Heroes of Cosplay, the docu-miniseries that follows cosplayer heavy-weights such as Yaya Han, Holly Conrad and Jessica Merizan gives a dramatized look in to the competitive world of Cosplay; or they would have us believe. As the show is the most visible representation of the Cosplay world, the show itself has spawned criticism from its own community and even from the outside world.
With a show dedicated to my chosen project, I felt that despite the controversy over its content that I should watch it, even if it only gave the smallest amount of information as to what the cosplay world is like. As I was not totally going in watching this show from an entirely non-cosplay prospective, as I have seen many at the comic book/sci-fi conventions before. However, to others who had merely associated this sub-culture to the countless Princess Leias or the cheaply made costumes that usually scatter around such conventions; who would have known that there could be such a shift from this to the skilled craftsmanship that could put any movie costume wardrobe to utter shame! As Yaya Han, the so-called first lady of Cosplay may put it in the first episode “Cosplay has gone from sub-culture to pop-culture, where anyone you wanna be can be bought to life!” which I couldn’t agree more with. However, I couldn’t help but think to myself is this amount of exposure to the outside world a good or bad thing? And will they even understand the motive behind it?
One of the first things I noticed about this show that I found very off-putting was the dramatization that was created around the cosplayers. Obviously, this is to make the show appear more appealing to audiences other than the usual geek crowd by creating stereotypes around these cosplayers but seriously, a show about cosplay shouldn’t be about bitching and fighting; it should be solely about the creative process of making a costume and showing the love and passion that goes in to such a hobby. As a massive fan of cosplayers Holly Conrad and Jessica Merizan from Morgan Spurlock’s Comic Con IV: A Fan’s Hope; I was a little crushed to see such talented and overall interesting women be bought in to something as tacky as this show. It unfortunately didn’t bring out the best in the duo, especially Jessica who appeared whiny and overly controlling throughout the show’s run by constantly detesting the “side-kick” role that she seems to have obtained. There were times when I simply wanted to shake her and say “Get over yourself, not everything is about you!” Which I know might seem like harsh judgement, but I felt that it was unfair for her to blame her cosplayer partner Holly for this poorly judged status she has mostly given herself. However on a brighter note, Holly and Jessica despite their slight differences work more than effectively together and it was nice that unlike the other cosplayers they never resorted to going down the ‘sexy cosplay’ road ; with even Holly exclaiming “This is the Cosplay competition, not the cleavage competition!” and for that it was evident the love of their chosen characters and not to gain popularity.
Next we have the queen of cosplay herself, Yaya Han. In a lot of ways, Yaya is a great inspiration to cosplayers around the world as she has really made a name for herself as an icon of cosplay and thus has been able to make a living out of it. It is also nice to see that such an icon is an asian woman as well, seeing as cosplay originated from Japan and considering how few of them practice cosplay from American tv, films and video games. As seen in this series, she even is in the process of making her very own action figure; proving just that she takes full ownership in carefully crafting her very own franchise within this niche. Yaya is clearly a savvy business woman, which I can see why other cosplayers look up to her so much and at the same time are incredibly intimidated by her. In a lot of ways I really respect her as she demonstrates her love of comics/video games and films in her attention to detail from the concept to the development and showcasing stages of her costumes. She fully embraces the cosplay lifestyle, but you can also tell that she uses her sex appeal to gain the followers she has; and for this I couldn’t quite tell if I agreed with this idea or not.
The rest of the cast is quite the mixed bag of zainy characters. From the ambitious steampunk enthusiast Jesse who dons a steamtrooper (storm-trooper) costume made entirely from scratch (which, I personally feel was the best costume from the entire series); to the ‘method cosplayer’ Becky who seems completely addicted to all things Pixer, resulting in mediocre costumes at best. To me, the cosplayers who seemed less self-involved were the ones who the most likable; especially and quite surprisingly that of web-host Chloe Dryksta who seemed to care less about how cosplay could aid her with career opportunities and more about embodying her chosen cosplayer characters which I felt is what cosplay was all about; but clearly not.
Heroes of Cosplay also touches on the notion of the backlash from media coverage of the ‘sexy cosplay’ movement. Yaya herself complains that cosplayers such as Jessica Nigri approach the hobby as an asset of flaunting their bodies without putting their full attention on the intricate detail of craftsmanship. As a result, Yaya later mentions that she feels as though her cosplay protege Monika Lee might be falling down this sleazy route as she decides to compete in the Emerald City Comic Con as a sexy steampunk rendition of Poison Ivy. This is something that I’m very much in two minds about; on one hand I was glad that Yaya touched on this budding movement in Cosplay as it showed her awareness of the differentiation between being accurate and simply wanting an excuse to show off your body and thus gain attention. She mentions that this type of cosplay doesn’t ever go beyond the notion of bringing sex appeal to the artform; which to an extent is true as there seems to be no real thought given to such characters costume other than to make a spectacle out of their own physical attributes.
Overall, I couldn’t help but think that Heroes of Cosplay has released a bitter image to the outside world of what cosplay is about. I felt as though they were trying to far too hard to make the show appear to be more interesting by adding drama and tension when it simply wasn’t even needed. It is true that you cannot make a reality tv show out of everything; and Heroes of Cosplay is a prime example of that. It was seldom that they touched on the beauty of the cosplay process from the design and making to the competing and instead it came across as a ruthless world that is not for the sensitive or faint hearted.