What a character chooses to wear can give some interesting insights into their personality. Do they dress formally and rigidly? Or are they wearing loose, free clothes they can easily move around in? Maybe they’re dressed sloppily, bucking the fashion trends for what they personally like?
A perfectly designed outfit can become synonymous with a character. That’s why many shows simply keep their characters in the same clothes for the entire story. Goku always has his Turtle Hermit gi, Tanjiro’s uniform is the same now as it was when he first got it, Naruto literally only got new clothes when he destroyed his old ones, and so on and so forth the examples go.
Imagine my delight, then, to find a character who has ever-changing outfits baked into the core of her design. So much so that it’s literally the premise of the entire story.
Marin Kitagawa’s character design is an interesting case. Being a cosplayer, her outfits change quite regularly to match whatever character she wishes to be. However, that presents an interesting challenge for both the writers and the artists: how do they keep Marin’s core design principles while she’s dressed up?
The answer can best be summarized in one word: imperfection.
Before we get to that, let’s explore Kitagawa’s base design and how that fits her character traits. At her core, Marin is a free-spirited nerd who wears her heart on her sleeve. She dresses for comfort, keeping her school uniform breezy by keeping the top buttons of her shirt undone and leaving her tie loose. Outside of school, she wears various outfits, most of them simple and comfortable, such as a simple t-shirt and jeans or a plaid button-up and shorts.
While she may seem like your typical ‘hot high school girl crush’, she doesn’t bother hiding the fact that she’s a massive nerd. Her bag is adorned with various pins and keychains of her favorite anime and game characters. Even her eyes are this way, as she wears red-tinted color contacts over her normally dark eyes.
It’s hard to tell if she does that just because she thinks it’s hot or if it’s because of some character. Or it could be because it matches the tips of her hair, which are dyed a similar color. Knowing her, it could very well be all of that at once.
On its own, that is already more than enough for a solid character design. A pretty high school girl, a model in every sense, who is open with the fact that she’s a degenerate nerd. You can figure out all you need to know about her just by looking at her. It’s brilliant design work.
But again: Marin is a cosplayer. Dressing up as other characters is what she does. So how do they manage to give her a convincing costume while keeping her core design principles?
With that, we return to that one word: imperfection.
Perfection in cosplay is basically impossible to achieve. Even the most simple and straightforward of character designs are difficult to recreate with 100% accuracy. Whether you’ll go for it, or simply saying ‘screw it’ and putting your own spin on a character, is a decision every cosplayer must make.
But ‘My Dress-Up Darling’ is a manga/anime. It isn’t restricted by the limitations of reality. They could very easily have just made Marin’s various cosplays look exactly like the characters themselves.
Instead, the artists decided to go for the opposite route. Rather than making each of Marin’s cosplays absolute perfection, they instead chose to highlight the imperfections in her outfits. The differences in the shape of her eyes, face, or… her other parts… are often highlighted as a part of the story.
Such as when Marin nearly had a heat stroke because she decided to pad her breasts for a cosplay. Which is a sentence you can only say in anime.
Or maybe it isn’t. I dunno, I haven’t met many hardcore cosplayers.
Kitagawa’s character design does more than tell you the story of the character. It’s an integral part to the story itself. Rather than complimenting the narrative, her look is a major driving force in it. It’s a fascinating idea that My Dress-Up Darling executes flawlessly.
It’s also really good for fan artists. A cosplaying waifu? The idea is so ingenious that it’s impressive we haven’t seen it before.