CosPlay American Style:

Or, Putting the COS Back in CosPlay

Reforming Anime Convention Masquerades.


As a fan whose spends a lot of time participating in some way with anime costuming and cosplay, it seems to me that every year there's some sort of controversy regarding the judging of costumes at one convention or another. I've been giving it a bit of thought and along with some other like-minded people, I have contributed to the following guidelines we would like to see anime conventions to follow. We believe these guidelines will make anime masquerades easier to run, more accountable, and ultimately more fun, for both costumer, judge and audience. We hope that these guidelines will be in place for anime conventions in the US and Canada next year.


We would like a broad range of comments on these guidelines, from costumers, judges, convention officials (especially masquerade coordinators), and the general fan. This is not a document made for the few to be enforced on the many; everyone should have the opportunity to have their say. Please e-mail me at with your comments.


The following guidelines are broken down into three broad areas: contestant/entry rules, judging rules, and rules for selecting a judging panel.


(Just on a personal note- I didn't write the text for these guidelines, so I won't claim credit for composing these guidelines.)

Contestant/Entry Rules

1.1 Contestants must register in a recognized skill-level division. JUSTIFICATION: all costumers should be competing against others of their own or comparable skill levels in order to keep the competition fair. There could be any number of divisions, although there should be a minimum of two: Novice (Beginner, Newbie, whatever), and non-Novice (Advanced, Journeyman, Expert, etc.). The non-Novice division may be broken down into subdivisions depending on the expected number of entrants and their range of skill levels. For instance, it may be useful to distinguish between those who have won 1-3 prizes before, and those who have won more. It may also be advisable to add a Children's division for those below a certain age, provided there are sufficient entries. (NOTE that in order for this to work, somebody somewhere is going to have to track all winners of prizes in all anime convention costume competitions that have been held. I am willing to donate my old judging notes to further this record-keeping.)

1.2 All contestants must compete anime or manga re-creation costumes. JUSTIFICATION: these are anime conventions; we want to see anime- or manga-based costumes ONLY. No costume is no costume. Neither are street clothes. Neither is your dojo's karate outfit. Neither are Klingons. You get the idea. Costumers had also best be prepared to provide judges with background materials (manga, color outtakes, etc.) PROVING that their costume accurately reproduces the manga or anime it claims to. JUSTIFICATION: not all judges will be familiar with your favorite comics or shows, and it is ridiculous to expect them to be. BRING PICTURES.

1.3. Each costumer may appear only once on the stage during the competition. JUSTIFICATION: requests to go on more than once, even as a "prop", create scheduling nightmares for convention staff. This is especially true when costume changes are involved. So make up your mind BEFORE you get to the convention: single or group entry, MAKE YOUR CHOICE. Bear in mind that if you have a fantastic costume, you may not want to bury yourself in a large group, which will be judged AS a group, meaning that it is only as good as the worst costume in it.

1.4. Skits are NOT a necessary part of the contest, and entries should not be unduly penalized for not presenting one. JUSTIFICATION: not all entrants will be comfortable speaking on stage in front of a large audience. This is a COSTUME contest, first and foremost. I'm not sure where anybody got the idea that more (talking, people, whatever) is better, but as a sometime judge and successful participant, let me assure you that less is more. Sometimes it's best to let a costume speak for itself. Besides, you may be in it just for the craftsmanship judging, and not give a hang about the presentation-type awards! Presentations may include any of the following: taped music, music (track #s only) off CD, intros read by the MC, taped intros, or entire taped worded presentations, provided they do not violate time limits (see below).

1.5. There will be strict time limits per entry, and those who flout them will be summarily disqualified. JUSTIFICATION: these contests are getting LARGE. There were over 30 entries (comprising about 100 people) in the K4 masquerade. If every one of them had used up their allotted 3 minutes, adding in delays and MC's intros/remarks, well... You can do the math. (And just imagine if everybody had entered singly...!) We propose a one-minute time limit for 1-3 person entries, and a two-minute time limit for entries with more than 3 people. If you are using taped presentations, please time them (and include appropriate pauses for laughter! :) in accordance with the limits in effect at the convention you'll be competing at. We also propose a convention-dependent limit on the number of people allowed on the stage at a time (ie, maximum # of people that may constitute an entry). JUSTIFICATION: some stages are sturdier (and larger) than others. YOU MAY NOT ALL SAFELY FIT, and we don't want anybody to get hurt. Convention staff may reserve the right to refuse groups that are simply too big.

1.6. No stupid or dangerous stuff or stunts on stage. This includes, but is not limited to: fire; open flame; flash powder/paper; projectile weapons; steel blades; fireworks; and contact or martial arts fighting. JUSTIFICATION: costume entrants are NOT the ones footing the insurance bill for the convention. (Due to sweat and/or adrenaline, I have heard of people losing their grip on steel weapons during a presentation, sending the blade spinning out into the audience. This sort of occurrence generally results in criminal charges being filed.) Entries may be summarily disqualified AT ANY TIME DURING THEIR PRESENTATION for violating safety rules. Masquerade staffers have ultimate authority here to decide what is and is not safe, and there is no appeal.

1.7. Preregistration should be encouraged, preferably through the convention's web site. JUSTIFICATION: preregistration helps staffers allocate time for events, avoid unpleasant surprises, as well as accommodate special requests, like entries wanting to go on early or late. Believe me, you'd much rather ask a staffer for special favors when they're not stressed out from too many late entries and not enough food. Since virtually every con now has a web site, there is no excuse for not posting rules and entry forms WELL in advance so people can read the local rules and send in pre-reg info.

1.8. Live microphones will probably be available for contestants' use, which implies a certain amount of personal responsibility: no profanity on stage. JUSTIFICATION: some jurisdictions actually have obscenity laws WHICH THEY ENFORCE. (Example: yelling "$#!T" when you step on a clam in Va. Beach can get you arrested.) Also, there WILL be children (and their easily-miffed parents) in the audience. Let's keep our costume contests family-friendly before some idiot raises a fuss. (Example: I may not be a prude, but even *I* was offended at the guy playing Ryoga at Project A-Kon who got up on stage and screamed "WHERE THE F*** IS JAPAN??")

1.9. Craftsmanship/Workmanship judging is OPTIONAL. JUSTIFICATION: not all costumes have the level of effort and detail that others do. In other words, PLEASE do not waste the craftsmanship judges' time if you're wearing street sneakers, or any piece of clothing that you CHOSE to buy instead of make from scratch.

1.10. No flash pictures will be allowed during the competition. Neither will photographers be allowed to crowd and pester contestants in the Green Room before the competition. JUSTIFICATION: there will be ample time AFTER the competition to take flash pictures. Please don't blind people with flashbulbs while they're on stage, the regular stage lighting is bright enough to blind them already, thank you very much. Non-flash pictures are safe and will be allowed in the competition hall, as will video cameras IF the con decides to allow them.

1.11. Contestants must be able to enter and exit the stage unaided. JUSTIFICATION: there may not be ample gofers/staffers at the convention to assist you on/off stage. Also, there will certainly be steps (and not a ramp) leading on and off the stage; much depends on the equipment the HOTEL has available - the con itself will not own/provide the stage! Any gofers available as stage ninjas may steady you, but not lift or support you. Special requests for stage ninjas for any reason should be made well in advance.

1.12. If you fall into either of the following categories, you may not enter, and may not appear on stage, even as a prop: 1) staffers; 2) guests. Mere panelists may be OK, so long as they are not accorded full guest status. One way of deciding may be to see if they are listed in the program book or not.

Judging Rules

2.1. Costumes shall be judged within their divisions. JUSTIFICATION: it is not fair to force Novices to compete head-on against Experts for any reason. First and Second Prizes at least should be awarded for each division. Exceptions will be made for overall prizes such as Best In Show.

2.2. Costumes shall be judged, not bodies. JUSTIFICATION: this is a standard rule for SF/Fantasy con masquerades, and there's no good reason to abandon it now. This is not a beauty contest. Facial resemblances to characters and similar quirks of genetic fate shall be ignored.

2.3. Craftsmanship judging shall be based on two factors: how WELL-MADE the costume is (ie, integrity of construction), and how DIFFICULT it was to make (ie, time/skill involved, tricky props, etc.) Various types of craftsmanship awards are encouraged (overall; portions of one costume; props; etc.) to promote different types of skills and reward different efforts. Judges may dismiss any costume from craftsmanship consideration based on the above two factors.

2.4. Group costumes are only as good as their worst costume. JUSTIFICATION: if they want to compete as a group, they must be JUDGED as a group. The weakest link in the group may make or break their chances for an award. No single excellent costume in a group can justify an award unless every costume in the group is worthy of it and can compete on its own merits. (Ie, excellence does not rub off from one costume to another just because they're standing next to each other!)

2.5. Similarly, group costumes are expected to compete at the highest skill level possessed by one of their entrants. If alerted to do so by con staff, judges will automatically promote a group to that level if they did not indicate it on their entry form. At judges' discretion, contestants may be eliminated from consideration if they show a pattern of deception with regard to skill level on their entry forms. JUSTIFICATION: you must compete in the division to which you belong, and no lower; to do otherwise is unfair to more novice costumers, and deliberate unfairness should not be rewarded.

2.6. Judges may not give awards to contestants whom the staffers have disqualified for any reason. JUSTIFICATION: the con runs the contest, not the judges. Flouting of rules should not be rewarded.

2.7. Presentations are optional, and presentation awards should be judged independent of the costume awards. JUSTIFICATION: just as excellent costumes should not be penalized for absence of a funny skit, neither should excellent presentations be penalized for the occasional anachronistic pair of Nike sneakers. On the flip side, presentations are only as good as the worst actor in them.

2.8. Number and type of awards should be left mainly up to the general judging panel. There may be ties for awards; there may even be no awards. JUSTIFICATION: if 16 Ranmas in a row trooped by you on stage, and they comprised all the entries, would YOU feel justified in awarding ANY prizes?? Awards should comprise ribbons, certificates, or other token items of little or no monetary value. JUSTIFICATION: if you want to make money costuming, go to Hollywood or Broadway, they can user your talents there. Greed can bring out the worst competitive instincts in people, up to and including sabotage of other people's work. Is this something we want to encourage?

2.9. Conventions may implement at their discretion open balloting for the attendees to choose a "Fan Favorite" award, which could be voted on overnight (a la many music video awards) and announced the next day or at the closing ceremonies. JUSTIFICATION: the best way yet to silence fan/attendee complaints about judging decisions, ne?

Rules for Selecting a Judging Panel

3.1. There shall be a general costume judging panel, consisting of either 3 or 5 judges. JUSTIFICATION: small numbers keep the judging time down, and odd numbers allow for tie-breaking.

3.2. The general judging panel must be mixed-sex (Example, not all female). At least one member must be a costumer of long standing. JUSTIFICATION: yes, we want diversity of opinion, and yes, we also want someone with an eye for what's what in costuming.

3.3. At least one member of the judging panel must be a fan of long standing, perhaps the Fan GoH. JUSTIFICATION: fan input is necessary at fan events like conventions. Hey, they vote on the music videos, so why not?

3.4. There shall be separate workmanship judging, performed by only one judge. JUSTIFICATION: this is a sub-specialty, best performed by a seasoned costumer, and the fewer the judges the less time it takes. NOTE that this judge may also sit on the general judging panel.

3.5. There shall be no husband-wife teams on the general judging panel. Likewise, there shall be no two members from the same company, corporation, union, or who share any common business interests whatsoever. JUSTIFICATION: loyalty-based voting blocs are a Bad Thing. Just watch reruns of the 1998 winter Olympics skating competitions for a glaring example.

3.6. There shall be no Japanese guests on the general judging panel. JUSTIFICATION: where do I start? For one thing, the reason most judging takes so long with them, is the extra time needed for interpretation. For another thing, nobody ever succeeds in making them aware of the judging rules before the whole thing starts. Lastly, there may be business interests in common between them and American members of the panel, which lead to voting blocs, which is unacceptable. We don't let them judge our music video, model, or karaoke contests; why make an exception for costumes? These are OUR conventions; let's take them back.

3.7. A Japanese guest may ONLY sit on the general judging panel if they meet the following criteria: 1) they must be costumers; 2) they speak English; 3) they do not have business ties to any other members on the panel; 4) they agree in advance that the convention has its own rules; this is NOT ComiKet. JUSTIFICATION: such guests should only be included if they do not compromise the judging process in any of the ways pointed out in item 6, above.

3.8. Japanese guests may make individual awards to contest entries which are completely separate from the general judging panel decisions. JUSTIFICATION: many Japanese guests do costume themselves, or are artists, and appreciate costuming. This provides a way to give them some input and express that appreciation without letting them become stumbling blocks throughout the judging process. They may form their own (informal!) special guests' panel in this fashion, so long as they are made aware that they are not the official general judging panel.

3.9. Prospective members of the general judging panel must read, accept, and agree to the convention's judging rules before being seated on the panel. JUSTIFICATION: avoids unpleasant surprises for both parties. Yes, it will take a little extra time, but it is well worth it for the mutual understanding that results.

3.10. No judge may appear on stage, even as a prop, at any time during the contest. JUSTIFICATION: judges have a job to do; they may wear costumes throughout the convention if they so choose, but are not to engage in activities that compromise their or any other judge's ability to fairly judge the contest. For this reason, they will also not be allowed to interrupt the contest to take pictures. (Example: the Yonezawas' behavior at a previous KatsuCon.)

3.11. Generally speaking, judges may be drawn from the following pool of candidates: staffers; guests; panelists; and, yes, even attendees. JUSTIFICATION: with the strict guidelines above being implemented, we will want the widest possible pool of candidates.

Please, direct all questions and comments to me at the following email address: All comments and requests for changes/additions will be taken seriously, provided there is ample justification provided. What I will do is forward your suggestions to the central mailing point. If you're interested in playing a more participatory role in this process, please e-mail me and I'll see what I can do.


Thank you for your time.