First Look: My Dress-Up Darling

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Alternative title(s): Sono Bisque Doll wa Koi wo Suru
Manga Adaptation by CloverWorks
Streaming on Crunchyroll

Premise

Wakana Gojo is a first-year high school student who’s made not a single friend all throughout his academic life because of a shameful secret: his love of dolls and his goal to be a hina doll craftsman, just like his grandfather. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Marin Kitagawa, a trendsetting and popular classmate with an unexpected passion for anime and cosplay. When Marin spots Gojo using a sewing machine in the school home ec room, she unselfconsciously declares her hobby and convinces him to make her cosplay outfits for her.

Artemis’ verdict: This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

Boy, was I left grinding my teeth in sheer frustration after this one. See, My Dress-Up Darling has the potential to be pretty good, because there’s some actually decent content here. The anime, through its characters (okay, mostly through a single character, at least so far), makes it plain that hypocrisy exists on several levels. If Gojo had been a girl, nobody would likely have batted an eyelid at his doll hobby, because it’s only considered dumb, sissy, and/or just plain gross and creepy if a guy happens to be into dolls. Moreover, Gojo can sew, which takes Kitagawa aback because frankly, I don’t think many guys in Japan are taught how to use a sewing machine – cos that’s wife work, ya know? (Hell, if anime and even a little real-life experience on my part after living in Japan for several years is to be believed, single guys are generally pretty shit at cleaning, cooking, and doing the laundry too, so god knows how the menfolk survive out there in the wilderness without a nice young lady doing all the domestic work on their behalf… but I digress.)

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Meanwhile, if Kitagawa had been a boy, she’d probably be considered a creepy otaku herself, but because she’s considered a hot chick, she’s popular even though she’s an out-and-out fangirl for a lot of fairly risqué-sounding anime that are clearly aimed at horny dudes. And it sounds like she knows this, or at the very least doesn’t judge people based on their hobbies – making her a sympathetic character who goes against the mold, especially considering how she presents herself physically what with all the piercings and whatnot, to say nothing of her undisguised love for cosplay.

As you can see, there’s a bunch of stuff to unpack here, most of it genuinely interesting. And then, Because Anime, the show goes and squanders all that goodwill by throwing in boob shots, panty shots, thigh shots, butt shots, close-up mouth shots, and every other thing it can think of to appeal to the lowest possible common denominator. Not just one or two of them seemingly incidentally, either – the premiere is chock-full of them. Every five seconds or so (when the camera isn’t focused on Gojo full-on blushing and talking to his dolls, just to make it clear that actually, he likely does have some kind of problem and feels more for his dolls than just a healthy passion for a hard-earned hobby), there’s some more cleavage or an unbelievably on-the-nose crotch-shot staring at the viewer in the face.

Just to make it clear, the anime wouldn’t have needed to change anything at all about this opening episode to be good, other than simply take that stuff out and replace it with literally anything else – a scenery pan, scraps of classroom dialogue – anything at all, just as long as it wasn’t skeevy fanservice. But apparently, that’s too hard an ask, or whoever created this thought it wouldn’t sell otherwise, whatever. Either way, it’s depressing, I’m annoyed, and this is yet another show I won’t be watching this season. Cheers, anime.

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Jel’s verdict: All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go

I’ve heard a lot of buzz around this series as something good to watch, and I can’t say I agree after the first episode. It feels like a prime example of a show where people want to love the premise so much that they go blind to the execution. As Artemis mentioned, it does bring up some topics centered on masculinity and double standards that are worthy of discussing. Unfortunately, I get the impression this series will only use them as a framework for a mediocre high school romance story. Maybe that’s a big leap to take on one episode, but I’m taking it. Also, I don’t understand why in 2022 a show like this still thinks it has to meet a late night anime fan service quota. All of this amounts to something I’m not terribly interested in watching.

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