“I am always in the hope to express the love of two lovers by a marriage of two complementary colors – colors which marry each other complement each other as a man and a woman do.” –Vincent Van Gogh
After seeing the craftsmanship and beauty in his grandfather’s Hina dolls, Wakana Gojō develops a profound interest in the trade and decides to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps. However, after a childhood friend derides him for it, Wakana has kept his interests secret. When he enters high school, he leads a quiet life until one day, when fellow classmate Marin Kitagawa encounters Wakana working on his dolls in the home economics room. Wakana is shocked to learn that Marin is interested in cosplay and moreover, accepts his hobby without question. After realising that Wakana is skilled with making doll-sized clothes, she wonders if Wakana might be able to help her cosplay; although this represents a jump for Wakana, he agrees. The project pushes Wakana outside of his comfort zone. He’s never made human-scale clothing before, and measuring Marin out initially gives him trouble, but to ensure that Marin is happy, Wakana goes to extraordinary lengths, such going through the work that Marin had been inspired by to understand the feelings and thoughts that went into costume design. The project proves quite taxing for Wakana, who had been going off the assumption that Marin had set him a two week deadline. He’s able to finish the project in time, and when Marin realises Wakana had actually completed her costume, she’s blown away. After Marin’s first shoot, she posts her photos to social media and draws the attention of Sajuna Inui, a famous cosplayer known for her excellent cosplay and lack of an internet presence. Marin ends up meeting Sajuna and convinces her to do a group cosplay. Besides putting her costume together with Marin’s, Wakana also accompanies Sajuna and her younger sister, Shinju, to scout the location out. Seeing Sajuna had inspired Shinju to give cosplay a go, as well; despite her physique, Wakana is able to help her realise a dream. On the day of the shoot, the group manage to get excellent photos, and Sajuna indicates that she’d be happy to get Shinju into cosplay, as well. Later, Wakana creates a costume for Marin based on a popular 4-koma character. Marin books a love hotel, thinking it to be the proper setting, and although the pair do get some excellent photos, after realising the nature of their environment, both become embarassed. As summer sets in, Marin and Wakana push to finish the former’s assignments before going to the fireworks together. After Marin finds herself unable to sleep one night after watching a horror film, she calls Wakana, and the pair converse until Wakana falls asleep. The sum of their shared experiences leads Marin to tell Wakana that she loves him, bringing My Dress-Up Darling to a clsoe. My Dress-Up Darling (Sono Bisque Doll wa Koi wo Suru, or “This Bisque Doll Can Fall In Love”) is one of the past season’s most acclaimed series, and having now wrapped this one up, the reasons for why this is the case becomes apparent.
At My Dress-Up Darling‘s core is a theme that is immediately relatable to viewers — of accepting oneself and having the confidence to share one’s interests and aspirations with others. This is achieved through cosplay, the practise of creating costumes and styling oneself so they might resemble characters from their favourite series. Cosplay is the ultimate expression of love and respect, demanding a considerable amount of technical and artistic finesse, and in My Dress-Up Darling, through the journey that Wakana and Marin jointly take, it becomes clear that cosplay is the intersection of skill, devotion and self-confidence. When Marin initially asks Wakana for a costumes, she expresses a desire to see the world from the viewpoint of a character she greatly enjoys. In asking Wakana for a hand-made custom-tailored for her figure, rather than buying an off-the-shelf solution, Marin also implicitly demonstrates she’s at ease being her. This is consistent with her remarks about how everything should enjoy what they do, in their own manner. In order for such a costume to be tailored, Marin must remain open to having her measurements taken, and interpretations of a fictional costume to fit real-world constraints. This is well within the realm of what’s acceptable for Marin: she has no issues with Wakana measuring her, and while her figure might make some forms of cosplay easier than others, it turns out that there are numerous nuances that allow different people to still cosplay effectively. In accepting that some minor changes do need to be made to strike a compromise between faithfulness to the original, and making a costume possible, Marin is someone who is easily at ease with being herself. Armed with this conviction, and the singular desire of having fun, Marin represents the very best of cosplay; she shows how all of the effort and attention to detail comes together to create an unmatched experience that ultimately also nudges Wakana out of his comfort zone. Although Wakana himself has never worked on human-sized costumes previously, the energy and joy that Marin brings to the table, coupled with his desire to bring happiness to others the same way his grandfather does, spur Wakana to open up. Wakana is reminded of this time and time again as he becomes involved in making cosplays for Sajuna and Shinju, spotting how cosplay is diverse and malleable, open to all those who wish to participate and being flexible enough to allow one to approach it in the manner best suited for them. In this way, Wakana is able to see the world from a wider perspective, live life more fully and in doing so, broaden his own horizons to become a better Hina doll craftsman.
Besides highlighting cosplay as an expression of devotion and self-confidence, My Dress-Up Darling also illustrates how open-mindedness, and the right encouragement, acts as the catalyst for growth in people. Wakana begins his journey with a strong working knowledge of making clothes for Hina dolls, but he feels that his ability to create faces are limited. However, upon taking the leap of faith and accepting Marin’s request for a costume, Wakana discovers that the skills he’s acquired while making Hina doll-sized clothing is applicable to cosplay. Many of the techniques and terminology he’s familiar with are shared with cosplay, and picking up the magazine from Marin opens Wakana’s eyes to this fact. Thus, even without any prior experience in cosplay, Wakana is able to take his existing knowledge and apply them to making a costume for Marin. With the resulting feedback from having Marin wear his creations, is able to take these learnings and feed them back into making Hina dolls. As Wakana becomes better versed with cosplay, including things like make-up, wigs and facial features, he is able to use what he’s picked up from cosplay and apply them to his dolls. The result is perceptible: Wakana’s grandfather notices that his dolls are slowly improving, and comments that becoming a better Hina doll craftsman isn’t just about making dolls. Another important part is to take one’s life experiences and use those to inspire one’s creations. In presenting this message, My Dress-Up Darling makes a very optimistic suggestion about life: skills overlap and can find applicability in different contexts, and moreover, improvement can often come from taking a step back and opening one’s mind to experiencing life more fully. I’ve previously stated this before in my reflections — while I have half the computer science knowledge of a full-fledged computer science major, my background in health sciences allows me to approach problems from a different angle, and allows me to seek out solutions in ways that a pure computer science major might not. Similarly, in crafting costumes and applying make-up for Marin, Wakana begins to improve as a doll maker, and is able to create better Hina dolls that are more life-like as a result of seeing them as being analogous to helping Marin to have the best possible cosplay.
Screenshots and Commentary
- My Dress-Up Darling made its themes clear from day one, and in doing this, the anime is able to focus purely on what happens between Wakana and Marin as they embark on an adventure together that helps to bring them both closer to one another, as well as gain a better measure of themselves. Marin’s personality brings to mind the likeness of Dagashi Kashi‘s Hotaru Shidare and Magical Senpai‘s senior: all three are excitable, spirited and genuinely in love with their activities. However, unlike Magical Senpai and Dagashi Kashi‘s male lead, Wakana himself is a little more open-minded and allows himself to follow Marin into the world of cosplay.
- After Wakana agrees to help Marin out, the first step is to get her measurements so that Wakana can begin designing her cosplay. The approach Marin took causes Wakana to grow embarrassed as a result, and this formed the basis for the main controversy in My Dress-Up Darling: a lone, familiar, name returned at AnimeSuki to warn viewers that Marin’s portrayal is, to use the words of performative activists, “problemmatic”, because “fantasies can be dangerous”. Misunderstandings and controversies occur in anime when viewers, in their boundless wisdom, determine that their own interpretation overrules that of the author’s.
- However, if one were to look at My Dress-Up Darling without any external influences, the measuring scene is important for two reasons. It shows that Marin is at ease with who she is, and therefore, when she wants to cosplay, it is because she’s purely in it to show her love for a character. Secondly, it pushes Wakana out of his comfort zone in a space where there is some room for mistakes, and in this way, it allows him to get used to the fact that this is how Marin does things. Approaching the scene from a literary, rather than from a first-year sociological perspective, allows one to determine why the author places such a scene in the show.
- As it stands, when it’s only a vocal minority issuing gripes about the portrayal of characters in a work of fiction, I find it’s relatively easy to pay them no mind. This process becomes easier if said minority is attempting to shoehorn pseudo-academic methods ands sociology jargon in an attempt to impress and intimidate: academic methods have their place in anime discussion, but not when one is attempting to peddle ideology. The other aspects of My Dress-Up Darling that proved polarising was its portrayal of cosplay. My Dress-Up Darling takes a very positive and upbeat approach towards things, showing it as a pure expression of love, technical prowess and respect for a given work.
- Because My Dress-Up Darling deals with cosplay, discussions would subsequently wander into the realm of what makes for legitimate cosplay, and how Wakana would be able to make a compelling costume if he’s no previous experience in anime. These subjective elements are easily answered within My Dress-Up Darling itself; for the purposes of this show, Marin’s belief that it’s ultimately about doing things for oneself, simplifies things. Although this work does cover the philosophical aspects of cosplay, as Marin states, the reasoning isn’t deep or complex at all.
- Having fun is central to Marin’s interests in cosplay, and as a result, this is My Dress-Up Darling‘s way of addressing the proverbial elephant in the room right out of the gates so viewers can focus on the star of the show: Wakana and Marin slowly getting to know one another as they pursue a shared goal. However, I do appreciate that as a hobby, cosplay is a very time-intensive and demanding one: one labours extensively to bring their vision to life, and by the end of a process, it can feel as though their creation is a part of themselves. This is why cosplayers are so keen on sharing their creations with others, and why anime conventions are so popular – they represent a place to show off their work and see what others are up to. With this in mind, cosplay competitions can become quite heated as a result, and feedback may not always be taken well, resulting in drama.
- Unfortunately, this sort of thing can occur anywhere: even Otafest, the local anime convention, has seen its share of drama surrounding cosplay. A few years back, one cosplayer felt slighted after failing to win best costume at the cosplay competition, and subsequently took to social media to make the claim that they were being “tone policed”. Because said cosplayer had a significant Twitter following, Otafest came under a deluge of attacks from the cosplayer’s followers, that culminated in their leadership team being doxxed. Although the incident even made the headlines in the local paper, Otafest’s response to this incident was professional and reasoned: after issuing a statement, the team made a few internal changes and banned the individual responsible for the doxing from attending.
- In spite of this, the latest Otafest was a success, seeing about 98 percent of its attendance numbers compared to its 2019 iteration. Overall, I feel that Otafest handled things well, but they should have taken legal action against the doxxer to set the precedence that such actions cannot be tolerated (bans appear quite difficult to enforce). My Dress-Up Darling, in focusing on Wakana and Marin, frees itself from the drama that can surround cosplay at scale to create a much cozier and welcoming environment, focused on the details behind how Wakana and Marin go about creating Marin’s first costume.
- A misunderstanding leads Wakana to push himself harder: he struggles to keep up with his studies and look after the family Hina doll shop after his grandfather sustains an injury, on top of finding the time needed to finish Marin’s costume ahead of the two weeks she’d estimated. When Marin learns of this, she begins to feel guilty until Wakana implores her to not worry about things and try the costume on. For Wakana, seeing the joy in Marin is more than enough for his troubles, and Marin herself is utterly amazed at how authentic she looks.
- On their first-ever shoot, Marin picks a cosplay gathering, and almost immediately, finds herself being photographed. She enjoys the moment, although she is surprised to see the photographers possess high-end equipment. After a series of photos, Marin begins to overheat and Wakana brings her indoors to cool off: cosplay outfits are typically designed to match their fictional counterparts closely, and when one chooses costumes from worlds that are cooler, they can become quite uncomfortable. Finding the balance between form and function can be tricky: Marin’s outfit here appears better suited for a temperate climate, but using other materials might compromise its faithfulness towards its original designs.
- This first event is a great success, giving both Marin and Wakana first-hand experience of cosplay. From here on out, both are hooked on cosplay, and Wakana’s confidence grows as he realises just how much there is to explore. In this way, cosplay is basically making human-scale clothes rather than Hina doll-sized outfits, and this is what gives My Dress-Up Darling its Japanese name: “This Porcelain doll can fall in love” refers to the idea that Marin’s more similar to the Hina dolls Wakana strives to make, and while working with her sets him closer to his life-long goal of becoming a Hina doll craftsman, Marin is human and therefore, able to open Wakana to experiences that the inanimate Hina dolls cannot.
- The progression of romance in My Dress-Up Darling is a logical one; the differences between Marin and Wakana mean that Marin is able to encourage Wakana to try new things, and Wakana is able to dial back Marin’s dreams and turn her ideas into something that can be realistically accomplished. This dynamic is strikingly similar to what existed between The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya‘s Kyon and Haruhi, where Kyon similarly keeps reigning Haruhi in so he can bring her plans to life, while Haruhi continuously compels Kyon to step out of his comfort zone. After a long day cosplaying, Wakana falls asleep and comments that Marin is beautiful.
- It is here that Marin begins to fall head-over-heels for Wakana: while Wakana might’ve been withdrawn, his dedication to his craft and earnest nature are his greatest assets. I found Wakana an immensely likeable character because of this. He’s honest and open to new experiences, but also cares for those around him, and as such, Wakana makes certain to ensure that he does his best. This stands in stark contrast with Kyon, whose commentary suggests that while he enjoys accompanying Haruhi on her misadventures, he would never openly say so as such.
- Marin has the traits of a kogyaru: she has a very distinct appearance and makes extensive use of slang in her speech. While they give an impression of materialism and superficiality, anime have presented kogyaru as being kind at heart, whose manner stands contrary to their appearance. Appearances can be deceiving, and the portrayal of kogyaru as being friendly, open and approachable people who actually care more about people than appearances in anime is a constant reminder to never judge someone outwardly. On this note, I should probably get to finishing off Hajimete no Gyaru, which I started back during its airing in 2017 but ended up dropping owing to my usual tendencies.
- After receiving a visitor, Wakana immediately assumes she’s here to look at the shop’s Hina doll collection. Although this visitor is initially interested in the dolls, it turns out she’s come here with a purpose: she’s Sajuna Inui, a well-known cosplayer that Marin adores, and she’s looking for Wakana to make her a costume. Unsure of how to approach Wakana, Sajuna ends up doing a little surveillance and ends up finding his shop: in any other anime, only trouble could follow, but here in My Dress-Up Darling, I have no qualms buying that Sajuna is genuinely interested in receiving a costume from Wakana.
- As luck would have it, Marin shows up to visit Wakana and finds herself face-to-face with her idol. Overcome with joy, Marin initially desires to do a group cosplay with Sajuna, but it turns out the reason why Sajuna has never responded to any social media or appeared at any events is because she’s fiercely private about her hobby. Sajuna doesn’t cosplay for any reason beyond making herself happy, and initially, is none too pleased to meet Marin. However, upon spotting the fact that having more people around would make renting out a studio more economical, she reluctantly agrees.
- To prepare for their next project, Marin invites Wakana over so they can watch the anime the cosplays are based off of. However, Wakana’s early arrival throws Marin off-guard, and she’s embarrassed by the fact that Wakana’s seen her without her iconic red contact lenses in, although for Wakana, he’s not even noticed this fact. Once things settle a little, the pair sit down to check the anime out; it’s a magical series with a 90s aesthetic, and Wakana finds himself surprisingly moved by the series. Having Wakana over hits Marin: this is a home date, and having had nothing but the puddings Wakana’s brought over, Marin hastens to make something for both of them.
- My Dress-Up Darling suggests that while Marin is able to cook well enough for herself, she doesn’t always have the healthiest eating habits, and here, she decides to prepare an omurice for lunch. In her mind’s eye, she imagines drawing a heart on Wakana’s omelets, and while the onions give her some trouble here, flipping the egg ends up failing. For me, the best way to prepare onions is to cut them at about a half arm’s length away from one’s eyes: this prevents the volatile compounds from wafting upwards into the eyes, and said approach has proven to be more effective than Miho’s suggestion of cutting the onions after submerging them. On the other hand, flipping an egg without destroying its shape can be achieved by cooking it on one side for longer, at a lower temperature to prevent burning, on a lightly-greased pan. The idea is that once the egg is mostly cooked on one side, one can lift it under the spatula and then flip it more easily.
- Although the end product isn’t quite what Marin had hoped for visually, Wakana still finds the omurice to be quite tasty. It was interesting to see Wakana become increasingly familiar with the anime that Marin are fond of. Far from thinking of Marin poorly, Wakana finds himself engrossed in the series: anime is often seen as a hobby only youth participate in, and adults who watch anime may be counted as immature, so seeing My Dress-Up Darling present Wakana as being open-minded is another reminder that there is a certain joy in being able to share one’s hobbies with others.
- As Wakana makes progress on the costume designs ahead of their group cosplay, he shares some of the sketches he’s made with Sajuna. As soon as she sees how detailed they are, she begins to realise why Marin’s costume had been so appealing. Wakana puts his heart into everything he makes, and by extension, this means that the costumes he’s made for Hina dolls, along with the dolls he’s making for practise, also carry these feelings. Although Wakana still has a long ways to go before he can make Hina dolls to the same level his grandfather does, his heart is clearly in the right place, and moreover, opening up to others will help accelerate his growth.
- Ahead of location scouting for their group shoot, Wakana and Marin meet Sajuna’s younger sister, Shinju. Despite being a middle-school student, Shinju is almost as tall as Wakana, but she’s also quite shy until the opportunity allows her to open up about her interest in photography. In this way, Shinju is similar to Wakana, being quite uncomfortable with conversation until things shift towards their area of expertise. Once Marin brings up cameras and photography techniques, a switch flips in Shinju: she suddenly becomes more engaged and animated as she speaks of things like shot composition and focus.
- Before their group cosplay session can proceed, Wakana and Marin must first overcome their exams. The matter of grades and exams is a central part of some anime set in high school, so when a series presents exams simply as something the characters get through, one can reasonably surmise that the characters are sufficiently competent such that exam scores won’t be an issue, allowing the story to keep its focus on the topic at hand. After their exams end, Marin is seized with a desire to go to the beach, and she brings Wakana along with her. This unscheduled outing turns out most enjoyable, and although Marin finds herself falling more in love with Wakana here, she’s also surprised that Wakana has a clumsy side to him, as well.
- Sajuna is impressed with the level of detail that is present in the costume Wakana produces, but is more blown away by the fact that Wakana also managed to find the time to help Shinju set up her own cosplay, too: after location scouting had ended, Shinju had approached Wakana and revealed that she was interested to see what had made cosplay so enjoyable for her sister, but because of her figure, could never pull off the smaller characters. In spite of this, Shinju has characters she greatly cherishes, too, and so, Wakana decides to help her make a cosplay she can be proud of.
- Wakana’s helping Shinju with cosplay shows his character as being someone who will go the full length for everyone in his life, and although Shinju represents a new challenge (she’s interested in cosplaying a male character), Wakana demonstrates his usual resourcefulness. The sum of his efforts produce a cosplay that allows Shinju to join in, and with Shinju now participating, Sajuna and Marin have an incredible time with their session. The sort of resourcefulness Wakana demonstrates is akin to a software developer looking for novel ways to sort out a problem, and in this way, My Dress-Up Darling suggests that cosplay and programming are not too different.
- For Marin, she ends up cosplaying one of the villains in the anime. She has a bit of trouble containing her excitement, but once the moment calls for it, she’s able to compose herself and allow Shinju to take the photos. The costume Marin dons is reminiscent of what 86 EIGHTY-SIX‘s Vladilena wears, and I did initially assume that Marin was cosplaying as Vladilena. However, My Dress-Up Darling features an impressive range of all-original series that are based off equivalents in the real-world. Most of the works that Marin enjoys are outside the scope of my interest, so I can’t readily pick up on which shows the My Dress-Up Darling would be parodies of or references to.
- With Shinju now having a cosplay experience under her belt, she’s keen to continue, and Sajuna is happy that Shinju is broadening her horizons. Sajuna’s approach towards cosplay is strictly an individual one: she does it for her own satisfaction, and this stands in stark contrast with a subset of the cosplay community, one that believes cosplay is also a chance to connect with others and show what one’s got. While being a part of a community can be quite fun, especially through meeting individual sharing one’s interest, communities can also result in unexpected problems.
- I therefore understand why Sajuna is so reluctant to participate in the community; hobbies can become overwhelmingly negative if one runs with the wrong groups. As a casual player of games, for instance, I only play single-player campaigns or solo my experiences. I’ve never understood why people feel strongly about how others partake in their hobby, and playing in lobbies filled with try-hards who constantly insult other players can get tiresome quickly. After their photoshoot with Sajuna and Shinju, Marin expresses interest in a new cosplay and decides to go clothes shopping with Wakana: until now, Wakana’s gone everywhere in traditional attire.
- While out shopping, Marin is blown away at how Wakana seems to rock every outfit he tries on. Wakana himself is embarrassed at how flashy everything is, and in the end, Marin decides to let Wakana slowly acclimatise to clothing outside of his comfort zone. Similarly, when Wakana declines to make Marin’s latest cosplay plans on account of how revealing it is, she reconsiders. This aspect of Marin’s character is one of the reasons I respect her: while she’s happy-go-lucky and boisterous, even teasing Wakana at times, she clearly knows where the boundaries are and is mindful to never cross any lines.
- Marin later brings Wakana to a manga café and introduces him to the world of 4-koma manga, a genre I’m very familiar with. Wakana immediately falls in love with the story’s tone, and Marin perfectly describes what makes these series so enjoyable: it allows people to appreciate the smaller moments in life. When Marin expresses a wish to cosplay as this manga’s central character, Wakana initially struggles to design the costume since 4-koma typically have less detail, but in the end, comes up with a design that captures the spirit of the manga while at the same time, adding his own interpretations of what would be the most stylish and practical, based on how Marin prefers to cosplay.
- While the costume itself is a success, Marin turns out to have booked a room at a love hotel rather than a studio. Wakana is left speechless at this turn of events, although Marin is undeterred, and after a few moments of hesitation, Wakana decides to push forwards and proceed with the photoshoot. In the moment, even Wakana forgets all embarrassment and becomes completely engrossed in getting Marin set up with her costume. By this point in time, Wakana and Marin have the process down cold, and much of the enjoyment comes from seeing how happy Wakana is, too.
- This aspect of My Dress-Up Darling is by far the series’ strongest point: Marin’s always been comfortable with who she is, whereas Wakana’s lacked confidence in himself. The positivity Marin brings to the table singularly helps Wakana to realise that not everyone will judge him harshly for his interests, and in fact, one of the things I’d like to see in My Dress-Up Darling, if the series should receive a continuation, is whether or not Wakana is able to face his childhood friend and properly express that his interests are his business. This is, of course, merely something I’d like to see; even in the absence of such a moment, My Dress-Up Darling has already succeeded in communicating its message.
- As the photography session continues, Wakana is able to get a large number of shots where Marin recreates moments from the manga. However, the toughest part comes when Wakana finds it difficult to capture the feelings from the moment where the manga’s protagonist sings a lullaby for the male lead. He wonders if a shift in perspective would convey the mood better, and asks Marin to climb on top of him so he can get a frame from the same angle as seen in the manga. Neither Wakana or Marin quite recall they’re in a love hotel, attesting to how engrossed in the moment they both are. The end result impresses Marin: the photograph captures everything Marin feels had come through in the original manga.
- When sounds from other patrons pass through the walls, things hit Marin and Wakana in full: what they’re doing seems to be a hair away from what the other patrons are doing, and embarrassment hits both like a freight train. Both Marin and Wakana return one another’s feelings, but it’s clear that they’re not at this stage just yet. Fortunately, because of how My Dress-Up Darling is structured, this moment is meant purely to elicit a few smiles and show how people can really become lost in what they’re doing. In a way, the penultimate episode to My Dress-Up Darling did feel like a finale of sorts, bringing Wakana and Marin closer than before and at the same time, showing how Wakana’s slowly becoming comfortable with a wider range of Marin’s interests.
- Having gone though most of My Dress-Up Darling unconcerned with Wakana seeing her in more revealing outfits, it is telling that Marin becomes visibly embarrassed here. Such a moment brings to mind the likes of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya: in the beginning, Haruhi has no qualms about undressing in front of people, feeling them unworthy of her notice, but as she spends more time with Kyon, she eventually becomes conscious of this fact and kicks him out of whatever room they’re in when she needs to change. That Marin is experiencing something similar would be another visible indicator of how strong her feelings for Wakana are.
- The finale to My Dress-Up Darling has Wakana and Marin enjoying a summer festival after Wakana helps Marin to finish her summer assignments. Excited to try everything, Marin’s ordered all of the iconic natsumatsuri food items, including chocolate bananas, candied apples, grilled squid and shaved ice. The sheer variety of things to try at a given event is why when given the chance, I always go big and order things that let me to try a bit of everything. Earlier today, for instance, I went into the office because food trucks were present, and I ended up ordering something known as the “Mild Heart Attack”: a mouth-watering poutine topped with heaps of all-beef sausage, honey garlic smokies, smoked maple bacon and fried chicken on a bed of fries, generously covered in cheese curds and gravy. I’ve not enjoyed lunch from a food truck since June three summers earlier, so I’m glad that the food trucks are now making an appearance at the office park where I work.
- Back in My Dress-Up Darling, while the details and animation in My Dress-Up Darling are of a high standard, Cloverworks’ technical capabilities really shone during the fireworks show: the level of detail, right down to the smoke trails, are worthy of Kyoto Animation and Makoto Shinkai’s works. The emotional tenour of the moment builds until Marin reveals her tongue is blue from the shaved ice: it typifies My Dress-Up Darling‘s ability to change up the pacing at the drop of a hat, and such moments reiterate the fact that relationships encompass everything, both good and bad, poignant and funny.
- Despite having an excellent evening, Marin’s not accustomed to her geta and ends up with blisters on her feet. Ever attuned to Marin’s well-being, Wakana carries her. Marin remarks that on such occasions, the negatives tend to stand out more, and while this is true (a few negative experiences can be recalled more readily than a host of otherwise positive memories), it also gives Marin a chance to enjoy a quieter moment with Wakana. This summer festival does not represent the end of things in My Dress-Up Darling: while Wakana is relaxing at home, Marin’s watching a horror movie on her own.
- In a manner reminiscent of what would happen to Dagashi Kashi‘s Hotaru, Marin’s appeared to have taken on more than she could handle after watching the second instalment to the horror movie she and Wakana had previously seen. All Wakana notices is the intricate costume design, taking the edge off the film, but when she’s alone, every noise seems amplified. That My Dress-Up Darling chooses to end on such a note reminds viewers of the fact that relationships and friendships have both their more exciting moments, as well as quieter ones, and further to this, both moments can be pivotal in nature.
- Wakana ends up leaving his phone on speaker and spends an evening chatting with Marin: off peak hours, some phone plans allow for unlimited calls, so this sort of thing is no longer a problem. I still remember a time when lengthy phone calls would tie up the home network, and when connecting to the internet utilised the same infrastructure, blocking off phone calls. The march of technology in anime is quite visible, and rewatching older anime now, some series do offer a visceral reminder of how people communicated from earlier periods.
- Ending off My Dress-Up Darling in such a gentle manner is to this series’ credit, showing that while Marin is very fond of excitement, she is able to appreciate the quieter moments, too. This series closes with Marin expressing her love to a now-asleep Wakana, leaving viewers with a very satisfying and decisive conclusion. Overall, for its engrossing story, positive themes and striking a balance between humour and romance, My Dress-Up Darling earns an A grade (4.0 of 4.0, or 9 of 10). Cloverworks was two for two during the winter season, and I thoroughly had fun with both My Dress-Up Darling and Akebi’s Sailor Uniform. Each series has its own unique charm that made them worthwhile, and I’m glad to have taken the time to experience both.
The presentation of relevant themes in My Dress-Up Darling is coupled with a heart-warming and amusing love story, balanced by equal parts of awkwardness and equal parts charm that results from the natural progression of Marin coming to respecting Wakana’s tenacity, and Wakana admiring Marin’s ability to be herself without a care for what others think of her. The fact that Wakana and Marin complement one another so well means their relationship has a life-like feel to it. In the more moving moments, Wakana and Marin both express their interest in the other; Wakana remarks that Marin is beautiful (having previously stated he doesn’t throw the term around lightly), and Marin’s inner monologue shows she’s head over heels, too. The sum of My Dress-Up Darling‘s parts, then, result in a series that is immensely enjoyable: the romance progresses in a plausible manner, the themes are uplifting, and everything in this anime is wrapped up in a world with a clean visual style and dynamic character animations. On top of this, My Dress-Up Darling also provides a surprisingly in-depth look at cosplay, from costume design and creation, to research in how to translate fictional elements into reality, to the sorts of tools and methods available for modifying one’s facial features closer to that of a fictional character, and even what goes into taking good cosplay photos beyond the point-and-click afforded by a smartphone. Altogether, it apparent as to why My Dress-Up Darling has seen the successes that it did, and with the positive reception this series has garnered, it is plain that, together with Akebi’s Sailor Uniform, Cloverworks has had a very successful season: anime such as these are always enjoyable to watch, and here, I will note that, since My Dress-Up Darling is adapted from an ongoing manga, success from this series may mean that a continuation could very well be possible. I’d certainly like to see where things go for Wakana and Marin.