First Impression: My Dress-Up Darling

Wakana was introduced to the beauty and wonder of traditional Japanese hina dolls by his grandfather when he was but a slip of a boy. Gramps runs the Gojo Dolls company, and lives in a home that looks like it is straight out of the 1890s—probably about when the backbone of his company, the treadle sewing machine, was made too. It’s just Wakana and Gramps in the old house, and indeed in all of life, since the boy, now grown up and in high school, has never been able to make any friends. This is largely due to his love of hina dolls, for which his only childhood friend rejected him, calling him creepy. And it is true that his habit of talking to the disembodied dolls’ heads that he works with is a tad, shall we say, unique. Both as a result of his old-fashioned upbringing (in a world without anime, manga and gaming—how on earth is he supposed to relate to his peers without this vital information???), and also to protect himself from further rejection, Wakana holds himself back from interacting with his peers, playing the mild doormat like so many seinen MCs. The one who will, over the course of the season, teach him to express himself and behave with more firmness is Marin, the popular girl who literally flies (falls) into his world like an angel (she tripped), then later gives him a much needed pep talk, and finally discovers his “dirty little secret” in the sewing practice room one day and rather than rejecting him like the girl of his nightmares from many years ago, becomes quite, um, excited by his sartorial talents. Marin, you see, has her own little secret, and that is a passionate love for cosplay that is matched only by her complete and utter ineptitude at sewing and fashion design, as Wakana, who finally finds his voice, points out with all the confidence of a professional. Will the two be a match made in heaven (the sewing classroom)? 

Talk about making an entrance! Their first meeting.

Wow, two fashion-themed releases from CloverWorks in one day! And just in time too, considering I finished binging Next in Fashion and Making the Cut this week. But I digress.

This was my most anticipated new series of the season, based on the preview trailer. Did it live up to my expectations? Well, the art is definitely on point, in that slick, clean way that is reminiscent of the other high school romance from CloverWorks, Horimiya. The world that Wakana and Gramps inhabit is fascinating, and enough on its own to keep me tuning in at least for the requisite first three episodes. The two MCs’ passions—hina dolls and cosplay—are played quite a bit more for their pervy implications than I expected, with a lot of leery facial expressions and some heavy breathing etc. The trailer presented this as a more straightforward comedy romance, but the first episode definitely brings a bit of an edge, shall we say, to the premise. For instance, the character whom Marin is so desperate to embody (she literally says she wants to become her) is named Shizuku Kuroe-tan from Saint Slippery’s Academy for Girls: The Young Ladies of the Humiliation Club: Debauched Miracle Life 2! Even Wakana doesn’t quite know what to do with that. Is this going to devolve into a seinen wish-fulfillment series? I don’t think so. The interactions between the leads was far too genuine and human throughout the first two-thirds of the episode for it to turn into pure fanservice. There’s so much potential here for something thoughtful and maybe even profound in this exploration of the collision between cultures or “exact opposite worlds” as Wakana describes them; between the Japan of the 1890s and modern otaku culture of the 2020s. My hope is that in bringing these two worlds together, something truly rich, relevant, and creative may emerge. But maybe I’m asking for too much. I’ll stick around for awhile though to find out!

Wakana’s reaction to the show title of Marin’s favorite character. This makes me hopeful the series won’t simply degrade into ecchi.

My Dress-Up Darling can be streamed on Cruchyroll and Funimation. Go give it a whirl!


6 thoughts on “First Impression: My Dress-Up Darling

  1. This was my most anticipated show of the season as well. Because it dealt with being a creative, a la Blue Period. Because it held the promise to de-stigmatize the pointlessly-gendered art of doll-making and doll appreciation. I was hoping for some serious appreciation of cosplay as an artform as well, because I think cosplayers are disrespected as a group when what they create is absolutely astounding.

    Did the show deliver? Well, not yet. But nothing I saw said that it wouldn’t deliver on those things either. And overall it was an enjoyable show that I will give a couple more episodes to get going!

    Likes: The art is very good. I liked the music. And I really liked the sounds of the sewing machines. Marin (the female lead) is not presented as an airhead which was an initial concern. The pacing was brisk but not rushed.

    Dislikes: Like Claire, I worry this is a setup for “Introvert bags the hottest girl in school because self-doubt is really attractive!” Also, the cheesecake factor. I was prepared for it, and it wasn’t as bad or frequent as it could have been. But when it hits it’s pretty heavy.

    It only bothers me for two reasons: it makes it hard to share the show with those who aren’t into anime and you swear that “really, it’s not like that” and then they see an underaged girl’s underwear rendered in detail. But more importantly, it reduces cosplayers to sex objects who dress up for the gratification of every incel who wanders around the con. Yes the costumes themselves can often be sexually arousing but these cosplayers are not doing it because they want to be objectified, leered at, or even (horribly) in some cases groped. It’s a real problem.

    So here are my three wishes:

    1. Show that creative, artistic expression is for everyone. There is nothing to be ashamed of, and it should never ever be tied to a gender.
    2. Show that cosplayers are artists of excellence, worthy of respect, and are not inviting sexual advances.
    3. Don’t fall into the stereotype that a withdrawn person should wait for a extroverted person to come dropping out of the sky to “rescue” them and fall hopelessly in love with them along the way.

    Don’t let me down, darling.

    1. Well said! You hit the nail on the head with every point. After watching more fashion reality tv in this past fortnight than my entire life put together, it really gave me such respect for everyone who creates clothing, but especially for men who design and sew and put up with the horrible stigma of being passionate about an art form that is nowadays deemed feminine (it never used to be).

      I also really appreciate your insights into cosplay culture–I’m a complete noob about it, but it is such a powerful form of expression that I really hope the series does justice to its richness and doesn’t just play it for the purposes of Wakana’s gratification (and that of the presumed viewer).

      Ah, the suspense is killing me!

  2. I’ve seen a lot of hype for this show, but I didn’t know what it was about, other than a comedy.
    I’m not really into fashion and the ecchi-ness seems a bit much.
    There’s a lot of other shows I want to watch this season, so I doubt I will watch this unless I don’t like anything else.

  3. I’ll be real here, at some point during the first episode, it dawned on me that the premise of “tailor/doll maker guy and model girl” reminded me of Smile Down the Runway from a long while back.

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