Friday, September 27, 2013

Heroes of Cosplay ~ Part 2: A True Hero Emerges

With the anticipation broken, the expectations dropped, and the excitement of seeing familiar faces depleted, we headed into week two with a whole new outlook on the show. It was now a test to see if it could A) redeem itself for its horrible premiere, or B) continue running itself into the ground with its key demographic (I.E. geeks, nerds, and cosplayers).

Honestly, though we were disheartened by the first episode—what with the lack of interviews and competition focus and excess of scripted drama, catty characters, and dishonest editing—we still had hope that there would be some sort of redemption in either characters or the general theme. Obviously the show was way past the point of changing, but perhaps there was still hope for the cosplay community being shown in a favorable light.

Would the second episode start the path toward redemption, or into a shallow grave? Well...

(If you missed the episode one review, go ahead and fill yourself in before continuing.)


A True Hero Emerges

Episode two moved up north to the Seattle, WA Emerald City Comic Con and introduced three new cosplayers: Chloe, Monica and Riki. Riki is looking to 'go pro' in cosplaying, but after seeking critique on her portfolio from a big-name Hollywood fabricator, she realizes she still has a bit more refining to do if she's going to make a business for herself. Monica, having interned under Yaya (the 'ambassador' we met last episode) at the ripe age of 13, has now turned her sights to competing in the contests of the big conventions. Chloe, host of the Just Cos segment on the Nerdist Channel, has been a part of the cosplay scene for some time, but now seeks to get her feet wet by competing in her first competition.

These three are joined by Victoria (and boyfriend/fabricator Jinyo) aka no-show from Wizard World, Yaya the judge, and Jessie the armor creator and steampunk enthusiast, as well as short cameos of the cosplay duo of Jessica and Holly. So that's a total of five competitors plus the cosplay 'ambassador' herself. You'd think there would be a great story of a common interest bringing together people of starkly different backgrounds for the common goal of geeking out. Unfortunately, that amazing thing that actually happens was largely edited out in favor of even more tales of drama.

Among the two biggest issues raised in this episode was 'sex in cosplay', and 'who is allowed to dress as what?'. Now don't get me wrong, both of these topics are actually interesting discussion points that come up in the community often, and I'm actually impressed that the show decided to tackle them. But the way they handled both topics was so poorly done that it not only damaged my opinion of the show, but also those involved in the conversations.

First up was the 'sex in cosplay' debate. Monica, because of literally growing up in the cosplay scene, has earned the attention of not only Yaya as a mentor, but also Jessica Nigri. Nigri (who declined participating in the show) is another big name in the cosplay scene, and is mostly known for portraying scantily-clad and/or big-breasted characters. When Monica received a costume idea for a Steampunk Poison Ivy from Nigri, she received disapproving looks from both her mother and Yaya. Yaya implored her to follow in her own footsteps, not to put sex appeal above craftsmanship.

But as Monica cheekily noted later, Yaya shows boob too. Thus the issue devolved from an actual commentary on how women are portrayed in cosplay, how the outfit was more Victorian lingerie than acceptable period outerwear, or even how the craftsmanship of the costume was poor, but instead into a grudgematch between Yaya and Jessica Nigri. Nevermind that Monica's mother (who she still lived with) disapproved, that Monica didn't seem comfortable on stage in the acting portion of the contest, or that there were some uncomfortable guy-stares edited into the footage. This was a passive aggressive war between two superstars of cosplay with Monica stuck in the middle. What a waste.

Then there was the interesting topic of conversation at dinner. For some reason, Riki, Chloe, Yaya, Monica, Victoria and Jinyo all 'happened' to have dinner together the night before the competition. Chloe was still somewhat nervous about the whole affair, sitting with "Cosplay royalty," as the show put it, but has had enough cosplay experience to give her two cents on the conversations. When Yaya asks for Cosplay pet peeves, the hair on the back of my neck went up.
Yaya - Okay, cosplay pet peeves.

Riki - Well, people are like, "I'm really big," or "what can I do?" And it's like, you're a big muscular dude? Don't be Superman.

Chloe - I think that anybody should be whatever they wanna be, whenever.

(insert huge pause and staring)

Riki - But the thing is, if a 300-pound person wears Superman and puts themselves out there, and then it gets on the net, how is that gonna help him?

Chloe - I guess. But do you think that because of that, that they shouldn't dress up as Superman?

Monica - I think that a lot of people can't handle, you know, that criticism.

Yaya (Voice Over) - Chloe, she's very much a newbie. She's really a little bit naive.

Yaya (in real time) - I feel like as a cosplayer you need to have the responsibility to know what you look like. You have to really look at yourself in the mirror and know that, if like, my boobs are out, I'll get the shitty comments.
I'm not small. My sister (code name Xanadu) is smaller, but is nowhere near any of the girls on this show. We both deal with body issues on a daily basis; me dressing in day-to-day clothes, her creating her costumes. Now, she's not one to pick Steampunk Poison Ivy (above), or the main character from Lollipop Chainsaw as a costume idea. In fact, I think the only cosplays she's done which showed skin were back when she was first starting she did Fullmetal Alchemist's Envy (right) and once did Mai Valentine from Yu-Gi-Oh.

But more to the point, she cosplays characters she adores. She's dressed in Lolita fashion, as Discord from My Little Pony, as Ice King from Adventure Time, and is planning on Winnie from Hocus Pocus and King Candy from Wreck-It Ralph. She doesn't care if it's a boy, girl, creature or mutant! If she finds a character she loves, and she thinks she'll have a blast creating and playing it, she's gonna cosplay them!

Thankfully, a true hero finally emerged to save the sinking ship:
Chloe - I don't know who made up these rules. There's like some Grand Cosplay Lord, who's like, "You shall not cosplay something if you are overweight!" That's ridiculous! Cosplay is about having fun and being who you are and who you want to be.
Amen, sister!

Really, Chloe was the one true voice of cosplay throughout the entire episode. Firstly, she was the only one who entered solely for the experience and FUN of participating. She also showcased other amazing aspects of cosplay at cons: we got to see her collaborate with Jessica and Holly in creating a prop, she had to enlist the help of (friendly) complete strangers to operate the prop onstage, she was the only one to show the jitters of pre-stage anticipation, and the JOY of strutting her stuff, despite not being awarded a prize. Collaboration, fellowship, nerves, pride, and FUN. Who'd have thunk a competitor could have any of that?

Actually, none of the cast actually won anything. Monica completely bombed her onstage performance, Victoria had a confusing lapse where she seemed to refuse to attribute her costume's design/composition to Jinyo, Riki wore a red body suit instead of painting her exposed skin to match her face for Hell Girl, and Chloe went up and had fun but wasn't very polished. Honestly, if anyone was to win, I would have said Jesse had the best chance in his Steampunk Stormtrooper (Star Wars). But even his self-made helmet and leather armor weren't enough to gain a prize.

Unfortunately (my favorite word today), to their detriment, all contestants, except for Chloe, seemed sore losers. Jesse in particular was emphatic in his disappointment. But in his defense, he's entering contests in order to further his business. In fact, most of them are looking to win in order to further their careers. Perhaps that's why Chloe was able to have so much more fun than the rest? She's already got a career that deals with fandoms, cosplay, and nerdiness, so she's able to compete solely for the joy it brings her. Even Yaya keeps driving home the point that she has to dress in elaborate costumes so that she retains her status, not for the love of the characters or joy it brings her.

And here I thought that the purpose of doing something you loved as your job was so you didn't feel like work.

Ultimately, this episode didn't do much to improve the show as a whole. One shining example of what cosplay could and should be was just not enough to block out the rest of the cattiness and shaming. While the show tried to address a couple big issues that society and the community has debates over, it didn't devote nearly enough effort into enlightening or even properly showing them. Once again it showed us that it was much more drama and much less documentary, much to the show's detriment in my opinion. So while Chloe would not let us completely give up hope for this show, it was still ambling slowly toward the grave...

Next week our 'Heroes' traveled down to Orlando, FL for MegaCon. But in the meantime, what do you guys think? Have your experiences been closer to Chloe or Monica? And if you could cosplay anyone/anything, who/what would it be? Personally, I'd love to do either auror Tonks (Harry Potter), Fire (Kristen Cashore's novel) or Tris Chandler (Tamora Pierce's novels).

All cosplay images were used with permission from those pictured. You can see more of "Xanadu"'s work at
http://smiling-moon.deviantart.com/ or https://www.facebook.com/smilingmooncosplay