SyFy’s intro of Cosplay to TV: Heroes of Cosplay Episode 1 Review

Yaya Han, Heroes of Cosplay

[Editor’s Note: While Lawrence is friends with Riki and Yaya, this does not stop him from giving a critical review.]

On my way to Anime Expo 2013 on July 3rd, I read in JFK airport about the show Heroes of Cosplay and read who’s going to be in it. They were people I recognized, including my friends, Yaya and Riki.

Yaya has graciously donated a product (one of her 2014 calendars) for my presentation on “The Rise of the Cosplay Economy” at the esteemed Anime and Manga Studies Symposium held at Anime Expo. Aspects of the cosplay economy are spoken about on this show.

Having been in multiple nationally and internationally broadcast programs (NOW on PBS and Cake Boss’ Superheroes and Bakers Unite!, the episode on Spider-Man’s 50th anniversary among others), I was concerned what the final cut for broadcast would be because, in my own experience, important points can be cut and things turned into sound bites, taken out of context, etc. The words from the executive producer Mark Cronin as quoted here from TV Guide:

“‘Male characters tend to be simpler — lots of body armor and weaponry and spandex and capes,’ observes Cronin. ‘They’re usually nowhere near as interesting and intricate, or sexy and cool, as the costumes worn by the women. And, let’s face it, female sexuality is a big part of comic-book art and a big element in the Con world.'”

This did not alleviate my concerns, because as an academic, educator, and cosplayer myself, I know this to be very far from true, especially on the designs and being interesting and intricate of male characters. There are plenty of examples already, so I need not list them.

I will quote Batman:

I have seen and photographed plenty of amazing, intricate, and interesting male cosplays (which were shown in the show). An amazing Galactus cosplayer won the costume contest at Wizard World Portland.

However, even having concerns like this above, it did not mean I would not watch the show, check in via GetGlue, and etc. This is a project my friends are involved in, and we support each other and each other’s projects.

In the week leading up to the premiere of Heroes of Cosplay, I was presenting media on my fanpage that I have created with photos and videos featuring members of the cast, as part of a countdown to the show (which was basically Yaya and Riki because I have the most media with them). My interactions with the other members of the cast has been limited or has not happened yet (I pre-scheduled the majority of the posts as I was leaving for Otakon and had limited time to make these posts, and find the media for them).

When I returned from Otakon I saw on Tuesday my channel guide had a listing for Heroes of Cosplay, which I took a shot of and linked over to Riki.

Heroes Of Cosplay on Optimum

Her response was amusing and funny as she is, to quote “I KNOW THAT GIRL.”

At this point it was only a matter of hours until the premiere of the show itself, during which I was telling people to watch the show, and I had made plans myself to watch the show with people who are not cosplayers and do not know much about it. They are familiar with cosplay because they know I am a cosplayer and know that I’ve been an adviser for pop culture and cosplay events at New York’s Japan Society and speaking at the Japanese Consulate in New York.

I was live tweeting during the show, asking questions (for myself and others), responding, etc. as part of the ongoing dialogue that was encouraged by the show (thank you Victoria again for answering questions directly). Some of my first thoughts was that it reminded me of a convention itself with its speed, especially coming back from one of the largest North American conventions. I was actually seeing what and who I recognized in the background scenes like locations, characters, and of course friends (of which I saw quite a few including from Argentina LadyLemon Cosplay). I was right with her when they were filming her on Sunday at Anime Expo (She was the She-Kratos). Her cosplay is shown here, photographed by my friend Fernando Brischetto, also from Argentina whom I finally got to meet at Anime Expo as well.

0820.she kratos 2_ Fernando Brischetto.jpg-610x0

I had to explain some of the statements made by the narrator, especially in the beginning, to the people I was watching with so they did not get incorrect perceptions of cosplay and such. I did like seeing Anime Expo shown as they were talking about Wizard World Portland, and I did let the people I was watching with know.

During the commercial breaks I was doing more of the same, explaining things from what the featured cosplayers said to the people I was watching with.

An important thing to remember, which I also stressed, was that this was shot as a reality show. As such there was added drama and the like, especially done so in the editing which is more apparent on subsequent watching.

Additionally I recommended to the people watching with me to watch the PBS documentary Cosplay: Crafting A Secret Identity, of which I was very fortunate to see before it was widely available outside Atlanta.

Now overall I enjoyed the show. It is not a perfect show, but it is a good show and a good entry to show people who are not familiar with cosplay, various aspects of cosplay and its surrounding culture. One the biggest things for people who do not understand a culture is to be able to introduce them to positive aspects of a culture, which in ways this show does.

My feelings on the show are similar to my friend DJ Spider’s, but I will share my own views on some of them. I disagree about the concept of mainstream a bit because of a discussion and presentation I have about “What is mainstream?” However having a program on a broadcast television network like SyFy is a way to reach a very large audience very quickly and introduce our culture to them.

In the past and still today, cosplay, nerd, geek, and fandom culture overall has been negatively portrayed in mass media through stereotypes, unflattering and unprofessional journalism (which is different than critical journalism), and attacks on us from various sources, which is why many have been reluctant to give the show a chance.

Now one of the most important things that was said, and it was said at the beginning of the show, was that the pop culture and convention industry is a multi-billion industry and growing, and that one note definitely grabbed the attention of the people I was watching with. People, especially those in the community, have to remember that while this show is about cosplay and cosplayers, it is not necessarily targeted to cosplayers, but rather people who are not.

On the question of money in cosplay, it does exist and profits do happen (as I talk about in my presentation) because businesses are built around providing products and services for people as they are with any economy. Some have cosplay and its related businesses of branded products (prints, calendars, etc) as a supplementary income to their jobs and careers, while others have made it into successful small businesses that pay all the bills, as it does for Yaya. And we will see that cosplay can and does open different opportunities for people (I mentioned some of my opportunities above).

Particular things I liked:

Yaya brought up real issues that exist in the cosplay community, to quote: “It’s no longer a body of work that defines a cosplayer, now it’s how many followers they have.”

Getting into character can be a lot of fun, especially at conventions. I love to Lupin it up when I’m Lupin. I start singing Disney-style music when I’m cosplaying Prince Eric from The Little Mermaid, and I like doing fun things as a character in cosplay. When I’m Vigilante, I make myself act like Nathan Fillion as much as possible (he did the voice in the DCAU of Vigilante).

When Merida meet the little Belle and shared an awesome princess moment, it was pretty awesome. I have had this myself when I have cosplayed certain characters, from Japanese visitors recognizing Lupin and wanting pictures to other cosplayers seeing you cosplay uncommon characters like Vigilante.

I’m more of a casual/closet cosplayer, so my costumes are rarely unfinished (because I have all the pieces), but I have seen people not finish costumes at the convention, and I don’t necessarily wear everyone that I bring.

I’ll quote DJ Spider on the next point directly because I feel exactly the same way:

“Hanging out with other cosplayers, both in and out of costume. Most of us are pretty social, and because we share the same hobby, we always have something to talk about. Depending on the city you live in, you may have tons of people to hang out with (ATL, I’m looking at you) or you need to do it virtually. [Which I do virtually because I live pretty far away from most other cosplayers, that and I’m really busy all the time.] But it’s nice to geek out over costume changes in comics with someone who understands.”

On upping your game with different people who are going to be there, I don’t necessarily do this at conventions, but I always try to increase my skills through photography and videography (I’m known for unique shots with angles. You can go check out my deviantart and fanpage to see some). But I do always want to do something new, something interesting, and the like. Because I want to be a better craftsperson, I have been looking into 3D printing my costumes and parts (I came up with designs for a Quintesson Judge, Shockwave, and others). I always love showing off my new documentation and identity props (and inventions like my Cosplay QR) to other cosplayers and seeing people enjoy them.

Even though he was not a cast member, having the show feature Galactus winning at Wizard World Portland showed true appreciation for the beauty and arts that comprise cosplay, that the show is not staged and not predicable, because with cosplay anyone can do something amazing on any day.

I too did not like that there was only one guy, because there are tons of super talented male cosplayers and issues with armor, spandex, and pretty much everything else that all cosplayers have to address can also be addressed too. There are several male cosplayers who also make cosplay and cosplay props their careers.

Nor did I like the enhanced drama, sometimes supported by the narration and music. But you come to expect this with reality TV.

As for what I want to to see, I’ll quote DJ Spider directly again as well, because that is exactly how I feel:

“More behind the scenes stuff. Because I love that stuff – I want to know how things were made/done! I want to see the spaces that other people create in! I want to see the process, the types of research that go into the costumes! Let me lurk in your how-tos!”
“More backstory. Why do these people cosplay? What were their influences? What are their favorite comics, video games, movies?”
“More community interaction. I’d love to see positive actions, like hospital visits or non-profit support. That’s a side of the cosplay world that doesn’t get nearly enough credit.”

On the positive actions, I would really like future episodes featuring Riki talking about Cosplay for a Cause and how it raised over $30,000 to benefit the people of Japan after the quake and tsunami, and the next steps Cosplay for a Cause is taking. I know personally that the Japanese and their representatives truly appreciated the work that was done.

I will keep watching the show and the community should as well, because by watching we can do the important things like having discussions within our community and those outside of it. Acceptance and tolerance has been at the core of our culture, and we share with each other, so why not the rest of the planet?

When you inspire people, when you educate them, when you do good works to benefit people, that makes you a hero. That’s why Yaya, Riki, and the rest of the cast are Heroes of Cosplay.

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