A recent bit of anime-related news is distressing some fans: Square-Enix, the company that's most famous for developing the Final Fantasy series, has decided to sue companies selling replicas of the swords made famous in their games. Verboten models include Cloud Strife's Buster Sword of +2 compensation (Final Fantasy VII) and Squall Leonheart's inexplicably functional Gunblade (Final Fantasy VIII).
The crackdown is stressing out the ladies and gentlemen who participate in "costume play" ("Cosplay"). Convention season is gearing up again now that the holidays are over, and Final Fantasy VII and VIII have been consistently popular cosplay ideas since both games' conception.
Some of the panic might be unwarranted, though. It seems as though Square-Enix has a mind to go after retailers who are mass-producing their merchandise (Squeenix will also be going after the counterfeit accessories and game-related jewelry that can be found all over the Internet), so if you have a mind to swing a cardboard tube and call it a Dragoon Lance at this year's Anime Boston, it's not likely Square will care.
In fact, it doesn't seem as if the company has a mind to lasso fans who make their own replicas. Yasuhiko Hasegawa, general council for Square-Enix, has made it pretty clear that they're mainly out to nab the pirates. "We are actively pursuing those who commit intellectual property infringement against our company. Any illegal activities, including the sale and distribution of unauthorized replica merchandise and counterfeit jewelry, and the unauthorized copying of Square Enix games, music, movies, images, and other intellectual property, will be prosecuted. While Square Enix appreciates the enthusiasm of its fans, and values its relationship with them, it is also obligated to protect its intellectual property rights or risk weakening or losing the very rights that enable the company to continue to provide its fans with an exciting entertainment experience." (<a href="http://www.kombo.com/article.php?artid=10686">Source</a>)
Fair enough, even though Square-Enix has done a number of things in recent months that have some gamers grumbling about the company being the Grinch that stole the love out of video games. I recently attended Video Games Live, a live game-music show wherein orchestrated video game music is shown alongside clips of the games. Square was the only company that disallowed video footage of their games to be shown, and it kind of sucked. To be honest though, I can't complain too much about that because it spared me from having to watch footage from Kingdom Hearts. At the end of the day though, Square-Enix has a right to protect its property.
To which some cosplayers are asking, "But what about US? Where will we get our costume accessories?"
These kinds of lamentations spark some interesting debates, with veterans telling the complainers to stop crying, lay out some cloth and wood, and put together something that's actually worth wearing.
Cosplay has a "reputation" around the Internet. That is to say, cosplayers are often peed upon. Not literally, but the idea of adults dressing up as anime and game characters to attend conventions is not looked upon as a valid pastime for supposedly whole adult human beings. There are cosplay mockery sites galore, and plenty of scoffing upon message boards. Some of the points brought up are valid (bad costumes, redundant characters, cosplayers who don't dress themselves, er, according to body size), but there's no denying that some costumes you see at conventions are incredibly detailed. I'll never forget attending Otakon in 2006 and seeing a mother and her two daughters dressed up in full-bodied Pokemon costumes that were even rigged up with interior fans to keep them cool. As for dressing up, there are still plenty of adults who costume themselves for Halloween parties. If you were criticised for doing the same, what would your reaction be? Most likely, "Oh, lighten up, it's all just for fun."
That's largely the case here. 99% of cosplayers are perfectly stable people with some extra creative energy. They don't leave the convention and go back to work still dressed up as their character of choice (remember that one King of the Hill episode where Bill wouldn't take off his Santa Claus outfit? It's not quite like that).
However, cosplay is a very involving hobby, which is why the news about Square-Enix has stirred up some controversy. If you can't make your own costume, should you even be wearing it? It's a tricky question. I believe cosplay should be accessible to anyone who would like to do it, but I also appreciate a well put-together costume.
I do have to admit there are some common-sense rules on cosplay that are blatantly ignored by a disturbing number of those who indulge. Next week I'll talk about some of the best costumes I've ever seen, some of the worst (this will take up considerably more room) and ask myself why so many people choose to cosplay the Character of the Moment, thus blending uselessly into a crowd of fifty Inuyashas.