Don't Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 11 of
Don't Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro ?
Don't Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro has been on a roll for a while now, so I didn't really have any doubts going into this latest episode, which continues the story of Senpai competing with the Art Club's President. When it opens with Sumire Uesaka voicing Nagatoro doing her best mocking impression of Nana Mizuki's pretentious President, that's enough for me to know I'm in for a good time. All this one really had to do was pile on additional escalating art-club hijinks from Senpai and his hurtful harem and then head home, but of course, that would be too easy for this series and the way it's continually surprised us all season, wouldn't it? No, Miss Nagatoro instead proves that, despite technically being one of the most niche-appeal products to come out of anime in recent memory, it can indeed lay down something for everyone, delivering a one-two punch of interesting thematic analysis and appreciably advanced character development here! What a world we live in.
Much of this episode is structured around the aforementioned exploration of concepts. Sure, Miss Nagatoro frames its exposition of the details of Senpai's dueling art exhibits with the President as purely informative, but don't let that fool you. The instant it's revealed that Miss President's winning entry is indeed a provocative nude self-portrait, you know this series isn't going to let itself get away with being that simple. This is the show that turned bullying-fetish fan-fiction into an actual love story, after all, and that crossroads of content and intent is what it stands to analyze here. Senpai's extolling of the artistic virtues of the President's piece reeks of his “I read it for the articles!” defenses of the prior pornographic materials Nagatoro enjoyed roasting him over. But while we can sense the genuine conflict in his artist's soul over how he really appreciates the work, it's obviously not that complex for the masses she's manipulating. The portrait, regardless of how puerile it's intended to be, makes for an obvious crowd-pleaser, and the implication is that the President is aware of that and the edge it gives her in this overblown bet she's roped Senpai into.
The discussions on how Nagatoro, as Senpai's model, could compete with the President's *ahem* body of work drags the show, unexpectedly, into a full-on rumination on the subject of what constitutes art and the virtues therein. The President's nude portrait is the product of some clearly fine craftsmanship, but does applying that kind of evaluative rubric to it even matter when everyone knows the real reason it's going to rope in school festival traffic? Reflecting on the ‘aggression’ of sexy art in the form of ‘artistic’ nudes leads to that amusing mental through-line with Miss Nagatoro in its original form as an institution: A series of pictures, ‘art’ in the most technical sense, that while ostensibly safe-for-work, is still very much pornographic. Can the value of an artwork be diminished by the original intent of its author and/or the preferences of the audience turning out to see it? For that matter, what business does Miss Nagatoro have in prompting me to even get into this discussion of artistic eroticism versus categorical pornography in evaluating it? Might it truly be that I am being teased? Bullied? Toyed with?
For a series created by an artist, told through the eyes of an artist, it feels like Miss Nagatoro daring you to question its own status as ‘art’ in spite of everything we've known about the show until now. In between all the hilarious reactions of obvious jealousy Nagatoro has, and how that progresses to her trying to help Senpai plan an art-club victory, there's this thick undercurrent of analyzing what the types of audience engagement works receive should mean for reading their intent. The President herself even gets in on the action, laying out that love for a subject, any subject, should be the key to unlocking true artistic expression regardless of the piece. For all her seeming antagonism towards Senpai, it becomes clear in her moments with him this episode that she, like Nagatoro, is seeking to push him to be confident in what he approaches and realize the potential he definitely has. Even if he can't see it, it had been made clear to us how he could grow though his interactions with Nagatoro, so now her, the President, and everyone else who's set foot in the club room understands that he'll naturally lose if he only returns to doing what he was before.
And to that end, perhaps it was finally time for these two stupid kids to pick up on what that crazy feeling they had for each other was. The President's odd manner of encouragement at least lets her direct Senpai to go after Nagatoro after a romcom-stock misunderstanding moment. Seriously, the funniest part of the episode is how she clocks in about three seconds the feelings between Senpai and Nagatoro they've spent all series furiously suppressing. But then we bask in the way the show expresses Senpai coming to his own revelation: a lovingly-rendered montage, timed to romantic music, of all of Nagatoro's most memorably masochistic mean-streaks. Even as it's punching way above its weight in terms of idea-illustration, this series still ultimately knows why most of you are here. Not only is Senpai's impassioned confession of his appreciation of Nagatoro as generically sweet as the show's ever gotten (while still working perfectly because, come on, look at these kids), it also fits right in with the concepts of this episode's story: Nagatoro as herself, being herself, as the main source of appeal for an audience that would otherwise be won over with knowingly sexualized illustrations. Here in the real world, there's a wink-nudge comedy to the implication that drawings of Nagatoro wouldn't have mass appeal, but outside that metatextual humor, it's genuinely sweet to see Senpai finally stand up for Nagatoro the same way she's been coming to his defense recently.
Where does that even leave the show at this point? Where does it leave me? This was a series I had no conception of an opinion on going in, and after it had already won me over with its simple and effective presentation of its chosen content, now it's out here with tightly integrated character work and genuinely analyzable treatises on the nature of art itself. This sure as hell isn't what I thought I signed up for, but it is the sort of thing I like and dangit, it works! And throughout all that there were plenty of well-timed gags and expertly-deployed silly reaction faces, so the show continues to work on its original levels of appeal. At this point, it means that even if Miss Nagatoro isn't the best show I'm watching this season, it's absolutely turned out to be one of the most surprising, as ten weeks ago I never would have expected to write the stuff about this series that I just did about this episode.
Don't Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Chris is a freelance writer who appreciates anime, action figures, and additional ancillary artistry. He can be found staying up way too late posting screencaps on his Twitter.
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