Only god (and the manga readers, I suppose) could have seen it coming. This absolute powerhouse of an anime quickly rose right to the top of the charts. The reactions to the pilot were absolutely astonishing. In a matter of hours, all anime discussion on the internet turned into nothing but advertisements for My Dress-Up Darling. It piqued my curiosity and I decided I needed to just jump in. Even with zero expectations, I was still surprised at what I found. And I was hooked.
Welcome back to anime high school (as if you ever left). You’re about to watch the unlikely clash between the spirited otaku Marin Kitagawa and a perpetually shy aspiring hina doll craftsman named Gojou Wakana. What is to follow are 12 episodes of Marin
desperately clawing at playfully coaxing Gojou into helping her fulfill her lifelong cosplay dreams. Her passion (and money) combined with his discerning eye for fabric and a knack for sewing clothes sets the perfect stage for that carefree high school enthusiasm that gives you the freedom to let loose and chase your dreams (whatever they may be).
Speaking of letting things loose…
This anime absolutely does not shy away from all the fan service and scantily clad cosplay you can ever hope to find. Most of the time it’s easy to spot when an anime is taking things too far for the sake of it. This anime is a lot harder to judge. When simply looking at individual scenes or screenshots, it’s easy to criticize the anime as simply being lewd because that will boost it’s popularity. But when you view the entire thing as a package, that line becomes blurred at best, and more often than not, impossible to find.
There’s a strange wholesomeness about Marin’s overtly sexual cosplay choices. It could be her excitement and candidness; it might simply be the pure nature of their pairing. Most likely it’s a mixture of both. In the end, I found myself more focused on them as people rather than any sort of objectification of her outfits, which is why I’m more inclined to judge it less as fan service and more as wholesome.
But, it needs to be said, that the fan service is absolutely there and it is overt. Just because my focus was pulled away doesn’t mean it isn’t there; it simply means other stuff about those scenes felt more interesting. In the end, if you are put off by the idea of fan service, whether there are justifications or not, you won’t enjoy a lot of what this anime has to offer.
There’s other stuff, though, I promise.
There’s an interesting role reversal happening in My Dress-Up Darling. While I definitely have worked to branch outside of mainstream anime and into more niche titles, I admit I’m still fairly new to the fandom. But based on my experience, the roles played by Marin and Gojou seem to be somewhat swapped.
Typically when you have a character who is a sort of “stray” (parents absent, eats terribly, needs caring for while they pursue their dreams, etc.), that character is played by a male protagonist (one other noteable exception being Taiga and Ryuuji from Toradora!). In contrast, we have a male protagonist who can cook, has an instinct for a caring gentle role, and can craft and sew delicate items of clothing. I’m certainly not implying it should be one way or the other, but it’s interesting to see the positions switched.
Obviously, this story isn’t entirely about their friendship; the romance tag is there for a reason. What starts out as a more contractual relationship quickly turns into friendship. The more they interact and show their true selves, the more interested they become in one another. Passion attracts passion, and both of them throw themselves into the fray with all they’ve got. Of course, this is still an anime. The anticipation is a great way to maintain viewer interest as well as keep the characters emotions right at the forefront (a perpetual honeymoon phase). Don’t sit down and expect them to become an item in the first season. What is this, your first anime?
It’s funny. It’s wholesome. It’s easy to love.
Maybe romance anime isn’t typically your thing; maybe you’re on the fence because you aren’t sure how you feel about all of the ecchi cosplay you keep hearing about. Obviously, no anime will have universal appeal, and many people will disagree with me, but I think My Dress-Up Darling is worth at least trying if you aren’t sure you’ll like it (and aren’t totally opposed to fan service as a concept). Give it 1-3 episodes and see how you feel. You might be as pleasantly surprised as I was.