In this article:
- My Dress Up Darling is a romantic comedy and slice of life anime about a cosplayer and a doll maker sharing their passions and falling in love.
- Like many romance anime, My Dress Up Darling contains many tropes that are common to the genre but changes them in subtle ways that make the tropes seem fresher.
- However, it isn’t perfect and there’s one thing about My Dress Up Darling that takes away from the “newness” of the show.
My Dress Up Darling was one of the first anime shows to be released this year with its first episode airing on January 9, 2022.
Its trailer showed many key interactions between the leads that were adorable but, frankly, left many viewers with the impression that it was another run-of-the-mill romance show that would be fun while you’re watching, but completely forgettable in a few months or so.
Before anybody gets mad, yes, people can like what they like.
But if you’ve watched enough anime over the years, just seeing a “perfect” female lead and a dark-haired, shy male lead in a few fanservice scenes can make you feel like you’ve been served plain buttered pasta for the nth time this month.
It’s great at first, but they start to blur together and by the time you get around to something like My Dress Up Darling, you’re already sick of watching the same anime over and over again.
So imagine viewers’ surprise when My Dress Up Darling turned out to be good. Really good.
What Is My Dress Up Darling (2022) About?
My Dress Up Darling is an anime about an aspiring hina doll craftsman and a cosplayer falling in love through their shared passion for clothes.
Marin Kitagawa, the female lead, is a cosplayer who can’t sew to save her life while Gojo Wakana is a hina doll maker who’s great at making clothes but sucks at painting doll faces.
When Marin accidentally discovers Gojo in the home economics classroom, she’s ecstatic that he has a cool hobby that he’s very passionate about. Meanwhile, Gojo is terrified of being judged for liking dolls because was once bullied by a friend for having feminine interests.
To his surprise, Marin likes that he loves hina dolls and she loves his passion for the dying art form.
She then asks if he wouldn’t mind making clothes for her cosplays and he agrees because, frankly, this is the first time someone other than his grandfather gave him validation and he also admires her passion for her craft.
Together, the two of them learn the ropes of the professional cosplay scene and grow to admire each other. It also doesn’t hurt that both of them are clearly physically attracted to each other from the get-go and are genuinely great people.
What Makes My Dress Up Darling (2022) Good?
For such a simple anime, My Dress Up Darling manages to give us realistic main characters, a genuinely enjoyable and light-hearted story, a colorful cast of side characters, and an in-depth look into cosplay culture.
Marin Kitagawa Is An Interesting Female Protagonist
It probably seems like a low bar for a female lead to meet, but bland female leads are so common in anime that it’s hard not to notice when an anime depicts a woman like she’s a real person.
Granted, all shows take creative liberties with the way they characterize their characters so by “real,” I don’t mean realistic. I mean that a character is multi-dimensional.
Right off the bat, the anime lets us know that Marin is her own person with interests outside of Gojo, no matter how interested she is in him. Though she clearly fits the anime trope of a “perfect” and outgoing female protagonist who changes the male lead’s life, what little manic pixie-ness she has is explained by the fact that she’s a gyaru.
Gyaru is a Japanese fashion subculture that first gained prominence in the 80s. Gyaru girls can often be seen sporting blonde hair, tanned skin, and, in some cases, colored contacts. Personality-wise, gyaru girls are known for their outgoing and outspoken way of interacting with other people.
And that’s what makes Marin so captivating.
She’s extremely comfortable in her own skin and has no problem telling off men who are interested in her yet ridicule her for being an otaku.
Compare this to the dime-a-dozen anime girls who would be crushed and need the male main character to defend them and Marin becomes iconic.
It’s common for female anime characters who are this confident to be a tsundere, an airhead, or a Regina George-type mean girl but Marin is none of those. She’s kind to everyone but isn’t a pushover, not a genius but not helpless either, and assertive but never cruel.
She also breaks the typical dynamic between romance leads by being the otaku in the relationship instead of Gojo.
Gojo Wakana Isn’t A Self-Insert Male Character
This is another extremely low bar for an anime to qualify as good, but with the popularity of isekai anime and its painfully self-insert protagonists, it’s hard to find a male character who is a guy next door but isn’t completely bland.
Some fans have mentioned that Gojo is boring compared to Marin, but that’s partly because Marin’s energy (and physical attractiveness) make it hard for us not to notice her more than Gojo sometimes.
The show is less My Dress Up Darling and more The Dress Up darling.
But even then, the show takes the time to give Gojo real motivations other than just being dragged along for the ride.
Gojo Wakana is the grandson of a hina doll craftsman and as a child, he would always admire his grandfather’s work because of how beautiful hina dolls are.
This pushes him to become a craftsman in training himself even after being bullied by a friend for having “freakish” and unmanly interests.
The show could have easily made him a creep and while he’s a bit of a pushover, something Marin points out as a self-destructive habit, he’s otherwise just a regular guy who really likes dolls.
His unique passion alone sets him apart from several male protagonists of romance anime. Even after he agrees to help Marin, it’s clear that he isn’t just doing this for her, but because he wants to develop his skills further.
Gojo’s focus on his craft is also played for comedic effect but instead of the show making fun of it, it just puts him in slightly awkward situations.
For example, whenever he has to get Marin’s measurements, he has to do it with her half-naked which is awkward for him and infinitely amusing for the viewer.
The “Fanservice” Is Exquisite
You know how some anime shows will have scenes where the female character’s skirt gets lifted by a sudden gust of wind sent by the pervert gods? My Dress Up Darling lets you see Marin in her underwear because Marin chooses to do so.
It’s clear what some shows and movies want us to feel about their characters based on the way they film them and in My Dress Up Darling, we know Marin is supposed to come across as attractive.
But it isn’t framed as Marin having to be attractive to us, it’s framed as Marin wanting to be attractive to Gojo.
She chooses to provide the fanservice because she’s trying to get him to find her attractive. It’s a lot more on the nose in the scene where Marin asks Gojo why he took so long to reply to her message after she sent her photo.
Gojo only says that “a lot of things happened” after she sent it and she stares at him with the most shit-eating grin on her face because it’s all according to keikaku.
It likely doesn’t make a difference to many viewers, but Marin getting a say on how she’s viewed in the anime makes the fanservice feel anything but icky. It doesn’t even feel like it’s for us, it feels like it’s exclusively for Gojo.
Marin Is Honest and Forward About Her Feelings
A lot of romance animes feature pairings where it always looks like the male lead is the only one in the relationship who’s interested in becoming a couple. Meanwhile, the female lead acts like she doesn’t know the male lead is interested in her or actively acts cruel, a.k.a tsundere, to hide her own feelings.
Marin Kitagawa? She actively fangirls over Gojo because she finds him attractive and thinks he’s a great guy.
It’s adorable whenever she mentally calls him “The guy I wuv” and puts her fanservice-y behavior into context. Marin is working double-time to get this guy to fall in love with her.
Gojo’s Compliments Are Sincere
While Marin likes to shower Gojo with compliments in her head, he has a more reserved way of complimenting people that gives them more weight than compliments from male leads who think everybody is hot.
Sure, Gojo clearly thinks Marin is hot and stops just why of saying the exact words, but it’s when he calls her beautiful that we know something special has just happened on screen.
As a hina doll craftsman, one of the few things that Gojo finds beautiful are hina dolls and the love that goes into making them. So when he does call Marin beautiful, both Marin and us, the audience, are floored.
It Doesn’t Rely on Tropes
My Dress Up Darling has anime tropes because it’s an anime and its characters are cosplayers. Beyond that, though? The anime doesn’t rely on tropes to tell its story. It doesn’t string together a series of romance anime cliches that eventually get the lead characters together.
On a minor note, it doesn’t make Marin’s friends snooty mean girls who ridicule her for liking cosplay and pseudo-dating Gojo. They only have a couple of on-screen interactions, but all of the girls are friendly to him, likely because they understand that Marin’s into him.
Marin and Gojo Have Real Chemistry
They may seem like opposites, but they have compatible personalities and both of them understand what it’s like to be devoted to a hobby that you love. They’re also good friends and care about each other’s well-being.
Plus, they find each other really hot.
Many romance animes skip that last part, despite gratuitous panty shots, because it isn’t seiso. But My Dress Up Darling has no hang-ups about depicting sexual attraction and does it in a way that makes it easy to see them as a couple.
Is There Anything My Dress Up Darling (2022) Doesn’t Do Well?
No anime is ever truly perfect and unfortunately, My Dress Up Darling gets more trope-y and stale towards the second half with the introduction of Sajuna Inui.
Before we go any further, this is, again, just a remark on the anime and not the manga.
Characters like Sajuna Inui give me flashbacks to the past decade of anime tsundere girls. She appears, acts bitchy and demanding towards Gojo, demeans Marin, and performs just about every tsundere girl trope within one episode.
I half expected her to pull out a kendo sword and hit Gojo with it while the anime switches to a compilation of Taiga assaulting Ryuji in Toradora!
Fortunately, the anime doesn’t turn into a love triangle between her, Gojo, and Marin, but seeing such a cookie-cutter trope in an otherwise refreshing romance anime was a bit of a letdown.