Comics artist and former Gainax employee Lea Hernandez joins us to talk about her turbulent time back in the late 80s with the company that gave birth to Evangelion.
Reviewby Carlo Santos, Dec 21st 2007
Japanese entertainment is growing in popularity all over the world, but one concept that hasn't quite caught on yet is the celebrity photobook. These glossy coffee-table volumes contain exactly what the name suggests—eye-catching photos of popular idols, entertainers and models, typically female, and typically in their late teens or early twenties. Elsewhere in the world, that's what calendars and magazines are for—but entire, fully-bound books containing nothing but cheesecake photos of the latest, greatest, flavor-of-the-week cutie? That's definitely something that qualifies as a "uniquely Japanese phenomenon."
If there's one thing that can help almost any form of Japanese entertainment cross the globe, however, it's the anime subculture. That's what makes Everybody Cosplay! quite accessible despite its unusual format—it's basically a photobook with an otaku flavor, featuring a young, attractive model who just happens to be dressing up as a variety of anime and game characters. After all, photobooks may not be a big deal outside of Japan, but cosplay certainly is, and the characters featured here provide a recognizable comfort zone. And don't think that this begins and ends with the photogenic poses of Newtype USA columnist Jan Kurotaki: each set of photos comes with commentary on the character and costume, so those expecting a proper book with actual text can fall back on that too.
Clocking in at 160 pages and with about 2-4 pages dedicated to each costume, this book covers dozens of characters, and any dedicated fan is sure to find one of their favorites at some point. From megahit Shonen Jump franchises to niche ero-games, Kurotaki shows a wide range of tastes, and yes, of course she had to get Haruhi Suzumiya in there somewhere. Because of her Japanese background, she clearly leans toward that side of the fandom, and readers might be left scratching their heads at some of the more obscure selections. (An adult-rated Japan-only Dreamcast game? Really?) Still, it's an enlightening look into the world of Japanese cosplayers, who are often seen only as these mysterious, perfectly coiffed dolls who "do it better than the Americans." Fortunately, Kurotaki's commentary helps to break down some of that aloof mysteriousness.
Not only does the commentary reach out to the average English-speaking fan, but it should also be of interest to serious cosplayers. Kurotaki's mini-essays basically break down into two paragraphs: one where she describes the character, the series that it's from, and why the character appeals to her; and secondly, a technical discussion of how the costume was put together. That second paragraph is where practical cosplayers can start drooling over textile jargon; in fact, even laypersons can look at that and see how much dedication and detail goes into doing high-level cosplay. Of course, she doesn't give away all her secrets—at most, Kurotaki only describes the material used to make each component and what kind of adjustments had to be made—but there are plenty of tips and ideas here on how to adapt 2-D costume designs to the real world.
Although Everybody Cosplay! works as both a photobook and cosplay resource, it is not without its faults. The first one lies at the very concept of the book: if it's got "everybody" in the title, how come we don't see "everybody" cosplaying? To limit this photo collection to a single model—even if she is highly talented and attractive—seems unfair to the many other cosplayers who work just as hard and are just as deserving of such a book. (Perhaps there'll be a second volume featuring Kurotaki's merry friends?) The image quality also varies noticeably in the book: some photos will be fantastically sharp, while others look like they were snapped on the street by a casual observer with a cell phone. Granted, some of the photos actually are taken on the street or in an impromptu setting; a cosplay gallery simply can't be expected to match the polish of a full-on fashion shoot. But that doesn't change the fact that graininess and blur occasionally pop up as problems in this photo collection.
Despite these technical shortcomings, the photography still has plenty of strong points—often because of the model in front of the camera. Whether playing a badass fighter or a demure schoolgirl, Kurotaki strikes plenty of confident poses; the only complaint might be that she tends to put on the same vague smile for every character. A wide variety of indoor and outdoor settings also keeps the imagery from getting dull: a traditional shrine provides the background for some historical cosplay, for example, and a Disney Princess shoot is taken at (where else?) Tokyo Disneyland. There isn't anything amazingly avant-garde or innovative about the photo composition, but for a fan-oriented publication, it's certainly pleasing enough to the eye. We're here to appreciate the characters and the art of cosplay, and in that respect, this book delivers.
It's tempting to say "Any anime lover will enjoy Everybody Cosplay!," but that's not entirely true. Its scope and content are geared more towards intermediate and advanced fans: the ones with wall-spanning DVD and manga collections and entire shelves of figurines, the ones who attend conventions and have felt the excitement of cosplay culture from up close. This is a photobook that celebrates all that, and even provides some useful examples for the practical cosplayer who lives and dies by the sewing machine. It is by no means a perfect book—some photos are too grainy, and the focus on just one specific cosplayer seems unfair—but it is definitely a fun book, loaded with characters, outfits, and a fan's true love for all things 2-D.
Overall : B
+ A wide variety of costumes and accompanying commentary will appeal to regular fans and hardcore cosplayers alike.