The practices of fandom since their beginnings have been mostly looked down upon in society, only suitable to be sequestered to small local meetings or conventions. The more open-minded modern society we live in today has become somewhat more accepting, but many practices are still seen as childish or obsessive.
Recently, a paradigm shift has occurred on television — fandom, in all its glory, has been proudly represented and shown to the world, with more people finally comfortable in expressing their true passions through viewership, social media, and in person. Shows like the Talking series helmed by the geek Ryan Seacrest, Chris Hardwick, have allowed people to dive deep into their favorite shows along the people who created them. And with the arena of analysis mostly covered, the Syfy channel has begun to service an entirely different area of fandom: cosplay.
Premiering March 21, 2017, Cosplay Melee, hosted by ultimate fangirl and Community favorite Yvette Nicole Brown, pits some of the world’s most skilled cosplayers against each other to build a full cosplay of an original character based around a theme.
The themes are relatively broad (Angels and Demons, Game of Thrones-inspired, and space are among the themes so far explored), allowing the contestants to draw from their personal influences to create a new character that fits the theme. Even if the theme isn’t something typically in their cosplaying wheelhouse, the contestants adapt their characters’ backstories, and costume needs to fit the theme’s universe better.
The show brings the attention of some of the cosplay’s finest talent, made up of a diverse group from all walks of life and occupations. Some, like Becka from the fourth episode, “War Games,” hold jobs like costume designer, which feeds right into their passion. Others are unexpected, like police officer Grace and chef Xavier in the first episode, “Night at the Space Opera,” proving anyone in the world could be dedicated to fandom in some way. And the sheer talent of these people, constructing an original identity in one eight-hour period and a second two-day round — it’s giving me a cosplay itch like never before.
Though highly talented, the contestants must run their works past the judging panel, comprised of Nicole-Brown, world-renowned cosplayer LeAnna Vamp, and perhaps the toughest judge of them all, Christian Beckman, who does this very work for blockbuster movies. With films like The Hunger Games and TRON: Legacy on his resume for costume design and makeup effects, he is a judge you want to impress.
“Cosplay is a way of life.” – Yvette Nicole Brown
After the contestants are provided with their theme, they are given eight hours in the first round to construct a signature piece of the costume, be it a weapon, headpiece, or something a little more specific like a set of wings. Structured similarly to competition shows like Forged in Fire, the first round sends one person home, usually for an unfinished product or a deviation from the theme, something about which the judges are very astringent.
When the second round commences with the final three contestants, they are provided with a mechanic or item of some sort that they must incorporate into their costume in some way. (For example, the “Angels and Demons”-themed third episode provided different mechanical systems, like air pumps and springs, which could be used to provide movement to their costumes’ wings.)
The winner of the previous round gets the first choice of which mechanism they wish to use, be it a set of lights or, as was the case in episode 2, “Throne Off,” which realm their character stemmed from. After a full two days dedicated to constructing the rest of their costume and repairing any issues found in the previous round, the final three, fully dressed, assume their new character and show the costume in all its glory on a runway, leading to one winner who takes home a prize of $10,000.
My only criticisms of this fantastic show are the lack of explanations or definitions during the construction period. Those above Forged in Fire implements educational popups to explain certain techniques and terms prevalent in blacksmithing, and I would like to see something similar used to aid any viewers looking to dive into the practice themselves.
The only other issue I’ve personally had has been with the forced implementation of props or mechanics, and of the four episodes I’ve seen and have aired at the time this is published, I’ve only had an issue with episode 4, “War Games.” In this episode, with the theme of video game-based dystopia, the implementation of lights, many of them blinking, loud, and way too flashy, didn’t suit the costumes constructed.
While contestant Steven’s Destiny-inspired cosplay was the most well-constructed and finished off the remaining three, the overabundance of the lights he was forced to use on his otherwise badass costume came off as cheap. In contrast, contestant Josh implemented the lights sparingly into his Fallout-based costume, using them for things such as indicator lights for his missile gauntlet.
The lights added to the realism of the costume. However, even if I don’t agree with the judgments made on the show, the overall mechanic of forced implementation challenges the contestants to think quickly and creatively, a valuable ability for any cosplayer.
The mere existence of this show is epic — the show is proudly representing what a different kind of lifestyle to the world is. Nearly every contestant so far has spoken about the effects of cosplay in their lives — episode 1 contestant Xavier credited cosplay for helping him “come out of my shell,” and episode 3 cosplayer Lisa said, “Cosplay, to me, is a complete part of myself … Cosplay is my life.” Cosplay construction is not merely a craft project these people take up as a hobby — it’s an extension of their identity, perspective, and the world, just as many practices of fandom are to so many others.
To see the awesomeness that is Cosplay Melee, tune into Syfy on Tuesdays, and catch up on past episodes on syfy.com!