This past weekend, Brisbane played host to the national finals of the Madman National Cosplay Championship, now in its seventh consecutive year. You may not have heard of many of these cosplayers -- most of them are very well known within the community, but are all but anonymous to the wider world. Just to get to the Brisbane competition takes a lot of effort -- preliminary rounds are held across the country year-round, with only one in every city progressing to the finals. So what does it take to qualify for a cosplay competition at a national level?
First, let's meet the finalists of the Madman National Cosplay Competition for 2015:
First Place: Kirilee From WA
Second Place: Team Mum's Spaghetti, Wildcard
Third Place: Etelle From SA
So how did each of these six teams get here, and what did they bring to the table?
An Entertaining Skit
We covered Oz Comic Con's national cosplay competition earlier this year, but there are two main differences between the two national championships. Firstly, Madman only accepts costumes from Japanese media, and secondly, it requires a skit.
While generally we think of skits as a short comedy piece -- like the ones you see in TV sketch shows -- in cosplay it just refers to any short performance done in character. The art of a cosplay skit is a difficult one. Make a skit too specific to the series and you lose anyone in the audience who isn't familiar with it. Make it too generic, and you lose the chance to show off your ability to get in character. Take too long and the audience will fall asleep. It's a fine art.
As someone who has only done two terrible skits in her life (yes, they're on YouTube and no, I'm not telling you where) I have only admiration for all six teams who got up and performed on Saturday. They showcased everything from villainous plots and sword fights, to broken mirrors and evil creatures.
A large part of the final judging is based on said skit -- meaning that the person with the best costume might not win if they can't actually perform in it. This in mind, it's no wonder that the winner's skit was one of the strongest up there. It doesn't seem to be up on YouTube yet (watch this space) so you'll have to take my word for it that the skit ticked all the boxes for a winning performance. WA entrant and eventual national champion Kirilee was cosplaying 'Jennifer' from a manga series called Cloth Road that, honestly, I have never heard of before last Saturday. What I could glean from a quick Google search proves that Cloth Road is a cosplayer's dream, however -- featuring a world full of fashion designers who duel using nanotechnology in textiles.
The skit, of course, featured one such duel, with plenty of comedy present both physically and verbally. The highlight of the skit, however, was when Jennifer's mentor appears to tell her to stop trying to be a beautiful flower. "You are a venus fly trap. You are ugly," was about the gist of it, to the audience's delight. While Kirilee's scripting and comedic timing was one thing that made her skit great fun to watch, there was another element that she couldn't have done without…
Ah, that old cosplay standard -- stage ninjas keep everything going behind the scenes, helping their cosplayers move around in unwieldy costumes and working the mechanisms that provide practical effects on stage. Some of them even manoeuvre the puppets that are often a large part of cosplay skits -- especially for solo entrants who don't have a partner to play off.
Kirilee had her own team of three stage ninjas, with one of them working each of the three puppets that depicted the enemy she fought in her skit. Other stage ninja antics over the competition included changing backdrops and moving set pieces across the stage, helping with quick changes and even summoning an ancient monster. One of the entrant's costumes even had remote controlled wings, with one of her helpers sitting in the audience to work the controls.
The stage ninjas who help out with skits for a national competition usually end up spending just as much time rehearsing as the cosplayers themselves -- perhaps even more, just to get the timing of each and every action right. That doesn't include the time they spend backstage and on the convention floor acting as a handler, especially when the cosplayers are wearing huge, unwieldy hoopskirts or have a 10 foot wingspan. Thank god for these unsung heroes of cosplay.
Thousands Of Beads
The 2015 competition was the year of beads, one competitor told me, with almost every costume boasting intricate glittery, beaded details. If you've never beaded before, then all you need to know is that it's fiddly, expensive, and takes a really, really long time. It also looks amazing.
I got to go backstage and have a close up look at all the crazy little details that the competitors have been slaving over for the last couple of months (or weeks, for the really fast workers).
From Etelle's costume:
You can also see a gorgeous feature of all the details in this costume in Deerstalker's convention video.
From Rebecca's costume:
From Team Bees?'s costumes:
From Kirilee's costume:
From Team Icarus' costumes:
From Mum's Spaghetti's costumes:
A Whole Heap Of Dedication
Beads aside, there is a staggering amount of detail in every single one of these costumes -- and the entrants haven't even had that much time to make them. Similarly to the Oz Comic Con competition, each entrant is representative of one of the states where preliminary rounds are held -- along with two wildcard entries. Most of these cosplayers wouldn't have known that they were competing in the finals until around June of this year. For Etelle in South Australia it was even later, in mid-July -- and yet she still managed to build a huge pair of mechanised wings in that time.
The costumes on display last weekend were crammed with details: hundreds of meters of fabric, kilometres of thread, and even LED lights highlighting important details of the costumes. There is obviously a huge amount of passion put into every single costume entered this contest, and despite the amount of work involved, a number of this year's finalists are already planning their costumes for next year. While I've never been masochistic enough to enter Madman myself, I've always heard that the thing that keeps people coming back again and again is not the prize nor the exposure, but rather the close friendships that form when six groups of cosplayers go through this intense costuming trial-by-fire together.