and Hercule together! Yeah. That is what we call in the cosplay community a complete Fail.
Jah’lon: I took a look at him and followed what he was doing because he and a lot of other cosplayers were really into it. I realized, “I need to make this more authentic,” so I started to work on a better hairpiece. I wanted to work on a regular Goku costume first, starting out with a wig. It worked once. Once, and it never worked again. My friend took a really high definition photo and I was like, “Yeah, no one is to ever see this picture again.” Haha. That I had to scrap.
Going online I found this store in Santa Monica and discovered this 1994 licensed costume, and I wanted the hair piece they had. I then came upon the French eBay site and found this Saiyan Wig and decided to fork over the cash for it.
I remember when it came in, it was like 4 in the morning, and I thought, “Why is this box so big?” I open it and the box says “Dragon Ball” all over it, in Italian.
So I open it up and go *GASP!!!* “No way! No way!” I’m jumping around the house and my mom is looking at me like I’ve lost my mind.
Jah’lon: Here’s the thing. They did two different costumes for Goku. The standard one and the deluxe one, where the wig is rubber and plastic, the costume is better, and anyway, when I opened the box and saw the wig, you have no idea how happy I was. I was ecstatic! I couldn’t wait to put that thing on. It was so amazing, and when people saw it they went, “Oh my god!” That’s how it was for the regular Goku.
Now I can’t just do regular Goku all the time because people are going to have rising expectations. I started to work on a Super Saiyan wig, again going to hair wigs, and they worked okay, but I didn’t really know how to style wigs at the time, and they would wear out.
Then one year I went to the Anime Los Angeles convention in January. I saw this guy wearing a Super Saiyan wig with rubber latex over plastic. He said he bought it online so I looked and found the site selling the wig, but it was discontinued.
Derek: So what did you have to do? Go on a hunt?
Jah’lon: It was funny because 2 weeks later I was on eBay and what shows up out of the blue but the Super Saiyan wig. So I order it, but it turns out the wig was a different color. It’s normally golden yellow but the guy painted it over as orange. So I had to get some plastic spray paint to re-color the hair. And that’s what I use for my Super Saiyan Goku wig.
Derek: Wow. So much work for your costume.
Jah’lon: And that’s just the head piece! I didn’t even tell you about the other stuff. Each of those is an adventure.
Derek: Haha. It sounds like you’re a dedicated fan and want to do a good job, paying attention to the details. I know I was impressed when I saw it, so I imagine other fans have been as well.
Derek: What is the difference between the two characters for you mentally? What do you have to do when switching costumes? You have the wigs and contacts. Is it both physically and mentally a switch?
Jah’lon: With regular Goku when he’s a kid in Dragon Ball he’s really clueless. He doesn’t know a lot or hasn’t bothered to learn. All he knows is about fighting and surviving in the wilderness in the best way he was taught how. In Dragon Ball Z he gets more mature, but still has that cluelessness. He’s an adult and a bit more mature because he’s more open to the world. When I’m regular Goku I make myself open to everybody. I’m like, “Hey, how’s it going guys!” Kind of project good vibes, attitude.
When you’re regular Goku you automatically attract people, good or bad, you attract. That’s who Goku is.
Super Saiyan Goku, well, I have to make sure I’m physically okay to do it. As you know, going Super Saiyan your muscle mass increases a bit. He gains more mass than normal, so in order to do Super Saiyan Goku I have to get myself in shape, pushups, sit ups, and toned to the point where I can sit there and physically have a good look.
Also when he first transforms into a Super Saiyan he has a lot of anger in him. He’s using that anger and channeling it, and that’s part of how going Super Saiyan was for him at the time. He had to be angry, and that’s why up until the Cell Saga you’re always seeing him frown, because he’s concentrating on trying to keep it together.
So at first, depending on what type of outfit I’m wearing for Super Saiyan, I get, well, not meaner, but more stern. I’m stern if I’m wearing the Kame Sennin or Go outfit.
After Cell Saga you’re talking the Saiyan suit, or the outfit with no “Go,” and he’s back to his more normal self and doesn’t have to be angry anymore because turning Super Saiyan is second nature.
At times when I’m Super Saiyan I’ll be just the normal Goku, but a bit more clueless, because now he’s crazy strong. He’s crazy strong as normal, but as a Super Saiyan it’s even more. He has to be careful or he’ll mess something up. So I try to be as jovial as I can be, but also project that character of Goku as true as possible.
Derek: That makes perfect sense. As an actor that must be an interesting character to play.
Jah’lon: He is an interesting character to play in that there’s not very much to him. Haha. His character and personality. You can do so much in acting, whether it’s a Shakespearian actor, a method actor, whatever model or mode you choose.
Being as simple as Goku can take a lot of work.
For me it’s kind of a challenge because you don’t really see Goku affected by the real world. He doesn’t go into the real world much, doesn’t get all the noise, all the feedback the world has to offer. He’s kind of in his own little world, thinking about nothing more than taking care of his family, fighting baddies, and eating all day, haha.
There’s not much to Goku, so you’ve just got to understand that because of that, as an actor you don’t show more than what the character portrays.
Derek: I would think that’d be very hard.
Jah’lon: Yeah, sometimes you get tired. “Oh my gosh, I can’t keep this up.” But moments later I’m like, “Hi, I’m Goku!” So it’s cool, but it does take a lot of time and energy to get into that mode and sustain it.
Derek: Goku is such a positive character in his own nature that I’d like to ask you, has playing the role of Goku for so long changed your personality or outlook in a positive way?
Jah’lon: Yes and no. I discovered that a lot of what Goku is, is a lot of what I am. Through watching Dragon Ball and Goku and learning about both I realized that a lot of myself is reflected into this. I’ve always tried to be a positive person, help people out, and be there for people. Try to do the best I can. I’m not out trying to take over the world, hurt people, or for my own person gain. Seeing what Goku stood for made me realize I should just stick with being me.
When you’re young you want to get this idea out there that you’re unique and everyone should recognize that uniqueness. But Goku is a very humble character. He doesn’t look for fame or fortune. All he’s looking for is a good fight and a good meal afterward. It’s simple. Simple but profound.
That’s kind of how I’ve been trying to keep my life. Very simple but very profound.
Derek: Going off of that, do you live a minimalist lifestyle, live in nature, try to exercise and do the things Goku does?
Jah’lon: I don’t go out in nature a lot. Haha, I think that’s one aspect where Goku and I are different. I like inner cities. I can be out in nature for a while, but I can’t live there. I have to go with mankind’s progressions. But I do work out, strengthen myself with exercises and take care of my body. Not just to give myself the appearance but to tap into the embodiment of what I can do. Not that I can measure up to what Goku can do: I can’t teleport from one place to another or shoot energy from my hands, and I certainly can’t change hair color and eye color on command, haha.
But I do try to keep myself up there. At least within my means, although with cosplay it’s time consuming and also money consuming. I have to make sure I keep myself straight with my expenses and time frames.
Derek: When you’re at the conventions you have to scream and do martial arts stances all day long, so you need a certain level of fitness. Is that hard to do after you’ve traveled and stayed at hotels and other things?
Jah’lon: Yeah, it gets taxing. It’s not just about trying to stay fit, but about getting the stances accurate. Throughout the times I’ve watched Dragon Ball and actually studied it, from looking at different photos from Akira Toriyama, or figures by Bandai and Toei, I’ve tried to get as close as possible to whatever stance Goku did. Because when people take pictures of you, if you’re not experienced you’ll just stand there, smiling or not smiling. If you’re into the character and cosplay, then you’re into modeling and you have to give the person something.
I’ll give them a basic power up stance, arms out, fists balled up, “Grrrhh.” Whatever face, mean, smiles, yelling, power up, whatever.
But you figure that’s going to get old, so you start thinking energy shots. One hand blasts, Kamehameha’s, maybe Kienzan’s (Destructo Disc).
Then I’ll get more atypical, into the stance he does when he fights Vegeta for the first time, or the stance when he’s transforming into Super Saiyan 1, or Super Saiyan 3.
There’s a stance for each. I study all this and I see that nobody else is doing this, so I put it out there and hope the fans eat it up.
Connecting with Dragon Ball Fans
Derek: What has the fan reaction been like? Are they excited to see you at conventions?
Jah’lon: Yeah. I do have a lot of kids that are like, “Hey, you’re Goku!” It’s so awesome to have to that kind of reaction.
One story comes to mind. I was walking down the hall at Anime Expo to go to a gathering and these ladies stopped me, with a handful of children each. They asked me, “Who are you? Why are you dressed like this?” This is a common cosplay question. I explained to them who I was and why I was dressed this way, and the kids are loving it. The women were taking pictures with the kids.
The thing that hit home was that they looked at me and said, “Thank you. Thank you for this. We came in here not knowing what to expect, but it has been wonderful and you just made it that much better.” It got me good.
With this I’m really modest about it. I don’t make myself out to be an elitist or some really top class cosplayer. I don’t condone that, although I do recognize good work when I see it. I know a lot of cosplayer’s who do great work, they also act, sing, dance, and are creative artists. We’re not just people in costumes, we have skills and abilities, and it’s wonderful to get that kind of praise. We’re not really looking for it, we’re just trying to look like the character and leave it at that. Most of the time I get very good reactions wherever I go.
Derek: That’s really great to hear. I know a lot of fans out there appreciate you playing Goku, being there and adding that sense of positivity to the convention.
Jah’lon: If it wasn’t for the fans I wouldn’t be so proud to do any of this, being Goku, doing Dragon Ball cosplay, because you guys have given me so much to go off on, what you have to offer as far as what you know about Dragon Ball, and the praise.
I just want to say that each and every one of you, I adore from the bottom of my heart, and I hope I can continue to please and surprise you guys with whatever I have, Dragon Ball or otherwise.
Derek: That’s a great message, and reminds me of when you did the Dragon Ball gathering at the Anime Expo. All these other Dragon Ball cosplayers came out and we took photographs. That was a lot of fun, and you were the one who led the event and helped make that happen.
Jah’lon: Actually it was my friend’s idea, but she couldn’t run it. She asked me to help her host it, and she usually dresses up as Bunny Suit Bulma, but this time she was dressed up in some kind of school girl costume, with barnacles on her skin, zombie eyeball, and other weird, gross things. So being the leader that I can be when the situation calls for it, I gathered everybody up, marched them into an open area, and said let’s do the Saiyan Saga, the Cell Saga, and it went like clockwork.
Basically I helped stage the events and helped others with their poses, to help them be comfortable with it. I enjoy being around Dragon Ball cosplayers and I’m looking forward to it being even bigger at this upcoming year, because we’re planning another Dragon Ball gathering!
Derek: Dragon Ball is still popular and we have new releases coming out, such as the new Dragon Ball Z movie, Kai, and the video games. Do you plan to continue playing the role of Goku?
Jah’lon: As long as my body will allow me to, I will continue to portray earth’s mightiest hero. Honestly, if it wasn’t for Dragon Ball I wouldn’t be doing any of this. I wouldn’t be going to conventions, meeting people, or doing this interview right now.
I owe a lot to Akira Toriyama and his simple idea of rewriting a story and making it so epic.
Derek: Absolutely. Now this is something I ask in every interview. What does Dragon Ball mean to you?
Jah’lon: Dragon Ball is being able to stay true to yourself and staying positive. To be able to allow others to be the exact same way. Throughout the series you’ve got your enemies, your allies, your antiheroes, all different walks of life, but the message of Dragon Ball is that there are people who are good, so do good deeds for other people even though they might go against what you believe.
Dragon Ball is about being true to yourself and not straying too far from what you feel your life goal is. Being positive. You shouldn’t have such a negative outlook on life, even though it will give you war, destruction and negativity. You have to stay positive no matter what.
One thing I have in common with Goku is the will to never give up. Never give up and keep striving.
But really, Dragon Ball means even more to me than those words.
Derek: I understand where you’re coming from. I think it’s the spirit of endurance that Dragon Ball taught a lot of people, including myself. The idea that you have to keep going forward. Even though it’s hard and the odds are against you, you have to try.
Jah’lon: Right. Even if things don’t go your way, at least you gave it your shot. You can fall down to your feet but as long as you know you gave it your all and put yourself into it, then there are no regrets.
Derek: It sounds to me that you see Dragon Ball as something more than just a kid’s cartoon show.
Jah’lon: I see something in it that I don’t think Akira Toriyama could have envisioned. Akira Toriyama created this the same way a lot of manga artists did, just to have something to make money so he could feed his family. I don’t think he knew how big it was going to be until the middle of Dragon Ball Z, then he started to understand.
Even when he tried to end it, he couldn’t do that. Something told him the way he ended it was not the way to end it. He could have went on with it…
As a matter of fact he’s continuing it now, but at the time he stopped he realized he needed to at least take a break and focus on everything other than Dragon Ball. Now with the 2013 movie, Battle of Gods, which I can’t wait for, and Dragon Ball Heroes out in Japan, Dragon Ball Z Ultimate Tenkaichi and Dragon Ball Z: Kinect in America. Also the continuation of Dragon Ball Kai. He’s not done! He just took that break and now he’s going to continue. He never really finished, and we don’t know if he ever will.
What Toriyama does is leave it up to your imagination. “I’m going to give you this. What do you think of it?” He doesn’t put it on me.
Derek: Right, he doesn’t explain it to you.
Jah’lon: Yeah. “You, reading this, I want to know what you think of it.” A lot of Dragon Ball fans take it and say “Dragon Ball is like this, this and this.” Dragon Ball for me gives a lot of Saturday morning public school message, but not in a way that seems over the top.
You can be strong, save the world, help out your friends, and not be any more or less than the person you already are. That’s what Dragon Ball is.
Goodbye Goku! Until We Meet Again!
Jah’lon: I really enjoyed the interview and was happy to get out in the open and talk about these things. Honestly, I’ve never had to talk about Dragon Ball at this level. So when you asked me to be interviewed about this I was beside myself. “Oh my god he wants to ask me about Dragon Ball and what I think about it. This is kind of deep.” Haha. I was really ecstatic to do it, and I appreciate the opportunity to express myself. I’m really thankful for that.
Derek: Thank you for saying so, I’m really glad to have you here.
Now if somebody wants to find out more about you, they can go to your Facebook page?
Jah’lon: Yeah. It’s BlackGokou. You can find me on Twitter @BlackGokou. Also find me on ACParadise.com and Cosplay.com. If you type Black Gokou on Google or Yahoo you’re going to find me. I’m all over Flickr and Tumblr.
Derek: Well I know we could probably talk about Dragon Ball for hours more.
Jah’lon: I know! Haha. We could talk until the cows come out in the morning. But thank you very much. I really do appreciate it.