Seras Victoria’s Contribution to American Cosplay

I admit, slutty cosplay tumblrs sometimes brighten my mornings. More often, they’re just a chore. In any event, they can be informative.

I think this article speaks the truth, from a certain point of view. Unfortunately as someone who just look at pictures of cosplay and occasionally visit conventions where cosplay is prominent, I realize that both the viewing of said images and the act of creating and donning a costume and then putting that, pic or in the flesh, in the public, it is a personal thing. In other words, they operate in different contextual spaces.

As an anime fan outside of Japan, one thing that is probably becoming an eternal chip on my shoulder is the issue of context. And well, if we can forgive the silly tagline right off the bat:

Too often in cosplay photography, the subject becomes an object. Cosplayers are fairly bad at doing anything other than looking sexy (?) and photographers focus too strongly on simply making cosplayers look good. I think we can do better than that.

and forget for a moment that this is utmost hypocritical–the objectification of the subject matter and then whining about how they’re not objectifying it the way he likes them–there’s probably some stuff to learn here.

The rest of the post goes on and talk about cosplay photography in the “in-character” school of thought. That in itself is harmless except it’s couched in this douchy context that I can’t really touch without ripping it to shreds. Or maybe it’s just from my point of view, it can be a pretty hilarious troll post that is made of fail. But hey, here I am writing about it.

And by “in-character” I simply mean the ongoing school of thought where when you cosplay, it is an important goal to become, to liken to the character you are cosplaying as. And by school of thought I mean there’s always a rival, but not always contrary, camp who think of cosplay as a matter of fashion and identity. I believe they generally co-exist, and sometimes they are one and the same, but on some issues that is just not the case.

The context is simple. Cosplay (let’s take your average semi-porn adult-ish cosplay on DVD at Comiket as example) is often tied to costume play in the context of erotic acts. Play your typical and modern nukige and you get what I’m saying. That is by far not the context of what cosplay is commonly known as today. It just used not to be the case. For cultural ambassadors and exporters of cool, cosplay as the more semi-pro, Japanese-content-oriented context (think of those World Cosplay Summit things), is what they would like it to be. In America, cosplay is more like, “hey let’s go to this party where people dresses up,” which is probably a step above “trick or treat” but usually not pro nor even semi-pro. Or even semi-semi-pro.

None of that is a problem. It’s like someone whose notion of basketball is from the NBA and then he goes and criticize youtube videos of kids playing on the street. I mean, com’on; you can do it, but it’s mean and unsportsmanlike. But at the same time, the difference between NBA level of play and some kids on the playground is much larger than your average, veteran hall cosplayer versus even a semi-pro that has won in a con masquerade of a reasonably size contestant pool. I mean, you can win a trip to Hawaii for two at even this second-rate US con. If you are dedicated, the gap between a pro cosplayer and Joe Schmoe is not an insurmountable gap, a gap that can be overcome in a few years. Not a gap that required you to be playing ball since you were 6 years old because your body peaks and become non-competitive by age 30, or something nuts like that.

Instead of basically telling people to tell a story with their cosplay photography, which is what Akira is doing, I’m just going to talk about what I learned from those dreadful “photo sets” and Asian-style semi-pro cosplay photography: the nature of zettai ryouiki and fashion. In other words, I’m telling you how to objectify people from photographs (and people in general) in a preferred way. Just like him, I’m going to skip the nitty gritty on how to actually do it; this isn’t really a how-to post. It’s more about the theory behind a working slit on your legs. Right. [You can follow the links below for the how-to.]

Just so we’re on the same page; by zettai ryouiki I mean the way of fashion in which you stress the segment of your outfit by showing thigh while hiding the area below, usually via a combination of socks or boots plus a short skirt. Is this more interesting? I think so. There’s been some amount of ink spilled over the years about how to do zettai ryouiki right. I’m not talking about that precisely; I want to talk about how to do zettai ryouiki right in 3Dhow to apply it as a fashion item.

Truth is, anime characters are rarely identified by the length of their legs. It is typically across-the-board artistic choice for stylistic reasons or as a signature for a particular artist. But for typical human beings that is a major point of differentiation. Shape, length, size, contour, color, texture, and much more, all play a role in crafting a suitable wear to apply zettai ryouiki in the way that is best for what you’re gunning for. For example, it even comes down to the type of heel (or not) that you wear, it will impact the way your leg muscles are pulled and give your zettai ryouiki a different look. I don’t think I’ve seen an anime that illustrated this little detail yet.

On top of that, for everyday dress, zettai ryouiki is a practicality problem typically due to the additional wares involved: sock glue, garter belts, uncomfortable bands on your socks, matching the length of your skirt with your socks, what have you. Plus it is not exactly a conservative look (although it can be downplayed and be reasonably conservative). So don’t push it unless you can pull it off, as I would recommend generally.

But one of the big reason behind why I want to talk about zettai ryouiki is how flexible and robust it is. The nature of the beast is that you’re seeing more “outfit” than “flesh.” The hardest cosplay to do right is characters like Yoko Ritona, because she’s more skin than clothes. Have you seen any good Japanese Yoko cosplays? Nowhere near as many as westerners, simply because skin-y cosplay require the body type and shape to already be very close to what your image of the character to be. And plastic surgery is typically not an option, nor is it desirable in these situation. Now comes zettai ryouiki: because the act of zettai ryouiki gives you the option to cloth yourself while still injecting that ounce of excitement, that inch of your thigh, pretty much anyone can do it as long as their thighs are remotely presentable as everything else can be covered up. So, it’s great to be a zettai ryouiki fan–even the most shapeless or fattest cosplayer can pull it off with some thought, and it wouldn’t look super terrible (unless that’s what they were gunning for).

In terms of the logic behind zettai ryouiki and personalizing it for wear, I think of it as a form of addition by subtraction. Imagine someone who wears pants. Now if you can cut away a piece of that person’s pant legs, where would you cut it? It’s like the running FF11 joke about brass subligars, or hot pants. But much more modest and subtle.

Operationally, because human beings are not like computer-painted animation, you’re allowed a pretty big range for operable zettai ryouiki. In the cosplay context, typically the cosplayer is gunning for the iconographic affect, and not as much as how it looks on the person. By this I mean if you are cosplaying a character with zettai ryouiki, you will want to have zettai ryouiki in your costume. The precise ratio of skin to sock to skirt and where that line is drawn on the cosplayer’s legs will vary and compromise on the basis that human proportions vary from anime character proportions. Some people will try to make the outfit look like the character, others will make the outfit suit the cosplayer. Sometimes you can do both. And again, I want to talk about zettai ryouiki because rarely will you be unable to do either.

Another key point about setting up a good zettai ryouiki is to understand how the sock/stocking/boots part work to accentuate your legs. I think a common mistake is when the coverage exceeds the knees, but just enough. Because human legs bend at the knee, it causes this double-break in the line of the legs, and it kind of neutralizes the impact. It’s like the difference of drawing two lines right next to each other versus far apart; it looks kind of like a double line instead of two distinct lines. You are no longer highlighting that absolute zone between the knee and the hemline.

That’s really all I have to say about it. A few months ago I was going to go all out and write a more practical guide about zettai ryouiki, since it’s the summer con season. The plan fell through and now I’m stuck thinking about zettai ryouiki all summer long (and getting my fair share of “samples” at cons to verify my hypotheses) and nowhere to write it down. Consider this blog post precisely the outcome of that.

Last thing: while I was going through my old con pictures, I noticed one thing: Sera Victoria cosplayers have got it right. Out of all characters, her cosplayers have consistently pulled off the zettai ryouiki more successfully on average than any other cosplays, and as far as I have pictures, that’s as back as it had dated (like, 2002 or 2001). Is she the first? Maybe, maybe not, but she is definitely not the last.


One response to “Seras Victoria’s Contribution to American Cosplay

  • Vendredi

    “Is she the first? Maybe, maybe not, but she is definitely not the last.”

    Clearly, more study is necessary, with a formalized (if qualitative) grading system and statistical analysis.

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