Sometimes… every once in a great while, something comes along that simply… surprises you.
I am reminded of a lesson taught in Ratatouille, that a chef of excellent skill – and, by extension, an individual of masterful skill in any trade – can appear from anywhere, meaning they can come from any background, anywhere. In a similar fashion, it would seem that a delightful, enjoyable, high-quality story can take quite nearly any form, even one that is most unexpected, and most surprising.
And surprised I most certainly was by this anime!
I not only enjoyed My Dress-Up Darling, I freaking loved it!
To fully appreciate that, well… it’s 1) an ecchi-themed 2) romantic comedy that 3) heavily features cosplay, which should have been an easy three points against it, especially with all three of them together, because 1) I’ve been craving more, not less, wholesome entertainment, 2) there are exceptions, but I generally do not enjoy most rom-coms, and 3) the vehicle of it (cosplay) is something I have never had much interest in. Really, this could and/or should easily have been one of those instances where I watched the first episode, per my one-episode rule, and tossed it in the discard pile. Heck, the smart bet would have been that I wouldn’t even finish the first episode!
But within that first episode, they did everything exactly right.
It featured the proper establishment of the characters, including who they are, what they’re like, what they want, and what they struggle with. It showed us a meeting between two people who seem practically worlds apart from each other, but find that they share common ground in their unusual interests. It displays the early stages of a relationship, a genuine friendship that feels perfectly natural and doesn’t require any special gimmicks or hoops or anything to force the situation, where two people are building each other up instead of one or both of them tearing each other down (which, these days, is a resounding breath of fresh air!). And both of them have practical capabilities which contribute to the new experiences which they are embarking on together.
Was it surprising to me to be enjoying My Dress-Up Darling? Absolutely. But it was not at all surprising to enjoy a show that started off quite so well and so capably.
If this had been a military engagement, My Dress-Up Darling would have been Alexander the Great as he faced a Persian army much larger than his own, wherein he achieved absolute victory against odds that should have been impossible. Alexander did this by having his entire army charge straight at the enemy king, who fled and left his army to surrender. My Dress-Up Darling likewise focused on what was most important: telling a good story with lovable, relatable characters.
Speaking of, the story follows two Japanese high school students, Marin Kitagawa and Wakana Gojo, as they venture together into the world of cosplay.
It starts off with Gojo, who was taken in by his grandfather after his parents died and grew up in their family’s hina doll shop. Gojo completely loves these dolls and how beautiful they are, which leaves him a bit isolated from his peers because he does not know what they could possibly have in common. That comes after an incident when he was very young where the one friend he had, a young girl, verbally attacked him for loving dolls so much. To this day, he has never made another friend… until Marin comes crashing into his life, that is!
Marin and Gojo seem to be a study in opposites. He’s a plain-looking dude with little style of his own, zero friends, very quiet and shy and always getting stepped on and taken advantage of by his classmates. Marin, by absolute contrast, is stunningly gorgeous, fashionable, popular, surrounded by friends, very confident and never afraid to speak her mind or stand up for herself. She’s all this, and humble to boot, not putting herself above others or above the same mundane tasks that everyone is expected to do. Seriously, she is amazing, and is officially the first girl ever to actually give Nami of One Piece a proper run for her money as my anime crush. 😉
By twist of fate, Marin learns that Gojo can sew quite a bit better than she can, a skill he learned in order to clothe the hina dolls his grandfather makes. She asks for his help in crafting her first cosplay outfit, and Gojo says yes because he recognizes a kindred spirit in her passion, which he admires. Thus, they become friends, working together, sharing and expanding their interests and experiences, talking freely about anything and everything, and so on. It’s written on the wall – or, rather, it’s written in bright, blinking neon across the entire sky – that they will become more than just friends, in due time, but in the meantime they’re simply two people who get along surprisingly well.
I just want to take a moment here, just pause, and talk about how their relationship stands out to me as exceptionally enjoyable to see. Many of the other couplings I’ve seen in anime have been nothing short of absurd, even offensive, or sometimes just inexplicable and unexplained. I could probably wax eloquent with an entire post here, but I shall forebear for the moment. Suffice to say that the simple selfless sincerity and respect they show to each other makes for an astonishingly pure and – dare I say it? – wholesome relationship between Gojo and Marin. Which is ironic, considering how saucy things get throughout this anime!
Which, of course, brings me to a sort-of complaint, regarding how I can’t exactly share this show with the kiddies. It is, as I said at the start, an ecchi show. Meaning they do not hesitate to show most of the female anatomy in very enticing and alluring ways. They show off Marin’s figure with very little left to the imagination, they insert plenty of innuendo, there are panty shots, and there’s the scene where Gojo sees a girl (not Marin) naked in his bathroom. Not to mention everything involved in the entire situation when Marin dresses up as a succubus. Yeah, that sort of thing kind of puts a damper on, for instance, going, “This, children, is an example of a wholesome relationship between two good people!” (Sigh!)
That said, I have seen instances in entertainment where the more sexual situations were actually dealt with fairly tastefully. My Dress-Up Darling certainly pushes some of the limits on that, but it seems to successfully walk a very fine line. Many other shows rather tastelessly just shove it all in our faces, for no point other than to see it, but this one doesn’t. Not even the bathroom scene, where Gojo sees everything, but the audience does not. Even better, though, is how it actually serves the story, as well as the development of the characters and their relationships. I mean, that almost never happens, not in anime or anywhere else! But they did it here, which left my jaw dropped to the floor.
What else is there to say about My Dress-Up Darling? Well, the animation is stunningly beautiful, fluid, and well-done, the English dub is every bit as fantastic as the original Japanese (I found only one hiccup with the translation), it’s hilarious and heart-warming even if it isn’t quite entirely wholesome, it tells a good, well-paced story about two teenagers bonding, becoming friends, and falling in love in Japan, and if there’s a second season – which, considering how popular it is, I very much imagine there will be – I will definitely watch the show to it’s conclusion!
All in all, it is a superbly well-done, enjoyable anime!
Rating: 9 stars out of 10!