A Couple of Things in Judging Someone’s Cosplay: Think before Passing that “Fail” Verdict

And we return with yet another piece on cosplay. What can I say? I’m in love with this hobby, I love my close friends who stick with me, and I love being a silent spectator to all of the bullshit on Facebook just because of a single post getting shared like when you bring gum to class. But that’s besides the point. So here’s what we’re gonna discuss today: judgement.

Judgement. A word very familiar in our daily vocabulary. We all have our own standards of something. That dress doesn’t look good on me, I can’t have a [insert racial term here] friend because of my beliefs, I need to do my paper in this sort of way… And yet, we seem to apply our own standards in perceiving the world around us. Especially in cosplay. Heck, I can’t even put on any costume without getting judged! “Your costume sucks, it should be this and this…” “You’re not cut out to cosplay that character! Your [insert physical attributes here] don’t match the character, you’re ruining it!” Yeah, that kind of crap.

If we believe the premise that “cosplay is an art”, then there is no such thing as a “failure”. The only “failure” comes from our judgement because we apply our own standards to said art. I can say the Mona Lisa is a shitpiece of painting because it doesn’t live up to my standards of fine art. Thus, other people also can say that I shouldn’t cosplay because I’m nothing like the character. That’s fine; it’s in the basic human rights, freedom of speech and expression. But has it occurred to us: What about the person on the receiving side? Think about it. They probably have a different view on why they’re cosplaying, different standards they wish to live up to. Those standards may come from themselves, their friends, their communities, heck even peer pressure. The point is, why not try to put ourselves into the other person’s shoes before we start criticizing them as if we’re God?

This post was inspired by a Facebook conversation between my friend and a seasoned Indonesian cosplayer, initials ZK. My friend has given me permission to use said conversation in developing this post.

Okay let’s get started. Before we start judging and criticizing other people’s cosplays, let us ask three simple questions to the person we want to judge. This helps to synchronize our views to our friend in front of us.

The first question to be asked: are you cosplaying for humor or proud-fun?

Let me elaborate. Humor means that we’re doing it the sake of our own pleasure (and to probably attract some LOLs). Our pure intention is just literally have fun. We probably wouldn’t care if our costume is complete, made of foam, designed specifically to impress, no. We just want to show people that we’re having a good time “playing” with our “costumes”. On the other hand, proud-fun means that we want to impress both ourselves and others. We spend a lot of resources into creating our costumes, using the best materials money can buy, meticulously crafting every portion of the costume, in an attempt to achieve something. That something is self-satisfaction (duh) and appreciation from others.

The second question to be asked: are you doing with character act or without character act? or are you in character or out character?

This is perhaps the most common reason why people bash each other. Well, cosplayers can’t always be in-character all the time and it’s impossible to 100% mimic an anime character (they’re 2D, we’re 3D so there, we live in different dimensions). In-character means that the person is in a state where he/she is the character. For example, I’m Haruhi Suzumiya. She’s a weirdo and an energetic eccentric. When the cosplayer truly fulfills the role of Haruhi, I am said to be fully in sync with the character I’m cosplaying as. Out-character means that you’re just wearing a costume of the character you like without any attempt to fulfill your character’s role. Example, I’m cosplaying as Altair (Assassin’s Creed) but I’m not jumping off roofs into haystacks. Instead, I’m having a fun time pulling pranks on others at cons. Can I be criticized for being out-of-character (which is just sooo important)? Of course I can, but that doesn’t mean I fail at cosplaying. Why should I be in-character all the time? If I were, the lady who sells bento would probably run off  and I can’t eat.

The third question to be asked: is your intention making people smile/laugh or making them amazed?

Though similar to point 1, the focus of question 3 is “other people”, while the first is “you and others”. If you’re intending to make people laugh/smile, congrats you have my respect. Laughter is the best medicine. That aside, if your sole intention is to make other smile, then your cosplay does not have to overly awesome; it should be funny enough to get people to smirk. If you’re intending to amaze, then you go all out, do the best and expect praise. If your intentions are not met, then you’re the one to blame because you haven’t tried hard enough.

Now, does everyone remember this particular cosplay legend?Cosplay-Fails-gundam-box

Yes, this a “fail” and horrible cosplay if we rate it based on our standards of proud-fun, in-character, and intention: amaze. But what if we try on different lenses? Let’s ask this dude the three questions above. This is just an example, let’s say he answers: humor, out-character, and intention: LOLZ. Therefore, being the empathetic human beings we should be, we should change our lenses to match his. What’s the verdict? This is a pretty cool cosplay, because he’s doing it for his (and probably other people’s) pleasure, he confessed that he’s out-character, and his intention was just to bring a few laughs. See the difference?

Once you’ve put yourselves in the other person’s shoes, you now have the right to provide him with useful commentary which won’t hurt the other person’s feelings. Of course, you’re always welcome to talk about people behind their backs if that’s what you do.


There is no such thing as a fail cosplay. There’s only failure in understanding others. If we learn to see from different perspectives, we’ll learn that not everybody does this crazy hobby for the same intentions as you. Thus, it pays to be open-minded. But if you insist on seeing through the same lens, good luck facing diversity out there. Now, if only people understood this, we wouldn’t have stupid flames on Facebook.


3 thoughts on “A Couple of Things in Judging Someone’s Cosplay: Think before Passing that “Fail” Verdict

  1. What about military cosplay? Many did put on awesome gear, but they fell to mere mix-and-match due to lack of proper reference.


    1. As for military cosplay, I propose an additional question: are you cosplaying for the fun of it (Q1) OR are you trying to be a re-enactor (Q2)? Both conditions cannot be satisfied simultaneously. If Q1=YES, then do whatever the fuck you want. Get tacti-cool gear, mix and match, go crazy. If Q2=YES, then you’d need to work extra hard to find the historical references you need, else, you’re just gonna your ass burned by professional re-enactors.


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