Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Cosplay Thoughts: Character Knowledge and Original Characters

Last PCC, the organizers gave me a unique opportunity to be part of the judging panel where we could ask questions towards the top 20 cosplay finalists. All them were deserving of being part of the top 20, and I personally had a hard time choosing which of them would be the best of their category.

The question and answer portion, although quite lengthy at times, had shed some light on some contestants, especially on parts where i had to ask them to perform characters they seemingly chose for themselves.

Part of being a cosplayer is knowing the character you are cosplaying. How much you know can determine how good your performance is when trying to impress the judges (this applies if you are joining a contest). In non-contest situations, having a sizable knowledge of the character would help you generate a certain "authenticity" to your cosplay, not to mention a huge sigh of both relief and glee from fellow fans of that self-same character you are cosplaying.

Unfortunately not everyone seem to be getting the point of cosplay. I have noticed some cosplay contestants seem to know only a certain stock knowledge of a character, and nothing beyond that, which led me to believe he or she wore the costume as "support" or as a favor from a friend who truly know the character. Or worse, wore it for the sake of being part of the cosplay crowd, to whatever reasons beyond the said hobby.

I did enjoy asking them to perform, because despite those who seemed to be lacking any knowledge and do generic poses or whatever fight stances that does not truly define the character, there are those few gems who definitely know what they're getting into. I particularly liked those who cosplay very obscure characters, yet know their full history and potential. Even those whose characters have very little background, they base their performance based on what they believed their character might have done.

Cosplaying a character meant knowing them very well. Otherwise, you wouldn't be a fan, right?

How about Original Characters then?

I have mixed expectations when it comes to cosplayers cosplaying "original" characters. Original Cosplay, to me, has so far been classified to two categories. Let's start with the first one:

Original because its a character you made up yourself, based on nothing else but the limits of your own imagination.

When one makes an original character and "cosplays" them, that includes a made up history of that creation. It does not set any limits to what that character looks like, and there is no one to judge the accuracy of the character other than the creator themselves.

There were many attempts of people trying to enter contests as "original" characters, which baffles me to no end, especially when they try to submit "reference pictures" as part of the requirement. They submit their own drawing or design, all controlled to what the character would look like, depending on the capability of their creator's costume construction prowess. If they could, they would make it 100% accurate in a stroke of a pen or photograph. And they would call it Costume Play or Cosplay. You readers decide whether its bullshit or not. I've made my decision on the matter years ago.

Original because its a character you created based, inspired, or copied from an existing character or series.

This kind of original cosplay still has its own merits, depending on how that person placed a lot of effort on creating an original character based on existing series. Basically a character design that isn't canon from the original story.

Many a cosplayer had created original characters based on fact that they loved a series or character so much, they thought to add something of a personal touch to it. May it be a new costume, a new facelift, or even a very different origin- the character, with familiar icons and elements, had a bad accident and was revived as a robot, or simply reversed their gender.

There are those who take on fan arts or ideas from other fans, and turn them into reality: creating a costume by borrowing ideas. Many of them take up the challenge because the idea or artwork is kick-ass enough to catch their attention. The problem I often see is that the admiration comes in often as skin deep. When asked for any particular "history" with a made up character, most of them would simply say "because they just look good."

Again, the definition of cosplaying still embraces "cosplaying your own creation" on the most technical level, as long as it has a solid background for both Costume and Play to work with. Unfortunately, acceptable as it seems when introduced as a casual cosplayer in a convention gathering, it is simply unacceptable in a contest environment, as it becomes a convenient loophole for accuracy.

Still, its really up to the organizers to make sure their contests are clear and precise on whether to include original characters in their contests or not. Maybe create their own category, which begs the question: How can someone judge a character that YOU only know?

Photo credit to a Flickr picture account by That Bill Fellow photostream.

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