Friday, April 8, 2022

Green Phoenix - My Dress-Up Darling Review


In the past, I have expressed a degree of pickiness when it comes to watching certain anime, generally preferring to watch largely comedic, lighthearted, or romantic-based anime. I will however, make exceptions for anime that particularly capture my attention, either due to an interesting narrative or thematic concept or simply one that has a beautifully done animation style. The consequence of this is that I don't tend to watch a great deal of anime, but when I do, it is usually of fairly high quality or at least is something that I personally can become invested in.

So when I say that today's anime is one which managed to tick off every damn box I have ever required of an anime and is one that I not only watched, but watched in both dub and sub and hope to continue watching in a future season 2, I hope that expresses to you the sheer degree to which I adore My Dress-Up Darling, the anime that might already very well be my favorite anime of 2022.

This simple 12 episode romantic comedy is a masterful combination of compelling and deep narrative story-telling, a heartwarming and slightly erotic (whilst maintaining an innocence) romance, and a beautiful thematic love letter to cosplay and the passion of artists and fans; all expressed in beautifully flowing animation that is some of the best that I have ever bore witness too.

I could keep on going in this intro, but I think its more important to get into the main article now.

  • Directed by Keisuke Shinohara
  • Produced by CloverWorks
  • Available for viewing on CrunchyRoll (Sub & Dub)
  • 12 Episodes (As of April 8th, 2022)


Wakana Gojo is a high school student obsessed with becoming hina doll craftsman, even working as an assistant in his grandfather's shop. However due to a poor experience with a former friend, Gojo has kept his passion a secret from everyone, resulting in him having no friends at school.

However when a chance encounter with Marin Kitagawa, the most popular and outgoing student in his class, results in his passion getting revealed; Kitagawa is enthralled by the craftsmanship and skill that Gojo utilizes in his work, including the dolls' handmade clothing. It is then that Kitagawa reveals her own passion: cosplay.

Kitagawa wants nothing more than to cosplay as her favorite manga and anime characters, but is unable to sew or create the costumes on her own. To this end, she works with Gojo to design custom cosplay outfits for her and a strange friendship, or possibly more, is formed between the high energy fangirl and the introverted artist.



Where to begin with this anime? There is so much to describe and explore in terms of adequately explaining why I love this series so much. In all honesty, I think we may have to start with what drew me into the anime in the first place. And its honestly what probably drew most people into it.
The sheer beauty and clarity of the animation. And I do not just mean in terms of how good looking Marin Kitagawa is. It is the elephant in the room, and I am addressing it. Yes, Marin Kitagawa is a beautifully designed character and peak waifu material that leads to all kinds of hilarious and...interesting...ecchi moments that you would come to expect from a romantic comedy. But that is not the only thing which makes Marin or this anime so interesting. Kitagawa absolutely looks fantastic throughout the anime and is generally the focus of some of the best and most fluid pieces of animation that I have seen in a long time, but she is merely one beautifully animated element in a series that is filled with beautiful moments of animation.
The thematic center of the series is around the passion of artists in their creations and the consumption of that art by its fans and how they express it. As a consequence, My Dress-Up Darling approaches cosplay and hina doll creation with the same level of heightened detail and magnificent moments of silent appreciation and passionate bursts of love from both Gojo and Kitagawa. And it is genuinely heartwarming to see that love and appreciation, especially since its highly accurate according to the accounts given by cosplayers who have watched the show. The series really is a loving tribute to not only the art of cosplay, but the beauty underlying all forms of creative enjoyment of a subject.
My Dress-Up Darling utilizes these thematic elements as the narrative base for a magnificently structured romantic comedy. And the best romantic comedy requires that we as the audience are invested in the characters. Both of our romantic leads must stand on their own on as characters and have strong enough chemistry between each other that the audience is motivated to see that chemistry react to form great moments of romance. Thankfully, Kitagawa and Gojo are probably some of the strongest romantic characters I have ever seen. Both are wonderfully complex individuals in their own right and make a point of fully developing their own platonic connections and interactions before the two ever reach a moment of consistent romantic interaction, even if it is often on Kitagawa's part to initiate.
The relationship between these two is just precious and wholesome.
In fact, the fact that Kitagawa is the one initiating romantic encounters, while still allowing Gojo to shine as a fully actualized and compelling character in his own right helps to avoid that terrible romantic anime trend of bland male protagonist inexplicably attracting the hottest girls to him. Gojo is a traditionally handsome character, who is also intelligent, compassionate, with a deep love of his own interests and a willingness to listen to his friends discuss their interests (even if he doesn't fully understand). Gojo is a perfect counterpoint to Kitagawa's manic enthusiasm for life, without the two coming off as a mess of argumentative personalities. Rather, like the best romances, Kitagawa and Gojo seem to bring out the very best in one another. You completely believe that these two would be drawn to one another, if only they could get past some of their personal self-image issues (at least in Gojo's case).
Of course, there are more characters than just Kitagawa and Gojo and all of them just bring so much more to this world and help us to really delve deep into the world of fandom and the creative process. From Gojo's grandfather who is a master hina doll maker that Gojo is apprenticing under (and who struggles to understand why Gojo is buying women's clothing accessories to hilarious effect) to the Inui sisters to bring out an entirely different angle to the cosplay community that help expand Kitagawa and Gojo's friend circle within that world. It all goes to push the world into a fun direction that I hope only gets expanded further.
This ease of all these character interactions makes watching and binging My Dress-Up Darling extremely rewarding. Which is doubled by the fact that the dub and sub are both incredibly good in my opinion. Amanda Lee's performance as Kitagawa is of particular note to me as her career has been on the rise and her experience as a VTuber has helped to really get her into the mind of a character like Kitagawa and avoid the occasional emotionally dulled voice acting that can sometimes occur in more realistically drawn anime.
Within the universe of the show, we have fictional animes and mangas that Kitagawa is a fan of and the show goes out of its way to show these shows in heightened detail (becoming rather poignant and hilarious parodies of popular animes and films). It shows this level of in-universe detail to help us get into KItagawa and Gojo's head while they are constructing the cosplay outfits. The details in the shows are expressed in the clothing, which feeds into the passion of the act of cosplay. It all fits to keep the thematic core of My Dress-Up Darling consistent and the stellar voice direction only enhances these details.
The series is also genuinely funny. Kitagawa is more than a pretty face and the show goes out of its way to show how complex both of our main leads are. They each have moments of emotional vulnerability and interactions that are as charming as they are awkwardly hilarious. I think the measurements scene and the love hotel scenes are far and away the funniest moments in the entire series and I found myself on the floor laughing throughout. But these moments are also counterpointed by moments of true emotional pathos. Gojo's emotional breakdown while designing Kitagawa's first cosplay spoke to me on a truly fundamental level, as I have been in his shoes while working on a time-sensitive project before.
I absolutely love everything about this series, but I do dislike that the show leaves the relationship somewhat unresolved. I do thinks its pretty clear that Kitagawa by the end of the series is deeply in love with Gojo, many of the emotional hangups that are limiting Gojo's recognition of his own feelings haven't really been fully addressed. I was sort of expecting an interaction between Kitagawa and Gojo's old childhood friend at some point to help bring Gojo's arc some degree of closure, but that didn't really happen. The anime absolutely has some stunning romantic (borderline erotic) moments between the two, but it never fully commits.
Perhaps we will simply have to wait until the second season of the show. If they make one.
I really really hope they make a second season of My Dress-Up Darling. I would watch the shit out of that.
  • 10/10
  • 9/10
  • 9/10
  • 9/10

 FINAL SCORE - 9.25/10

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