Character Analysis: Marin Kitagawa

All right, you know who Marin Kitagawa is. She’s – depending on how you look at it – the Dress-up Darling of My Dress-up Darling.

You can fight me on that one, if you want and you think about it. Wakana, the boy she’s sweet on in this rom-com, makes her cosplay costumes. So he is simultaneously her darling and the person who dresses her up, right? So HE could be HER Dress-up Darling …

Dang, I love word play.

SO. You know who she is. That’s not really important. What’s important is WHAT she is.

Marin is a Gal (or Gyaru). The Gal is an archetype of manga, anime, and Japanese culture generally.

Look: A Good Japanese Girl (TM) is modest and polite. She is trim of figure and wears her black hair long and straight. She is passive and serious.

Okay, so what is a Gal?

a. modest and polite
b. trim of figure
c. long, straight, black hair
d. passive and serious
e. none of the above

Ooh, I left out the make-up, right? Pounds of the stuff.

Get it? The Gal is NOT a Good Japanese Girl (TM). From a Japanese perspective she’s heavily influenced by Western, and specifically American, culture, and to a lot of Japanese that is Not a Good Thing.

You can see it all over Marin even if every issue of the manga didn’t specifically say right in the notes that she’s a Gal. For instance, there’s her exhibitionism. She’s got the curves, and she doesn’t care who knows it. (My favorite scene is when she greets Wakana at her door in basically a negligée and nothing else. He’s horrified that he can see her whole body. She’s horrified, too: He saw her without her contact lenses in. Bra? Who cares? But he can’t see her without her contacts!)

Marin Kitagawa. No, that’s not her natural eye color, but she won’t let you see her without her contacts

There’s her assertiveness. Marin is not passive. She tells everyone what she wants and often cajoles them into it.

Trim of figure? Long black hair? Hahahahaha!

The question is, does this matter in terms of her character? Or is she just the archetype?

The answer to that may not actually be out there yet. We’ll know that if she hooks up with Wakana, troo lurve 4-evah.

The thing with the Gal is this: She is not the kind of Good Japanese Girl (TM) a good Japanese boy is supposed to be serious about, and that cultural norm, like all sorts of cultural norms, pervades anime and manga.

Take, for instance, Sankarea. The boy, Chihiro, has to choose between two girls, Rea, who is a traditional Good Japanese Girl (TM), and Ranko, who is a Gal. Right? Ranko’s known him all his life. He even promised to marry her when they were kids. She’s HAWT, and loves him a lot, too. And Rea’s DEAD. Yeah, oops. So who does Chihiro pick? Man, Ranko hasn’t got a chance. She’s a Gal.

Yukana, the Gal of My First Girlfriend is a Gal, gets the boy, Junichi. Of course, Junichi is such a sniveling pervert that none of the normal girls want anything to do with him, so she’s basically hooking up with the only guy left in town.

Then there’s Yuzu Aihara, the Gal half of the lesbian couple from Citrus. A quick reminder: If you read the text carefully it’s clear that Yuzu was looking for a boy while her partner Mei is a stone lesbian. It’s sweet that they find each other; it’s a livable story. But it’s also sort of subtextual that Yuzu, the Gal, can’t get herself a good Japanese boy. In fact, she complains about it early on in the series.

See it? Good Japanese boys don’t go for Gals, at least not in manga and anime.

And Wakana is the very definition of a good Japanese boy. He’s modest. He’s polite. He has good manners. He’s so terrified of girls he would never take advantage of one. He wears traditional Japanese clothes at home. For Pete’s sake, he wants to grow up to make hina dolls! How much more traditional good Japanese boy can you get?

It’s obvious that Marin is attracted to Wakana not just because he is a skilled tailor. She NEEDS him because of that – that’s her half of the hook that keeps this Odd Couple together – but she LIKES him presumably because he IS a good Japanese boy, and being such treats her in ways the other boys don’t.

Right? At the beginning it’s established that when boys hit on her she shoots them down. You know why that is and I know why that is even though it’s not explicit in the text: Good Japanese boys aren’t interested in getting together with Gals, so that leaves a) bad Japanese boys (see Junichi, above) b) bad Japanese girls (see Mei, above) and c) boys who want her for her bod and nothing more.

So Marin likes Wakana because he’s a good boy and while we know he IS hot for her bod, he doesn’t show that side of himself to her. He controls that part of his nature for her, as part of whatever attraction she has for him that isn’t physical, which includes the way she opens up his life to new possibilities and experiences he comes to enjoy, and that she shows respect for his skills instead of denigrating him for them.

So that’s when we’ll know whether Marin is a character on her own or just an archetype. If she and Wakana hook up as a couple, she’s transcended the archetype. She’ll be the Gal who got the good Japanese boy. If they don’t, she’s just a Gal.

If they do get together, that will also be a test of the norm, right? Because when they do get together one of two things can happen: she can take off the wig and ditch the make-up and get rid of the western clothes and be a Good Japanese Girl (TM). Or she can stay a Gal.

If they stick to that norm, that a Gal isn’t a Good Japanese Girl (TM), then she’s got to change. If they’re willing to toss it out the window, good for them.

And good for her.

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.

8 thoughts on “Character Analysis: Marin Kitagawa

  1. I don’t think Junichi was a pervert. His friends certainly were though. He was just a bit of a loser by association. I’m not necessarily bugging him up as that still fits the lower end of things.

    I’ve got my fingers crossed for Marin to break the trend though.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I am so glad I found your blog. I’ve been getting into the whole anime thing pretty late, and now I’m looking for exactly the kind of things you’re writing about. Thank you so much.

    My Dress-up Darling was actually one of the first anime I watched, so yes, I’m really new to the game. But I’ve been binging a bit to catch up.

    So I went in without a lot of experience in the media, and what I saw was basically a couple that couldn’t be more different bonding over their being passionate about something they kept hidden from the world. Different things sure, but in a way they complemented each other, to the point of bringing what the other needed. Marin in that she is being liked and appreciated for more than the superficiality you described, and maybe even for being made to improve in a more “acceptable” direction (i.e. the cooking). Gojo on the other hand gets to be dragged out of his comfort zone and manages to rise to new levels in his craft with the way Marin shows him the world.
    They are both extremes to the point of being unhealthy in their own right. But being together, they just work.

    Now, having seen more, I think I’ve seen that dynamic a bit more often, and I must say I really enjoy it. Horimyia is similar in that they have this hidden side that they bring out in each other, and both are stronger for it.


    1. Yeah, I liked Horimiya, too, for a lot of the same reasons. They’re just kids trying to figure out how to relationship, which is drama enough and doesn’t require live triangles or zombies or whatever (or both, in the case of Sankarea 🙂 )


  3. There’s also the classic anime series: Super GALS: Kotobuki Ran, and the manga it’s based on. Main character is the #1 Gal, and many family members are police officers.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Is Wakana actually a good Japanese boy? He’s got excellent manners, BUT… Even though it’s a traditional craft, his doll-making doesn’t fit the typical salaryman/baseball fan track. He’d be worse in a corporate setting than Godai from Maison Ikkoku. He and Marin are so far outside the norm, and I don’t think either of them would/should want the other to give up what they love. If they got together, I could see them branching out to make exquisite custom ball-jointed dolls.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s