Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Cosplay and Conventions: Characters come to life.

It is now Mid-August, and for most of us geeks, what we'd call the “con season” is coming to an end. That isn't to say there aren't any conventions of note in the other months of the year, but depending on how you mark it and what type of shows you go to, the annual convention season is the summer months, including San Diego and Chicago Comic Cons, Origins, Gen Con, and Dragon Con (Dragon Con, usually in August, is actually in September this year.) Anime and Video Game Conventions tend to be a little more spread out, with Anime shows scheduled based on region and many of the Video Game conventions turning up from late summer into fall. I've been doing conventions a long time, even running a successful regional show for several years. One aspect common to nearly all of the conventions that geeks love is something I never got into. Cosplay, an amalgam of the words “costume” and, obviously, “play” is a term for designing and wearing costumes based on favorite characters that originated in the anime/manga fan communities.

BelleChere as Dawn, one of her Award-Winning costumes.

Once the domain of anime and comic book fans and the occasional trekkie in a Starfleet uniform or dressed as a Klingon, cosplay now has people turning up dressed as nearly any imaginable figure from popular cuture. Some well-known cosplayers are known for less than flattering costumes, such as Tron Guy or Sailor Bruce (I posted that picture once before, won't make you bleach your eyes again,) and even the terrifying Man-Faye (Google it, not even gonna link that one.)  Luckily for us, Cosplay isn't the exclusive domain of the overweight male geek and the occasional bored “booth babe” paid to dress up as Lara Croft and get drooled over by horny attendees. The hobby itself has attracted quite a few good looking people who are dedicated to the artistry of making costumes and having everything look just right.

Cosplay is also one of the few geek subcultures where most of the notable figures are female. It would be not entirely fair to point out that this is based primarily on physical attractiveness, as many of the best known ladies in the cosplay world aren't just models. Many (though not all, of course) cosplayers research, design and make their costumes from scratch, and the craftsmanship and attention to detail on some of the best pieces is astonishing. From jewelry and the clothes themselves to small touches like intricately designed accessories and realistic (but convention safe) weapons, many of the ladies and gentlemen do it all. Svetlana Quindt of Kamui Cosplay takes her dedication to the hobby a step further, believing that the body is an important part of the costume, and it has to look right. For her best known (many are World of Warcraft inspired) costumes, staying fit is as important as getting the hair, clothing and makeup just right.

Alexstrasa from World of Warcraft in a Kamui Cosplay photoshoot.

It isn't all hot women in skimpy clothing, however. The rise of video game and Western comic book characters appearing at conventions has plenty of men turning up dressed as Iron Man, Master Chief, Link, and several thousand variations of Wolverine and The Joker. Some of the very best of the costumes at the annual Blizz-Con costume contest are as much about performing and moving in whatever costume someone happens to be in as showing a lot of skin or dressing as a sexy character. Video game costumes in general, whether worn by men or women, can often attract a lot of positive attention based on cleverness, sense of humor, and overall craftsmanship. A poorly-made or ill fitting costume just doesn't work for anyone (unless that is part of the gag in a humorous costume.)

Both in Japan and in the United States, there are quite a few cosplayers who are well known enough to have their own fans. In Japan, these “Stars” of the convention circuit and online are referred to as “idols.” Large fan communities have developed around cosplay idols like Kipi and Saya, and the male “King of Cosplay,” Kaname. In the US, quite a following has developed around Jessica Nigri, who gained attention first for her take on a Pikachu costume, and BelleChere who is probably best known for her most revealing outfits as Ivy from Soul Calibur and Vampirella. Depending on the regional conventions attended, there are dozens of notable men and women debuting new outfits and doing photo-shoots.

Famous Cosplay Idol Kipi as Misa from Death Note.

Not everyone is a huge fan of the current state of cosplaying as a hobby, as especially in the US, anything with a component of sexual attractiveness is a magnet for controversy. The primary opponents of cosplay as a hobby fall into two camps. There are the people who believe that revealing costumes and the fan-worship surrounding them contributes to a chauvinistic and immature culture of objectification of women as sexual objects. These people are also quick to point out that a culture that has a reputation for being romantically awkward doesn't do itself any favors with legions of lonely nerds drooling over costumed women perpetuating a negative stereotype. The second group of critics is with the cosplayers themselves, claiming that many who are into cosplay are fans primarily of attention for themselves, and the characters and media they represent come in a distant second place.

Personally, I think complaining about sexuality in geek subcultures is an exercise in futility, and efforts to improve the perception of geeks as a subculture are battles best fought in a different arena. Where negative stereotypes can be dealt with at all (and lets face it, some of those ridiculous and patently untrue misconceptions won't die no matter what,) they should be handled without disrespect to someone else's hobby. Name-calling, in particular the characterization of cosplayers themselves as “attention whores” is the sort of counterproductive behavior that reinforces negative opinions of fans of comics, games and science fiction as socially awkward neckbeards who will live and die as virgins. Be nice to a cosplayer, don't be afraid to ask to take a picture, and above all... look, don't touch.
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Alpha said...

Cosplay as Gundam, win everything.

Zombie Ad said...

I always think it is a bit of a shame that the distance between cosplay and larp is so great. I am sure there are some groups that combine both, but it seems they are mostly kept separate.

A Beer for the Shower said...

My wife, who, I should mention, is a WoW gamer, does not understand that some of this cosplay stuff is even hotter than any frilly piece of lingerie could ever be. A guy can dream, I guess.

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