Cosplay Complex

Cosplay is a bizarre part of fandom. It's certainly not limited to anime--go to any Star Wars or Star Trek convention, and you'll find people dressed up like their favorite characters--but the whole concept of it is a little off-kilter. Grown people dressing as bizarre characters from other universes is just strange, no matter how cute it may seem. A part of me understands. A part of me thinks it would be awesomely cool to walk down the halls of a con with Lupin's signature jacket on, or perhaps greeting children in a Totoro costume. Part of me understands it as a modern take on the costume masquerade, and that part of me loves the pageantry and the sheer artistic mastery some cosplayers have. The other part of me finds the whole cosplay community baffling and sometimes even rude. People who can't talk except in "squeek" annoy me. People who blast other people's costumes annoy me. Somehow, it's hard to find a cosplay you'd think is normal. But all of this is fascinating to me, nonetheless, and I had hopes that Cosplay Complex might address some of this.

It doesn't. Cosplay Complex is a typical fan service show with cosplay as its gimmick. Now, to be fair, it has some incredibly funny bits that brought a smile to my face, and it cycles through a variety of shows and in-jokes through the character costumes. But the plot is really nothing more than a ribald "girl grows up" story with cosplay in the background.

As Cosplay Complex starts, we see a club of cosplayers trying to figure out how to get a teacher to sponsor their group, giving them legitimacy in their school (and possibly some funds for their costumes). The show is primarily through the eyes of Chako, the bubbly if scatterbrained face of the group who genuinely loves cosplay, even though she doesn't feel she's great at it. Others in the group--including the wacko de facto leader (and only male) Gorou, the big sis/little sis team of Maria and Athena, and various others including an owl who provides commentary--see Chako's potential and encourage her to shoot for the top. But there's not just cosplay competitions for Chako to handle...there's an older boy she's got a crush on that seems quite interested in a relationship himself. If that weren't enough, bring in the pervs! How about a lesbian transfer student who's also a cosplayer? Or a widowed teacher who's ready for anything? Or the antics of Gorou, who gets his kicks reading sweaty romance novels aloud? In the world of cosplay, apparently, people get a bit too friendly.

Whether or not you'll like Cosplay Complex has less to do with whether you like cosplay and more to do with whether you like fan service. That's really what this show's about. Whether it be the girls caught in various states of undress while changing costumes, bathing in the inevitable vacation/hot spring episode, or just being themselves, this show revels in hints and glimpses of female bodies. Now it's nowhere near the ridiculous antics of Agent Aika or Colorful!, where the panties are the story, but it's still a huge part of the show. And if this is your thing, you'll love the show, as it's quite impressive looking, with bright colors and a particularly good DVD transfer. Frankly, I found the program so overloaded with fan service that I couldn't fully appreciate the rest of the show.

And, honestly, there is some quite funny stuff here...some of it ecchi, some of it not. Although it's not a parody show, there are lots of shows represented here through the use of various costumes. (And if you're not familiar with the many shows they reference, ADV Films does include a handy guide in the special features to list the costumes and where they came from.) There's plenty of good-natured humor, as well as a few sexually related bits that may turn you off to the show or find you in stitches, depending on your point of view. I wouldn't say the laughs are great, but it's entertaining from that perspective.

Unfortunately, the structure of the show is by the numbers. It's predictable and boring in that it follows every anime formula. I saw every bit coming. The humor elevates it a bit, but the obviousness of the plot points grated on me. Cosplay is a topic that is virtually wide open in the anime realm; it's not been done to death. So why did the writers marry this new and different concept with such a hackneyed, overdone plot outline? Beats me.

I was encouraged to see Cosplay Complex by reading Anime on DVD's review of the show, which gave it a solid A...rather a rarity on that site. Perhaps the difference between us is that they like sexual humor and I don't. It's been given a rating of 17+ by ADV Films, which is appropriate, but that didn't scare me off...some awfully funny stuff with sexual material exists out there, like Golden Boy. But Cosplay Complex wasn't nearly as good as I'd hoped. It's got a few great laughs and several good ones, but its predictability and reliance on fan service throughout weigh it down. Someday, some show will really delve into the world of cosplay and the thoughts of the folks who love it. This isn't it.

Cosplay Complex -- sustained fan service, nudity, sexual situations (off-screen) -- B-