Cosplay Complex Anime Review
US Release By
3 episodes, 30 minutes each
2002-05-25 - 2002-10-25
Cosplay Complex details the various misadventures and hijinks of the East Oizumi Academy Cosplay Club as they try to work their way out of obscurity and a budget crisis on their way to the Cosplay World Series. Right from the start, the team runs into problems, as they barely have enough money to get by and aren't so good at sewing, either. That second problem is somewhat mitigated by their secret weapons: an alien owl who happens to be a sewing expert (don't ask), and a magical sprite who can morph into any costume of any size for any of the team members. Which, come to think of it, kind of defeats half the point of cosplay in the first place.
The biggest problem, though, is they don't have enough members for a full roster. Fortunately, that is solved by the arrival of an Italian exchange student named Jenny Matel (yes, that's supposed to be Italian), who seems to have the talent and motivation the team needs to compete on a high level. The tradeoff is that she happens to be a total pervert who is instantly infatuated with the club's youngest honorary member, an adorable little elementary school student named Athena. But the other members are willing to put up with her indiscretions for the sake of the team, because, after all, what's a few statutory rape attempts among friends?
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Cosplay Complex is, surprisingly, one of the only cosplay-centered anime series in existence--seemingly ripe with untapped potential. Too bad none of it was actually used. Instead, you get an incomplete, borderline-hentai show that uses the cosplay theme sporadically in a vain attempt to make itself look more interesting than it really is. The main thing that sticks out in Cosplay Complex is the outright hostile treatment of cosplayers themselves, be they spectators or participants--it's treated like the whole thing is just a bizarre costume fetish, full of willing sex objects and perverts. Apart from one (mercifully unsuccessful) pedophile (played for humor, of course), the characters are dull and uninspired--it's a series about a bunch of typical anime characters who dress up and act like... typical anime characters. The story is also thin and incomplete--the final episode is spent setting up things that it never gets to. On the plus side, it's absolutely loaded with anime and game references to try and identify, and some of the humor is embarrassingly funny in a guilty-pleasure way. It also looks great, and has a good English voice cast well-matched to the characters.
Overall, the funny parts are simply not enough to sustain a series with such a shoddy plot, lame characters, and such blatant, juvenile fanservice pandering. It would be a good bonus in an otherwise decent series, but it's not enough to carry Cosplay Complex on its own.
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Cosplay, the art of dressing up like popular characters from films, anime, and video games, has developed into a worldwide phenomenon, and its popularity seems to be going nowhere but up. While all sorts of media characters are well-represented in the field, it is most heavily associated with anime, so it seems only fitting to make an anime specifically about cosplay. It represents a rare subject that is popular among the otakus, yet largely untapped in the anime realm, so it has a lot of potential. Too bad none of it was actually used. Quite the opposite really. Instead, what we have here is an incomplete, borderline-hentai show that uses the cosplay theme sporadically in a vain attempt to make itself look more interesting than it really is.
The main thing that sticks out in Cosplay Complex is the outright hostile treatment of cosplayers themselves, be they spectators or participants. Rather than a series for cosplay fans (something like Genshiken), it appears this was made for people who hate cosplay and have the lowest opinion of everyone involved it. Literally every character in the show is a pervert, a sex object, or someone who treats all others as such, while at the same time being totally okay with their place in the world, as if they don't mind being treated this way. Or, even worse, actually enjoy it. And, while Cosplay Complex is certainly a comedy, it's not a good-natured send-up of its subjects--it's as if the makers actually want us to believe this is how everyone in cosplay is, as though cosplay is just about catering to some bizarre costume fetish rather then paying homage to one's favorite media characters.
Beyond that, the characters are dull and uninspired. It's just a standard collection of ditzy airheads and lust-crazed freaks, who treat rape attempts and stalking like a normal part of life and talk about breast size in casual conversation (this is how cosplayers really are, right?). There are also a few "straight men" mixed in, whose only purpose is to be appalled or angered by everyone's else's crazy behavior (and of course dish out proper punishment to the male characters when their lust gets the better of them). That's bad in general, but even worse in a show about cosplay.
Really, who wants to see a series about a bunch of typical anime characters who dress up and act like... typical anime characters? What's the point? Sadly enough, the one character who really stands out is Jenny Matel, as her obscene and open pursuit of Athena is technically "original." Is that really what a character should be distinguished for?
The story itself is a total fiasco. The first episode is the one that most heavily focuses on actual cosplay, but again it seems done more for fanservice than the actual appeal of the subject, and none of the competitions have any real relevance to future events. The second episode features the team going on a "training" trip in which there is almost no cosplay at all, instead focusing heavily on a potential love interest for the main member of the team, Chako Hasegawa, which is completely pointless since it's obvious it will lead nowhere. How can you tell? Because there is only one more episode. And all the final is about is setting up a rivalry between East Oizumi and another cosplay club, as well as setting up a love triangle between that club's leader and the object of Chako's affection. Don't you just love it when the final episode is about setting up rivalries for matches that won't be shown and romantic relationships that won't go anywhere? The main goal--making it to the Cosplay World Series--is never addressed at all.
The main problem with the story, though, is that there simply is not enough focus on the actual aspects of cosplay, something I was hoping for as I know almost nothing about it. To be fair, it occasionally shows issues like the difficulty of picking the right outfit for certain situations and the hardship of creating one's own costumes without formal sewing training and limited resources. But the show doesn't make a big enough issue out of them, and in some cases actually cancels them out. Why does it matter whether Chako can learn how to make a proper outfit in time for an event when she's got Delmo, who can transform into any costume she needs?
The series does show a fair amount of actual anime and video game characters in the cosplay scenes, and the ending theme features pictures of real cosplay events. But it seems these are just thrown in to remind us that the series is supposed to be about cosplay, because if they were not there we would forget. The main themes are still fanservice and low-brow humor, no matter how much the makers try to cover it up.
That said, as much I hate to admit it, Cosplay Complex can be rather funny at times. Even Jenny's obscene pursuit of Athena has its guilty-pleasure moments. Shock value does exist for a reason, I suppose, and it's especially amusing how Jenny seems totally oblivious to how wrong and horrific her actions are. Plus, at the very least, the director was nice enough not to have anything significant actually happen between them. Instead, Jenny's attempts at seduction backfire in occasionally funny ways. Some of the other humorous elements effectively use the style of shows like Dragon Half and Excel Saga, breaking the fourth wall and using unconventional running gags, such as a coach who always ends up getting hospitalized after giving an inspirational speech and a character who tries to seduce the female members of the team by arbitrarily narrating their situations in the style of an erotic novel (you can guess how effective that turns out to be).
However, the funny parts are simply not enough to sustain a series with such a shoddy plot, lame characters, and such blatant, juvenile fanservice pandering. It would be a good bonus in an otherwise decent series, but it's not enough to carry Cosplay Complex on its own.
What really surprised me though, is how well presented Cosplay Complex is. The beginning and ending songs are both excellent, and do a good job of articulating the cosplay theme. The animation is slick, brightly colored, and shows off a wide variety of actual characters at the cosplay events. In a way, this can be used to test your anime knowledge by how many you can identify. Also, the English dub was way better than I expected. The voices are crisp and distinctive, and the jokes didn't seem to suffer at all. It's one of those shows where if you just heard the voices, you wouldn't know it was made in Japan.
But, Cosplay Complex was made in Japan, which is a good thing since I don't want my home country associated with something like this. It has decent bonuses and a few funny moments, but that's all they are: moments. The majority of the show is just a series of trivial and low-class fanservice events that barely form a cohesive story. It's been around a decade since Cosplay Complex was released, and as far as I know the only other anime TV shows or OVAs in which cosplay is anything like a main theme is Genshiken and its sequels. Considering how this one turned out, one can understand why.
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Excel Saga, Dragon Half, and Labyrinth of Flames all use similar comedy themes, though the first two have much less pointless nudity and fanservice mixed in. Genshiken is, similarly, about anime geeks, and cosplay plays a significant role in the plot, but it's drastically less insulting to the characters and their club. Finally, the wackier half of Akahori Gedou Hour Rabuge (Love Pheromone, that is) is another show with not one but two pedophiles as protagonists.
Notes and Trivia
Cosplay Complex is an original concept by Juzo Muzuki, an idea-man credited with the original concept for Devil Hunter Yohko and director Shinichiro Kimura's Hand Maid May. There was also a one-volume spin-off manga by Homare Sakzuki, published around the time the second episode was released.
I was surprised to find this series was directed by Shinichiro Kimura, a man who has directed many other anime TV shows and OVAs. However, my surprise quickly faded as I looked up which titles he directed, as they include shows with an overabundance of fanservice, including Hand Maid May, G-On Riders, and the notoriously explicit Popotan. See Marc's review for all you need to know on that subject.
The dub features Larissa Wolcott as the voice of the main character, Chako Hasegawa. Wolcott's many prior anime voice acting roles include Momoko from the popular magical girl series "Wedding Peach," and taking over for the voice of Excel in "Excel Saga" episodes 14-26 after the original actress Jessica Calvello injured her vocal cords.
With only a few exceptions, every costume in the series is a direct reference to an actual anime or video game (including plenty from director Kimura's past works). Many of the remaining ones are generic anime categories--shrine maiden, traditional mourning dress, etc. ADV's DVD includes a bonus feature that identifies most of them if you want to check your answers or can't quite place something.
The rival Shin-Takarazuka Cosplay Club is a reference to Takarazuka, a prestigious all-female theater troupe known almost as much for its lavish costumes for historical productions as its gender-bending performers. They even did a stage version of The Rose of Versailles.
On ADV's DVD menu, there are two hidden bonus features: Selecting Delmo's ears will get you a promo video made up of clips from the show, and selecting the "O" in Cosplay plays an amusing teaser in which the characters pantomime the characters in "cosplay."
In the shot where everybody is in nurse outfits, Jenny's eggplant outfit is an appropriate pun, written right on the front of it; the word for eggplant is "nasu," and nurse is "naasu."
US DVD Review
ADV's DVD is fairly well-equipped for such a forgettable show. It features Japanese and English audio tracks, both a subtitle and caption-only track (the subtitles are reasonably accurate, and the dub script is relatively close to them), and bright, crisp video. The colorful menus offer a decent selection of extras: Creditless opening and endings, "Cosplay Identification 101" (a video identifying most of the costume references littering the show), and a selection of production sketches that include notes by the production team (both explaining characters and the ideas behind things--sort of a mini commentary track). There are also two hidden bonuses: In the main menu, selecting Delmo's bunny ears or the O in Cosplay will play a couple of short promo videos.
The disc was originally sold by itself, and later packaged in some of their "two for one" sets (with My Dear Marie or Magical Play).
Plenty of nudity, mildly dirty jokes, and wildly inappropriate pedophilic behavior push this one comfortably into the 16-up range; ADV marked it TV-MA (S).
Violence: 1 - The male characters expectedly get pummeled when they deserve it.
Nudity: 3 - The cosplay competitions are little more than excuses for pointless nudity and skimpy clothing, and there's no shortage of either.
Sex/Mature Themes: 3 - Off-color jokes abound, as well as just about every inappropriate sexual theme involving the pursuit of underaged girls you can think of.
Language: 2 - There's not much in the way of swearing, but the president's erotic-novel-style narration is fairly explicit.