Once upon a time at Anime Expo, it was another masquerade check in per usual. Our copy editor had our puppet resting on his lap as we waited for the AX masquerade rundown be delivered. I was twiddling my thumbs in hopes that the judges liked my craftsmanship on Kaleido Ruby. “Was it really wise to sew the bias last?” I kept asking myself after calmly reviewing the judges’ critique in my head. “And we have Syfy here to record ‘Heroes of Cosplay'” said the masquerade chair. “They have forms for you to sign if you want to be recorded.” The representative for “Heroes of Cosplay” briefly told us what the show was about – Yaya Han’s pet project to showcase cosplay to a mainstream audience. I’ve always known that NBC Universal was interested in doing a show about cosplay. I was approached at Fanime to be a part of it because NBC was still taking ideas and pitches for a cosplay-themed show. I glanced through the 10-page release form. I knew about network television’s editings and misrepresentation in these types of things. “It would be funny if they used our masquerade act as an example of a bad act,” I joked to our copy editor.
“Heroes of Cosplay” has not had the best reputation in the cosplay community. There are countless articles and tumblr posts that criticize how the reality show gives cosplay a bad name and how it poorly represents the hobby. The issue I have with “Heroes of Cosplay” is though I watch it for the sake of critique and to be aware of how society views cosplay, it does not even make itself a decent reality show. When I talk to cosplayers, the reality shows they cite are “Project Runaway” and “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Both these shows take place in self-contained controlled environments – shows are filmed in X amount of weeks without little to no travel. All of the action takes place in a self-contained studio type of setting. This also has the contestants to be self-reliant on themselves without aid of a significant other or third party.
This brings in my main issue with “Heroes of Cosplay.” I disagreed with the choice the reality show took in inconveniencing conventions and interfering with cosplay contests at these events. Anecdotes from season one and the upcoming season two talk into detail how the crews were setting things up in favor of the reality show. The blame goes more into the producers than the cosplayers themselves. Having “Heroes of Cosplay” focus only on the competition side of cosplay is a very shallow view. I do love performing at masquerades, competition can be a learning experience – it’s what you make of it. Yet, “Heroes of Cosplay” went for smaller cons for their end result.
Rather than beating a dead horse and repeat what many have said about how “Heroes of Cosplay” ruined masquerade experiences for contestants, I would suggest that if this show wanted to do what it was originally intended on doing – showcasing cosplay to the mainstream audience – it should do so without inconveniencing events. I would suggest that if another cosplay related reality show pops up, it would be better to have done in a self-contained type of setting. Tasks can be given out to challenge creativity and working on a tight deadline. There would be no need to accuse people of having costumes already made prior to the show. These types of tasks would showcase different types of talents and challenge others to try new skills. Can you imagine a Goodwill / Thrift Store type of challenge where the contestants have one hour at Goodwill to make a found item cosplay without the aid of a sewing machine? Can you also imagine themed photoshoot challenges?
The other thing that these reality TV shows have got going for them is that to every challenge, there is a big end-goal reward towards the end. In “Heroes of Cosplay,” there is no end-goal reward – only a few thousand dollars for a cosplay contest. Even so, it’s not worth it in the end. “Heroes of Cosplay” hypes up that cosplay contests are the be-all end-all of the hobby. Perhaps have a reward where it involves a new embroidery machine, lifetime supply of fabric, lifetime supply or worbla, Wizard World tour, etc. The stakes do not seem pretty high, I see the stress before the event on television, but the payoff does not live up to it. I also know that these cosplayers involved with the show have their own charities they set up for. I was hoping that the first season would dedicate an episode to charity work the heroes have done. I could also imagine a task where each of the contestants do a charity event in relation to cosplay.
The other problem I have with “Heroes of Cosplay” as an entertainment property is that it fails to inspire At least on shows like “American Idol,” “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” “America’s Next Top Model,” etc. you get a sense of who the contestants are, some of them even have a very compelling backstory. While it’s an individual’s choice to tell all or not to tell all, this would have been an amazing opportunity to talk about issues in nerd culture that have been personal to the contestants (ie: bullying, body issues, acceptance, finding the right kinds of friends, disability, etc). This gives a much more truthful view to the contestants and also provides material that the audience can connect with.
In terms of craft, I cannot even have this in the background while I’m sewing. With “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” even though there are times when the queens can be catty, it is still a very positive show that celebrates what drag culture is all about. In contrast, “Heroes of Cosplay,” does not even get what cosplay is; a minute and thirty seconds into the first episode, Yaya Han says, “It’s no longer the body of work that defines a cosplayer, now it’s how many followers they have.” Narration on how “cuthroat” and how “thousands of dollars” at stake make cosplay seem catty that it really is (note: Yes, drama exists in cosplay, as with any hobby, but it’s not the attitude most cosplayers go into). While we do see creativity and some behind the scenes craft (Midnight Armor had some of the best behind the scenes work), there’s nothing about it that makes me want to be sew along as I watch. My brain is much more focused on the second hand embarrassment for the cosplay community.
As we approach the next season, I still expect the standard fare of reality TV editing, backpedaling, the usual tumblr soap boxing, and typical cosplay scrutinizing. I’m just going to watch each episode and just pay attention if there were any changes, improvements, or any steps taken backwards. It’s no lie that “Heroes of Cosplay” has gained infamy around the convention circuit causing reputable events to dismiss any requests for taping. Perhaps this is a sign that a reality show focused on cosplay should take new direction without inconveniencing convention organizers and attendees. Con culture can still be discussed and mentioned on the show, but too many paying convention attendees have voiced their concerns about “Heroes of Cosplay” misrepresenting the hobby and con culture.
And advice to those of you even considering partaking in any type of cosplay reality show, I leave with with these words from Warren Buffet, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
And to all cosplayers, I leave you the words of 90s minstrel, Mariah Carey, “‘Cause you know you can survive. So when you feel like hope is gone. Look inside you and be strong. And you’ll finally see the truth. That a hero lies in you.”