My Dress-up Darling
Since he was a kid, Wakana Gojo has admired/crafted hina dolls. But when his female childhood friend calls his hobby gross and stops being his friend over it, he keeps his hobby confined to himself and his grandfather/caretaker Kaoru Gojo, who runs Gojo Dolls. After that Wakana kept to himself, never making any new friends well into his high school years. That is, until one day his beautiful fashionetta classmate Marin Kitagawa notices his hina doll craft, asking him if he could use his skills to build her a cosplay outfit based on Shizuku, a character from a video game she loves. From that day onward, Wakana's life would never be the same.
This had the potential to be one of my favorite anime in years and get my elusive five-star recommendation. It really did.
Sorry to start the review sounding a bit down, but don't take it as me disliking My Dress-Up Darling. On the contrary, I really, really like it. But it's one of the biggest examples of "It's a great show, BUT..." I've reviewed in years, and I'll get into why soon enough.
But first the good. Marin is an awesome female lead. She's spunky, sweet, kind, caring, and open around other people, but can also be sensitive to other's concerns as well. It's no wonder people have taken a shine to her in recent months (as of the writing of this review); she is a great character. Yes she does have a bit of that Manic Pixie Dream Girl vibe to her, as well as some of that Kotoura-san teasing vibe to her (the "tasing female love interest" genre of anime one I'm growing tired of in recent years), but she never crossed boundaries or becomes annoying. She's pretty, but she never flaunts it either, even when the series reveals she's a minor model of sorts. And having MARIN be the lovey-dovey one falling hard for the lead, and not even attempting to hide it - she knows by episode six she is in love - is refreshing in a genre where its main characters can take forever to develop feelings for one another. (And a nice gender flip on the "guy falls love dovey over a girl" archetype as well.)
Male lead Wakana Gojo could've been just another "nice guy super shy around women" dude, and admittingly he still does have a bit of that overused stink. Buuuuut he's also more than he what he seems as well. His love of the craft of hina dolls segways as well into cosplay, and it's fun watching him get so geeky about various errata of costumes and outfits. For example, near the end of the season he and Marin watch a horror movie, an experience he's never done before, and Marin worries he'll be too scared...only for him to be too impressed by the costumes and make-up to even GET scared (while Marin herself silently freaks out). He even rewatches the moments that scare Marin the most just so he can take notes on costume and hair design. Watching Wakana open up to Marin, who really is his first true friend in near a decade, helps justify his shy outer shell, where he does slowly come out as the series goes along. It also helps he's not a pushover; when Wakana gives Marin criticism over her initial attempt to design a dress based on Shizuku, he minces no words on how bad it is. (And kudos to her not getting angry/punching him over it, too.) He does have quite the libido, too, in some of the series' more awkward but still funny moments, but you have to see them animated to get what I mean.
And then there's the sheer love of the cosplay craft that's on display in My Dress-Up Darling. The series goes off into every major aspect of cosplay, from eye shape, wigs, dress fabric (including thickness), support bras, right down to make-up and eyeliner. When Marin wants to cosplay as a character from a game or a show, Wakana even goes out of his way to play/watch said media to get the most accurate representation he can of said design. This even includes a 2000's era magical girl show, which the animators even have drawn in a 4:3 ratio to make it more accurate to the times. (A very nice detail, I might add!) You can tell the animators, artits, and writers went all out making this show just as much about cosplay tutoring as they do fun, lovable characters bonding and becoming more familiar with the world of cosplay. We've certainly come a long way from the likes of Cosplay Complex, an OAV series from 2002 that made out cosplayers to be exhibitionist perverts.
But like I said in the beginning of this review, I really, really wanted to give My Dress-Up Darling five stars and my utmost recomemndation, but I couldn't for reasons. Unfortunately, we're now going to get into said reasons. My Dress-Up Darling has great leads, is well-researched, and can be sweet, funny, and cute at just the right times it wants to be. But it also has two thnigs that really rubbed me the wrong way as well.
One, and one that I worried about being a potential deal-breaker since I started watching, is the introduction of Sajuna Inui, a professional loner cosplayer and a girl one year the senior of Wakana and Marin. The series has her come to the former's house in the rain, with Wakana walking into her coming out of the bath naked in the time-tested "boy walks in on naked girl, who yells and hits him" trope that I just loooove so much (sarcasm). Then Sajuna threatens to call the police on Gojo and have him arrested if he doesn't make her a magical girl cosplay outfit based on a show she watches. To say Sajuna gave me a terrible first impression would be an understatement. Like Ai from Amanchu!, in a show of weaker quality she'd be an automatic dealbreaker. And of course Sajuna also has to be a pissy twin-tailed girl who looks like a grade-schooler, because that's a trope that hasn't been done to death in anime. Further minus points come when it's revealed she STALKING Wakana after seeing Marin's Shizuku cosplay online. One of the worst first impressions I've seen in an anime in years.
Obstacle from getting five stars number two; My Dress-Up Darling has a perverted streak when it comes to its female characters, none of whom are older than 17. It's one thing to use Marin for fanservice - she does have a model-like body and all, and the series does take into concern her curves when it comes to her outfits - but it's another when we have fanservice of, again, the childish-looking Sajuna. And later on we meet Sajuna's baby sister Shinju, a shy, sweethearted middle-schooler who has quite the developed figure for her young age (we're talking G-cup territory here), and the series uses this barely teenage girl for fan service, including the old "strained shirt popping open" gag. Sigh.
And yet despite my just criticizing Sajuna, she does show the other side of the cosplay flipping coin. While Marin likes to cosplay for fun, Sajuna does it partially to escape, and takes her craft far, far more seriously. She wanted to be a magical girl when she was a kid, but since those don't exist in real life, she did the next best thing and decided to cosplay as one, kickstarting a hobby she genuienly enjoys doing. Unlike Marin, though, she doesn't like showing off in public, and is constantly annoyed by Marin's idol worship of her. She does mellow out later on, and even gives Marin and Wakana advice they weren't aware of beforehand. Her baby sister Shjinju, who's also her cameraman, also gives advice on lighting and settings, and miiiight also be secretly into cosplay as well. I won't spoil what happens from there, but it does lead to a cute payoff. Funny enough, for as much as I harped on them a minute ago, the cosplay sisters are only major characters in a few episodes, and barely appear in the last couple at all. It returns to just being about Wakana and Marin before the sisters can overstay their welcome, another thing I'll give the show credit for.
Teenage fetishism and one bad first impression aside, I for the most part grealty enjoyed watching My Dress-Up Darling. It helped kickstart me getting back into watching anime on a semi-regular basis once again for the first time in years, and I'm glad that this was the show I chose to do just that. Marin is just such a great character, and I can't wait to see how she and Wakana develop in hopefully future seasons to come, because it'd be criminal for them to stop here. If they don't, well, I guess there's always the manga.
Sooooo close to a five-star anime, but squanders it on some overly sexual content and a bad first impression of one of its series' characters. If this doesn't bother you like it did me, feel free to upgrade to five stars. — Tim Jones
Recommended Audience: It's a series that goes deep into the art of cosplay, and yes that includes many aspects of the female body. There's also, of all things, a couple of jokes about Wakana getting a boner and masturbating, but it's handled in a humorous, light-hearted way. But still, it's there.
Version(s) Viewed: crunchyroll.com stream, Japanese with English subtitles
Review Status: Full (12/12)
My Dress-up Darling © 2022 Shinchi Fukada / SQUARE ENIX / "My Dress-Up Darling" Production Committee
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