In a world full of Vocaloids, Ponies, Princesses, and other explosively popular fandom, it’s the costume creations they inspire us to produce that grab the majority of affection and attention of the cosplay community. This leaves little spotlight for more obscure titles, and therefore, more obscure cosplays. Have you ever created a cosplay based on something you loved that was rarely seen and that not many people knew of? On the other hand, have you ever encountered another cosplayer who was dressed as a character you’d never expect to see? It is these truly rare and under-appreciated costumes that lurk around conventions and on the Internet that are worthy of being an art-form all of its own. A cosplay that is seldom done, with hardly a spark of reference to go by in creating it, sprouts the potential for a true cosplay masterpiece. At the same time, because of their obscurity, they tend to resonate a sense of awe, sentimentality and sometimes nostalgia.
There is one series in particular that does this for me, a 10 volumes cyberpunk-style manga by Tsutomu Nihei called ‘BLAME!’ In this manga, Nihei, known for his dark, grungy drawing style and knowledge of architecture, fills it with beautifully conceived and massive complex structures, with characters and weapons to match. Details upon details take over the pages, and almost all of them proving difficult to decipher, but still a pleasure to look at. The style also often changes throughout the books, making the reference for cosplayers and propmakers an extremely evident challenge. I’ve had the pleasure (and the headache) of tackling these challenges myself.
So without further ado, allow me to take you on the journey through the creative process of building my ‘BLAME!’ Cosplay, along with some input from other cosplayers who have tackled the same battle with their own techniques and resources.
“I originally put a good week of planning into the project. I started off by drawing out all the parts of the costume that I could see based on different references from the manga, but as things advanced, it became much harder to do because the art was very unclear and constantly different and a lot of it turned out to be improvisation.” – Lunnie on deviantART.
One step that most of us seemed to have in common was doing sketches. Lots of sketches! By drawing out all of the different pieces of the outfits, we were able to break down the infinite amount of details, but only to an extent. The rest however, required some out of the box thinking and using our imagination. As it usually proves useful for most manga references, there were several angles to go by as you flipped through the pages, but the smaller details were still very inconsistent, mostly because there was so many of them! It would seem not even Nihei himself could keep up, but who can blame him (no pun intended), as doing the same thing too many times can get boring.
Some of the hardest pieces to redesign turned out to be similar for many of us. Both Lunnie and Sadakochan87 from deviantART chose the ‘Silicon’ (name for the cyborg creatures in the manga) character Maeve, a slightly psychotic gun-armed sidekick to another Silicon named Ivy, which is the character I chose to bring to life. They said the hardest part of Maeve’s design was the motor-type contraption on her back. There were several pictures to follow, but they were all different, whereas for me, there were hardly any back-shots of Ivy’s design, so I was left to completely invent it.
“It was difficult to collect all the fine details. Ideally, there should still be five times more!” – Sk-W on deviantART.
I had this very same problem as well, no matter how much detail I would try to add to my improvised design, it felt like it wasn’t enough to justify what these outfits were really supposed to look like. Most of the characters seemed to have several incalculable robotic features, a repeating and changing mesh of wires, valves, bolts, and ‘what the heck is that?!’ This is where the ‘thinking out of the box’ came in, and going on a scavenger hunt to hardware stores and dollar stores was the only answer.
Compiling all the different finds from various ‘BLAME!’ cosplayers, the list is filled with some obvious items, as well as some unexpected ones. From various computer parts, piping valves, nuts and bolts, wires and tubing and LED-s, to weird finds like zip-ties, paint trays, tiles and pan scrapers. Yes, pan scrapers. Now that we had all these fun pieces to ‘makeshift’ our scary cyborg costumes out of, it was time to look at the bigger picture, and start building the foundation for these found objects.
I once again compiled the assorted supplies used by different cosplayers for the series of steps taken in constructing these elaborate costumes. The first step was a solid tight-fitting outfit, preferably shiny, which seemed to be the fashion trend in the series. For the base of these bodysuits, the popular choice was PVC, along with leather and vinyl. Elektra86 on DeviantArt even added 3D paint designs to hers, imitating circuit boards as part of her details.
From here, it was a matter of adding the more mechanical-styled armor pieces and the weapons. Several different materials were used for this, including plastic, Model Magic, foam of various types: floor mats, insulation foam, yoga mat, as well as a special washable material called Fosshape, which is a pliable, hardening type of felt. I used this material specifically for my mask and collar, which needed to be washable between wears. Methods of using these materials were similar for everyone; molding it into shape and then applying paint and/or fabric on top. Attaching these parts involved different techniques, like harnesses, ‘sockets’ for limbs, and stitching or gluing. For my bulky waist tubes, I carved down a pool noodle and stuck a coat hanger wire through the middle to curve it to my waist, and then attached it to the bodysuit with Velcro.
Now that most of the basics were out of the way, it was onto the dreaded and inevitable pursuit to attempt what all the prior preparation was for. Recreating the heavily detailed components of the outfits and hoping to embody the Nihei style in some physically possible fashion.
This is where creativity and our copious collections of found goods were melded together. The real trick was placing these objects in an attractive way to the bigger pieces, based on the sketches and with a little research on how electrical, robotic gadgets should look. Some of the puzzle pieces still had to be accounted for, which in my case, I had to hand-sculpt using Sculpey and fun-foam. Overall, full construction time of the costumes averaged at around 3 months, including the planning process.
With the costumes fully constructed, only one challenge remained: making ourselves look like these white-skinned, alien characters. The general formula was primarily some sort of white makeup, SpecialFX contact lenses, and a wig, or in my case, a bald cap. Contacts were applied first, to ensure make-up didn’t smudge or run while putting them in. I used two different lenses for Ivy, to get the effect of having one eye look bigger than the other. One eye was Manson, and the other Machine Head.
For the white faced look, most cosplayers used a cream or water based theatrical make-up like Kryolan Aquacolor, Snazaroo and Supracolor, followed by a sealer. Since we knew smudging would be an issue with these types of makeup, Lunnie and I decided to go with something more long-lasting and opaque called PAX which, simply put, is a skin-safe acrylic paint that only comes off with remover. I painted my bald cap to match, and attached hair extensions to the top. I had to dread the hair to keep it from getting tangled in my array of wires and machinery.
The final touches to achieving the Silicon look included smoothing out eyebrows with wax, adding harsh shading with eyeliner and eye shadow, and sticking small mechanical bits to the face with spirit gum.
So there you have it! The conclusion of this complicated, but enjoyable process: A transformation from manga to real-life that is both bizarre and breathtaking in addition to concrete proof that nothing is impossible in cosplay, no matter how out-of-this-world it may look! On the rare occasions that I still get to see someone else cosplay from this series, it’s always a pleasing and inspiring sight. Here’s hoping I’ll see a little bit more of it now too. I hope you have enjoyed reading this article and can take something freshly learned from it!