Syfy’s new unscripted series, Heroes of Cosplay is set to debut next week on August 13th. We were fortunate to get an advance screener to help clear some of the air around the show before it’s premiere. The show has already spurred a vast amount of vitriol online, which is always amusing when the people that are having kittens about it haven’t even seen it. The NY Post article didn’t help anything, as it spoke around the show more than giving any real insight into its inaugural episode.
So far, the series is setting itself up to be about following a number of cosplayers as they go through the process (and it’s associated challenges) of creating costumes to compete in masquerades at conventions. For those not familiar with the term, a masquerade can be taken to mean a costume contest that may or may not have the expectation of a skit or vignette to be done by each entrant (the terms can be used interchangeably depending on the area of the country you happen to be in at the time and from convention to convention).
Cosplayer Yaya Han is set up in the first episode as our guide through the world of cosplay, and it definitely comes across a bit as if the series is in a large part a vehicle for her. It definitely makes it feel like everyone else is intimidated/wowed by her position in the community.
Each of the featured cosplayers then gets their turn to be introduced, going into their motivations, costume ideas, and the development process, and then bringing them together for the convention and the big contest.
In episode 1, the featured cosplayers are:
Victoria (@ScruffyRebel), Her range of Star Wars costumes have made her a recognizable face for years. From her X-Wing pilot to the bravest (and best) Oola costume ever, and a gamut of costumes from X-men to Leeloo, she continues to set the bar for many aspiring costumers. She designs a Lulu costume from Final Fantasy.
Jessica (@jessicamerizan) & Holly (@HollyConrad) – Both are already known as the hosts of Try This at Home. They were all-stars a few years ago on the costume competition circuit, and had been taking some time away from it. They’re coming back into the scene to build awareness of their costume creation business, CrabCat Industries. Their costumes are done as a dual entry, and are custom creations representing their Dungeons & Dragons characters (a Drow and a Tiefling).
Jesse (Midnight Armor, Inc.) – A newcomer to the competition scene wants to make a name for himself as a costumer. His costume is a power armor suit of a Vault Dweller from Fallout 3
Becky (@Aktrez) – Another longtime star on the West coast cosplay scene, and winner of multiple costume contests. Who can forget her amazing Tinkerbell, Diamond Emma Frost, or Elizabeth (from Bioshock, before everyone else was doing it) creations? Her costume for episode 1 is a Merida from Brave.
Let’s dispel a few misconceptions right off the bat:
First off, cosplayers are not portrayed as loonies that think that they actually are the characters they’re dressed as (nor that they want to actually be those characters). It does express that one aspect that helps a costume and presentation during a contest is when the cosplayer does their best to embody the character through their voice, bearing, or mannerisms. Just because Becky mentions, “I want to be that character,” she’s not saying she would really wish to suddenly turn into the character, but rather that she wants to be able to present the embodiment of the character to be able to better wow her fans and the contest judges.
Next up, there’s been some talk about one or more of the contests in the series were rigged to favor the show’s stars. Well, as with so many other similar series, plenty of the awards go to others. If the other episodes are of a similar flavor to this one, then it really does feel that the show is about the personalities of the cosplayers that it follows, their individual motivations and views about what the hobby means to them, and their struggles to create and compete with their creations.
It doesn’t present any of the cast as if they think they’re the end-all be-all of costuming, or that they’re some kind of cosplay gods. They each have their own strengths and weaknesses as they conceptualize and develop their costumes.
There are some passing references to the cosplayers having regular day-jobs. It does talk at length about their motivations, and several have or aspire to costume and prop fabrication businesses as an end result of their competing.
Ok, if the show were to propagate any stereotype, it would be that almost every cosplayer wears Black Milk at least once daily. So they do, but that’s beside the point.
Now comes the spoiler alert – the show airs August 13th, so if you’d like to be surprised, then skip the rest of this article.
The episode opens, introducing us to Yaya in her favorite roll as self-anointed Cosplay Ambassador. Her and the off-screen voice narrator do their best to talk about conventions and the rise in popularity of cosplay at events around the country.
This week’s episode has the Portland Wizard World as the convention and contest that the cosplayers are all ramping towards. It is amusing how the narrator talks about how important this event is on the national scene (and then in the next breath points out that it’s only it’s first year).
The show later settles into the refrain that the impetus to win in Portland is to be the winner in the event’s first year.
The show segments from the initial introductions and costume concepts, to mid-creation challenges, to getting to the event, and then the run up to the contest and of course the competition itself. I’ll leave the details for everyone to get to watch for themselves next week.
There is a bowling scene where they all realize that Yaya will be one of the judges and they are shown getting immediately nervous about having to present before someone as legendary as her.
They do toss in a brief scene on arriving at the convention where Yaya is rather snarky towards one of the cosplayers, which strikes the viewer since it is kind of a disconnect from how the show seemed to be trying to feature her as a positive figure.
The show attempts to paint Jessica and Holly as having drama between them, but anyone who’s ever done costuming on a deadline will recognize the stresses and pressures as being largely routine and hardly anything out of the ordinary. The scene where Jessica is stuck doing a head cast is definitely amusing. The line of, “at least we didn’t have to call the ambulance again.” Again? Ok, that’s the story that I wanted to hear more of.
Throughout the show, the narrator strives to imply that there’s serious cash available to the winners of the contests on a regular basis. Let’s be serious, cash prizes are very rare at costume contests. Credit at one booth or another is far more common, but even for all the hype they give it in this episode, the grand-prize winner is shown holding their prize placard of $1,000.
There’s challenges faced (and not everyone overcomes them) for scheduling their costumes, and the winners at least in this episode felt pretty appropriate given the entrants that were shown. I’ll boast that I totally called the winner of best in show as soon as the entry was on stage.
The cosplay community has been flaming online about this series since it was first announced (and even moreso when the lineup of featured cosplayers was announced). In the end, the hate is, at least in this first episode, deeply misplaced and overblown.
The show neither shows cosplayers as freaks or outside of societal norms. There’s not a lot of drama and tension, either, beyond will the costumes be complete (and hold up) in time.
Even the night-before-the-contest sequence of doing shots at the bar wasn’t anything disreputable. So many series would push it harder or put on a far more skewed slant, and that’s not what they’ve done, at least in episode one.
If you think that Yaya is overhyped, then this will give you plenty of fodder to complain even more about. I’ve had the pleasure of shooting and meeting the bulk of the cosplayers in the series, and have to say, I wasn’t embarrassed for any of them. That’s a great deal better of a statement than can be said of anyone involved with either of the Jousting reality series last year.
For people not into or familiar with cosplay, it’ll remain to be seen if the series captures their fancy for more than an episode or two. If there’s a different set of featured people each episode, then there’ll be less of a drive to keep coming back episode after episode. However, for those of us that are into the genre, or want to find out more of the behind the scenes, it’ll be a pleasant distraction for the next few months.