Before I even start in on this review, I have got to tell you what a hard time I had getting my hands on this book.
I checked with Kobo first only to find that while two subsequent volumes are available, no dice for this one. Despite being linked on the publisher’s page, it isn’t available digitally from or Books-a-Million or Indigo; BAM did have it available as of the Friday of the week it was released. The e-book was gone a few days later when I sat down to actually buy it, though. It was still available on both Amazon and B&N, but I don’t buy from the former and I couldn’t in good faith buy from the latter when just days before they reportedly stopped paying royalties on e-books to authors. Waterstones didn’t want to send it to a non-UK address. I was unsure about ordering from a US retailer, as, between COVID and rules about “pornographic material” to APO/DPO/FPO addresses, I wasn’t wholly confident it’d actually make it to me. Bizarrely, I ended up getting it from Thalia, Germany’s biggest bookstore chain (they also operate in Austria and Switzerland) – bizarrely, I mean, since its an English language release.
If the matter of how it got to me was convoluted, the story it tells certainly is not. Wakana Gojou is a bit of a loner, his fear that his enthusiasm for hina dolls would weird people out acting as a sufficient bar to a social life. He lives with his grandfather above the family’s hina doll atelier. Marin Kitagawa, meanwhile, is his very outgoing classmate, and the person Wakana is afraid is going to mock him when she runs across him using one of the school sewing machines one day. But, Wakana has luckily jumped tracks to the manga in which his sewing skills are instead an incredible social boon – Marin’s an otaku and she wants to cosplay. Cosplay as what?, you may ask. Why, as a big-boobed gal from an eroge, of course! Thus begins a chapter in Wakana’s life he absolutely never saw coming.
I sound a little bit unkind above, so I’ll note that, really, My Dress-Up Darling’s opening volume makes for fairly cute reading. And I say this as someone who is definitely not in the target audience – this kind of manga is a pretty unusual pick-up for me, but I’d heard good things and was intrigued. There is a whole lot of fanservice, certainly, but Wakana and Marin are both earnest kids, which does a lot to take the sleaze out of the situation (although I could still stand a lot less of it!). Wakana doesn’t get Marin’s interest in eroge at all, but her comment that it shouldn’t matter that she’s a girl and likes them strikes a chord with him given his own experience of social shunning for liking something “girly”. It also helps that we see very little of the gameplay content of Marin’s favorite eroge, Saint♡Slippery’s Academy for Girls – The Young Ladies of the Humiliation Club: Debauched Miracle Life 2; we see Wakana play it while stone-facedly taking careful notes so he can have a better sense of the clothing than he manages to glean from the cosplay failure Marin had made on her own. (There’s also a funny moment where Wakana expresses puzzlement over how Marin has gotten her hands on age-restricted games, and she cheerily ignores the question.)
This is another release for relative newcomer Square Enix Manga & Books, and its got the same team working on it as did Cherry Magic, another of their releases I reviewed earlier in the month. Translator Taylor Engel does especially well with getting Marin and Wakana’s voices right.
All in all, I liked this although I remain a bit skeptical and I’m a bit uneasy with the level of fanservice when the cast is composed of high schoolers. The more substantial issue may simply be getting a hold of a copy of volume 2, though, since it proved such a struggle with this first one. (More broadly, I’m concerned that availability on digital platforms seems to be cropping up as an issue again, as this is not the first time this year I’ve had problems getting a volume of manga on what appears to be obscenity grounds. One of the others was the release of Setona Mizushiro’s yaoi title The Cornered Mouse Dreams of Cheese.) Regardless, I am examining my options for pre-ordering.