Given the sheer popularity of the character, I will be very shocked if this is actually the last we see of Don't Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro in anime form. But for the time being, this is the end of our odd little journey with Nagatoro and her sufferin' Senpai. Thing is, the characters felt like they reached the honest emotional climax of their arc in the previous episode, and it's not like Miss Nagatoro has ever been a plot-heavy show otherwise, so with the art-club competition as more of a nominal framing device at this point, the anime instead simply takes the opportunity to revel in its purest expression of itself: Showing off all the appeal of Nagatoro that the team knows she has.
The series has understood awareness of particular audience appeal and how to tap into that from day one – it's what the franchise was originally founded on, after all. But springboarding off of the dissertations on art and intent from last week's episode, Miss Nagatoro finds the opportunity to get just a bit more meta for its final lap. I previously mentioned the wry jokes about Nagatoro not being considered appealing in-universe, so the plan Maki and the other gals cook up doubles back on that in a clever, satisfying way. Turns out Nagatoro can just as easily be made into a meme in her own show as she was in real life, and that makes for a pretty effective way for her artist to sell tickets to get people to look at his pictures of her! I'm not sure how many layers deep I'm into the analysis here when I say that a major point of this finale appears to be how effectively a broader audience can be sold on the appeal of Nagatoro, much in the same way a cynical critic could come into this weird fetish anime and similarly be quickly won over by the character's charms.
Miss Nagatoro leverages that revelation into a follow-up on the questions of art and intent it dipped into last week. I feel it's made clear that the President really does see her paintings of the saucy subject of herself as pure, non-erotic artistic expression, but sections of the audience and thus the school's Disciplinary Comittee would disagree. It almost ends up an oblique assertion of the old “I know it when I see it” definition of pornography: that even if there are some in an audience that recognize a nude portrait (or a series of bullying-fetish pixiv posts) as prime titillation material, a segment of others seeing more pure entertainment value in beholding it lends it a competing legitimacy. The final say on whether the President's painting should be displayed for a general audience comes down to that audience itself, in recognition of the role of the audience in determining a work's value. It's not necessarily a ‘Death of the Author’ proposition, since the writing here makes very clear that, for good or ill, the audience should most strongly recognize the feelings of the artist that come through in a work. Original author Nanashi didn't just create Nagatoro because he wanted to revel in the image of a mean girl bullying his self-insert; at this point in the adaptation, a more general appreciation for this kind of character's appeal, and the story and development she can be taken through while illustrating these takes on that artist's expression, has become clear and given the series its own odd value apart from the still obviously-pornographic parts of the content.
And of course, Miss Nagatoro recognizes its own appeal so well that it knows that the majority of the audience isn't tuning in for all that kind of dense overanalysis. They're here to see Nagatoro be entertaining, and this last hurrah does deliver. The funniest element, to me, is how the situation conspires to give us a look at a different side of Nagatoro here at the finish line. We always knew she got the most actual enjoyment from tormenting Senpai in particular, but following on his confession from last week, while they still don't seem to be officially dating (though neither denies it when the other girls refer to him as her ‘boyfriend’) there's an unspoken dedication in their actions. So Nagatoro's contractually-obligated toying with other audience members in the school for the purpose of upping her meme cred has her putting on the best deadpan expression all the way through, including a cat-costume dance routine that's ten times funnier this way than if she'd done it in a more predictable ‘cutesy’ way. It lets the artists on the show go hog-wild in demonstrating that they can still render some amazing facial expressions on Nagatoro even as she's displaying stressed-out consternation and confusion apart from her classic smugness. And those depictions of developing feelings, of the doors of earnest expression between her and Senpai just ever-so-slightly being opened, continue to prove how adorable they are together.
Things wrap with some positive character development for everyone, really. Senpai and the gals come to their own understandings of appreciating the President's work, coming to her defense against the Disciplinary Committee, and she rewards that by recognizing their victory and allowing the Art Club to continue. Nana wills it! So the idea of audience interpretation of art's value also rounds back to the story's handling of its characters. See, it's all connected. It's not too different from Nagatoro initially seeing Senpai purely as an incidental plaything, or Senpai regarding her as an irregular bully who made him feel kinda funny for reasons he couldn't explain, only for both of them to realize there were deeper, more complex feelings there. And that mirrors the effects the show itself had on its audience, drawing them in pointedly for its fetish appeal (or failing that, morbid curiosity), only to deliver in depicting this decidedly different kind of developing relationship. It makes the storytelling of this series feel earnest, instead of existing entirely to toy with people and their expectations.
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.