X days #11: Tokyo Steampunk is hardcore should infiltrate cosplay

Consider one of last season’s less obvious action and adventure offerings; Princess Principal. Amid the elite private high school’s girls led by royalty doing spy stuff adventures and the princess/ pauper subplot; the out of chronological order episode jumble; the ninja girl, the mechanical throat girl; the Checkpoint Charlie divided Britain; Sandbaggers-level vignettes of loss and betrayal; invariable bad (or at least disappointing) behavior by almost every male in the show and spy-des as shorthand for class-S same-sex affection, we have one more thing of note that might have slipped by:

PriPri had a strong steampunk motif and did not get tripped up on it.

This is quite rare for anime and manga. Steampunk drag usually overpowers the story and then plot fail hits hard. Contrast Pripri to the trainwreck that was Empire of Corpses. Anyone remember Steamboy? Steam Detectives?

If you have not yet, Princess Principal deserves a watch. I liked it a lot, enough to put aside a few misgivings (the OP would have been better without the grating throwaway english lyrics) and fall into the treacherous hostility of alt-victorian Britlandia Albion and our heroines’ deft navigation of its dangers.

Over on this side of the ditch, Girl Genius by Phil & Kaja Foglio [http://www.girlgeniusonline.com/comic.php] has been going like gangbusters with the same basic perilous formula for years. Does strong woman character(s) quite well, complete with corsetry, powerful women-friend allies and requisite good boy/ bad boy (plus assorted other jack-ass boys and men) competing for her favor. Yup, looks like Agatha (The) Heterodyne has got herself a reverse harem and a posse. Girl Genius might not be the only way to do steampunk but it serves as a good indicator of how to make it work for, rather than bumble about at cross-purposes to, your story.

Princess Principal has some of the same mojo.

I had been expecting a greater Japanese use and enjoyment of steamish settings and backgrounds for some time now. Fantasy Europe has a long tradition in shoujo properties and their subgenres, including early bishonen (and we know where that ended up – which might be why Empire of Corpses foundered) stories. Euro-gothicky stuff is always a safe bet for a shonen adventure romp populated with Stoker-ish creatures and para-vatican-ish cabals. Why is it so damn hard to add a few brass valves, corsets and a dashing hat or two?

It’s all about the corsets and the hats, really. And the yuri subtext. You probably can get by without the Cavorite, the Babbage Engines, brass telescopes and dirigibles. We learned this from Iono the Fanatics. Guys get tweed, vests and goggles. Some of the more spunky girls can go for these too.

Fortunately the folks at Tokyo Steam Garden The Tokyo Inventor’s Society [ http://www.tokyosteampunk.com ] are out to change this. They might not even need the yuri, though they appear to have a good number of exotic outlanders.

Last time I was in Japan I ended up with a swollen ankle (again!) and skived off on the chance to spend one and a half hours on a train and $40 to attend one of their greater Tokyo (area) Hunter’s Fair get-togethers. I understand that one can’t be cheapo all the time with one’s enthusiasms in Japan – someone has to scrape the yen up for the hall rental and long commutes to events are a given. (the October Hunter’s Fair had some free admission times; was not in Japan. Drat!) One should be happy that the commutes are possible, convenient and inexpensive. Just charge up your pasmo card and hop on the train.

I probably unconsciously wimped out because I didn’t have a nifty costume. If you follow their twitter feed [https://twitter.com/TokyoSteampunk] you get the gist of it fairly fast: SCA-ish impulses melded with alt-historical romanticism, cosplay and indie fashion design. Why cosplay someone else’s hero when you can be your own? Why act out someone else’s adventure?

hunters fair world market detail via TokyoSteampunk

At this point this post needs LOTS of pictures from Steam Garden events but there is undoubtedly some polite protocol about randos grabbing such off Twitter and using them – especially identifiable pix of participants at these events. I will have to get by with a few pix lifted from their website. Notable that if one was a member of the fairer sex, one can enjoy the stylings without having to present a half acre of skin and goosebumps to the world and still come off as powerfully hawt.

I suspect that the community is recruiting followers and mustering their forces for an eventual foray. Whether they decide to invade Harajuku’s (or some other street’s) street fashion or Comiket (or both) they will be something to be reckoned with. The costumery and accessories are their secret weapons.

The works are elaborate, detailed, handsome and sexy without necessarily succumbing to otaku impulses. While there is a fair degree of crossover and appropriation from the local gothic lolita fashion folks and even some of the more elaborate (and expensively niche) European fetish wear designers, the stuff already appears to have a robust local design and sales ecology (and economy) supporting it.

lifted from Tokyo Steam Garden website

And then there is the “gear”. Every adventurer needs a retro zapgun or two. If you have an urge to learn how to spray paint plastic to get that weathered brass patina look, these folks have you covered. There is on this, by necessity some crossover from the plasmo community.

What with Princess Principal, I was surprised Comiket didn’t get a corseted expeditionary force this winter. Perhaps it did and I missed it on the Twitter machine feed. The closest I saw to it was one lone Rory Mercury. Or perhaps the hardcore Steam Garden folks tut-tut Pripri as cute but beginner level? Perhaps different fan communities are rigidly siloed in Japan?

Meanwhile, Cosplay…

Winter 2017 Comiket Twitter hash searches:  

I understand it was 5 degrees during the day over the year’s end weekend and I am only going by the twitter feed (and the memory of 2 year’s ago’s winter ‘ket and the previous March mini-ket) but cosplay in Japan seems to be weathering a bit of an enthusiasm shortfall. You are not getting that many Genshiken-level  ensemble efforts. That many… The Land of the Lustrous ensemble this winter looked impressively dedicated and well organised.

Twitter posted by kira @kira__nm7 See also: https://twitter.com/kira__nm7/status/948873066100137984

The solo efforts, while fun and inventive appear to have to navigate the perils of the  “celebrity cosplayer/ model” vs everyone else. Its grandparent, the SF Worldcon second evening “Masquerade” costume parties and competitions suffered from similar frictions.

Going by the twitter pix feed, the folk most organised and into making sustained efforts with their costumes/ outfits this Comiket were the military fanboys (ostensibly cosplaying video games such as Call of Duty), followed by the super sentai fans. Otherwise, there were many solo or pair efforts of whichever charas were sexy (and wearing painfully revealing costumes) this year. A good amount of Fate stuff popped up on the feed. Most memorable to me were the novelty efforts; such as the guys doing the Japari park serval-kun bodybuilder poses.

Thank the eight hundred thousand gods of Japan – and the hardcore cosplayer Yurikotiger for her Dragon Maid this ‘ket.

Never have embedded a tweet before, lets see how this works:

Comiket’s non-profit organisers might still be getting comfortable with cosplayers. A short while back they were regarded as a disruption and peripheral to the main autonomous fan collective fanzine/ fan-made artifact raison d’etre of the exhibitions. Like unruly lineups starting the night before, cosplay was seen as a possible subject of complaint from businesses surrounding the Big Sight. If too revealing, an excuse for the secular authorities to invade, interfere and proscribe. While cosplay is now acknowledged as a pure fan-made activity and as “The Ambassadors of Otaku Culture” residual unease persists.

You still have to keep the cosplayers proper (and their photographing followers) from getting in the way of the corporate booths and the traditional fan-made goods tables. And you have to manage the photographic consent rules implicit in Japanese privacy legislation – posing in the cosplay area, yes: if one-on-one be polite, ask, give, exchange meshi/ cards. Outside of designated cosplay areas; NO without expressed consent. Shoop in stickies over bystanders faces. I have yet to sit down and fully sanitize my pix from 2015, even though I rashly said I would up them way back then. (besides, they are mostly boring as I wimped out on documenting table sales and did not have the patience to do cosplay scrums)

So perhaps there are many good, local reasons why the steam tribes and the Comiket folks have yet to co-mingle. Perhaps it is because the Steam Garden folks have a whiff of the commercial con about them. They are in no way a trade show for any industry (yet) so there is no fundamental culture clash – unless the steamers find the otaku crew too far into the bad-taste amateur pr0n lewds for to want to cozy up to.

Hope for a second season of Princess Principal and better weather during this summer’s C94.

Or… (not steampunk but I couldn’t resist)