Cosplay gets reality TV treatment in Syfy’s ‘Heroes of Cosplay’

Aug. 13, 2013 | 4:39 p.m.

Cosplayers are hoping that a new reality show will shine a light on their creative, if quirky, endeavors.

“Heroes of Cosplay” — a sort of Comic-Con-meets-“Project Runway” docu-series — premieres on Syfy tonight, pitting cosplayers against each other in Wizard World Portland’s cosplay competition.

Cosplay, short for “costume play,” is a hobby that blends costume-making and role-playing. Cosplayers portray their favorite characters from genre movies and television, video games, anime, comic books and more, wearing handmade costumes to comic conventions and sometimes competing for prizes. It’s that competitive element that “Heroes of Cosplay” aims to spotlight, with each episode featuring a different contest and the cosplayers who, with varying degrees of experience, prepare to compete.

Although the show isn’t without the seemingly manufactured drama that’s a hallmark of reality TV, “Heroes of Cosplay” provides some context for a hobby that is often misunderstood by mainstream observers.

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“A lot of people kind of look at these people like, ‘Who are these people who go to conventions and dress up in weird costumes, and why would anybody do that?'” said Chloe Dykstra, host of the Nerdist channel’s “Just Cos” YouTube show and one of nine cosplayers spotlighted in “Heroes.” “I think this will give people a better idea. Everybody gets into cosplay for different reasons, and I feel like this will be good, like because of this show, people might be more inclined to try something out they normally wouldn’t.”

Yaya Han, a cosplay veteran who serves as a judge for the cosplay contest featured in the show’s premiere, also said she hopes “Heroes of Cosplay” will clear up some misconceptions about cosplay.

“This is more than just a weird extension of Halloween. This is an art form, and a very genuine way for fans to express what they love,” she said. “It is a commitment, and it’s a labor of love.”

A labor of love indeed. Costumes range drastically in price, from tens to thousands of dollars, and creating them can take months or longer. Han has been cosplaying for more than a decade, and has made a career out of her passion, creating cosplay accessories and marketing herself as a personality. She says she was first drawn to cosplay more than a decade ago because of the creative outlet it offered.

Yaya Han poses for photographs in "Heroes of Cosplay." (Paul Conrad / Syfy)

Yaya Han poses for photographs in “Heroes of Cosplay.” (Paul Conrad / Syfy)

“Before cosplay, what I’d do would be draw characters in the Japanese manga style, and that was my way to express how much I loved the characters,” she said. “When I discovered cosplay… this was even taking it a step further. This was a broader spectrum of creativity. It wasn’t just pen and paper. All of a sudden you can sculpt things, you can make jewelry, you can make garments, you can design things. The artist in me was like, ‘Oooh, I can design a character and design a costume and then make that costume.’ So it creatively fulfilled me all the way around.”

Cosplay is 50% craftsmanship and 50% showmanship, Han said, but it’s often only the latter that gets noticed outside of the cosplay community. With the advent of social media, cosplayers who previously had to prove themselves by winning competitions or by repeatedly creating impressive costumes before gaining a following suddenly had a means to get a lot of eyeballs through Facebook and Twitter, with sexy costumes often getting the most attention.

“That has created a shift in cosplay to the side of, ‘Mmm, is this a fetish?'” Han said. “I think that’s mainly the misconceptions — that people think it is somehow sexually related, or that it’s some sort of bedroom play. For me, it’s definitely not. It’s definitely an art form.”

She said she hopes the Syfy show will “bring the community back on track a little bit.”

“On Twitter and Facebook and stuff, you don’t see the behind-the-scenes work; you only see the finished product,” she said. “They filmed us for many days just slaving away on these outfits, and I’m hoping that people will see it and be like, ‘OK, if these girls can do it, why can’t I?'”

Chloe Dykstra on stage in "Heroes of Cosplay." (Paul Conrad / Syfy)

Chloe Dykstra on stage in “Heroes of Cosplay.” (Paul Conrad / Syfy)

For Dykstra, who has been involved with cosplay for four years, “Heroes” marked her first experience competing.

“I don’t really like competing in costumes, and I don’t even really do photo shoots that often. I just like to walk around,” she said. “The reason I do it is because I like the connection I get when people recognize my costume, and they smile. I love that feeling. It’s the best feeling in the world. My passion isn’t as much with costume-making as it is with the community behind it, and all the incredible talent that’s there…. Dressing up in costume means being able to be friends with people I don’t know. It’s simple and wonderful.”

The series also features Riki LeCotey, Monika Lee, Victoria Schmidt, Becky Young, Jesse Lagers, Holly Conrad and Jessica Merizan.

“Heroes of Cosplay” premieres Tuesday at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT on Syfy, following the Season 5 premiere of “Face Off,” the network’s hit special-effects makeup competition series.

Beginning Aug. 20, the show will air at 10 p.m. on Tuesdays.

– Noelene Clark | @NoeleneClark | Google+

Briana Roecks of Los Angeles is one of the many people who attended Comic-Con   in costume.  (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

Briana Roecks. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

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One Response to Cosplay gets reality TV treatment in Syfy’s ‘Heroes of Cosplay’

  1. says:

    Yaya is in such competition with contestants she can not be objective. Plus she wants cosplay be dress design not total characters.

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