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The Winter 2022 Preview Guide
My Dress-Up Darling

How would you rate episode 1 of
My Dress-Up Darling ?
Community score: 4.4

What is this?

Traumatized by a childhood incident with a friend who took exception to his love of traditional dolls, doll-artisan hopeful Wakana Gojō passes his days as a loner, finding solace in the home ec room at his high school. To Wakana, people like beautiful Marin Kitagawa, a trendy girl who's always surrounded by a throng of friends, is practically an alien from another world. But when cheerful Marin--never one to be shy--spots Wakana sewing away one day after school, she barges in with the aim of roping her quiet classmate into her secret hobby: cosplay.

My Dress-Up Darling is based on Shinichi Fukuda's manga and streams on Funimation on Saturdays.

How was the first episode?

Richard Eisenbeis

Looking back at my notes, the first thing on the page is the sarcastic comment: “Oh great, let's shame a kid into repressing that which brings him joy in order to force him to conform to stereotypical gender roles.” But as it turns out, undoing this damage is precisely what the anime is all about.

Gojo is the grandson of a traditional Japanese doll maker and, ever since he was a child, he's been obsessed with learning the craft. The problem is that, when he was a kid, he showed his hobby to a friend of his who didn't like that he was a boy who liked dolls. (Oh, the horror!) Unfortunately, being shunned for something he liked by someone he cared about has really messed up Gojo—to the point where years later he still has nightmares about it.

To his credit, Gojo hasn't tried to repress the thing he loves—but he has gone way too far in the opposite direction. To prevent himself from ever feeling that way again, Gojo has chosen to isolate himself from his peers. After all, if no one ever learns about his hobby, how can they mock him for it? It's exactly the kind of stupid logic a kid would follow and it's clear that, while he's not happy with the situation, he has normalized it.

Enter our heroine. Marin is pretty, stylish, outgoing, and kind. However, most importantly, she's not afraid to fly her nerd flag high. And if anyone's not okay with that, then they're not worth her time (though I bet her friends are rightfully tired of her impromptu lectures about why her favorite character is “best girl”). While Gojo chose what makes him happy over social interaction, Marin is not willing to compromise one for the other—and damn the consequences. Moreover, Marin is a character that talks-the-talk and walks-the-walk. Even after she finds out that Gojo could give her the help with her cosplay she so desperately needs, she doesn't want to bully him into it. She's willing to take the L rather than become something she disapproves of. In other words, she is a person that Gojo can both understand and respect—making her the perfect friend to help him out of his shell. It's a solid episode from top to bottom with layered characters who have good chemistry. I'll totally be back for more next week.

Caitlin Moore

I love cosplay. While it's been a long time since I swanned through convention hallways decked out in an outlandish outfit I constructed myself, I have friends who are serious enough about the hobby that they've been invited to conventions as guests or judges for cosplay contests. I love listening to them go on about the techniques they invented for getting a dress to hang just right, or shriek over how character designers do not understand clothing physics and how it is literally impossible for a garment to work the way they drew. I remember my first few costumes and how little I knew about sewing techniques, instead cobbling them together through guesswork and a prayer, with mixed results. While it's much more socially acceptable now, I also remember how weird people got about it back in the '10s and earlier if they found out you dressed up as anime characters for fun.

I enjoyed My Dress-Up Darling from the very get-go, but one moment that particularly stuck out to me – and made me feel compelled to yell at my cosplayer friends to check it out immediately – came when Marin revealed her current work-in-progress and first attempt at sewing to Gojo. It's an intensely vulnerable moment, and he, in his passion for craftsmanship, immediately starts finding all the things she did wrong. You can tell the dress is poorly-made at a glance, hanging off of her like a potato sack, and issues he details – like messing with the tension and not ironing the fabric before she started work – are all classic rookie mistakes, some of which I've made myself.

This is what I want to see out of a hobby anime: verisimilitude that does not sacrifice interesting writing or characters. Gojo could have launched into a long, detailed explanation of what a bobbin is, or how to reverse-stitch to finish a seam while Marin makes an :o face and nods along, but instead they display just enough technical knowledge that we, the audience, know we can take it seriously but also moving swiftly to the much more important aspect: the hobby as a subject of passion and joy, and the emotions it brings about.

Plus, the mutuality of Gojo and Marin's arrangement makes it stand out compared to other makeover shows where a strong-willed, socially adept girl comes crashing into a nerdy boy's life and teaches him how to function in society. While ostensibly it's mostly him helping her, the subtext is that spending time with Marin will help him learn to be more open about his own passion and make friends as he assists her in making her costumes. Meanwhile, Marin's own internality makes her feel like a human with believable motivations instead of, well, one of Gojo's dolls. Their common ground – a love of less socially-accepted hobbies – actually makes them work better as foils. Even if Marin's unapologetic nerdiness and popularity is directly opposed to his withdrawal and social isolation, they come from a similar origin point, and that makes it easier to see how they would grow close and help each other.

My Dress-Up Darling is the first standout of the season, and, outside of the occasional fanservice shot, made up almost entirely of things Caitlin likes portrayed accurately. Now if we can only get an anime adaptation of Complex Age

Nicholas Dupree

There are a lot of ways to approach an opposites-attract style rom-com, but the most important element is that you need to establish a strong, relatable reason for your star-crossed crushers to fall for each other. That sounds obvious, but you'd be surprised how many romances – anime or otherwise – fail to ever answer that particular question. Thankfully, My Dress-Up Darling spends pretty much its whole first episode building that dynamic, getting us into the headspace of male lead Gojo as he unexpectedly stumbles into the life of the stylish and popular Marin. We don't get quite as much from Marin's point of view just yet, but with her outspoken personality we still get a good idea of what she's about, making for a rock-solid first impression for both.

The key is that both are likable in different ways. Gojo is a timid, awkward mess who's internalized a lot of bad vibes around his personal passion, convincing himself that being open about his hobby of making Hina dolls would make his peers see him as a weirdo. Marin, as you'd expect, is the exact opposite – she's outspoken about her love of anime and fashion even when her other friends don't really get it, and has zero patience for dudes trying to neg her by “playfully” mocking the stuff she cares about. They're both really endearing personalities, and once the two of them are together it makes for some great comedy alongside all the blushy-crushy scenes. Though those scenes are super cute, and I already love the dynamic they have of supporting and affirming each other's passions, regardless of what others might think.

What really puts the premiere over the top is the production. The entire episode is filled to bursting with expressive, fluid character animation that communicates as much (or more) about the characters as their dialogue. Just a single shot of Marin and Gojo's hands packs in more character details and emotion than several of the other premieres I've watched combined. Married to ambitious camera-work and motivated direction, you have a top-to-bottom gorgeous premiere that does everything in its power to sell you on its character relationships. There's a dash of fanservice as well, though it's mostly playful rather than voyeuristic, and frankly some partial nudity's to be expected in a show all about putting on clothes. Gojo could probably stand to develop the professionalism we saw in Smile Down the Runway, but nothing in this episode felt actively uncomfortable.

Overall this is easily the strongest premiere of the season so far. It's bright, vibrant, and has already laid excellent groundwork for its central couple. The cosplay/sewing angle is an interesting wrinkle to add to the whole dynamic, and I can't wait to watch more. This is definitely one to follow.

James Beckett

Feel free to consider that extra half-point on my score for this Preview an “Enthusiasm Bonus"; this winter has been pretty underwhelming so far as new anime goes, and it is possible that a teensy bit of my hype over My Dress-Up Darling is rooted in finally having something really impress me. Don't get me wrong, though: This anime rules. Anyone that has been looking for a sweet, well-written, and horny-but-not-too-horny teen rom-com to indulge in need look no further. My Dress-Up Darling is here to serve.

What really makes this premiere work so gosh darned well (outside of the lovely production from CloverWorks) is the characters. Wakana is an admittedly weird but passionate young man who just wants to master the art of crafting traditional hina dolls, and he's spent his life mastering the family craft at the expense of having a more typical teenaged experience, especially in the “making friends” department. He's realistically written and eminently likeable, and his obsessive awkwardness pairs perfectly with the bouncy and expressive energy that Marin provides.

Marin may veer a bit into “Manic Pixie Dream Girl" territory, but what saves her from feeling like a completely artificial archetype is how she possesses an equally goofy and obsessive love for her cosplay hobby, except she's…well, she's just not very good at it. Obviously, this makes her and Wakana an even cuter pair, but I also empathize quite a bit with how Marin is hyper-fixating on a hobby without having the skills and experience necessary to actually do said hobby. That's one of the lifelong hallmarks of the ADHD experience right there.

So yeah, I'm completely down for this show. My Dress-Up Darling is sweet, sexy, lovely to look at, and Shōya Ishige delivers one of the funniest line readings that I've heard in a long time, so it seems like the comedy is in good shape, too. I'm just begging you, CloverWorks: Please, please don't drop the ball on this one.

Rebecca Silverman

I may be rating this too highly due to the twin factors of really liking the source manga and this being the best thing I've seen so far this season, which has made me a little giddy. But mostly what I liked about this episode were the characters. Both Marin and Wakana are interesting people with their own motivations and personalities rather than cardboard cut-outs masquerading as characters, and with a cast as small as this story has, that's important. Marin and Wakana may live in different layers of the stratified world that is high school, but they're also not as far apart as Wakana thinks, something that we begin to see in their interactions with each other.

A lot of Wakana's issue is that he has baggage, namely a kid with an unhealthy fixation on gendered toys. Kids made fun of him for liking the Hina dolls (traditional dolls used on Girls' Day) that his grandfather makes. Basically he thinks that this makes him too weird for other people, and so Marin's total lack of any sort of judgement is amazing to him, mostly because he never thought that anyone could be like that. We can see that her whole friend group is welcoming. They don't judge her for rambling on about her favorite otaku hobbies, but somehow Wakana doesn't make the connection until he directly interacts with her and she's interested in what he can do. And there's just something about her that seems to put people at ease – we see Wakana go from stumbling over his words to being able to converse naturally with her the minute she taps into his knowledge base. Mostly he's critiquing her sewing skills, but she's still made him feel safe enough in her presence to do so, at least in part by showing him the character she's trying to cosplay and fully admitting what she likes.

This episode only scratches the surface of the story, but so far, so good. I was concerned about the fanservice aspect, but thus far that's on par with the manga, and seeing the way Marin can't stay still for more than a minute definitely fits the character. The ending theme is also adorable and captures both Wakana and Marin's personalities well, and if Marin's carefully manicured claws are a little more uncomfortable in motion, well, that's probably my own issue. At this point I'm eager to see how this continues to unfold and hopeful that it will do the source material justice.

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