I can already tell Sono Bisque Doll wa Koi wo Suru is going to be a complicated series for me (and, I think, generally). The response to last week’s episode – which I consider something of a dumpster fire – reflects that. A lot of people had problems with it, mostly but not entirely for the same reasons I did. I saw some who were offended that Marin likes that sort of eroge, which loses me totally – for all the problems I had with the ep that wasn’t one of them (vive la porn, I say – whatever gets you through the night, it’s all right). And of course some people just slurped up the fanservice and uttered a contented “gochisousama” when it was over.
This show puts me very much in the mind of how Nazo no Kanojo X mangaka Ueshiba Riichi so eloquently summed up that series, “a mecha series where the girl is the giant robot”. Few have done it as well as MGX but the formula is an animanga chestnut to be sure. Another series which very strongly recalls Ueshiba’s description for me is Sakurai Norio’s Boku no Kokoro no Yabai Yatsu, which LiA readers (and viewers) will know is a manga I adore beyond all hope of impartial criticism. And Bisque Doll does remind me of it in one important way, the general dynamic between the two leads. That’s obviously a strong point in its favor as far as I’m concerned.
The similarity mostly ends there (and not in Bisque Doll’s favor) but it’s still important. On some level I think these series are as much about the dynamic between introvert and extrovert as they are between boy and girl. There are certain things I believe about this dynamic, one of which is that no matter how empathetic an extrovert may be, they’ll never truly be able to understand what an introvert feels as they interact with the world. I also think that introverts project an air of indestructibility to extroverts, to the point where they refuse to believe that extroverts have self-doubt and insecurity (which they do). These opposites can and often do attract, perhaps drawn by the alien fascination of the other, but true understanding is very hard to achieve.
In narrative terms I’m writing off Episode 2 as a misstep, a mediocre gag stretched for far too long. It’s over, and the surrounding eps were far better. What it says about Marin’s character is far more important and enduring, because that colors the rest of the series. I don’t think she’s a mean-spirited person, even if I do think she was somewhat aware of the impact she was having on Wakana and even enjoying it. Marin is single-minded if anything – once she gets going on what she loves nothing else matters, including the feelings of anyone around her. I think it’s fair to say the way she handled the measuring incident was an exercise in poor judgment, but she’s a kid – poor judgment is just what they do.
Another concern I have is the enormous potential for Marin to exist mainly as an otaku wet dream (obviously an intentional allusion on my part). Impossibly hot, a geek, and non-judgmental – what an idealized schoolgirl that is. She even pays her own way – though Wakana should never even have suggested getting out his wallet on the shopping trip, since he’s doing her an enormous favor by making her a complicated outfit free of charge. The pressure is on the writing to elevate Marin above that tsunami zone. Normally I don’t focus on the gender of the writer but the fact that mangaka Fukuda Shinichi is female (as is Sakurai Norio) makes me somewhat more optimistic (though that itself may be a bias on my part).
The positive slant on all this is that introverts and extroverts can help each other in a Yin/Yang completion sort of way. In practical terms Marin is getting a free cosplay designer, and Wakana is getting to do something he clearly enjoys doing. She’s also showing him a world he knows little of – otaku stuff yes, but also social acceptance. Kudos to her pals for not belittling him and his obvious awkwardness, but this exposure is a double-edged sword for an introvert like Wakana – the attention he gets makes him exceptionally uncomfortable. He actually worries that Marin’s social standing might be damaged by association with him (which is less unrealistic than one might think, depressingly enough – both that he’d feel that way, and that he might be correct).
The shopping trip was obviously a far more winning way to spend narrative time than the measuring fiasco. I was pleased that Wakana flat-out called Marin out for teasing him (albeit she was still doing it) and that she didn’t let him pay for anything (and that we got an explanation for why she had money). Again, they’re useful to each other – she likes having someone around she can vent her passions to, because even if he doesn’t really embrace them he doesn’t judge her for them either (though the rest of society is another matter). In truth a beautiful and socially adept girl like Marin can get away with otaku inclinations and avoid being ostracized in a way an awkward dude could not – it’s not pleasant, but that’s the truth of the high school social hierarchy. But she still wants to share, and he allows her to do that.
I think the way forward for My Dress-Up Darling is Wakana. For this series to be more than an amusing escape, he needs to be more than a gashapon hanging off Marin’s bag. There are positive signs there – the writing allows him an idealism about beauty, and Marin doesn’t dismiss it as silly or trivial. But he needs to express his individuality as much as she does for this to be truly noteworthy (as I would argue BokuYaba is, partly for that reason) – not just on-screen when he’s alone, but in their actual relationship. It’s way too early to make a call on whether that will happen, but one can already say that Bisque Doll is a fascinating conundrum of a show at the very least.