Humanised characters? Cosplay ponderings

So what are your thoughts on humanised cosplay? Seen frequently within fandoms such as Pokémon, My Little Pony and – recently – Five Nights at Freddies, this is the phenomenon of creating a human – or at least humanish – version of a non-human character. In the anime scene I believe this often called Gijinka (擬人化), the Japanese term for “humanoid”, “personification”, or“anthropomorphic.”  I have mixed feelings about it. Just my personal opinion, and call me a prude if you will, but I’ll admit I’m not much of a fan of the kind of humanised cosplay that is just a thinly veiled excuse to be wear a swimsuit or parade around in lingerie. I’ve no problem with sexy cosplay where the character themselves is sexy or skimpily dressed in the original designs. But let’s face it, we’re not exactly lacking in choice of characters who fit those criteria, so I’ve never quite understood the need for a furry bikini Chewbacca, or a swimsuit Ivysaur either. But where the point is to re-imagine a character and try to capture their essence rather than just recreate the whole look, I think humanised costumes can be a really interesting and creative form of cosplay.

I am planning to do another reasonably bulky “full rig” Transformer costume for 2016, hopefully building on what I learned while making Slipstream and coming up with something even better. I also recently obtained some Worbla for the first time, so it’ll be interesting to have a go at using this (expect lumpen disaster photos in the not-too distant future). I’ll talk more about the character I’ve chosen and start chronicling my progress here another time. But alongside the big project, I’ve also been pondering having a go at some more “humanised” cosplay. Why? Various reasons really…

I've been sketching and scheming! See below for the results...

I’ve been sketching and scheming! See below for the results…

This post is going to be a bit of a thought dump as well as the chance to share some sketches and plans.

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Toy Review: Combiner Wars Mirage

So, when the Combiner Wars toyline reached the UK I wasn’t massively impressed. All the figures looked a bit same-y to me, perhaps because the Aerialbots were (mostly) the first wave to arrive, and they’re all jet planes. I liked the Optimus Prime, but I wasn’t impressed with much of the others. I decided to just buy any figures who stood out and looked interesting, rather than try to collect a whole team. (I figured early on that this policy would produce an anomalous result towards the end of this year: “known Decepticon sympathiser” AddAltModeR loves all the Combaticons, so the whole team have been pre-ordered.)

Autobot-wise, I’ve been largely disappointed. Among the Protectobots, only First Aid tickled my fancy, and among the current wave, which is made up of previously non-combining characters joining to form a new combiner called Ultra Prime (I appreciate the RID2001/Car Robots reference!), I’ve only really liked Mirage. Now, Mirage is a re-tool of the Decepticon Drag Strip, with a new head that more closely resembles the G1 cartoon version of Mirage, and a white colour scheme. I didn’t like Drag Strip much, on the grounds that he’s super-garish: lemon yellow and magenta is not a tasteful combination. Mirage is, suitably for a robot aristocrat, a much-more classily-attired bot.

Mirage in-pack. He comes with a sword, a giant hand/foot, and a comic.

Mirage in-pack. He comes blister-packed on a card with a sword, a giant hand/foot, and a comic.

So, my thoughts on this figure… Continue reading

Artist spotlight: Natephoenix

If you’re both eagle-eyed and a regular follower of this blog then you may have noticed that a month or so back my Gratavar profile picture changed from a head shot image of Slipstream screencapped from one of her far-too-infrequent appearances in the Transformers Animated cartoon, to the rather more stylishly composed image of her I’m currently using.

The new picture is a bit special because it was done just for me by the artist Natephoenix, and it’s really about time that I shared the full artwork in all its glory…

Slipstream by Natephoenix. Commissioned for AddAltModeR

Slipstream by Natephoenix. Commissioned for AddAltModeR

Check below the jump for more about the artist and his work…

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Book Review: Robot Takeover by Ana Matronic

Robo ReadsTitle: Robot Takeover: 100 Iconic Robots of Myth, Popular Culture and Real Life
Author: Ana Matronic
Published: Octopus Books: 2015

Ana Matronic is most renowned as the female vocalist in American disco/glam rock band Scissor Sisters. Now it would take a heart of stone and feet like lead weights to remain entirely unmoved by the bands’ supremely ear-wormy toe-tap inducing tunes, but as I’m not a particular follower of their genre of music in general, I confess I hadn’t realised until recently that Matronic is also huge robot fan. On reflection, her (wonderful) choice of moniker and the large tattoo of circuity on her arm really should have clued me in already. But any gaps in my knowledge of or appreciation for Matronic’s interest in all things robot (which I very much share) have now been filled by the arrival of this stylish coffee table volume.

Robot Takeover book cover

Robot Takeover book cover

In Robot Takeover Matronic collects and discusses 100 of the most iconic robots, mixing characters from myth, history and pop-culture with real products of scientific invention. Her passion for the subject gleams like polished chrome from every page. With me, of course, she was preaching to the converted, but her enthusiasm is infectious nonetheless and the chatty warmth of her tone provides a wonderful counterpoint to the stereotypically cold mechanical reserve of some of the characters she discusses.

The reflection off highly polished metal, the red glow of a light-emitting diode, the sound of a vocoder: these are a few of my favourite things. When people ask, ‘why robots?’ I can get a bit confused. Doesn’t everybody love robots?

If you’re already one of Matronic’s “everybodies” then this book may not offer you too much in the way things you didn’t know, but I guarantee you’ll enjoy the ride and the chance to reminisce on a few pop-cultural favourites as well meeting some new mechanical faces. If you’re a member of that hard-to-compute group who don’t love robots, well realistically I guess you’d be unlikely to pick up the book in the first place. But if you do take the plunge you’ll find a great introduction to why robots matter as well as to the important understanding that a “takeover” need not always be a negative thing…

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MTMTE meets M:tG?

In IDW’s Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye comic series there’s a point in issue #21 in which the character Skids passes through a mysterious portal. I’m not going to spoil too much of the context for those who aren’t reading it yet (why not? READ IT!) but after passing through, Skids is addressed telepathically by a group of 5 differently-coloured planetoids. (Believe me, this is far from the oddest thing that has happened in MTMTE.) He is soon nonplussed by the planetoids; their method of communication is beyond what his mind can fathom, and their in-comic speech bubbles contain not text but a series of pictograms.

Anyway, one of the telepathic planetoids’ speech bubbles, contains this glyph:

I suspect the symbol in the middle represents the Knights of Cybertron, and the outer 5 orbs represent the gods of the guiding hand.

Detail from panel in Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye #21

The 5 differently coloured orbs are arranged clockwise: White, Green, Red, Black & Blue. I suspect the symbol in the middle represents the Knights of Cybertron, and the outer 5 orbs represent the Gods of the Guiding Hand.

But I’ve also seen a very similar wheel of colours before somewhere else; several thousand times, in fact… Continue reading

Toy Review: Fansproject WB004 Revolver Core

Recently, I had a nice eBay windfall; I got a really good deal on a Fansproject 3rd-party not-Transformer called WB004 Revolver Core. One of a group apparently called the Warrior Robot Exo-suit Collective who Kill Evil Robots. Well done with that acronym, guys: Wreck’n’Rule!

Totally not Roadbuster.

WB004 Revolver Core, Fansproject. His previous owner put on that Autobrand.

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Book Review: The Stories of Ibis by Hiroshi Yamamoto

Robo Reads

Title: The Stories of Ibis
Author: Hiroshi Yamamoto
Translator: Takami Nieda
Published: (Kindle Edition) 2011

Quotation: Why were there so many stories about robots and humans fighting? Did they only exist because that was how mankind had always lived? Did we simply see ourselves in these humanoid machines?

The Stories of Ibis presents a sequence of five short stories and two slightly longer ones, each exploring human relationships with artificial intelligence, or with other humans in a technologically-enabled world. Hugely diverse in setting, the subjects include the following: a group of bulletin-board users collaboratively imagining the adventures of a Star Trek-like fictional space crew (“The Universe on my Hands”); a tale of told by artificially intelligent space station on the edge of a black hole that provides a final stop-off for the adventurous and the suicidal (“Black Hole Diver”); there’s even a bubblegum anime-inspired world populated by powered up AI school-kid fighters (”A World Where Justice is Just”). Each tale stands alone, but scaffolded by an introduction and series of intermissions in which characters reflect on the story they have just heard, the stories combine to offer an impressively original exploration of the possibilities and perils of humans creating artificial life.

Kindle Edition cover

Kindle Edition cover

The creation of autonomous robots and the consequences of this for humanity as a species is a topic to which sci-fiction returns time and again. Yet Yamamato’s work never feels stale precisely because of the extent to which it recognises this fact. Artificial intelligences like the titular Ibis – the female AI who narrates each of these wide-ranging tales, rather like a robo-Scheherazade – are not simply the product of technical advancements, they are also born from stories and fictions that first imagined them. More concerned with language and psychology than engineering, this collection acknowledges the creative power of story telling, particularly those yarns spun about robots…

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Let’s Talk About… Geeks in Glasses

Do you wear glasses? I do, and so does AddAltModeB. But then of course we do, we’re geeks, right? And it is a truth universally acknowledged that geeks wear glasses. Just how firmly that particular stereotype is grounded in truth is open to debate, but there’s no doubt at all of the extent to which glasses have become a visual pop-cultural shorthand for all sorts of behaviours and character traits that are typically considered “geeky.” They even market glasses-shaped paperclips “for geeks” because, you know, glasses on our faces just aren’t enough anymore.  Apparently we need them on our dead-tree documents too.

In Hollywood, glasses are often used as a quick and/or lazy way to signal that a character is smart or bookish. Want to give that background scientist character authenticity without having to give them lines? Easy, just stick them in a pair of specs! Now intelligence really should be considered A Good Thing but the stereotypes around glasses cannot be compartmentalised in anywhere near such a neat or positive way. Just take a peek at the TV Tropes page for Glasses which lists more than 30 specs-related tropes, showing how they can signal, among other things, both ugliness and sexiness, weakness and badassery.

Glasses in pop-culture Clockwise from left: TV's eponymous Daria, Lex from Popcap's Bookworm games, Platinum Games' Bayonetta, Raf from Transformers Prime, Velma from Scooby Doo and Newt (Dr. Newton Geisler) from Pacific Rim

Glasses in pop-culture
Clockwise from left: TV’s eponymous Daria, Lex from Popcap’s Bookworm games, Platinum Games’ Bayonetta, Raf from Transformers Prime, Velma from Scooby Doo and Newt (Dr. Newton Geisler) from Pacific Rim

I’ve been thinking about glasses-related stereotypes a lot lately, prompted by the fact that I’ve got an eye-test coming up…

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The Descent of Wilhelm: Borderlands The Pre-Sequel

Wilhelm is a hybrid between a man and a Hyperion Loader-robot.

Borderlands 2 players will be familiar with Wilhelm — the only boss fight that doesn’t get a splash screen — Wilhelm is a hulking cyborg with almost no meat left, who throws a train carriage at the player and takes some serious punishment before he finally collapses (killing his repair drone makes this fight lot easier). Wilhelm’s first appearance in this game is in the mission “Handsome Jack Here!”, wherein he murders a train-full of refugees. Those who listen to all the ECHO-log audio diaries scattered around the game will also know that this character is responsible for perpetrating a massacre at New Haven, causing the anti-Hyperion resistance movement to retreat to Sanctuary.

Pre-Sequel players see a different view of Wilhelm: a playable Vault Hunter working for Handsome Jack (starting with the character class “Enforcer”). I’ve been playing a lot of Wilhelm, and I must say I’m fascinated by the character. Continue reading

Devcon Exe: podcasts, poses and purchases

Last weekend was DevCon Exe (the local convention formerly known as ExeCon), this was a two day event held, this time, in the Great Hall at the University of Exeter. The University was a great venue: well lit and with some interesting backdrops for photographs, plus much more spacious than this event’s previous home at St George’s Hall in the city centre, so although it felt like the place was nicely buzzing on the Saturday at least, things never got too cramped and as someone in a costume with wings I was grateful for that!

B had to work on the Saturday and couldn’t make it along, so our original plan had been that I’d go as Slipstream on the first day with some of our friends to lend me a hand getting in to the costume, and then both halves of AddAltMode would make an appearance in our Borderlands gear on the Sunday. For various reasons, the Sunday plans went awry so Tannis and Salvador didn’t get an airing, but Slipstream had a fantastic time there on the Saturday. I’m still slightly awed by how popular Slipstream is and how much love there is for my costume, both from people encountering her for the first time and from folk who were happy to see my Decepticon alt-mode again.

AddAltModeR as Slipstream, photo by We Shoot First

AddAltModeR as Slipstream, photo by We Shoot First

Read on for my highlights of the day and a few great sites and people for you to check out…. Continue reading