GamingOctober 26, 2017

Where fandom meets joy: a day at the Armageddon cosplay convention


After a long hiatus, Sam Brooks took himself back to the Armageddon pop culture expo in Auckland. What he found was meaning in the things we love enough to dress up in public for.

I haven’t been to Armageddon in ages. I think the last time I went was when they gave out demo discs for Final Fantasy X. So, in the dark ages where demo discs existed.

I ventured into the 2017 Armageddon with a little trepidation. And reader, I ended up having a goddamned blast.

There’s something giddy about going to Armageddon. It’s like the complete peak of capitalism meeting the fever pitch of fandom, and in that way it’s also dangerous to go there with anything resembling a disposable income. It’s also surprisingly nice, and surprisingly comforting, to see a happily diverse group of people come together and share the things they love.

And then it’s quite funny to see them rushing around trying to satisfy those interests and loves as fast as their little legs can carry them. And my little legs carried me, in order, to:

  • Try and get something signed by Amber Nash who voices Pam on Archer, but I was too late and too unwilling to shuffle silently past the panel of other voice actors signing things to get to her
  • Some very cool prints by some cool artists
  • Half a box of wedges from a food truck
  • A quiz game on PS4 called Knowledge is Power, which is not quite the Randian game it seems it might.
  • Some anime body pillows that I am too much of a functioning adult to actually buy

The cosplay contest is the purest distillation of the spirit that dominates the rest of Armageddon: it’s people getting together, regardless of what makes them different, to share what they love without being judged for it. (I mean the contest has a literal judge, but not that kind of judging.)

National Winner T Cake Cosplay as Sailor Moon with Dunedin Winner as Warhammer Orc. Photo: Joel Thomas.

There’s actually cosplay all over the place at Armageddon – along with the helpful and cool notices saying that ‘cosplay is not consent’, which is a complete 180 from the booth babe culture that has thankfully dissipated over the past 15 years. It ranges from things that people have spent hundreds of hours and dollars on, to something cobbled together at LookSharp the night before, right down to the incredibly disconcerting sight of white dudes wandering around with weapons and no other apparent costume. (I would probably not call the last of these cosplay, but it’s goddamned weird nonetheless, especially in this post-Vegas world we’re stuck screaming in.)

We arrived early to the cosplay prize giving and were treated to two dudes wandering onstage yelling at each other. Turns out this was Team Fourstar, likely most famous for Dragonball Z Abridged, which was big on YouTube before many of today’s YouTubers were even born, and man, that particular kind of humour has an audience and that audience is not me. Genuine power/props/kudos to them for continuing to be relevant in this new era of unboxing and vlogging, though.

Costumes and beloved characters were everywhere, on stage and off the stage. It’s a room that’s full of love and full of support.

Kaarin Macauley, head of costume at Toi Whakaari and cosplay judge. Photo: Joel Thomas.

The cosplay judge, Kaarin Macauley of Toi Whakaari, told me every contestant had to innovate in some way. “They have to figure it all themselves, they’re self-taught quite often and what’s amazing in this cosplay community is that when they discover how to do something, they share it, and you can see the support they have for each other even though they’re in competition.”

See a gallery of some of the best cosplay from Auckland Armageddon here.

The contest itself, as an event, is one of the strangest and most pure and joyful experiences I’ve ever had. The room is almost packed to the brim with people, many of them in their own costumes or cosplay, and what is paraded onstage is truly the best of what Armageddon, and likely New Zealand, cosplay has to offer.

When the show starts it’s like a catwalk. Each contestant gets the chance to strut their costume onstage, and the joy that each contestant has onstage for the few moments they get to be the character they’ve spent hours trying to recreate is completely infectious.

And there’s skits! Oh the skits.

The best ones:

  • Darth Maul and Darth Sidious reciting that one scene they have together from The Phantom Menace (isn’t it weird that’s the only time Darth Maul ever talks?), then breaking out into a full club remix of the Empire theme, complete with voguing and death-drops.
  • A lip-sync to ‘Do You Want To Build A Snowman’, complete with costume reveals that wouldn’t be amiss on an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
  • A terrifyingly complex hoop routine courtesy of a girl who looked to be about twelve and was dressed as a character from an anime I did not recognise.

I have no idea how Kaarin was able to choose a winner, as I have never done anything practical in my life and can barely put together a Halloween costume, let alone a piece of visual and wearable art that is a devotion to a character I love using all the skill, artistry and money available to me.

Auckland Winner Cameron Lindsay as a Space Marine Night Lord from Warhammer 40K. Photo: Joel Thomas.

The Auckland winner was, as you can see above, absolutely insane. Cameron Lindsay, dressed as a Chaos Space Marine, came to Armageddon two years ago, was bitten by the bug and decided to spend two years on making his costume. He’s always loved Nightlords because, and I quote, “they’ve got the lightning bolts and they’re cool-looking.” He is not wrong. As a relapsed Warhammer 40K fan, they have lightning bolts and they are cool-looking.

National Winner T Cake Cosplay as Sailor Moon. Photo: Joel Thomas.

Ultimately, the national winner, out of about one hundred entrants, was T Cake Cosplay, with a terrifying and beautiful Sailor Moon costume. When I interviewed her backstage, feeling under dressed for the first time in my life, she was completely taken aback and emotional, in the most joyful way. As someone who knows nothing about anything practical, I asked the completely stupid and too simple question: “How did you make this?”

She responded, very graciously: “I just watched as many YouTube videos as I could, watched them to death, and did what they did to the best of my ability and that’s how I did it really.”

National Winner T Cake Cosplay as Sailor Moon. Photo: Joel Thomas.

When I asked her how she picked Sailor Moon, she said that Sailor Moon was a big part of her growing up, and was still special to her. But she knew she had to up the ante, so she decided on an armour look so she could show her skills. It seemed to me to be about the love for the character, but also the art she’s practising. For someone or something that means so much to you, you have to raise your game to make yourself worthy of it.

The heartening thing about both these winners, and the thing that has stuck with me even as the crowds of Armageddon fade in my mind, is how much this is done for the love of it. Lindsay is an electrician, has been working on this costume for two years, while T Cake Cosplay names herself after her day job, where she spends about 50 hours a week managing a cupcake business. As she says, “I have art with my cakes which is edible art, while this is a visual art.”

And that’s why you do something like cosplay. That’s why you come somewhere like Armageddon. That’s why you become a fan of something in the first place – something inside it stirs you and hits you in the place that makes you want to express yourself in some way; it sees you in a way that something else hasn’t. It becomes a huge part of your life, and it becomes something that you love because it’s given you so much – which isn’t to say that fans can’t become toxic or fandoms can’t become toxic (the mad science man wants the Szechuan sauce). But cosplay is the purest, most beautiful – visually and otherwise – expression of that love and devotion.

It’s putting something of yourself into something that has given you so much, kept you warm, and made you feel different and better. And that’s worth something.

See a gallery of some of the best cosplay from Auckland Armageddon here.

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