Aspiring Hina dollmaker Wakana Gojou joins popular girl Marin Kitagawa in a surprisingly fun clash of cultures.
Episode 1 – “Someone Who Lives in the Exact Opposite World as Me”
My Dress-Up Darling (Sono Bisque Doll wa Koi wo Suru) is the next anime to enter the increasingly popular gyaru-invasion genre. Flashy gal Marin Kitagawa recruits boringly quiet Wakana Gojou to make racy clothes for her. H-doujins have covered erotic gals turning wimpy nerds into their personal adult toys for years now. The best ones reveal lovey-dovey stories underneath the copious amounts of sex scenes. And that dynamic has spilled successfully into mainstream anime. Well, that’s if you consider titles like Don’t Toy with Me Miss Nagatoro and My First Girlfriend is a Gal to be “mainstream.” Judging by the number of panty shots in these shows, the gyaru-invasion anime genre is not prime-time fare. The genre is popular late-night television, though.
My Dress-Up Darling also enjoyably displays otaku culture and its cross-pollination effects. The figurine and action figure market for modern mass communication media intellectual properties (manga, anime, video games, and vtubers) can trace its origins to the intricate designs of traditional dollmakers. Japan has regular contact with bisque dolls, dolls made of porcelain, through Hina dolls during Girls’ Day (Hinamatsuri) each year. Kids growing up around dolls will not feel that weird about buying figurines.
Imagine crossing the traditional artisan craft of dressing those dolls with the recent trade of cosplay costumes. That’s cross-generational fandom happening, especially if you consider the cosplay model as a life-sized doll. Genshiken, the story about an otaku college circle, aptly presented this dynamic between Ohno the model and Tanaka the dressmaker. The term “otaku” has come to describe the stereotype of antisocial comic book nerds in recent times, but otaku just means “fanatic.” There are train otakus, baseball team otakus, and Hina doll otakus. They might not smile as creepily as Gojou-kun does, but there are obsessive fans of all stripes in the world. Gojou already loves his Hina dolls for whom he makes clothes. I don’t think Marin has any idea of the scope of the devotion he’ll have for her in My Dress-up Darling. As a living doll, a friend, and something more.
There’s a deep rabbit hole to go down when researching porcelain dolls. The Japanese title is その着せ替え人形は恋をする, Sono Kisekae Ningyou wa Koi wo Suru, which means This Dress-up Doll Falls in Love. But! The official website puts phonetic spelling above “dress-up doll” as “bisque doll.” What? First, let’s deal with the uncontroversial part. Hina doll heads use biscuit porcelain (or bisque) because unglazed porcelain absorbs ash-based ink more readily than glazed porcelain. Japan regularly uses ground ash ink in calligraphy, so bisque doll faces were the natural medium. However, kisekae means changing clothes. That matches the English language version, My Dress-up Darling, better. What I love about the literal translation is how we know Gojou loves his porcelain dolls with his creepy smile. But the consequences of Gojou dressing a live girl means he’ll have a more eerie smile. Plus, his conversations with Marin will have a genuine exchange. Let’s turn that creepy smile into a genuine smile!
Wakana Gojou has always creepily smiled at beautiful Hina doll heads. His childhood female friend called him creepy! I’m sure he misunderstood her intentions, but now he thinks girls don’t like boys who play with dolls. Creepy!
The opening credits of My Dress-Up Darling show us how much we’ll appreciate Marin’s costumes and her natural beauty. And you know that if Marin likes hug pillows, she’ll have her own. Oh! There she is! Those Blu-ray box sets should be glorious. I can’t wait to see Marin wear all these outfits during the season. She’ll absolutely become Gojou’s living dress-up doll.
Gojou ticks the boxes for lead character status for My Dress-Up Darling. His parents are dead. Check. He sits in the back of the classroom next to the windows. Check. He knows he’s a weirdo with no friends. Check! Now, give us the flashy gal dropping into his life. Ha! Marin crashed into his desk! Oh, she’s friendly, and she’s an anime nerd! Plus, she will dismiss a hot dude for insulting her favorite anime character. Too bad for Gojou because he’s an obsessed nerd in a narrower niche. But Marin espouses open-minded opinions. Aw, look at Gojou’s face as he realized he was a bully target. Be a man, Gojou! Marin could be your first friend!
Later in the week, My Dress-Up Darling shows us how these two crazy kids get together. Over a sewing machine in the arts and crafts room! Gojou exposed his deepest, darkest secret: he talks to doll heads and tells them they’re pretty. Marin wants in on that action! Gojou could also make clothes for her and tell her she’s cute! Aha. Marin’s a cosplayer, but she can’t make her costumes well. I don’t know. That skirt looks like the proper length to me. Oh, Gojou. Swayed by detailed crotch shots. Good for him, though. Not so good is that Marin’s favorite character is an h-game heroine! Gojou will need a crash course in the seamier side of anime, manga, and video game otaku culture.
The end credit versions of Marin and Gojou are adorable.