Thursday, February 20, 2014

Rant/Review: Heroes of Cosplay

I've been asked by a few people what my thoughts are on Syfy's Heroes of Cosplay. Did I enjoy it? Did I hate it? Did I think it misrepresented or properly display the cosplay community? Well, there are many directions I could go with this post, so I'll try to break it up into digestible pieces.

Why did it take me so long to respond to this request?
Initially, I wanted to wait for the heat to die down and to collect my thoughts in a reasonable manner. I also wanted to gather viewers, participants, and cosplayers and supporters' thoughts. There's the usual explanation of being busy and working on other stuff. I still wanted to please my readers with my thoughts on the show, even though I don't want to make it a habit of reviewing television shows. So, let's get to it!

Initially, I was pretty excited to hear that a cosplay show was about to exist. People outside the cosplay community would understand the function, community, and joy of cosplay. When it was announced to be aired on Syfy, some people groaned and lost a bit of faith. I've only watched Face Off religiously and occasionally horror movies during October and Total Blackout, so I don't have much of a history or relationship with the channel like others. Later, a description was posted with casting. That's when it went downhill for me and a good chunk of the potential crowd. I still wanted to go in with an open mind, but having someone associated with the Jersey Shore Mark Cronn and 51 Minds Entertainment working on it and a disappointing non-diverse cast. Overall, I had an open mind and low expectations going into it.

Show's Goals
Heroes of Cosplay is a docu-series that follows 9 cosplayers as they travel nationwide to various conventions to compete in costume competitions. The show gives viewers the opportunity to get to know these cosplayers, the process of costume creation and competition preparation, and how competitions work. In a way, it could be used as a promotional tool for cosplay.

What the Show Really Does
From the very first episode, Heroes of Cosplay emphasizes the financial gain of cosplay. Whether it is the event planners or the participants, there is money to be made in nerd culture. Next, it tells us that popularity is also important. The show connects these two factors constantly, whether it's Yaya Han talking about keeping her costume quality high or she'll lose her followers or Jesse expressing how important it is to win competitions. This may give off that "all" cosplayers do what they do for money and popularity. Because those things are important, it causes stress and cattiness between cosplayers. You can't trust people outside of your partnership and have to be careful who you depend on because they're not on the same skill level as you. To translate: if you don't have the skills or the fanbase, then don't even bother trying to cosplay for fun.

Yes, there were some good things that exist in this show. It was exciting for a slightly broader audience to know what cosplay is, outside the usual Star Trek and Star Wars. So, people who know about cosplay or involved get inside the perspective of professionals and people who participate in contests. You get a sense of the struggle and stress that goes into it through the cast. There's also the personal and professional aspects outside of conventions. This can be exciting for fans of the more well-known cosplayers like Yaya Han, Riki Lecotey, and cosplay duo Crabcat Industries. There is also a preview of the creative process such as molds, costume construction, and putting together merchandise.

By all means, I was not expecting some sort of documentary or anything and I'm only saying this because I've seen comments of people complaining that there was not much cast background or whatever. There were many promising directions this show could've gone and they didn't take any of them. Don't worry, I'll explain a little more. Let's get some specific points on why this show is problematic and bad. Since this is a "reality" show, things are going to be scripted. When you have at least a decent writer and cast, scenes sound pretty natural and the drama makes, at least, logical sense. Unfortunately, this show had really terrible and obviously fake writing and the delivery didn't help either. One example of this is the first episode when the cosplayers find out that Yaya Han is judging a contest their participating in and express how nervous or intimidated they are by her. In reality, most of these girls have a personal relationship with her. Maybe because of that, their delivery of their lines in that moment seemed very disingenuine. I'm sure not everything was completely scripted, but there were obvious moments that you can tell that that's not what they would naturally say. Also, from a film student's point of view, there was poor editing choices. It built up a reality that doesn't exist such as one of the cast members making this grand entrance onto the cosplay ground and swarms of photographers and fans surround them. Yeah, that doesn't least I've never seen it. Either way, it sounds completely silly. Along with editing, it completely betrayed the cast and participants of the show. Some people don't recognize how powerful editing can be to a project. Rearranging the order, manipulating visual situations, and removing certain dialogue could either make or break whatever image you're trying to portray to your viewers. Putting aside my personal feelings for certain cosplayers on the show, I'm not surprise if this show damaged their reputation by putting "reality" show labels and manipulating conversations, but I think I'll get into that a little more later. While there is some good content about the day to day lives as a well-known cosplayer, there is a lack of substance at the same time. Thanks to editing, it always seems like the cast was working on costumes at the last minute so their stress made more sense to outsiders...maybe? But when they did let us see the process on how to use unfamiliar or complicated materials such casting molds or using Worbla, the explanations were extremely brief and cut short without really teaching you anything. In my opinion, the costume making process is one of the most intriguing parts about cosplay. The show could've easily captured natural stress and frustration if they didn't rely on careless last minute shots and awkward scripted dialogue. Thanks to the editing and dialogue, the content might discourage cosplayers from participating in contests or plant false ideas about what it's like to compete. It might've turned some people off from even trying to cosplay. The constant drilling of the idea of money and popularity into your head so much that the thought of "fun" is snuck in there at the last minute. Then there's the lack of diversity. Yes, I suppose Yaya Han could count as your minority, but she has gotten tons of exposure already. She's even the supposed "ambassador of cosplay". It just would be nice to have a little more variety. Someone of brown complexion preferably. This lack of diversity complaint also goes into the slew of practically exploiting and sexualizing female cosplayers. I've even nicknamed the show as "Boobs, Bitching, & Egos". Jesse was the only male cosplayer and why? Because the producers felt that male cosplay is simple and requires no effort or complexity, but that is far from the truth. Honestly, I feel like male cosplayers are truly underappreciated. In fact, I think they should be celebrated more. Despite Jesse's participation in the show, he was barely seen. He wasn't fairly given a chance to shine or show some sort of character like the rest of the cast. Even the small cameo of Jessica Nigri was more developed than his story.

Final Verdict
As much as it annoyed me when it began and ended, I'm still saddened by this show. I still believe that there was potential to make the subject interesting and entertaining if it was approached differently. Not only did it potentially hurt the outsider view of the hobby, but it caused some of the cast members to constantly defend certain statements they said. Some people want to blame editing for some of the views talked about on the show, but since I've experienced the editing process, it's kinda hard to manipulate those sorts of statements to editing. Maybe scripting, but definitely not editing. Because of this, it was great that it brought up conversation among the community despite the mix feelings toward the show. Some people enjoyed it and others felt that it tarnished cosplay to an extent, but in the end, the majority of census agreed that they wished there was more footage of the construction process and less drama. Those two points I can definitely agree on. I could've mentioned this in the negatives, but it's something that is off screen and mentioned during the airing of the show which is the treatment of participants not part of the cast. I did touch on it vaguely, but I felt sorry for people whose actions and words were manipulated through editing, screwed over with judging time, and even convention management being bribed to change the results for the show. In short, after taking all this time to write this post, I really didn't like Heroes of Cosplay. If I didn't have such low expectations for it, I'd probably be disappointed. Although the experience of seeing the competition aspect of cosplay and fame, the negatives sadly weigh out the positives. For the cosplayers I did like from the show, I hope their reputations aren't completely tarnished.

If I was a bigger voice, I would rather have an approach similar to Face Off and Project Runway. Hell, even RuPaul's Drag Race [or Toddlers and Tiaras] would be an acceptable template to use. These shows are all competitions, but they show us the construction process, decent casting backgrounds, and natural struggles. These shows are scripted to an extent, I'm assuming, but the writing is natural and the editing is less manipulative or at least less obvious about it. Drama does exist in the community, that is simply reality, but it was portrayed in such a fake and forced way. More diversity is an obvious change, but not just in gender and race [don't forget size too], skill level would make things interesting too. I wouldn't mind watching a lesser known cosplayer starting off in the hobby or even braving the stage in their first contest.

Unfortunately, Heroes of Cosplay has been renewed for another season and will be premiering some time this year. From skimming through Tumblr, it doesn't seem like they've changed their behavior when interacting with convention staff and cosplayers. They're still trying to manipulate people and competition outcomes. It's really sickening how little they care about the subject matter. I'm glad conventions are speaking up to them this year.

1 comment:

S Walden said...

I would absolutely love a Face-Off styled cosplay show. Good article, Legato-sama!