Winter 2022 has been an interesting anime season so far, or, really, depending on how you look at it, quite boring unless you’re part of one of two groups. If you aren’t watching Attack on Titan or My Dress-up Darling duke it out for the top spot on the weekly rating, then you’re pretty much stuck with generic isekais or some lazy prince and his white-haired waifu. I mean, we do have a few good series, but you get what I’m saying.
If you told me that the only titan colossal enough to defeat Attack on Titan time and time again would be a rom-com about cosplaying and being yourself, I would tell you to stop lying to me. We don’t live in a world that good. Turns out I was wrong. The world is pretty awesome sometimes.
You’ve probably seen Marin Kitagawa around the internet a lot over the past few months. That’s because people love her and really, for good reason, as I talked about here. But just because Marin is clearly the face and the benevolent ruler of the fandom, that doesn’t mean she’s the only reason Dress-up Darling is so good. She’s not, and as your friendly neighborhood rom-com guru, I will explain why.
I won’t deny that Marin is amazing and has plenty of reasons for people to fall so head over heels for her. There’s the obvious fact that she’s beautiful and acts very endearing to a lot of people, but moreover, she’s just the sweetest person ever. She completely subverts expectations and is one of the most genuine, caring, kindest people you could ever meet. It’s hard not to like her, to be perfectly honest. You must like pretty awful people if you don’t.
But Marin is only one half of the wonderful relationship present in Dress-Up Darling. A lot of the reasons people like her, I.e., her sweet, genuine, caring, accepting personality, all of that only comes out because of someone entirely different. Without this other person, we would only know her as the pretty girl, and she wouldn’t be anywhere near as popular.
And that person is Gojo. Marin is the one who manages to accept Gojo for who he is and tell him to like whatever the hell he wants to. She cares for him a lot and doesn’t treat him any different or use him, despite his less than stellar self-esteem. It’s through Gojo that Marin is able to shine as bright as she does, but that’s not to say that Gojo doesn’t deserve any credit. In fact, he deserves just as much. Dare I say, Gojo is just as good as Marin!
Now, what is this blasphemous statement I just made? Well, there’s a bit of differing opinions when it comes to my main man Gojo. Most Dress-up Darling and Marin fans agree that he’s pretty great, but there are some people outside that community that misunderstand him greatly and see the whole of the series as a bunch of fans just liking this hot cosplay girl. That’s just not the case. I personally like Gojo more.
It’s not that one or the other is better. Marin is not a better character than Gojo, and Gojo is not better than Marin. It’s not a competition, and it would never work that way because they are really the best couple a rom-com can have. They’re good by themselves and outstanding when together.
Marin and Gojo complete each other’s characters and make each other stronger than they could ever be otherwise. Gojo is a character with a lot of trauma and inner turmoil. He lacks any confidence in himself or his abilities, some of that from being made fun of in the past for simply being himself, but some just from the difficulties of the path he chose for himself.
He wants to create beautiful hina dolls, and he wants to make people happy. He wants to give people the same sense of beauty that he experienced when he was younger. But the path isn’t easy. Even without the slander from people he cares about and general isolation, any sort of art career is a long, lonely, arduous journey. Just because you care and try hard doesn’t mean you’ll succeed. It can be unforgiving. It is very unforgiving.
Gojo struggles with this constantly, and no matter how hard he tries, he can never improve. He has a hurdle that he can’t overcome, and no amount of practice will ever help him cross it. It’s a hurdle in his mind he needs to overcome. He needs to accept that this is what he’s going to do with his life. He needs to accept himself and believe fully that he’ll do this. He needs acceptance in all forms of his life.
And that’s when he meets Marin, the very unsuspecting girl who simply tells him to like what he likes and changes his entire world for the better. Through hanging out with Marin, Gojo slowly learns to accept himself and learn that in order to make his art better, he needs to take a step back and experience the world. To make someone smile, you need to know what will cause it to happen. Through being accepted for truly being himself, he learns that he can accept himself and his faults.
This is why a lot of people like Marin. She’s what everyone wants. A supportive, sweet person telling you that you can do whatever you want and truly believe it. Not because anyone can do it, but because you are doing it. Not anyone. You can do it because you are yourself, and if anyone can, you can. Gojo can do it because he’s himself, something he’s always wanted.
Gojo is somebody that anyone who’s ever struggled for acceptance can understand and relate to. He has interests, interests that he loves, but nobody else understands. After being told he was weird, he clammed up, and his life spiraled downwards from there. It’s not hard to see why Marin made such an impact on Gojo, but also the audience as a whole. What otaku wouldn’t love this girl? Screw that. What human being wouldn’t love this girl?
But what so many misunderstand is that Gojo is not another useless male protagonist, nor is Dress-up Darling just another “self-insert rom-com.” People don’t like Gojo because they want to be him, but because they see themselves in him. Whether it’s anime, video games, or hina dolls, not being accepted for your interests is something most everyone can relate to in some way, and all those people want is to be told that they’re fine the way they are.
Gojo is a very emotionally complex character, and boiling him down to some crappy self-insert is just wrong. He’s so much more than that. I won’t deny that Marin is a big force for why his character matters, but that doesn’t mean she’s the only reason. While Marin does force some life back into Gojo, for the most part, it’s his own hard work that continues him down the path to growth.
All Marin did was accept him. She accepted him for everything he was and never left his side. That’s it. All the growth and hardships Gojo overcame to make her cosplay and became a better artist and craftsman all came from his own sleepless nights and his own effort. Marin was the girl that finally told him that it was ok to be himself, and from that, Gojo began to evolve from a simple “wimpy protagonist.”
Hell, Gojo repays his dept to Marin in full, and arguable, she becomes indebted to him. While Marin seems perfect on the surface, Gojo brought to her a skill set that only he has to her cosplays, not only because he has skill, but because he genuinely pours his heart into everything he does, especially when it comes to her. Not to mention that Gojo too accepts her interests and actually has a good time with them alongside her.
But what I think is the ultimate telling, beautiful switcharoo of Dress-Up Darling is that it’s not Gojo that falls in love with Marin, despite having every reason to, it’s Marin that becomes smitten with the wonderful mess of a human Gojo is. She fell in love with the man that pours his heart into everything he does, despite not believing he has the strength to do so. She fell in love with the man that shows kindness to anyone, despite refusing himself any.
But more than that, she fell in love with the man who told her she was truly beautiful because she knows that of all people, he meant those words more than anybody else in her life who has ever said that and will ever say it. The man whose whole life was driven by this thought of unattainable beautiful perfection found her to genuinely be just that.
And that’s the true beauty of Dress-up Darling. Despite people making you think it is, it’s more than just the Marin Kitagawa show. Gojo is very much present and just as good and meaningful of a character, damn it. They are the perfect couple, and that makes Dress-up Daling the perfect story for a rom-com.
They are two people good on their own that, while being from different worlds, manage to improve the lives of each other not by doing anything special or out of the ordinary, just by being together and being their true selves that cause each other to grow to heights they never would have otherwise. This series is shockingly beautiful, and I mean that like Gojo levels of beauty.
Thank you very much for reading
I love them both, though, ok?