How My Dress-Up Darling Dismantles Its Own Stereotypes
Look, okay, I know how this looks. I try to keep my embarrassing guilty pleasures to myself. I am a sucker for the anime romance genre. Between confessing to my love for dating sims two weeks ago to defaming King Solomon at the beginning of this season - I’m really just holding on for dear life at this point.
But it didn’t take long into the first episode My Dress-Up Darling to realize that this show is doing something different. Not everything - it certainly has its cringier moments and earns it’s rating, but the story being told in this new anime isn’t the same-old, same-old story. So far, it’s not even a love story. It’s a story about passion and drive and equality. In this way, the show is breaking down it’s own expected stereotypes from the anime community.
Not only that - but by breaking down these expectations, this show answers the age-old question of whether or not Christians can play video games, watch anime, or do cosplay. Let’s talk about it.
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James 1:13-18 (NRSV)
No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death. Do not be deceived, my beloved. Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.
SO what is My Dress-Up Darling? *break* Sorry I just can’t believe I just said that after reading from the Bible, dude.
My Dress-Up Darling is a Japanese manga and anime series written by Shinichi Fukuda for Square Enix’s serial magazine Young Gangan until being adapted into an anime by Cloverworks.
The story follows Wakana Gojo, who is a first year high school student. What sets Gojo apart as our main character is his absolute passion for the hina doll, which you would likely recognize but maybe didn’t know it was such a specific art in Japan.
Gojo’s drive for these dolls comes from his grandfather’s lifetime in the business and the craft behind it. Unfortunately, Gojo is so obsessed that it’s all he thinks about and he never spends any of his time making friends.
Until one day he gets caught working on doll costumes by the incredibly popular and beautiful Marin Kitagawa. He’s concerned that she will make fun of him, but instead she falls head over heels for his craftiwork and begs him to work with her for her passion of cosplay - we’re not gonna talk about who she cosplays, so don’t ask. I’m begging.
The show then breaks into the relationship forming between these two people. While the situational comedy of this slice-of-life show certainly leans pretty hard into the sexual awkwardness of teenagedom, the love building between the two of these characters isn’t a physical one.
Gojo has never made clothing for anyone bigger than a hina doll. He has no idea what he’s doing and there’s no logical reason for him to help Marin out. But he does. Why? Because Marin is awesome. She’s driven and passionate and so incredibly focused on this thing that she wants to pursue that it inspires Gojo to want to support her.
That kind of charisma is infectious and inspiring and so incredibly true to life. As the story goes on, we see these two characters going back and forth inspiring one another to do greater things.
Whenever Gojo is having doubts in himself, Marin inspires him to step up and run after things as hard as she does. When Marin isn’t too sure of her capability to press on, Gojo’s deep-grained passion for the art of the hina doll inspires her to believe in herself.
And man, if that isn’t just the life of a creative human being, I don’t know what is.
But it doesn’t stop there - this show has one of the most daring quotes in it’s very first episode. Whenever Gojo learns who Marin wants to cosplay as - not gonna talk about it - he thinks that it’s a character from a video game that only boys would want to play.
Marin stomps her foot in the ground and proudly defies that stereotype and proclaims, “Does being a boy or girl matter when you really like something?”
Gojo then thinks back to his lack of friends and realizes it’s because of a bully that made fun of his passion for designing hina dolls - something that this bully claims only girls should do.
Let me tell you - as a lifelong weeb who has constantly grown up on the outside of popular culture… can I get an amen?
It still embarrasses me to no end when I confess to reading ‘girly’ manga or having more feminine hobbies or passions. I can remember wanting to play Harvest Moon instead of Halo or wanting to color and craft while the real men played flag football or preferring Card Captor Sakura over Naruto - the toxicity of gender stereotypes and expectations is a real thing. And it’s really dumb.
Because passion is passion, drive is drive, and expectations are unfair.
That brings us really well into our scripture for this video. This passage is from the very start of the book of James.
James is an interesting book to read through - some people like to look at this book as like Proverbs in the Old Testament, but through a New Testament lens. In that way, this book is definitely full of practical and tangible direction on how to live life as a Christian
James is mostly writing to the very specific audience of Jewish Christians during that time. Much of his process is going to be in the vein of someone who was religious in a very specific way transitioning to ‘The New Way’ as it were
The way that this scripture still lives for us today - because I don’t know about you, but I’m not Jewish and this scripture still speaks to me - This scripture speaks to me as someone who grew up in the church and is still learning or unlearning or deconstructing some of the things I misunderstood when I was growing up.
This passage in particular is breaking down what we think of today of the idea that God causes us to sin or be tempted - that God *allows* evil to happen to us
This is heresy to James because God can’t be tempted to tempt us. Instead our temptation are a perverted twist of our own desires. Some translations don’t even use the word desire here, but lust.
It intercepts the perfect desire, turns it into something perversely lustful and then grows and festers until the point that it gives birth to sin.
Now I know what you may be thinking - uh, nerd pastor nate, this show kind of sounds like one of these things. And it could very well be. Depending on whatever specific temptations you might have, this show might be a possible perversion of desire for you. In that case, just watch this sermon and call it a day with this show - because this sermon really isn’t about that part of the show
Instead, this show speaks more to the back 9 of this passage.
After explaining sinful desire, James explains pure and true desire. True desire is a generous act of giving, a perfect gift - this is the desire that God places within us. It’s a kind of equation here - God doesn’t give us bad desire, God does give us generous desire.
So what is that all about?
Continuing our equation out, if bad desire is a twisting and distortion, then a true desire must be one birthed directly out of the vision that God has laid before us. So what kind of desires would God give us?
I see God as being one of many names, but one that I relate to the most as an image bearer of God is that our God is a creator God. God is a creative. Whenever I am in the act of creating something, whether it be one of these videos, or a game, or a piece of music, or a drawing, or insert-whatever-here - I feel like I am connected to God in that experience.
Does it have to be an inherently Christian thing I’m creating? What an absurd question, right? God doesn’t make Christians - God makes human beings. God makes the sun and the stars and the moon. God creates the sunset and the sunrise. Are those Christian? How ridiculous.
In the same way, I see the pure drive and passion of the creative Marin and the creative Gojo and, heck, let’s just call it out, of the creative mangaka who created this manga/anime - I see all of that creativity as an extension of the creative nature of a creator God.
Can it be perverted? Of course. We can mess it up with our humanity. But I think that God has the redemptive power to use and to make good out of the mess of our humanity and that there is a kernel of creative divinity within each thing that is passionately and earnestly crafted.
So that’s my diatribe as a creative, but what does this actually mean for us today? How can we use the true passion for our daily lives?
Well, hopefully, if you’re a creative, then this has given you permission to not feel like you have to create Christian art. If you’re feeling burnt out or tired or exhausted of feeling like your art has to live up to expectations of the church, media, etc, stand proudly like Marin and say, “Does being a boy or girl or Christian or athiest or black or white or whatever matter when you really like something?”
Discern what that true desire might be in your life or lean on a mentor and discover what that might be and then run after like wildfire - it is good. You are good. God is good. May it be so.
And if you aren’t a creative, yes you are. It may not look like the creativity of others, but I believe all of us are imbued with that gift of creativity as image bearers of God - the imago Dei. You are important. You are needed. The world is better because it has you. Your reflection of God’s creativity is vital. Lean into it and find that passion.
Maybe your creativity is seen through inspiring the creativity of others - like Marin inspiring Gojo despite her not having a creative bone to sew in her body.
This show can hopefully teach us to look for God in places we would never expect God to be. Let’s drop some of our expectations and let God work some miracles - they only happen once you drop those expected boundaries.
And if you want to help us look for God working in the unexpected, feel free to join us at Checkpoint Church where we’ve seen God show up in so many unexpected ways we’ve lost count.
Whether you’re a cosplayer, still play with dolls, or still can’t believe a pastor is talking about this, know you’re always at Checkpoint Church.
Question: What’s your guilty pleasure anime or genre of show/game/movie? My love affair with dating sims started way way back in the old days in middle school with those Newgrounds games like Simgirls or the super niche like Katawa Shoujo. Don’t play either of those. Can we delete this whole video?
God loves you.
We love you.