Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Cosplay Closet - Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo

Part two in my blog series where I'm going through some of the old cosplay I've made over the years, this time it's Gankutsuou!

Based on the book The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, this anime is a spectacle for sure.  It takes the well known story and turns it into a sort of space/futuristic opera style with lavish style, mechs and outfits to die for. I could go on and on about how much I love this anime and as such, it's probably the series that I have made the most outfits for. At the time when I was watching it, I had plans to make costumes for so many of the characters and all of these costumes were so far above my skill level, but I didn't care!  If there's any series I can credit with increasing my skills, it would be this one, no contest.

Countess G - My very first cosplay from this anime, she is also a landmark for myself.  This cosplay marks the first time I moved into making the hugely detailed dresses I'm so comfortable with now.  At the time I didn't see myself as beautiful and thought crossplay was probably all I could handle, but certainly not huge dresses!  I remember watching the show and absolutely loving how the Countess looked, even though she was barely in the show, and I made up my mind that I wanted to try and make that dress.

At the time, I had minimal sewing skill, but decided to use a Vogue pattern to make the red dress (big mistake!)  I managed to fumble my way through the complicated pattern somehow and then hand painted the entire dress with the flower design, because there was no fabric I could find with it already on there.  Also, since the promotional art from the show didn't show the back of her dress, I had to make that design up on the fly.  This was also the first time I'd ever successfully styled and colored a wig (adding in the silver streaks) and made my own jewelry by combining existing pieces I found at the local Clarie's and garage sales.  The result is a cosplay I'm still proud of to this day, even if it no longer fits me and certainly didn't hold up for more then a few wears.

Countess G (Robe) - I even loved the character so much, that I did another iteration of her outfit from the one other scene she shows up in.  This time she's seen only taking a shower and stepping out in a huge plush robe full of colors.  Obviously I needed to wear more then that to the con, so I made myself a robe and used a spray-bottle of ink to color it, then designed my own nightgown in the same style of the show to go with it.  This dress I still have and thankfully it held up much better then the red painted dress.  (I was unable to locate the screenshot I based it on.)

Mercedes de Morcerf - After making the Countess dress for myself, my partner wanted to join in the action.  So we decided to make her a couple different versions of Mercedes' outfits throughout the series.  I made her pink dress and her nightgown from scratch, while the shopping outfit we combined found and altered pieces with a cute dress I made. My partner took it upon herself to handle the painting that was needed for the pink dress and the shopping outfit and went all out with styling her hair to look as close as she could at the time.  A couple of things were learned.  First off, for the pink dress, I didn't know how to add sleeves to a strapless dress at the time, so I just added them to the green piece across the top.  I quickly learned that I couldn't cut corners this way and have since learned how to frankenstein patterns as needed.  We also learned that when painting fabrics you have to be very careful about the thickness, or it will crack and peel and the same applies to hats.

Heloise Villefort - While I wasn't much of a fan of the character, I was still caught up in all the costumes and wanted to challenge myself again.  I chose her dress because it was lovely and presented a whole new set of items to conquer.  Specifically I didn't want to paint the dress again, so this time I broke into the patterned fabric.  I made the main dress out of a patterned cotton and then overlaid a green lace and added another pattern to the hoop skirt under it.  Not to mention I used a color shifting fabric for the top.  I love this dress and still wear it, though now without the top coat and I've been considering repurposing it into a Poison Ivy costume. 

Valentine Villefort - And finally, I also made Valentine's dress from the last episode.  One of the cool things about this series was that for the final episode they brought in designer Anna Sui to create costumes for all the characters.  At the time I didn't know who she was, but these costumes were even more gorgeous and I chose the one that would give me a challenge (sensing a theme?).  Valentine's dress was super cute and that front panel was the biggest challenge - so I learned from my mother how to hand quilt the patterned pieces together.  This dress also no longer fits me, but I'm so proud of that quilted piece I can't bear to let it go.

As time has gone by I've come across many anime series that inspire me to do multiple costumes, sadly I generally don't have the time to do it before something else catches my fancy.  Still, Gankutsuou will always stand out as one of the foundation series of my anime fandom as a whole and a perfect example of how cosplay has pushed me to learn all I know today.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Review: American Horror Story Hotel

What's it about?

Welcome to the Hotel Cortez, the finest hotel in LA. Sure, it's a little dated, but that adds to the charm.  And sure, there's some rooms that smell, or ones that have rotting corpses sewn into matrices, but all hotels have those right?  I suppose you'll just have to deal with it now, because once you've booked a room, the chances of leaving are slim to none.


Ever since the first season I have loved American Horror Story for it's story and characters.  This season, I would have to say, is my favorite, hands down.  The characters, the story, the setting and the way in which everything unfurled with a delightfully slow burn all worked together perfectly, and I even enjoyed the call backs to Coven and Murder House that were mixed in.

This season introduced a couple new actors to the ever revolving cast of the series and new characters that really left an impression, along with some old favorites who once again proved they have the talent to be just about anyone. No worries, no spoilers here.

Lady Gaga as the Countess - was my second favorite character of the show.  I'll admit, her character being based on Elizabeth Bathory makes me a teeny bit biased, as I have a love for Pre-Twilight vampire stories and the Blood Countess was always interesting to me.  Here, she's a Countess only in name and presenting, but she earns the titles none the less.  Lady Gaga did an amazing job portraying the story of a full on woman, who loved men and women, controlled her entire life and lost all of it.  She goes through such a range in this series that it's a real mistake to pass her off as the 'replacement for Jessica Lange' that so many thought she would be.  Her story arc is the back bone of this season and it's well worth watching.

Denis O'Hare as Liz Taylor - now she was my favorite character and completely took me by surprise.  While I went in expecting to really like a lot of the characters (I always do), the show wisely held off on telling you Liz's back story until half way through so she was a staple of the hotel, someone always in the background who seemed to know everything and had an air of mystery about her that you really wanted to know.  And when her back story does come up? I loved it, beyond words.  I would tell you more, but I don't want to ruin it for you.  The slow reveal of who she is, where she came from and who she becomes is perfectly told and shouldn't be spoiled.

My favorite thing about this season, hands down, is the sense of belonging that the Hotel gives all the characters.  In spite of the place being haunted and full of horrors, it's very plain to see that this is a home to these characters because it gives them what they couldn't find in the outside world.  Much like Freakshow no one here belongs out in the real world and they've managed to make their own home into a place where they feel safe; but unlike Freakshow we get a sense of the hotel becoming a home, rather then seeing then seeing it be a home that falls to pieces.  Yes, the hotel is scary, but only at first glance.  Once you come to know the 'monsters' inside, they become more real then fantasy and in the end you're left caring about all of them, no matter what flaws they have.  More then that, you're left rooting for them to survive and for the Hotel to survive, because there is no place for them in the outside world and even these sad horrific things deserve a home where they can be safe and be themselves.

The only thing I didn't like?  I would have to say it's the Addiction Demon.  While I recognize that every season needs that scary looking monster to put in the promos, here it wasn't needed and it wasn't really used.  We saw the demon a couple times, and then it was gone, being nothing important.  Though, to be fair, most of the 'monsters' this season turned out to be very normal looking, so without him they wouldn't really have had much to put in the promos to scare people.  I just wish they'd either worked him a bit more into the story, or left him out completely.

Final thoughts?

Best season so far.  I can't wait to see the next.

Where'd I get it?

Streaming on Netflix, which is why I'm a season behind.  I have to wait for it to come to Netflix each time.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

How It Got Better

There's a series of videos online connected to the It Gets Better Project, interviewing celebrities about how their lives got better as a moment of hope for whoever needs it.  Ever since listening to these videos I felt inspired to write one of my own.  However with the elections ramping up and the ever present looming of Donald Trump on the horizon, my brain couldn't wrap around the concept of things being better, when I only saw them getting worse.

Now, with 2016 over and many people proclaiming it to be a dumpster fire of a year, a thought hit me. Now, the first Wednesday in 2017, was the perfect time to put out a message of hope.  Not just for a new and better year, but also for life as a whole.  And mostly, if not most importantly, to remind myself and others that while some things suck, there are things that have gotten better and if we keep trying many more things will follow.  So here's my How It Got Better story, and I encourage you to make one of your own.  And if things aren't better for you yet or you feel in a rut, I hope this gives you at least an outlook of hope for the future.

How It Got Better

I grew up in the Midwest, without many friends and was often picked on.  Not because I was gay, but because I was shy and a bookworm and really never felt like I fit in the world I was living in.  The adventures I'd read about always spoke to me more, about these people who stumbled into something amazing and just found themselves, complete with a new power to take on the world and be exactly who they were meant to be.  That fantasy in my books was what I wanted and never seemed to find in the real world.

My first real crush was a girl I knew - before I even knew what being gay or bi was - and I'm still friends with her.  I remember thinking she was amazingly beautiful and not knowing how to articulate it, even to myself.  I'd tried convincing myself I'd had crushes on boys before, but it never really felt right, instead it was more something that was 'expected' and if I didn't feel it then there must have been something wrong with me.  But she wouldn't get out of my head and I spent most of my time with her and our small group of friends, so that only made it worse, even if I never acted on those feelings, the friendship meant more to me then the strange feelings in my head.

When I first came out to my parents, I was expecting the worst.  You know, because parents aren't accepting and they yell and kick people out of the house and that's what I'd heard.  I was semi prepared for that - about as much as one could be - but instead my father simply said "No you're not."  What do you say to that?  I fumbled and didn't know what to do.  I was supposed to listen to my father so if he says I'm not... then maybe not? So I kept my mouth shut and I went out and got a boyfriend - which lasted a couple years. I kept my draw to women to myself and tried to be a good girlfriend, convinced that was what I was supposed to be.

It was in college, away from my parents, that I started to come into myself.  I broke up with my boyfriend; when circumstances drove it home that I was with him to fix him and that I really wasn't happy.  I owed myself more then that, so I ended it.  I started wearing skirts and capes and just trying a lot of things out, feeling out what felt right for me.  At the time a close friend of mine was dealing with her own sexuality and that gave me the courage to approach mine and I decided no more hiding, I liked girls damnit and that was just me. If the world could deal with my skirts and capes, they could deal with my sexuality too.

In college I was heavily into writing fanfiction, especially of the gay romance variety and through it I found a supportive group of fans who all loved the same thing and didn't give a damn about each other's actual sexual leanings.  We wrote good stories with fleshed out characters, different situations and everything you could think of.  It reminded me of those stories I'd read as a child, but this time I was creating them and these fans were giving me feedback and teaching me to write even better then I ever had before.  One of the women was a bit younger than me going to college in Iowa and we'd stay up all night chatting and talking about anything and everything.  Mostly it was her talking, because I was still quiet, but I'd chime in here and there.  I made the mistake of telling her I had a crush on a girl in my class and she stopped talking to me.  Radio silence.

It's hilarious now, because that radio silence didn't last long.  Instead, now, we've been together for 15 years and are planning a wedding.  She didn't talk to me for about a week, then I got this long email about how she got jealous and didn't understand it and finally had to admit that she liked me and girls as a whole.  Fast forward now and we're living together with our kittens and costumes and traveling the whole country being our unapologetically bisexual selves.  Our relationship isn't hidden anywhere and we even make it a point to write about characters all over the gender spectrum, to increase representation and give people that sense of belonging I was always yearning for in my novels.  On top of that I make dresses specifically because I love helping women feel lovely in their own bodies - something that I've struggled with a long time.  I distinctly remember that moment when I started looking in the mirror and loving myself, inside and out, and making those dresses and writing those stories gives me a chance to bring others to that moment in their lives.

The road with my parents is still bumpy and not perfect.  They've gone from denial, to not understanding, to denial and I think we've finally reached a place of mutual acceptance.  The biggest turning point was them helping my partner and I get our house and fix it up so that it was actually livable.  When your parents become your contractors for 6 months and fix your entire kitchen and move a few walls, there's understanding there that can't be talked out and finally doesn't really need to be.

Life isn't perfect with the current social climate and a lot of times I still wonder if it ever will be.  But change is a constant thing and I see it getting better all the time.  I remember being that lonely girl, crying in my room, because I didn't have a friend to the world and didn't understand myself and the book I was reading could never be real for me.  And now, today, I write those stories, to give people a place to feel safe and call home.  I make dresses so women can feel beautiful.  My partner and I travel the country showing people it's ok to be happy and proud to be yourself, no matter who you are and what you look like. We've had countless people come up to us and say that we've inspired them to think of themselves as beautiful, that we've given them a voice in our stories and that we've made their lives better just by being brave enough to be ourselves.  And I will continue to do that, no matter what.