With Marin at the center of Shinichi Fukuda‘s My Dress-Up Darling, it’s easy to forget that cosplay isn’t about public outings in costume for everyone. Marin’s charm is that she’s so beautifully comfortable with her body and her interests that she doesn’t try to hide anything, and her stated goal with Wakana was to be able to go to cosplay events in the best costume possible. But that’s just her goal and comfort level. For other people, costumes are a more private thing, a way to hide their identities or to do away with things about themselves that they aren’t comfortable with, or possibly to live out an otherwise impossible dream. This isn’t an angle of cosplay that Marin can adequately demonstrate, and so these two volumes introduce two new characters, sisters Sajuna and Shinju, both of whom approach the hobby from different angles.
We’ve actually heard of the sisters before they come into the story – you may remember Marin talking about one of her favorite internet cosplayers, Juju. As the name implies, that turns out to be the girls: Sajuna dresses up and Shinju takes the photos. Lacking the sewing skills that Wakana possesses, Sajuna has been buying her costumes, but when she sees a photo Marin posts to social media in the outfit Wakana made for her, Sajuna figures out how to find him and shows up at his house, determined to ask him to make her a costume. Once he figures out that she’s not there for the Hina dolls (Sajuna’s a very petite seventeen-year-old), Wakana’s surprised, but willing – and Marin is over the moon that her idol has seen her photos and liked them enough to come looking for their originator. When she discovers that Sajuna wants to portray a magical girl from a popular series, Marin immediately suggests that they work together, with her dressing up as Sajuna’s character’s older sister. Sajuna’s not thrilled, but eventually agrees, and she becomes slightly more enthused when Wakana brings up the question of cameras, because it turns out that her younger sister Shinju is the one who does all of Sajuna’s photography and social media posting. (She even came up with the name Juju, presumably from the sound that appears in both sisters’ names.)
At this point, the thrust of the story makes a shift. While Sajuna and Marin tend to prefer to cosplay characters whom they at least partially resemble (Sajuna’s much more keen on this than Marin), Shinju is vastly uncomfortable with her body, to the point where she feels that cosplay from the other side of the camera is emphatically not for her. Series creator Fukuda both plays with this and takes it seriously, with the slight feeling that they may have initially created Shinju with her tall, curvaceous body as a joke to juxtapose with her small and slender older sister before realizing that there was a better storyline to be had by taking it seriously. Despite being in middle school, Shinju looks like she could be a college student, and she’s deeply unhappy about this. Not only is it awkward for her to be thought older than her elder sister, but it also means that she can’t dress like the child she is, because she’s unable to fit in children’s clothes anymore. Although it isn’t explicitly stated, the fact that Sajuna is preparing to cosplay an elementary schooler – something she’s physically suited for – likely drives home Shinju’s own dissatisfaction with her appearance. It certainly doesn’t help that her body makes other people (namely Wakana) uncomfortable too; there’s one section in volume four that features the two of them constantly apologizing for her breasts, either because they won’t fit in a shirt or because Wakana can’t get close enough to take a head measurement without touching them with his chest. (Why he doesn’t go around from behind isn’t addressed.)
It is therefore not surprising that Shinju is used to address the idea of crossplay – a portmanteau for crossdressing cosplay. She’s so uncomfortable with the womanliness of her figure that it makes sense that her main goal in cosplaying would be to escape it, much like Marin’s is to express her love of a character and Sajuna’s is to live out her magical girl dreams. Since this isn’t a feature of anything Wakana has made before, it’s an opportunity for Fukuda to explore a new aspect of costume creation in the story. While a large part of this focuses on contouring makeup – both to make sure that Sajuna and Marin look more like their chosen characters and to make Shinju more anime-masculine – it also covers how to conceal breasts when a woman wants to present as a man. We previously saw Marin figure out how to enhance her bust for her hentai game character, so this is really a chance to look at the opposite side of things.
The downside to all of this is that these volumes, and volume four especially, are much more tech-heavy than books one and two. If you’re reading the series specifically for Wakana learning how to create human-sized costumes (as opposed to the Hina dolls), this is likely to be a draw, but for readers more into the story or the characters, it can bog things down. It doesn’t help that Fukuda wrote themselves into a corner with how buxom Shinju is (there was no way that b-holder was going to work), because even for manga, this is credulity-straining; so is the scene where Wakana goes into a fabric store and allows the employee he asks for help to believe he’s making a dress for himself, because that would result in him purchasing far more fabric than he needs for Sajuna’s costume, among other things. Sajuna and Shinju also seem to exist more for the purposes of shoehorning in more cosplay-crafting and picture-taking elements rather than to flesh out the actual story, which also doesn’t help.
Another persistent issue is with the way Marin’s speech is translated. While she’s obviously intended to sound like a bubbly, ditzy, popular high school girl, the English adaptation goes a bit overboard with her use of slang like “totes,” “adorbs,” and “OMG,” making her at times sound like a representation of the “Hello, fellow kids” meme – in other words, like someone is desperately trying to write “teen” dialogue. Now, just because I haven’t heard any of my students use that language in years doesn’t mean that no one does, but it’s so overdone in Marin’s speech that it becomes inescapable and more than a little off-putting. Fortunately the rest of the translation is solid, and if Fukuda is perhaps a little too keen on some of the fanservice angles, the art is also nice to look at.
My Dress-Up Darling isn’t quite on the level of Complex Age, but it’s still an interesting story. Marin’s hesitant pursuit of Wakana gives her a bit more character depth, and the message that cosplay doesn’t have to be any one thing for everyone is a good one. It’s not without its issues, but it remains a story worth reading.