For the uninitiated, the term “Cosplay” is a portmanteau of the words “Costume” and “Play.”
SyFy’s new reality series Heroes of Cosplay seems to get the “costume” part (mostly) right, but it completely misses the “play” part of it.
Now, prefacing everything, I just want to say: this is merely my opinion. I’ve been a con-going turbodork for over ten years, and during those ten years, I’ve met, befriended, and fallen in love with quite a few cosplayers; both casual fans and hardcore fabricators. I speak not as a well-respected voice within the “cosplay community,” rather as a guy who, even with tertiary knowledge of what cosplay is and isn’t, can easily call out Heroes of Cosplay for the farce that it is.
Another note is that, by and large, I have no real complaints against any of the actual people on the show. Of all of them, I really like Jessica and Holly; they have terrific craftsmanship, and you still get the sense that all this is very much a labor of love, even as deadlines mount and things fall apart.
Oh, the YouTube comments are a barrel of fun for this video.
But that’s more of an accidental byproduct. By and large, Heroes of Cosplay reeks of a well-intended misfire, made worse by clueless producers, choppy editing, and zero research or planning. And considering that Heroes of Cosplay is the first time that cosplay itself has been placed under the basic cable spotlight, all eyes are on SyFy to see whether or not it withstands scrutiny. In short: it doesn’t. Strap yourselves in, folks – let’s run down the Seven Reasons Heroes of Cosplay is Terrible!
7) Cosplay is actually a fun hobby – something Heroes of Cosplay doesn’t even pay lip service to
I mentioned why I liked Holly and Jessica earlier, and that’s because they’re good-natured nerdfolk tending to their costuming skills, having fun and stressing out in equal measure. Cosplay is a fun thing people do, first and foremost. Pick your favorite character, dress up, and have some fun. Are you into Dragon Ball Z? Are you also black? Who cares – dress up as Goku and have some fun. Anyone who gives you shit about it – “COSPLAY TO YOUR BODY TYPE, DUDE” – is completely wrong and terrible.
Now, that’s not to say that there isn’t moments of tension, drama, and television-worthy moments when you’re a cosplayer. Any cosplayer can tell you how stressful it is when time is against you and the fabric you need isn’t available and all that; and that part is something that Heroes of Cosplay actually gets across reasonably well. It goes into rather specific detail about what the girls (and their boyfriends/husbands, and one steampunk dude) do as far as construction goes. Although, unlike most cosplayers, the folks from Heroes of Cosplay have niceties that most cosplayers don’t have access to, like, I dunno, a garage filled with expensive equipment and so forth.
This is the fun part for cosplayers. This is why I am not a cosplayer.
Regardless, when they’re filming the subjects as they poke and prod at fabric and foam, the show is pretty accurate. Once they’re actually at the conventions, though, everything goes to shit. And that’s because…
6) Their concept of “Competitive Cosplay” is insane
In Episode 2, cosplay webseries host/Nerdist girlfriend Chloe Dykstra remarks to several weirdly shocked adults that she has “never cosplayed competitively” before, even though she has her own cosplay webseries. Egad! Zounds!! Gadzooks!!!
HOW DARE YOU, CHLOE. HOW DARE YOU NEVER COMPETE.
Except that that’s totally, completely fine. Chloe’s put in the time, work, and effort to get her own cosplay show – even though she’s never “competed” before. BECAUSE THAT IS SO NOT THE POINT. As mentioned above, cosplay is a fun endeavor – you’re using copyrighted characters owned by other people/companies, dressing up, and parading around crowded convention hallways for photos and hi-fives and all the fun that conventions allow. You’re not here to win anything; cosplaying as your favorite character in and of itself is reward enough.
Now that’s not to say that there isn’t a “competitive” side to cosplaying – several of the individuals featured on the show often talk about getting into “professional” propmaking or costuming. And that’s also completely doable – one specific cosplayer I know has parlayed her love of cosplay into a costuming gig for a major studio. But that wasn’t because she “competed” – she’s never entered a costume contest once in her life. But she has created an extensive portfolio, done several paid commissions, and thoroughly enjoys her work. None of those things require a lousy trophy from winning a cosplay contest at any convention.
But that’s just costuming. What does it take, if anything, to be a “PROFESSIONAL COSPLAYER”? Which leads me to…
5) The Concept of Being a “Professional Cosplayer” Is an Unrealistic, Unnecessary Joke
There are several ways to use your cosplay skills to lead into a professional career. There’s the one I mentioned above – using cosplay to hone your fabrication and costuming skills so that you have a robust portfolio and years of experience for a costuming gig. You can also use your love of cosplay to take commissions for other cosplayers! Some cosplayers may not necessarily be as skilled in certain areas – be they fabricating props, crafting the perfect wig, makeup, prosthetics and so forth – that they will gladly pay you a handsome fee to help them craft whatever they need for their costume. Because, once again, cosplaying is supposed to be a fun thing, and not a competitive thing. If there’s something holding you back from attaining that perfect costume for your character, there is literally no shame in asking for some outside help.
And then there’s this weird, nebulous concept of being a “professional cosplayer” itself. And that is something that only a VERY select few people have been able to achieve. Shockingly enough, two of them – Yaya Han and Jessica Nigri – have been featured on Heroes of Cosplay. Fancy that.
Being a “professional cosplayer” means having the right combination of both costuming skills, model physiques, and aggressive self-promotion that most people in their right mind would not necessarily seek. There’s only so much money to spend on convention appearances from comic book publishers, video game publishers, and so forth that there isn’t really a big market for pro-caliber cosplayers. Because the ones that do – Yaya and Jessica – pretty much take up the lion’s share of the work available. And in the meantime, they’re selling merchandise, like t-shirts, signed prints, and so on. They’re like a half-model, half-exhibitor at these conventions. It’s a lot of work, requires a ton of commitment and many years’ worth of experience. And until either Yaya or Jessica abandon the cosplay front for greener pastures, those positions are seemingly filled.
That leads me to my next point of contention, carried on to the next page!
4) Yaya Han as Ambassador
Now, on the one hand, creating a show called Heroes of Cosplay and neglecting to either mention or include someone like Yaya Han – who has been cosplaying in a notable capacity since before my time as a convention goer – would’ve been disingenuous at best, ignorant at worst. On the other hand, making her a focal point of the entire show – an “Ambassador of Cosplay,” in her own words – is just as ignorant and disingenuous.
Like I mentioned before, Yaya Han is lucky in that she is one of the very, very few people who can cosplay for a legitimate profession. That makes her both an invaluable resource for something like this, and also, a skewed, warped image compared to the rest of the people in the spotlight. Yaya Han is the green fairy; the culmination of both body and skill that most cosplayers can’t necessarily achieve; merely because they’re into cosplay just to have fun and hang out.
But there’s a major problem. In episode 2, Yaya has some lightly harsh words against her cosplayer-in-arms Jessica Nigri, because of her predilection for low-cut, revealing outfits. To her, quote, “The content that Jessica Nigri puts out, really displays cosplay in the wrong light.” Uh, okay. You’re both being paid a living wage to put on skimpy, dorky outfits at conventions. That makes you a hypocrite at worst, and patronizing at best.
(And now, a brief aside about Yaya Han’s breast implants: I’m of the opinion that if all of us are supposed to be cool and supportive of a woman’s choice of appearance – namely, ANY sort of image they want – any woman who wants to get breast implants should be treated with the same amount of respect, because that’s their choice and we’re supposed to be reasoned adults who don’t care about this shit. If you’re a pro cosplayer and you want bigger boobs, well, that’s her call – and from the looks of things, it’s paid off. So let’s not be crass.)
Of course, the show itself can be as crass as it wants. Hooray!
While Yaya Han has certainly earned her place as a cosplay aficionado, and I certainly understand why she is chosen and paid by various companies to dress up as their characters, she was not appointed as any sort of “Ambassador of Cosplay” by some senior cosplay authority. She doesn’t speak for cosplay as a whole any more than I do. And the funny thing is, I don’t think she’d disagree with that statement. I’m sure she’s a rational adult that realizes what she does is unique to her own standing, and that cosplay is a much bigger phenomenon than herself.
The problem is – according to Heroes of Cosplay, she is. The producers of the show, lacking any sort of coherent guidance, merely latched on to whatever person of cosplay fame they could find. (It should be noted that Jessica Nigri was contacted to be a regular part of the show, but declined.)
In other words, the list of “notable cosplay professionals” is pretty slim, and while in a certain sense it’s ideal that they cast Yaya Han in the lead, it sort of ruins the illusion that the other cosplayers are competing for some sort of fame or glory. Hey, that brings me to my next point!
3) Masquerades Are Pointless
Back when I was writing for a major anime site, when it came time for convention season and the various events that needed coverage, there was always one major point of contention for all of us; who had to be the one stuck covering the masquerade.
“Ughh” was usually our reaction.
Thanks for your terrible skit, kids.
Here’s the problem with the masquerades at cons: they’re loud, obnoxious, and they’re COMPLETELY unfair to the concept of competing for actual cosplay “quality.” They’re dumb loud noisy affairs for us nerds to cheer and boo and hoot and holler at people all dressed up, performing lousy skits that are rife with in-jokes. And the judges are always just some Guest of Honor they wrangled who had a free evening; former Power Rangers, voice actors, comic book artists. Definitely not experienced cosplayers, costume designers, or anyone with any spectacular technical insight.
Rather, the person or persons who “win” the masquerade are typically those who put on a big silly costume that whips the crowd in a tizzy; the judges feel that rush of energy from the bombastic audience, and reward the cosplayer in question with a prize, maybe some free DVDs and other swag, and that’s it.
Most of the best cosplayers I know have never, ever “competed” in a masquerade, because they’re a farce. They’re a fun farce, but still a farce. Impressing the former Green Ranger with your gothic lolita Princess Leia is one thing, but it’s a far cry from the professional scrutiny SyFy gives the contestants on Face Off.
The convention organizers recognize this, and that’s why – 90 percent of the time – masquerades don’t offer anything like a cash prize. Now, call this a hunch, but I find it very, very odd that of the three cons so far in each episode – the next one reportedly features Anime Matsuri in Houston – none of the cons ever offered cash prizes for their cosplay contests, until they were featured on Heroes of Cosplay There’s nothing inherently shady about forking over money to a convention to offer a cash prize, but if that’s really going on, it shows how incredibly stupid the producers are, unless they go the whole nine yards and bribe the judges too – because they’re going to vote however they want, usually for the audience favorite, the Heroes of Cosplay cast wins nothing, and the producers are out a thousand bucks. Whoops.
And that leads me to the big huge I-don’t-understand-this problem plaguing this show.
2) The Producers Have No Real Concept of the “Story” of the Show
On paper, I can see the pitch meeting for Heroes of Cosplay going swimmingly.
“Y’know, at these conventions, there’s all these guys and gals in costumes, right? Some of them are really good, and really competitive with each other! I’ll bet we could do like what we did with Face Off, where we pick some folks who are really into this stuff, show ’em off, and we got another hit! And they already compete at these conventions, right? Cool! We don’t need to waste money renting a studio and hiring judges! Sweet!”
“Cosplay? Dat’s what dem sexy chicks what wearin’ no clothin’ at the comic-conventions?”
That’s a solid pitch, but it’s completely inaccurate. The “competitive cosplay” community isn’t looking for Best In Show trophies; they’re looking for page clicks, Facebook likes, and all that social media pizzazz. Jessica Nigri, for instance, is a cosplay superstar, but not because she won any awards at the conventions themselves. But she did win something much more important – an Internet contest, sponsored by IGN, for a promotional gig for the video game Lollipop Chainsaw. THAT’S the competitive side of cosplay; the battle for mindshare, visibility, and promotional gigs. Winning a Best In Show trophy means diddly squat if your victory gets trumped by a guy in a giant Totoro costume getting on the front page of IGN or whatever.
Of course, that side of cosplaying – actual competitive cosplaying, on the Internets and Facebooks and Twitters – is inherently unfilmable. Oh, also, there’s the copyright infringement. That, more than anything, shows how completely un-researched this whole endeavor has been on SyFy’s part. How a major fuckup that bad happened on any television network, with reams of lawyers at their disposal, is completely insane.
And yeah, I know “it’s reality TV dude, what did you expect?” Reality TV shows, even the scummiest ones, typically have a much better, more thought-out approach to their subject. They have an idea, at the basest level, of what their story is. Heroes of Cosplay just shot a lot of material of these people and hoped and prayed that they’d have something in the editing room.
What they came up with kind of works, I guess, but not as a show about cosplay.
And that’s leaving out my biggest, gnarliest complaint of all:
1) STOP ABUSING THE ANIME EXPO 2013 B-ROLL
SERIOUSLY GUYS, KNOCK IT OFF. YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE IN GEORGIA, OR SEATTLE. Besides, I was there first.