After watching the first episode of Syfy's new reality competition series, Cosplay Melee, cosplayers can finally breathe a sigh of relief – it's actually really good. Produced by the same team that has brought us eleven seasons of Face Off, each episode is stand-alone (meaning that in each episode four cosplayers compete for a $10,000 prize, rather than a starting large group that gets smaller each week).
Hosted by Yvette Nicole Brown (Community, The Odd Couple), and assisted by nationally known cospayer Leeanna Vamp, they are also the show's judges and joined by Christian Beckman (a Hollywood costumer and makeup artist who's work TRON: Legacy, The Hunger Games and most impressively as part of the team that created Doctor Octopus's arms in Spider-Man 2).
The episode's four contestants are about as diverse as you can come: Grace (a police officer), Fred (a miniatures painter who didn't start cosplaying until he was in his 40s), Xavier (currently studying to become a teacher), and Alicia (a costume designer).
They are given a general theme (sci-fi, superhero, steampunk) for that episode and they can then choose whatever particular source universe they might like to work in as inspiration. This episode's theme is Space Opera, and Xavier goes with Star Wars, Fred takes Star Trek, Grace chooses Guardians of the Galaxy, and Alicia takes Chronicles of Riddick as their respective inspirations.
They are given 6 hours in which to create a first component to their costume (this time it's a headpiece or helmet), after which their creations are given a first round of judging. The winner of the first phase receives some kind of an advantage going into the second round, and the loser is out of the competition.
The remaining three contestants then have two days to finish their full costumes and return to the judges fully decked out to present their creations.
For watchers of competition shows like Chopped (which also has a different set of contestants in each episode), you'll be familiar with the general format and vibe (right down to where the commercial breaks will happen).
Given that the cosplay community still bears some of the scars and baggage from the dumpster fire that was two seasons of Heroes of Cosplay, there was some understandable trepidation when it was heard that Syfy was going to try poking at cosplay once again. As it turns out, there couldn't be anything more different between the two show's presentation of the participants and cast. While it's a competition series, there's moments where they help each other out. There's ribbing, but it's all of a good-natured fashion of the sort that you'll find in about any convention hotel room while racing to get costumes finished up.
In the midst of the conversations, it emerges that Xavier is one of those cosplayers that we all know (or may be ourselves) that are naturally quiet and shy. Growing up he was one of the kids that had big glasses and was generally picked on by the other kids, something that many people who've already seen the episode thus far can relate to. When he puts on his costumes, however, he comes out of his shell and charges down the runway full tilt and in-character. To him cosplay has allowed him to connect with a larger world of fandom, and build his confidence to be able to achieve new heights both when wearing costumes as well as in everyday life. For those scenes alone, the series was worth bringing to the screen.
If you like competition shows at all, or if you are a fan of or interested in cosplay, Melee is definitely worth a watch.
Now we're going to get into spoilers for tonights episode, if you don't want to find out what happens or who won, then click away before reading past the image below.
Alrighty, so here we go, with this week's challenge as we noted before the first round was to make a headdress. Alicia's headdress is really well executed (the worbla acts as a great foundation) but while the other three make full helmets, she's the only one to create something similar to a Scarlet Witch's M-mask with the back only being a tied cord. Fred's helmet is pretty rough around the top of the dome, but when the judging happens, they wind up giving Xavier the win, and voting Alicia off the island landing in last place.
The remaining three: Xavier, Fred, and Grace, are then told that in addition to having to complete their entire costumes in two days, they also needed to add to it, a flight pack for each. The judges present the contestants with three sets of elements which they have to use to create the pack and since Xavier won the first round, he gets to go first. He winds up with a leaf blower (basically a ready-made rocket pack already), and there's no scuffle between Fred and Grace as they go after different last choices – Fred takes a muffler and exhaust pipes, and Grace gets some air venting.
Then they settle into the final round with two days to compose their entire suits. Along the way Fred decides he needs a weapon and builds out a robotic arm and gatling gun. Not to be outdone, especially with her costume based in Guardians of the Galaxy, where oversized guns aren't out of place, Grace makes a massive plasma rifle that would do Rocket proud. Xavier notices this and whips up a vibra-spear in what the show makes appear about 5 minutes flat (likely took much longer, but their editing sequence makes it seem like it appears out of nowhere).
The costumes come together and they each take their walk down the runway. Before the judges they describe the characters they've created, their costumes, and how they fit into their respective universes. They also talk a bit about their backgrounds, and motivations about what it is that brought them to cosplay.
In the end, it's Xavier that runs away with the win. His full costume is as ridiculously polished and well crafted as his helmet was in the first round. You often find cosplayers with various particular talents, some for sewing some for fabrication, others for design – Xavier's is definitely rapid armor patterning and creation.
The others both do really well and would likely place if not win most costume contests that we'd see at most major conventions.
Xavier tears up at the win, clearly moved. When Yvette asks him, where's this all coming from, he replies: When he first started cosplaying in 2010, he never imagined that it would lead to an opportunity like this. For all the shy kids with the big glasses and picked on, his win was for those kids.
Yea, we teared up as well. Well done Syfy – now to hope the rest of the episodes are as positive.