We here at Cultist got into a bit of a scuffle with the New York Post last week when a review of SyFy's Heroes of Cosplay show ended up offending all of cosplay-kind. Last night marked the premiere of the show, so we decided to see for ourselves how the show really represents the cosplay and wider geek community.
The short answer: Inside cliched reality tv tropes and its glossing over some of cosplay's more serious issues, Heroes of Cosplay does give viewers a glimpse inside the cosplay experience.
Right off the bat, the show's narrator talks about the "artistic, sexy, cutthroat" world of cosplay, raising eyebrows and immediately lowering expectations. The focus on showing the competition- and professional-based cosplay side may perhaps justify the expense and passion for viewers new to cosplay, so it might be a good approach to rein in the more mainstream folk. But as a cosplayer, I'm wary - it looks like we'll get less wig-making and more wig-snatching as the season goes on.
Yaya Han, the Queen (or Ambassador, as she prefers) of Cosplay, shows off how she's able to turn cosplaying into a full-time career. She's so popular that she doesn't compete - instead, she's hired to judge cosplay competitions at major events. Other entrepreneurial cosplayers include Jessica and Holly, who've parlayed their cosplay habit into their own custom shop and entertainment channel. Jesse is the only dude on the show, and represents cosplayers who fit cosplay within a more mainstream 9-5 framework (though he does dream of bigger opportunities as a propmaker). There's also Jessica, ever the frenetic perfectionist.
And then there's Becky, a theatrical cosplayer who goes the extra mile by embodying her character's accent, script, and spirit. While the Post review may have run with this and deemed it "weird" or "confused," it actually makes total sense. She's a "theatrical" cosplayer! Of course she's going to want to do research on the character she's embodying (Merida from Disney's Brave, in this case). It doesn't mean she actually thinks she's a Disney princess.
After the introductions, we're taken to the design and construction process. Becky is at the gym, where she briefly touches on an hot-button issue in cosplay - women's literal character embodiment, and what that means for body image and Internet reaction. Sure, the Internet is a cesspool and will attack anyone who dares to exhibit any percentage of body fat that's not a boob, but I would say the focus needs to be on the way in which female characters are created with impossible body types in the first place.
When it comes to actual construction, Heroes of Cosplay shows that it sometimes takes a village to put a costume together, and they're not kidding. My last effort required my husband, both of our parent-sets, and a very, very patient hairdresser, in order to achieve the full effect. It definitely helps to have a support group that "gets it."
Much of the drama on the show comes from a Project Runway-esque race against the clock to finish in time for the major cosplay competition, which would be nothing without a little added shade being thrown around between competitors. It's only a matter of time before somebody sneers, "I'm here for cosplay. I'm not here to make friends. It's not Heroes of Friend-Play." I'm starting my timer now.
The day of the big show arrives, and it is excellent that time is given not only to other competitors, but to giving them voice on how they made some of the more unique elements of their costumes. I'd love to see more time devoted to this section and perhaps a look at how diverse the cosplay community actually is. Seriously, SyFy. Hook it up with a brown person.
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Now for the prizes: I was surprised to see that Jessica didn't end up making the competition, as usually they would've built up that tension only to have her be the very last contestant. Good move showing how intense the work is - and that it sometimes doesn't all get done in time. Becky's Merida wins Honorable Mention and teaches us a valuable lesson on embodiment vs. body. Jessica and Holly win Best Team. Best in Show was taken by a non-cast member Galactus, which was pretty intense in its use of automotive paint and fiberglass. Jesse doesn't take home an award, but vows to step up his game for next week's convention, in a story arc that could allude to improvement as the season goes on and hopefully some eventual victory for the lone dude.
At the end of the day, it's a reality show, and in order to keep the attention of the mainstream, they're probably going to have to add in more Real Housewives-esque fabricated tense moments and cut down on actual costume fabrication. However, in moments such as Becky's Merida meeting a pint-sized Belle, you see glimmers of what cosplay, regardless of cost, really means to those who create it.