[Hello all and welcome back to Weeb Analysis where this month we’ll be gazing into the world of cosplay with My Dress-Up Darling. Weeb Analysis is a monthly column dedicated to analyzing new anime and seeing which titles are truly the classics in the making and which ones are worthless shlock not worth your time. The question now stands: is My Dress-Up Darling worth your time or not?]
If you’ve ever been to a convention, you should know cosplay is a part of the experience. Every year when I brave New York Comic Con, I always see plenty of fans of a myriad of shows pop up wearing outfits to show their love for their favorites franchises. Sometimes, cosplays can be simple and easy, while other times they can be extravagant with immaculate detail. Cosplay is a way of life for many people and it’s something to be admired. Plus if you’re friends with a cosplayer, or even date one, then you should definitely be aware of all of the requirements that go into a solid cosplay. A good friend of mine is an avid cosplayer and all of her outfits are wonderfully designed with her passion for them coming from a place of love.
Of course, anime and cosplay go together like peanut butter and jelly. The origins of the subculture trace back to Japan in the 1980s around the same time shows like Fist of the North Star, Macross, and Gundam were gaining popularity. Cosplay is always something that I wanted to get into, but I’ve felt that I would never be able to accurately depict myself as a character. There’s just something in my head that if I can’t do it perfectly then I shouldn’t do it at all. A bit of a self-defeatist attitude, but an attitude I have nonetheless.
Still, I can at least look at series like My Dress-Up Darling and see just how wonderful a community cosplay can be and the kind of people that it attracts. Even more wonderful is that My Dress-Up Darling is just a great show. It combines a lot of elements together that can -and should- cheapen everything that happens in an episode, yet it succeeds almost every single time. This is a show that I can’t wait to watch each week for a multitude of reasons and one that fills me with such unbridled joy that I can overlook the flaws of the show.
If you recall back in 2020, I had a long roast/analysis of Rent-A-Girlfriend, a trashy show that is unmistakable trash, yet I couldn’t help but develop feelings for it. The more time that passes between now and that first season, the more that I realize that Rent-A-Girlfriend went for cheap ecchi humor, aka jokes and situations with a sexual tinge to them. Jokes like that are fine, but the problem that Rent-A-Girlfriend had was that the series relied entirely on that idea. It had that humor and the occasional discussions on relationships that were surprisingly mature for its genre, but everyone was a caricature to facilitate more lewd humor.
Now, I’m not a prude, but the problem with having basically only one joke is that trying to keep that joke going for 12 episodes means it’s going to get really dull, really quickly. On the surface, My Dress-Up Darling faces the same problems. The series centers on Wakana Gojo, a Hina doll maker in high school who does nothing but make Hina dolls. He’s embarrassed by it because he thinks no one else would understand his passion for it, so he doesn’t tell anyone and has absolutely zero friends because of his secrecy. While sewing at school one day, he meets Marin Kitagawa, an outgoing popular girl who is also a huge otaku and wants to cosplay a ton of characters. The problem is that Kitagawa is awful when it comes to sewing, so she asks if Gojo can help her craft her outfits, to which he agrees because he sees in her the same drive he has for what he loves. She loves cosplay, he loves sewing.
The premise makes itself perfectly ripe for sexual jokes, as to be expected. There are measurements to be made, changing snafus, wardrobe malfunctions, the list goes on and on of jokes and situations that would make any teenager blush with embarrassment. And yes, there is the tired joke of Gojo being shy whenever Kitagawa does these things like unzipping her outfit, or when she asks him to do it for her. The jokes are still funny, but they’re nothing that anyone who has watched an ecchi comedy before hasn’t seen.
So why am I so positive towards the series if its humor is fairly run-of-the-mill? For starters, this is a series with an incredibly limited focus. The show basically stars two characters and only expands the cast by another two people more than halfway into its 12 episode season. Gojo and Kitagawa are your main characters and the show spends all of its time focusing on them. This allows us to get a great glimpse into who each of them are and what makes them tick.
Gojo is someone who is so single-minded at doing his job that he often overlooks the small things like having a social life. This is a guy who is so focused on becoming a Hina doll craftsman that he never saw the purpose of going to the beach, or getting clothes besides his work clothes. Kitagawa helps to socialize him by asking him to tag along with her and experience high school life and he sees that there’s more to the world than just making Hina dolls. It’s still his ultimate goal, but as the series progresses he’s no longer doing it to the detriment of any other responsibilities.
As for Kitagawa, she’s a bubbly, easy-going, clumsy extrovert who wears her feelings on her sleeve. She’s an outgoing otaku with a scarily deep knowledge of the anime and video games she loves but always tries to keep others’ feelings in mind. For her first cosplay, she feels awful at the fact that she unintentionally made Gojo work to the bone to complete an outfit by an arbitrary deadline, unaware of the strain that people on him. She’s an empathetic protagonist who also begins to crush HARD on Gojo, altering their dynamic slowly, but allowing the My Dress-Up Darling to stay fresh with their interactions.
In short, Kitagawa is a fantastic character. Whenever she pops up on the screen, it’s impossible not to find her engaging and hilarious. There’s also an air of obliviousness to her that never fails to entertain, like when Gojo comes over and she answers the door half-dressed, only to shut the door on him not because he saw her half-naked, but because she didn’t have her color contacts in, which mortified her. She only then notices five minutes later that, oh yeah, she was basically half-naked, but shrugs it off. It’s perfect humor that really exemplifies just how much of a goofball she can be. It’s not every day that an ecchi show focuses so much on the characters, but it works. They aren’t just stock archetypes, they’re actually well-defined and well-written people.
It helps that the My Dress-Up Darling‘s focus isn’t entirely on the ecchi humor and lewdness. This is a show that takes a hard look and interest in cosplaying and the many elements that go into it. Kitagawa has a desire to fully become some of her favorite characters, but she completely lacks the means to do so. In the very first episode, we see her with a cosplay that frankly looks nothing like what she wants to be like, which is heartbreaking to her because she wants nothing more than to respect the character that means so much to her. Gojo is her perfect compliment since he understands the complexity of creating clothing, albeit for dolls and not flesh and blood humans.
I can’t speak on behalf of the accuracy of information related to cosplaying on display in My Dress-Up Darling, but the info the show does relay goes into extensive detail. There are the different types of stitching on clothes, color and fabric choices, hemming, eye tape, and even information relating to cameras, lighting, and shutter speeds. All of that info is important to anyone who cosplays, as it can make or break an outfit.
Then again, not having the perfect outfit is never shown as being a terrible thing. Yes, Gojo can make amazing cosplays for Kitagawa, but as he brings her to her first cosplay event, he notices that there are plenty of people who are just having fun dressing up as whatever character they want. Are their cosplays perfect? No, but it doesn’t really matter to them as they’re enjoying showing off their passion for the craft and for the characters they’re dressing up as.
Passion is the key phrase for My Dress-Up Darling because the love that Gojo and Kitagawa have for the things they care about comes from a place of authenticity. Gojo loves Hina dolls and his grandfather thinks his craft is improving because he’s taking an interest in things other than those dolls. By interacting with other people and expanding his horizons, he’s gaining an appreciation for the finer things in life, exemplified by his ability to make better Hina doll faces. He struggled with them towards the beginning of the series since he rarely interacted with anyone else, but thanks to Kitagawa getting him out of his shell, he better understands people and what can bring joy to them.
Kitagawa’s passion for the media she loves is something that people can find more universally relatable though. Gojo’s social isolation isn’t exactly universal, but having a love for a movie, television show, video game, book, or anime is. We all have a franchise that we love. Without even asking for it, I’m sure you, dear reader, are thinking about a series now that you love and would easily recommend to others because of just how much it means to you. Kitagawa’s passion for the characters she loves is something we all experience. She states there are dozens of characters she wants to cosplay, and that’s totally believable.
But, as is the nature of the beast, her passion doesn’t just stop at cosplaying. At the conclusion of the first arc, Kitagawa realizes that she’s falling for Gojo. Anyone could have seen it coming a mile away, but her revelation of it comes from a sweet place. Gojo, exhausted after a hectic day at the cosplay event, makes an offhand comment about how beautiful she was, a word he only uses for things he truly thinks is beautiful. It’s not a phrase he uses lightly. It’s a subtle moment, but one that takes the series into a more general direction and makes My Dress-Up Darling lose a bit of its charm.
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for the romance between Kitagawa and Gojo, but the series starts to shift its focus away from the intricacies of cosplay and more about Kitagawa fawning over Gojo in comedic settings. She takes Gojo clothes shopping and while Gojo is mortified to be dressed in whatever Kitagawa recommends he wears, she’s absolutely floored by his appearances. She tries to make him omurice but it doesn’t turn out how she would have liked it. It’s cute stuff, but something that I could find in a dozen other shows. The only thing that separates it from potentially weaker shows is that the main duo is so well defined as people at that point that it somewhat elevates the generic humor.
Then again, the will they/won’t they dynamic does have its moments. The climax of episode 11 had me perk up and pay attention, pushing me to the edge of my seat to see if the two of them will finally become a couple. It was a contrived situation to be sure, but dang it, it was still compelling! Also, kudos for having Gojo out of his element so much and using that to make some unique comedic situations. We don’t have the tissue shot from Rent-A-Girlfriend, but seeing Gojo silently and intently watching TV in a love hotel was *chef’s kiss*.
As traditional as the show has become the more it focuses on its romance, the cosplay aspects are where My Dress-Up Darling comes alive. I can’t think of a show in recent memory that took this much of an eye at the cosplay community and paints it in such a positive light. It’s extremely informative and I’m sure that any would-be cosplayer can learn a thing or two from the series. And it isn’t just cosplayers who are watching My Dress-Up Darling. The series is one of the hit shows of the Winter season, which is shocking given that it’s up against well-established shows like Attack on Titan and Demon Slayer which are already mega-popular. Somehow, My Dress-Up Darling has created a very sizeable and enthusiastic fanbase.
There’s no sign of a second season yet, but I feel fairly confident that after the finale airs next week, it’s only a matter of time until we get a second season announcement. Until then, give My Dress-Up Darling a watch. It may not be a work of art, but it has an infectious charm and may actually make me try my hand at cosplaying. I don’t think it’ll be any good, but as long as I’m enjoying myself, I think I’ll be alright.