Heroes of Cosplay: Now Only Mostly Awful

In Which Trae Talks About Season 1.5 of Heroes of Cosplay

I have been working conventions for almost twenty years, and have helped put on a cosplay contest for the last nine in varying capacities. I admittedly haven’t been a serious cosplayer myself since I gave it up about a decade ago, but it’s still a world I’m heavily immersed in.

So needless to say I’ve been watching Heroes of Cosplay since episode one.

…but not because I like it. I’ve been watching Heroes of Cosplay for the same reason you might have eavesdropped on someone gossiping about your friends back in High School: So I know exactly what’s being said.

The bullscat filled “Season 1.5” finale aired last night though, so (as I did last year) I thought I’d gather my thoughts about the entire season.

…and why no convention should allow Heroes of Cosplay in the door.

Season 1.5 of Heroes of Cosplay, in many ways, was a season that clearly listened to a lot of the criticism of previous episodes. To my mild relief, gone is the explicitly stated focus on “cash prizes” (although they still exist on the show), as is much of the interpersonal drama. While some conversations are still highly staged, they’re just the standard “set up” conversations that are staged on all stripes of reality shows.

Exposition is hard to capture naturally.

Also, far more of this season is focused on the crafting of costumes than the first, and the show relies more on this angle for its drama than interpersonal squabbles. Which is, y’know, a good thing as it means random non-cast member cosplayers aren’t getting framed as villains anymore.

But just because someone isn’t punching you in the arm anymore doesn’t mean they aren’t still standing on your foot. I have issues with the continuation of this reality series, and they are plentiful.

Even after the cast changes to Heroes of Cosplay, Yaya Han still features prominently. And while she is a talented cosplayer, she has the onscreen persona of a block of wood. They’ve minimized her appearances this half of the season, but she continues to be exceptionally unnatural on screen. Some of us have nicknamed her “Sentient Lumber” because of this… which is admittedly super mean. But she’s said crueler things in the show’s first season, so my capacity for empathy is limited. Yaya Han will likely never leave the show though, as she’s centrally involved behind the scenes.

Likewise Heroes of Cosplay continues to feature non-serious cosplay events on a show supposedly dedicated to serious cosplayers. I mean, it’s fine to only do a show about a certain subsection of Cosplay, but then why would you feature conventions which don’t have in depth craftsmanship judging like Stan Lee’s Comikaze or any Wizard World con?

Out of the five conventions they visited, only two had prejudging. And out of those two, they only showed it onscreen at one of them.

This may have more to do with how the production company behind Heroes of Cosplay takes over cons though, and serious cosplay events may not want their dominating presence. Since before season one even aired, reports of Heroes of Cosplay completely taking over events were circulating, and most established cons would see their presence as bad news.

But all that aside, I had actually started enjoying Heroes of Cosplay. I knew that a lot of the tension was likely artificial (hardly anyone at the level of the cast of Heroes of Cosplay gives themselves only a week to complete a complex costume), but I was having fun.

And then the two part finale happened.

Now, early in the season I had been told via a couple of Tumblr asks that the Heroes of Cosplay staff had dragged the Wizard World New Orleans Comic Con costume contest into a six hour event. Which while being fairly terrible, I assumed was nothing more than the production company getting in the way of everything.

And then the first of the two finale episodes aired.

And the lying began.

You see, as I reported last week, Wizard World New Orleans is a convention with one cosplay contest. I have verified this with the Wizard World New Orleans program guide, as well as several people who were physically present (including one person who won an award in the competition). Heroes of Cosplay though, within the first two minutes of the two part finale, explicitly states that there are two cosplay contests (one for individuals and one for groups) on two different nights.

So not only did Heroes of Cosplay force some cosplayers to stay for six hours if they wanted to participate in the cosplay contest, but then they lied about it afterward.

The contest was listed in the program guide as a single event, so you can imagine participants’ shock when Yaya Han and the judges took an extended break (some have told me it was as long as 45 minutes) between the Individual and Group categories so they could change costumes.

By the time the groups came on, large portions of the audience had left. It’s hard to tell while watching the show of course, as crowd noises are overdubbed and camera angles and lighting obscure large portions of the audience.

But if you look very, very closely…

seating

But that’s kind of expected. I mean, it’s been over four hours at this point. The audience probably wants to go have some fun.

And that’s when we get to the skits.

The show made a big deal about skits being required during the group portion of the cosplay contest. Reading the rules of the cosplay contest… this wasn’t exactly true. According to the Wizard World New Orleans website (bolding mine):

Skits are encouraged during the Wizard World Costume Contest, but not required.

A skit/performance is defined as an act which may involve; choreographed sequences, acting parts, or dancing. Walking out on stage and posing, with music is not considered a skit/performance.

Whether or not they were required aside, although the contest had an award for “Best Skit,” the vast majority of groups were not allowed to perform them.

I initially mentioned in my previous article that I had been told “90% of the group people were not allowed skits, or had music, etc played over them, aside from cast.” I had also mentioned that a comment on this article corroborated that. Since writing that piece, I’ve gone out and talked with others present at the event, and I can confirm that this was the case.

Cast members of Heroes of Cosplay have reacted to the criticism of the show about how you’d expect. Jessica Merizan openly admitted that the only contests were on the Saturday night of the con, but still maintained there were two of them (even though they weren’t advertised as such to contestants). She avoided addressing allegations of people not being allowed to do their skits, but honestly I can’t blame her.

In truth I don’t hold the regular cast members of the show at fault for the choices of the show’s production company and Yaya Han. The only blame I lay at their feet is being complicit with the lies the show’s presented — but for all I know they may not be allowed to talk about those issues to start with.

The oddness doesn’t exactly end there with Wizard World New Orleans though.

In the first half of the finale, Yaya Han visits the Soul Caliber group while they’re in the planning stages. Now, as she had announced that she was only hosting the Group portion of the competition, this wasn’t that big a deal to me. But then, during the judging… she was sitting in on it and participating in the discussion.

This blew my mind.

First off, that’s just terrible hosting. You’ve got a crowd out there waiting for results. It’s literally your job to entertain them right now. Secondly, while it’s not uncommon for participating cosplayers to be friends with some of the cosplay judges (it’s not a huge community), it’s usually seen as a MASSIVE conflict of interest for a judge to be present during the planning and creation of a costume that they’ll later be judging.

I can tell you in the Midwest con scene there was a mild P.R. snafu when a Wisconsin con’s judges were accused of having seen (or even helped) with a winner’s costume while it was in the production stage. While these accusations did not end up being true, it still left a stain on the entire event.

So for Yaya Han to be talking with the judges in the judging process? That’s kind of a big deal where I come from.

Especially when that group won an award at the con.

One invented just to give to them no less.

And that’s pretty alarming.

While I give most of the cast members a fairly wide pass for these issues, I have a problem doing so with Yaya Han herself. She’s an experienced cosplayer and from what I’ve been told has an actual creative voice in the program. She is not blameless, and a faux pas like this is amateur hour.

That aside, most of the problems with Heroes of Cosplay are the problems inherent with any Reality Television production entering a space like the con scene. They dominate a space, dictate rules, and take over any event they touch.

That is why this show is still mostly terrible. Was it worse last season when they focused so much attention at cash prizes (which aren’t really a thing at most cons)? Yep. Was it more terrible last season when they literally put words into people’s mouths and caused some innocent cosplayers to get ridiculed for things they never said? Yes. Was it more terrible when Yaya Han said overweight people shouldn’t cosplay some characters last season? Definitely.

It’s an improvement, and I have to give them credit for listening.

But not enough credit for me to stop hoping for this show’s swift cancellation.

Some portions of this article previously appeared on Trae’s personal blog.

Trae Dorn

Trae Dorn has been staffing conventions for over twenty years, and is a co-founder of Wisconsin’s longest running Anime convention No Brand Con. Trae also writes and draws the webcomics UnCONventional and The Chronicles of Crosarth, which leads many to ask when the hell they have time to actually do anything anymore. Trae says they have the time because they “do it all quite poorly.”