The Power of Two: My Dress-Up Darling

My Dress-Up Darling was one of the breakout hits of the last season. I thought it was pretty good. Did you think it was pretty good?

In a lot of ways it’s nothing special, and that’s a good thing in some ways and a bad thing in some ways. I mean, how many “We’re in love but we don’t know it” stories can you write, right? That’s a bad thing … not that the story is bad but that it’s been done. And done. And done. It’s a trope driving hard into cliché territory, and that’s dangerous territory to tread.

The hook to this “We’re in love but we don’t know it” story is that the titular Darling (crude pun intended), Marin Kitagawa, is a dedicated cosplayer. Speaking as a less dedicated cosplayer (see if you can spot the overage Doctor Who number three in pictures from the last ConnectiCon), it’s always cool to see characters who share our interests, i.e. “People like me.”

“People like me” are a mainstay of the advertising industry. People like to see “people like me,” so they are more likely to watch ads with “people like me” in them. Given the number of teen-aged characters in anime, I have to suspect it holds for anime audiences as well.

Of course, if it was just Marin, there’d be nothing much in the way of plot. I mean, it COULD work: Marin’s tribulations in advancing her cosplay could be a sort of rags to riches story. But then the story would ONLY appeal to cosplayers. So let’s get something else up in here. Um. Murder? … No, that doesn’t work. (OOOH OOOH How about a cosplaying detective story???) Um. Alien invasion? … No, that doesn’t work. I mean, most aliens are, like, cosplay fodder anyway, so that could get redundant.

But we all know what they chose: She falls in love. It works, after a fashion.

So let’s bring on Wakana Gojo. He’s a good-looking, if modest, fellow. He’ll do. He’s well-constructed to be a partner for Marin: they are about the same age, they are each fairly attractive, they share some interests. Oh, and as a couple they are gender-role reversed: Marin is loud, active, and aggressive while Wakana is shy, modest, and subdued. So they are naturally an Odd Couple.

Wakana (left) and Marin

To make an Odd Couple work there has to be something that ties the two members together, and that is that they need each other, right? Just like the original Odd Couple, Oscar and Felix from The Odd Couple, need each other to be able to pay their rent, Marin and Wakana need each other. Marin needs Wakana to do the sewing work for her cosplays and Wakana needs Marin to validate his interest in sewing and doll clothes.

You noticed that, right? One of the things going on is that Marin is healing Wakana’s trauma of being teased mercilessly when he revealed his interest in doll clothes to other girls. The deeper he gets into it, the less self-conscience he is about it.

Whatever, Herr Doktor Freud. Let’s just say they need each other and leave it at that.

Now, to keep the romance from zooming straight to the end, there needs to be something that drives them apart. Right? That will make the relationship metastable – the audience won’t know whether it will work out in the end or not – and that metastability creates the tension that makes the story interesting to watch.

Hum. Hmmm … What have we go, what have we got … Got it! Wakana is a “He Can’t Love Me” woman!

You know the “He Can’t Love Me” woman. She’s the one who keeps tension in the romance by refusing to believe that she could possibly be the woman of the dreams of the man of her dreams, because in her own mind she’s too weak/dumb/modest/shy/clumsy/smelly/WHATEVER. So she doesn’t believe it and so the romance does not advance until he convinces her to believe it.

And Marin and Wakana are gender-role reversed, so it makes perfect sense for him to be the “He Can’t Love Me Woman.” Therefore, when she drops hints on him or shows him things that would interest any male with a certain level of self-confidence (You know what I’m talking about. Don’t make me say it), he runs away!

Their shared interest in clothes draws them together. His fear of her love drives them apart. Boom. Conflict. And it’s a good, good thing.

This kind of relationship is called “metastable.” It’s not really stable because it’s balanced, in this case between their shared interests and his fear. As they develop as characters that balance will change until it falls over to one side or the other.

The problem with metastable relationships is that you can only draw them out for so long before the audience gets tired of the game-playing between the characters. So sometime soon, possibly by the end of the next season, one of two things will happen:

Wakana will admit that he loves Marin. (We know she loves him. We’ve seen the little looks she’s been giving him starting about episode five). BOOM! Happy ending, comedy plot.

Marin will get tired of whacking Wakana upside the head with a clue-by-four, conclude he is gay, and move on to another guy. BOOM. Sad ending, tragedy.

A third possibility is that Marin could get tired of Wakana’s passivity, try out another guy, realize that it was Wakana she wanted all along while Wakana is realizing how much Marin meant to him all along, and then, in a scene that might remind people of the end of The Graduate, have them twirl back into one another’s arms, in short, drive the plot through an Eternal Triangle. That seems awfully complicated for a story as fluffy/sweet as My Dress-Up Darling. Still, it could drive a three-to-five episode arc.

Of course, any of those happenings ends the romance plot as we know it, and therefore ends the series. That’s okay. Anime doesn’t seem to have a problem with closed-ended plots.

But when the plot collapses down to Marin + Wakana Troo Lurve 4 Evah, the story ends, and it ends in a satisfying way: They get what they need, and go forward together to each achieve their goals.

That, my friends, is a denouement.

I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.

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