Don't Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Don't Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro ?
This week's Don't Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro opens with a little dream sequence highlighting that titular terror's own worst fear: A Senpai who doesn't react to her bullying! It's a short, hypothetical nightmare that makes clear how much she values the material she mines messing with Senpai, and her worries about being abandoned by him for her own equally-intrusive friends. It's another instance in the show's dedication to defining Nagatoro as an actual, multi-dimensional person, and this go-around it provoked an odd thought in me I hadn't had before: the idea that there were viewers of this series who were identifying with Nagatoro's side of the bullying-fetish scenario it exists in service of. Senpai himself is presented as his own idealized fantasy for that potential viewer, an adorable bundle of nervous energy who never runs out of entertaining reactions to provoke, yet lets you feel ‘okay’ for perpetrating those actions by making abundantly clear how into it he actually is.
It's for those viewers, I suppose, that Nagatoro gets that taste of being toyed with herself at the beginning of this episode. Her flustered reaction is distinct, but no less adorable than Senpai's own usual responses. And it serves as another indication of the ongoing equalization of the odd relationship these two are building. This episode, like the third one, leans into the cuter side of the antagonism between Nagatoro and Senpai, instead of reveling in the outlandishness of the teasing. The difference between this one and my somewhat muted reaction to that third episode, however, is that by this point I'm totally down with what a delightful couple these two make! I think last week's episode had a lot to do with selling their dynamic, but there's material in this one as well that shows how much the two actually care for each other, and can be constructive and downright valuable in how they support one another.
That isn't to say Miss Nagatoro has totally relaxed into fluffy romantic storytelling, far from it. Hell, the first actual segment of this episode features a tickling attack and some suspiciously specific focus on Nagatoro's armpits, showing that even when its beloved bullying isn't the focus, this show can find different fetishistic depths to plumb. In that respect, the most obvious shortcoming is that the anime's decidedly modest artistic abilities rob us of seeing all of Senpai's reactions to the tickling torment in their full glory. Gotta prioritize drawing Nagatoro's ongoing arsenal of troll-faces, I suppose. The show's never been super fancy in the animation department (even the opening sequence is all reused clips), and though the direction and storyboarding are enough to sell a lot of the gags, I feel that limitation a bit more this week. Which makes for another good reason for the anime to slow down and present a bit more sentimentality, I suppose.
Of course, even sentimentality in Nagatoro has to be provoked by some kind of torment. Absent Nagatoro trashing on Senpai full-time, her friends Maki and Yoshi seem to appear regularly now for their more antagonistic intrusions into the pair's provocative play. They serve to keep the harsher elements of the bullying content around in the story, just recontextualized as we move forward. Their use in this episode in fact provides another situation for Senpai to admit to actually looking forward to spending time with Nagatoro, anticipating her cutting his hair as he did (there's another one for the fringe fetish pile in this week). And Nagatoro busting in to ‘rescue’ him from the other girls establishes her dominance/ownership of him that's so central to the dynamic of this series. It is 100% the same appeal as Edward saving Bella from the ‘bad’ vampire in Twilight, and yes I am totally favorably comparing both series in terms of trashy guilty pleasures. Miss Nagatoro knows what she's about.
In that respect, the second half of the episode is maybe the most low-key yet, trading entirely on the established appeal of this burgeoning couple. Spending time watching Nagatoro and Senpai wait in line to get shaved ice could be simply appealing in the same way as the Seinfeld episode where they wait for a table at a restaurant, but the show instead mostly uses it as a springboard to continue demonstrating how much these two care for each other. There are some entertaining asides at first though, my favorite being Senpai sliding in to block a couple of creepers trying to catch a glance of Nagatoro's bra showing through her sweat-soaked shirt. It at first comes off like him simply being defensive of her, but then we catch his smug reaction in response to the dudes' annoyance, and have to wonder if Senpai himself is being turned on to the simple pleasures of fucking with people. Nagatoro's awakening all sorts of feelings in this boy. And maybe those increased bursts of confidence she's nurturing in him are paying off, exemplified in the way Senpai takes charge in the moment to spirit Nagatoro off and ensure she doesn't die of heatstroke. All the ribbing and roasting really is just good fun at this point, and we've arrived at seeing a pair of people actually take care of each other. It almost reaches unbearably sweet levels with Nagatoro rewarding Senpai with ice cream. Like I said last week, a healthy relationship is built on give-and-take.
The most surprising takeaway from this episode was honestly the revelation that Nagatoro and Senpai hadn't exchanged contact info until now! But it looks like the series will be moving into some school-separated summer vacation antics next, so keeping in touch will be important. It honestly just makes for another sweet deal-seal to see these two execute since, as should be apparent by now, I'm fully on-board with this pairing. The earlier pure fetishistic framing of the dynamic, shaken up with gestures towards their actual endearment towards each other, made me look askew at the couple for those first few episodes. But having reached this point, while I'm not sure ‘healthy’ is the right word for it, seeing them interact in this week's episode made apparent that Nagatoro and Senpai might really be good for each other.
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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