Ask any anime fan what the best part about going to a convention is, and they’ll tell you it’s not seeing anime on a big projection screen. Or the shock when a certain company licenses a popular show to dub. It’s not even watching a huge anime movie before everyone else can. Nope, they’ll tell you it’s all about cosplay. This tradition has been a huge staple of anime conventions for so long in both America and Japan that it’s amazing it has taken so long for an anime, such as Cosplay Complex, to spring up from it.
“Cosplay” is short for “costume play.” It’s basically the art of making a costume based on one’s favorite anime character and showing it off to people. Unlike Halloween costumes, most fans don’t simply walk into a Wal-Mart and buy one. Instead, many people hire someone to make a costume for them, or they try making one for themselves. In pretty much every convention, it is customary for people to take pictures for albums of some of the really well-done costumes, and some conventions even hold special events where talented designers can show off their work to an adoring audience.
Cosplay Complex is the story about a small team of cosplayers and their dreams of reaching the Cosplay World Series. Chako, who is the mascot of the group and star of the special, is a bubbly, pink-headed teenage girl. She’s also über-clumsy and either forgets or rips her costumes during practically every showing, forcing her to rely on a tiny bunny-girl alien Delmo and her shapeshifting powers for rescue. (She has to come up with sweet things to satisfy Delmo, however.) Delmo came to this world with a pink owl, Ikebukuro, whose only real purpose is to be a judge at cosplay events and to be the resident “cute fluffy thing,” even though owls aren’t fluffy.
Then there are the sisters Maria and little Athena. Both are sweet and innocent types, with Maria paying homage to the shy, quiet, glasses-wearing teenage girls in anime, while Athena is a character to appeal to all the loli-con freaks out there (you know who you are). Maria’s sworn enemy is Jenny, an Italian who is in love (literally) with Athena. She also happens to be one of the best cosplayers on the team. Reika is the stern captain of the group who takes charge, especially once Chako’s love life enters the picture. She also has to ward off the advances of Gorou, the real leader of the team. He’s not a total pervert, which is good, and he often gets into the cosplaying fun himself, though not nearly to the extent that the girls do.
As Episode 1 starts, Chako, Maria, Athena, Gorou, and Reika are looking for a sponsor and another member (since Athena’s too young) so that they can participate in the Cosplay World Series. All of the sudden, Jenny arrives, full of vigor, and ready to join the group. However, she must win a cosplay battle with Chako, which results in major money for the team. After that, Chako’s got to try to win over the man of her dreams while the rest of the team trains by the beach. Things don’t go over so well, as the rest of the gang decides to interfere (of course) to help make things better, with disastrous results (of course). The final episode has Chako’s team competing against one of the greatest cosplayers in the country in a friendly tournament to get a taste of what will happen in the Cosplay World Series.
Cosplay Complex has been getting rave reviews, but I guess I’m just not getting it. The best part is trying to pick out the various costumes, not only during the show, but during the ending as well, as various photos of costumes from Japanese anime conventions are shown during the credits. Costumes range from mainstays like Trigun and InuYasha to rare costumes from You’re Under Arrest and Saint Tail. Popular US series, such as Slayers and even Digimon, are shown, as well as series that haven’t reached our shores yet, like Naruto and Sgt. Frog. Picking out the costumes is pretty tough, so the disc includes a guide showing which costumes come from which series.
But I just can’t get a feel for the characters. Other OAVs like Animation Runner Kuromi and Otaku no Video actually did a good job at developing the characters while not going overboard on everything. Unfortunately, in Cosplay Complex the craziness just seems to be there for its own sake and doesn’t really contribute anything. True, the characters are meant to be just cardboard cut-outs, but that doesn’t mean they can’t have any real development. Just when it gets good in Episode 3, the show ends. There are also some loose threads, such as a blue-haired woman who seems to have a history with Chako’s relative Sachiko. It also doesn’t help that most of the characters look like hentai rejects.
The animation itself is pretty decent, and there are no real noticeable problems with the transfer. There’s nothing real special about the animation, though it still looks really digital, like a 2001 anime instead of a 2004 anime. Music is in the same category. The opening theme is pretty catchy, and the background music moves things along well enough. The ending song is not as good as the opening theme, but it serves its purpose. The voices, however, are a different story. Usually I don’t mind ADV’s dubbing. I liked the dub to Neon Genesis Evangelion as well as Excel Saga (sans the cursing and Excel’s replacement), but this was just horrible. Unlike Puni Puni Poemy, everyone’s not shouting all their lines, but they might as well. All the female voices are so high pitched it’s actually grating on the ears, though the male voices are actually rather decent. Also, whenever a character eats while talking, their voices are so mumbled you can barely understand what they’re saying. I don’t usually hate English dubs, but this one was just awful. The Japanese version was more tolerable, but it’s not anything really special.
Aside from the Cosplay Identification feature, there’s not much else in the way of extras. The disc includes production sketches, trailers, and clean openings and closings features; buyers also get a poster of Chako and Maria in priestess outfits, with a letter on the back by Kunihiko Fujiwara about his trip to an Anime Expo and what he thought of the costumes there. The cover is reversible, showing off the other female characters in their costumes. One is of Jenny and Athena, and the other is Reika and Chako’s relative/roommate/sponsor Sachiko in her mourning outfit (which she wears constantly for some reason). I personally like the regular cover best.
Overall, if you like fanservice (and partial nudity), as well as insane situations, then you’ll probably enjoy this multiple times. All anime fans should at least rent it or borrow a friend’s copy just to pick out all the costumes.