Kitagawa-san Kitagawa-san Kitagawa-san Kitagawa-san Kitagawa-san Kitagawa-san Kitagawa-san Kitagawa-san Kitagawa-san Kitagawa-san
As we enter the end of the 2022 season there is one thing we all can agree on. The season was full of fan favorites and even though I started my hiatus early on it didn’t shield me from the wave of one fandom in particular. Trudging through my backlog I took my Thanksgiving Thursday and set it full of one thing and one thing only (that isn’t true I also started the new Gundam series) no turkey, no football, only Dress Up Darling.
Yeah, okay I don’t watch football.
Coming from the ever-so-gifted studio CloverWorks this one season 12 episode romance comedy struck like hot iron quickly becoming a seasonal favorite even for those who aren’t a connoisseur of such things. The series follows Hina Doll master in training, Wakana Gojou. A quiet teenager, he is a bit of a loner, not really spending any of his free time with friends while keeping his school time in a state of indifference. Gojou isn’t some aloof lacking in spirit, it just happens that his passion does not entail the daily workings of a high schooler. In fact, Gojou has a deep devotion to his grandfather’s art of running his own Hina doll shop. Now, this is something he keeps to himself, past scares of bullying alienated his hobbies. This of course becomes fuck all when he runs into cracked classmate, Marin Kitagawa.
And thus the best girl bells ring.
Hyper positive, the light of the class, and overall popular beauty Kitagawa is everything Gojou isn’t, and in the awkward anime style, they met by chance.
Of her flying through the air slamming her head on his desk. Real fucking natural.
Blowing off the event with apologies Gojou think’s nothing more of it heading to the sewing club room after school. It is here he can work in peace, or well, that was until his newfound pal shows up. Wanting nothing more than to find someone to help with her cosplay, Kitagawa asks for Gojou’s service, showing him how out of depth she is.
Oh yeah, I should mention our miss popular is a hella weeb and eroge devotee, wearing those things as a badge of pride as she gushes to Gojou about who and why she wants too badly to be these characters. Seeing her passion he agrees, delving into her world so he can better understand it to use his skills learned for Hina Dolls bridging into a friendship.
My Dress Up Darling is literally about a girl who wants to cosplay and a guy good at making clothes hitting it off as they navigate this newfound world. Going to cons, booking studios, and growing her platform all while interacting with juggernauts of the world. Mirrored by Gojou doubting himself before being reaffirmed by his new friend, a friend that quickly sees him as something more.
This is shared naturally as the show tactfully displays an embarrassed Gojou, followed by tissues in a trashcan. Didn’t catch that? Fret not, later he will call her name repeatedly while smacking his forehead….
Yada-yada I’m done with the masturbation jokes so let’s get down to it. We got a popular pervert girl, a shut-in Hina Doll fetish guy, and a mutual agreement that they can help one another with their adolescent dreams, what does that make?
Well, it makes an interesting look at otaku culture, and what it means to be a weeb, a nerd, or a shut-in. Otaku culture is weird, it is supposed to be, and that is the whole point. But that doesn’t mean it’s fringe or outcast.
It’s actually the opposite.
Marin doesn’t hide the fact she is into eroge or the anime ascetic and doing so doesn’t shun her from any student body, or so it seems. I think one of the trickiest parts to pin down with this series is just how small the scope of relationships is. Marin has friends outside of Gojou, we see them from time to time but that is it. Nowa, Daia, and Rune all seem to be friends with Marin but we know little about them, their hobbies, or their interest.
Even later on in the series when we meet cosplay extraordinaire Sajuna Inui we get a glimpse into an outside relationship but it doesn’t develop anymore but a mutual interest in cosplay and once that is done, isn’t really mentioned again. This of course is in the context that this series is one season with 12 episodes but even with that the narrow development that only two characters make it hard to gauge what others think of the pairing or their hobbies.
The other thing the series did that I really appreciated shining a light on the craftsmanship that doesn’t get a lot of recognition these days. Hina Dolls (Hinamatsuri) is one of the most elegant, graceful ascetics to come out of Japanese culture, and pairing it with the idea of cosplay and general anime fandom was an unexpected but surprisingly charming pairing.
Dress Up Darling was a funny and often cute rom-com that eclipsed in many ways what it is like to be an anime fan in the current day. It shined (though slim) a light into how broad the fandom has become, showing that as time goes on this once closeted secret thing is more mainstream, not only accepted but enjoyed by many as the medium continues to grow. All of which is a very good thing, though I wish they’d stop making isekais, like really, quit.
I also want to make a mention of how garbage episode 8 looked, which was weird since CloverWorks rarely drops the ball and even more so on an important episode like a beach one. The ocean, backdrop, and even facial expressions of Marin and Gojou look just plain awful, even the wave effects looked amateur and it was really jarring. Luckily (and even more oddly) it was just that episode, 1-7 and 9-12 looked fine, some scenes with an added crispness to bring out the character expressions.
I hesitate to stan Marin as I often found her equally as annoying as funny but I can see why the series made the waves it did. It was a thoroughly enjoyable series and I look forward to the second season. I pondered on cracking open the manga to see if any of the other characters outside the main two get any real development but decided against it.
As always thanks for the read!