The Spring 2021 Preview Guide
Don't Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro
by The Anime News Network Editorial Team,
How would you rate episode 1 of
Don't Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro ?
What is this?
Mischievous Nagatoro always bugs her upperclassman and he can't figure out if it's just to get a reaction out of him, make his life miserable, or is secretly harboring feelings for him.
How was the first episode?
Time to pull out the same disclaimer as in my Nekopara review: Don't Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro is a fetish anime. If you are into the idea of a younger, shorter girl picking on you so badly it makes you cry, then more the power to you. Do whatever makes you happy in your pants. Chase your bliss and I won't judge you as long as you're not hurting anyone - just remember to keep it safe, sane, and consensual.
If that isn't your thing, though, Miss Nagatoro will be a somewhat tougher watch. I personally believe that mild antagonism can make a great foundation for a relationship, since that was the main way my now-husband and I flirted before getting together. Teasing is an effective way to get attention, especially when you're kind of awkward and unsure of more positive ways to go about it. However, there still needs to be a degree of familiarity and trust between two people, or a level of reciprocality to make it work. Otherwise, it's just bullying.
There is nothing gentle or mild about how Nagatoro treats Naoto. There is no acknowledged trust or established boundaries between them to keep either one from crossing the line. The first time she meets him, she corners him and mocks the manga he was working on. Sure, it's pretty mockable as an obvious self-insert fantasy where he writes himself as far suaver than he is, but it's cruel to twist the dagger as long and as hard as she does. Over and over, she doesn't just find ways to make him flustered or feel a little awkward; she goes above and beyond to belittle and sexually harass him to the point of tears as she laughs in his face.
So, at the end when she blushingly asks him out and he stammers that he doesn't hate her, I just wasn't on board. If it's better handled, with less brutal teasing, I might have enjoyed this as a moment where she drops her guard and lets herself be vulnerable for just a moment. After all, asking someone out gives them so much power over you! He could have turned it around on her easily, or even just rejected her, but instead he blushingly admits he doesn't resent her for the way she's treated him, even though he already has some trauma around being bullied.
As repugnant as the subject matter may be, it's an incredible production. The voice acting is top-notch, especially from Nagatoro's actor. The lighting is gorgeous in every scene, and Nagatoro's trademark expressions, while twisted, are vividly realized. I could really have lived without the weird little flesh fang though…
In summation, if you're into it, you're into it, and you'll like Don't Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro. If you have trauma around bullying, or don't like seeing it romanticized, then stay far away.
I remember back when Teasing Master Takagi-san came out, there was some backlash against it, because some folks didn't appreciate how they perceived it to romanticize a relationship between a bully (Takagi) and her victim (Nishikata). While I understand how people's personal experiences would affect their response to such a story, I never once agreed that Takagi-san (the anime) framed Takagi and Nishikata's relationship as anything other than genuinely sweet and harmless. I mean, yeah, Nishikata would get embarrassed by getting dunked on, but it was always clear that the two really liked each other, and that they were just interacting in a way that goofy preteens often do when they have crushes. It's a damn cute show, is what I'm getting at.
It was inevitable that I would end up comparing Takagi-san to Don't Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro, given that it is working from an essentially identical premise: Dweeby boy (Naoto) gets mercilessly teased by a spunky girl (the titular Hayase Nagatoro), and it's almost certainly because she's got a big ol' crush on him. The key difference here is a matter of tone, and it's a difference that doesn't gel much at all with my tastes. You see, Hayase is very much the mean-spirited bully that some people thought that Takagi was; she doesn't just tease Naoto a little in class, or play harmless pranks to get his attention. She loudly and repeatedly mocks his skills as an artist, belittles his worth as a person, goes out of her way to put him in uncomfortable sexual situations, and straight-up makes him cry in public on multiple occasions.
To be clear, I don't so much find this pivot towards cruel farce to be offensive; my issue is that it just makes the show feel off-putting. Naoto isn't a particularly likeable character, on account of his disdain for "those types of girls" and his general nebbishness, and Hayase's general maliciousness is more often irritating than it is cute. What this really amounts to is that Don't Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro takes the playful romance of Takagi-san's premise and cranks the "Step On Me And Call Me A Loser, Please!" energy up to 11.
That might very well be exactly the kind of romantic(?) comedy that folks are looking for this season, but I don't think it's for me. TMS is putting a hell of a lot of work into the visuals, and I could at least see having some fun with all of the wacky character animation, as if this were a weird, horny anime take on an Elmer Fudd/Bugs Bunny team-up. If that sounds like your bag, then definitely give Miss Nagatoro a shot.
I, for one, will continue to patiently demand the adaptation of the Takagi-san sequel, where she and Nishikata get married and have an adorable daughter that also learns to tease her dorky dad. That is a show I could get behind, one hundred percent.
Alright, everyone. We knew this was coming. Let's all get cozy in our armchairs or strap ourselves to chaise lounges and hunker down for a several-hours long dissection of bullying fetishes. There will be no intermission so take your pee breaks now, and be sure to keep notes because there will be a quiz at the end.
I'm joking, of course. Preview Guide doesn't pay enough for me to sit here trying to autopsy nerd dudes' collective relationship to masculinity and sexual fantasies. You gotta make me do episode reviews of Rent-A-Girlfriend for that. But based on this first episode, whether or not you can enjoy Nagatoro-san depends very much on how open you are to our unnamed Senpai being driven to tears (twice!) being this show's idea of flirting. The title the manga was known by for years was “Don't Bully Me, Nagatoro” and that is very much what's on display here. Nagatoro isn't teasing or gently ribbing the main character, she's directly laughing at him and calling him a punkass to his face. The only mitigating factor is that, so far, she's kept it private and not humiliated him in front of other people.
Yes, that is all meant to be the premise for a romantic comedy. I'd actually liken it to the kind of bodice-ripper fiction we sometimes see in josei manga or otome games, but with the genders flipped. Yes, Nagatoro is being brutal and invasive and intimidating, but she's also centering all her attention on her Senpai in a way no other girl ever has. By the back half of this episode she's actively flirting with him at every opportunity, and he's reluctantly admitting that while he can't stand how she mocks him, he doesn't hate her. Put this boy in a flowing dress, have him call Nagatoro a brute, and you've got yourself a Harlequin novel to sell at gas stations and supermarkets across the nation. Heck, even the title is playing into it, as he most certainly does want to be toyed with!
If that, understandably, doesn't trip your trigger, then you're best fleeing at top speed because there's no indication that things will change anytime soon. For me, it mostly works thanks to the lively and energetic animation selling it. Both our leads are fountains of unique and hilarious facial expressions, and the physical comedy is heightened to such a cartoonish degree that it mostly lets me separate this from what actual, real-life bullying is like. Nagatoro herself gets the lion's share of attention, and it works to make her every movement feel like barely restrained chaos invading Senpai's quiet and sterile bubble. It could definitely become too much, especially with just how much mugging she does right into the camera, but for now it managed to make this premiere work for me.
I hate the female “protagonist” of this story so much that words fail me. That probably doesn't surprise anyone who's been paying attention; I have a notoriously low threshold for anything resembling bullying based on past personal experience. Don't Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro seems designed to hit on everything I dislike in a show: a hapless victim trying but unable to get out from the bully's sights, a bully who won't let up no matter what, and, even worse, framing all this as the start of a relationship.
Part of what makes this so repugnant is the fact that the episode makes it very clear that Nagatoro knows just what it is she's doing. She sees how uncomfortable her words and actions make “senpai” (he's unnamed at this point), and seems to find glory in it; in fact, she usually doubles down on whatever she's doing once she notices that she's getting a reaction. She spends the entire episode with what I can only describe as a malicious grin on her face, and the sneer in her voice just turns into nails on a chalkboard after her first few lines. (Great work from her voice actor, Sumire Uesaka, though!) At this point the fact that she's also got one of those flesh-colored fangs, a character design element I abhor, is just the icing on the cake.
This story may have worked better if it didn't capture Senpai's behavior so well. He's been bullied for a long time, and his reactions to finding Nagatoro and her friends in his sanctuary, the library, speaks to that. He acts like a prey animal the entire time, afraid to stand up for himself and hoping that if he doesn't move, breathe, or otherwise antagonize the girls, they'll leave him alone. When he does tell Nagatoro that he doesn't like her behavior, he backtracks almost immediately in what is either meant to be set up for the “romantic” part of this alleged “romantic comedy” or to show that he really can't stand up to his bullies at all. That Nagatoro may have a crush on him doesn't make this any better, because her actions are so mean-spirited that they just enforce toxic ideas of “hurting the one you love” that need to go away.
But hey, congrats to the show for making me even madder than Koikimo!
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