My Dress-Up Darling is one of the most highly-anticipated anime of the Winter 2022 anime season, only behind continuations of beloved series like Attack on Titan and Demon Slayer. Depending on the website, it may even be the first new series on the list. It's easy to see why, given its subject matter is cosplay. When popular girl Kitagawa Marin discovers that class loner Gojo Wakana can sew, she convinces him to help her live out her cosplay dreams. The problem is, Wakana has only ever made clothes for dolls.
Cosplay is a staple of convention culture around the world and some have even made it their career. Even if an anime fan doesn't cosplay themselves, they probably know someone who does. Despite its prevalence, however, cosplay has yet to receive an anime dedicated to it. There are series that feature a character who cosplays, like Wotakoi's Koyanagi. Others have cosplay in it but don't focus on it, like Ouran High School Host Club. But no series can be called a cosplay-centered anime. My Dress-Up Darling just may be the one that can, while also bending the norm for fanservice.
Many anime fans have at least attempted cosplay before, with some finding a strong passion for it, but even those who have only tried it once can relate to My Dress-Up Darling. Marin and Wakana start as complete cosplay beginners, with Marin not knowing how to sew and Wakana having never made clothes for a person before. From drawing up patterns to picking out materials, the two take it step by step. They experience con crunch, heat exhaustion, group cosplay and other events that every cosplayer has dealt with.
It truly feels like a love letter to cosplay in these moments, and it's all due to the creator's hard work. Mangaka Shinichi Fukuda put a lot of effort into the cosplay aspects of My Dress-Up Darling to make it as realistic as possible. In the afterword of every volume released so far, they talk about the research trips they've taken for the series. They've visited wig shops and cosplay events, interviewed cosplayers and even tried cosplaying themself for a better understanding of the subject.
While My Dress-Up Darling takes its cosplay elements very seriously, it still has plenty of fun along the way. It's also a romantic comedy that makes it clear not all of Wakana's thoughts are innocent. He has an obvious crush on Marin, and the manga uses the "camera" to show the multiple sides of his attraction.
Wakana thinks very fondly of Marin once they get to know each other and does his best to respect her personal space, but his lust is clear whenever a panel is shown through his point of view. When he looks at her, he winds up focusing on some part of her body and the reader is treated to the same view. What makes My Dress-Up Darling's scenes different from standard fanservice, though, is Marin herself.
In a lot of fanservice scenes, it's standard for the character of focus to be either embarrassed or offended when she realizes she's being looked at, but that isn't the case with Marin. She's extremely confident in herself and doesn't care what others think. This philosophy applies to everything about her, from her unapologetic otaku interests to her body. Of course, she has boundaries and makes it clear when she needs privacy, but also isn't shy about being half-naked in front of a boy while he takes her measurements for cosplay purposes.
Marin even initiates some of the fanservice herself, flirtatiously teasing Wakana when he's flustered or showing a bit of immodesty when she needs his opinion on tiny cosplay details. She does this several times in the manga's first few chapters and, in doing so, takes action in the fanservice instead of having it done to her. In a medium where the opposite is standard, it's nice to see the norm being bent ever so slightly.
2022 is already hinting at being a great year for anime by kicking off with plenty to watch in the Winter season. Hopefully, animation studio CloverWorks captures the magic of Fukuda's manga and makes My Dress-Up Darling one that cosplay and fanservice fans alike can't miss out on.