My Dress-Up Darling is a popular new rom-com anime series in the ongoing Winter 2022 anime season; a seinen anime with distinct shonen and shojo elements to it. The hero is Gojo Wakana, a high school student with a secret passion for making hina dolls -- something he shares with his grandfather. Then, when he meets the charming Kitagawa Marin, he expands into the world of cosplay too.
Despite its appearances, My Dress-Up Darling is a seinen series, since it has some edutainment elements to it and de-emphasizes the character arcs somewhat, similar to Laid-Back Camp. Even so, it's easy to view Gojo as a shonen protagonist, with a few creative twists to make him stand out.
How Gojo Wakana Superficially Emulates Shonen Protagonists
Strictly speaking, Gojo Wakana is a seinen protagonist, but his character arc has many shonen elements to it, beginning with his demographic. As opposed to seinen heroes like the cyborg Kusanagi Motoko and Kaneki Ken the half-ghoul, Gojo is a fairly ordinary high school student -- an everyman who viewers can easily relate to. That's a key shonen trait, as many shonen heroes are typically 13-16 years of age to match the target demographic, from Kurosaki Ichigo to Uzumaki Naruto and Kamado Tanjiro, among others.
Not only is Gojo relatable to fans of shonen, but he also has his own "powers" -- his skills with making hina dolls. Many non-violent shonen anime series find real-life analogies for such combat systems, such as competitive cooking in Food Wars! or high-stakes gambling in Kakegurui, and in My Dress-Up Darling's case, the combat system involves cosplay.
This throws open the doors for many challenges, adventures and opportunities for Gojo's growth after he meets Marin and agrees to become her cosplay partner and friend, lending her his expertise with tailoring and fabrics. Gojo can easily switch from making doll clothes to making regular clothes, and while he's quite skilled, there's ample room for him to learn new tricks, overcome unexpected challenges, meet new rivals and hone his skills like any shonen-style protagonist. However, while shonen heroes like Naruto or Izuku thrive on challenges, Gojo suffers from them.
Gojo Wakana's Struggle As A Shonen-Style Hero
While Gojogoes through many of the motions as a shonen-style protagonist, he's not precisely the same as Ichigo or Tanjiro, partly due to My Dress-Up Darling technically being a seinen series that feels no need to cater to the shonen crowd. True, Gojo has the bare bones of a shonen hero, but his character arc differs greatly from actual shonen heroes, since My Dress-Up Darling has other priorities and themes to explore as a non-violent seinen show.
To begin with, aside from wanting to make high-quality hina dolls and paint their faces, Gojo Wakana has few dreams or goals. Shonen heroes inspire and empower their fans with goals such as "I'll become Hokage" or "I'll be the king of pirates!", while Gojo lacks such aggressive goals, and that's ideal for My Dress-Up Darling's narrative. This is an edutainment and novelty anime that's about cosplay and light fanservice, not watching some kid take on the whole world. Gojo is no Luffy, nor should he be.
What's more, Gojo's character arc so far lacks shonen staples such as training montages and a mentor figure. Unlike Naruto training at Mt. Myoboku or Ichigo training to learn bankai, Gojo is simply practicing an ordinary trade at a steady pace. He's not the type to train under a waterfall and emerge ten times stronger than before so he can defeat the villain. He also lacks a character such as Gojo Satoru or Jiraiya the toad sage to train him, instead having Marin as his personal muse and business partner to make her cosplay dream a reality. Gojo does have his grandfather to guide him, but for the most part, he must succeed or fail with only Marin to help him, and she's no Jiraiya.
Lastly, Gojo has notable insecurities as a protagonist, and he doesn't do well under pressure. Shonen heroes are always confident in their dreams and their identity, while Gojo faces more relatable self-doubt and even imposter syndrome. He's not about to get a sudden burst of strength at the last second before overcoming a major obstacle. Instead, he pushed himself too hard to finish Marin's costume in record time, and he looked worse for wear when he was done. It wasn't a flattering montage, and what's more, Gojo didn't actually need to finish the costume by that deadline -- something he found out after the fact. His shonen-style burst of strength was practically wasted -- a subversion that would never happen in Naruto, Bleach or Demon Slayer.