Tuesday, October 1, 2013

TV Series Review: Heroes of Cosplay

Back when Syfy announced two new, nerdy reality shows I wasn't that interested in Fangasm (it sounded like a terrible idea and sounds like it's turning out to be pretty bad) but this one did catch by attention since, well, I like looking at pretty cosplays and seeing how people make them. I follow a number of cosplay fanpages on facebook, watch cosplay video compilations on youtube, I just love seeing how other people make these crazy ideas happen and it makes me want to do even more myself so it's pretty awesome motivation as well. And honestly that's why I kept watching this show, at least I was getting to see pretty costumes on screen for at least half of the time and I didn't have to do any kind of work to find them.

Heroes of Cosplay

Summary: Almost a dozen different cosplayers with different skills compete in different cosplay competitions around the country.

The Good: Despite everything this show is a pretty good example of why I don't compete in cosplay competitions that often. No not because people are crazy and there's drama, that's actually a bit unusual, but because every single person who enters is skilled and if you want to win you have to be amazing. I was actually surprised that so many people on the show entered so many outfits they had spent only a week or less working on, it's no coincidence that a lot of people who win costume competitions have spent months perfecting every last detail on theirs. Heck, I saw some people speculating, and I agree with them, that the reason Syfy had the big "two episode finale" at a relatively small con (I can't find the actual attendance for Planet ComicCon but it was projected at 4000 people which in the world of San Diego Comic Cons and Japan Expos is tiny) was so that their contestants would have an easier time winning and nope, there were still awesome local cosplayers there who won most of the awards instead. 

The Bad: Oh lord where to begin. Well, the most serious accusation is that Syfy has committed copyright violation by using photos which a photographer didn't license to them. For anyone who might be reading and going "but!" no, I've actually studied copyright law as it relates to photographs and the law is completely on the photographers side with decades of court cases to back it up. It might seem weird that the cosplayers technically have no rights to the photograph beyond what the photographer gives them (or any contract they might sign) but actually if I was to do a photoshoot for a large company tomorrow, say Pringles, at the end of the day I would own the images, not Pringles, even though it's their product unless we set up a very specific kind of contract*. The show isn't completely honest or even mostly honest in a number of other ways as well, such as the first episode which shows people scrambling to finish cosplays for their con, cosplays that were finished for Katsucon over a month earlier and there's photographic evidence to prove it. I feel like HoC was trying to use this as a way to create character arcs, the character who is always pushed to do something new lest she is forgotten and the character who struggles a lot but eventually succeeds and the way the show presents those arcs is so clumsy as well. I'm used to Project Runway which I think is the show HoC was trying to be in many ways but that show has years of experience (and more contestants) so they know how to edit the footage and put together an "arc" for each designer and make the viewers care about them by the end. HoC showed just about every character talking behind at least one other person's back (as far as I can remember Chloe was the only one who didn't and maybe she was just smart enough to not give them any of footage of it) so of course I didn't care about them by the end, it was like they completely forgot that to create characters on a show like that you have to redeem them later and that never happened. I also have issues with the way they portrayed the contests which I'm just going to give it's own footnote since that's a pretty lengthy grievance of it's own**. I've seen complaints from people at the conventions (not being notified of changes to the competition beforehand but the Syfy people did so everyone was out classed, etc) so it sounds like all in all this was a trainwreck through and through

The Production Values: There were a few weird moments on the show, one of which is that even though the show never goes to Anime Expo they used quite a bit of B-roll from it, I wonder why they spent the time and effort getting it from a completely different con instead of just the ones they actually filmed at. Also, at one of the conventions, I believe Anime Matsuri, the contestants had skits in front of screens which would light up and show images or videos they had chosen and for some reason Syfy the footage of the characters against the screens looked terrible, I have no idea why Syfy put them in the show anyway since if you're trying to produce a professional show you just don't put in something that looks awful!

In the end I'm giving this show a 1.5 out of 5, only redeemed since I didn't like a couple of the cosplayers and I liked seeing all the cosplays, both those made by people on the show and off. For people who are thinking of watching this, don't, I instead recommend this mini-documentary on cosplayers (centered around Dragon*Con, from the same people as Four Days at Dragon*Con) or Cosplay in America has recently changed his convention format to follow some people around before/during the con which I think gives a really nice perspective on how most people do cosplay. And he even follows some of the people who are going to be competing for Team USA in the World Cosplay Summit, yes there is an actual world-wide cosplay contest (based on craftsmanship and skits) which some people like and some people don't, there are some legitimate complaints out there (namely, to win you need to do something Japan currently likes/has nostalgia for, hence why you see a lot of the same cosplays over the years, plus if you don't have the money to ship a lot of props from far away you're a bit screwed) but it's at the very least more honest than this show was.

*Called work-for-hire and you'd have to pay me way more than usual to do that, a lot of the money in photography is made from licensing the images, not producing them.
**For all the anime cons I've been to that have had at least a few hundred cosplayers at it there have actually been two cosplay contests, one called the Hall Contest/Craftsmanship contest where you go before a panel of judges and they ask you about how you made every last detail (often you have a chance to do a walk-on on stage during the masquerade, strike a pose or two, and then walk off) and a Masquerade where a person or a group does a skit and they're judged more on the skit than their cosplays (usually you can't enter the same outfit in both but you can enter both contests with different cosplays).  I've never come across contests where you talk to the judges in front of a crowd, others have told me these really do exist like on the show, although I think that it sounds rather awkward since it must be boring for the audience not being able to see the outfit of close and neither can the judges really. In any case, accompanying video for skits is rather unusual, audio is not (that's actually one of the things you really need to do to have a good skit, pre-record all of it and then lip-sync, none of y'all can project nearly as much as you think you can), although it sounds like the one place where Syfy had skits like that, Planet Comicon, that wasn't the norm there which could mean that they're cosplay contest was more of a "people walk on, strike a pose, walk off" which is something I see more at smaller cons. In addition to all of this, most cons do not have cash prizes. I have a friend who was part of the Best in Show skit at Otakon this year which is a pretty big con, and they did not win money. They did win a ton of swag (I know at Anime Expo they try to get dealers to donate one or two things for the prizes which would be easier for the con and save them money, oh and if you want more drama than this show provided just read what was going on behind the scenes at their masquerade this year, oi) and free badges for next year but no cash prizes so the show's assertion that you can win enough money to pay back making your rather expensive outfit is also pretty much completely wrong.

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