I felt like Senpai was getting off a little lightly in last week's Don't Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro, so thankfully the titular tiny terror seems to shift back into serious mode for this episode to really show him who's boss. Granted, that could have less to do with his own feelings and more with the appearance of some potential competition: Nagatoro's friends Maki and Yoshi turn back up to take the initiative on teasing Senpai on their own. There's a remark that they've been turned onto the entertainment value of our favorite antsy artist's distressed reactions, and it totally tracks that these girls and Nagatoro would share similar tastes in humor. And so this scene functions as an interesting contrast to when Senpai watched Nagatoro tear down those dudes in the restaurant back in episode 2; Nagatoro doesn't provoke the exact same reaction from people she's roasting who aren't Senpai, but Senpai sure as heck reacts similarly regardless of which sadistic gal is bullying him.
That's one way this episode escalates back up to the more acidic style of the series right at the beginning, starting with a reminder of how much of this show's antics start with Senpai just trying to find a way to eat in peace, before a couple of girls who haven't settled into the same romantically-tense groove he has with Nagatoro bust in out for blood. This is probably the most genuinely freaked out we've seen Senpai since the first episode, with Maki and Yoshi's teasing utilizing elements that are even more explicitly sexual than the ones Nagatoro consistently lean into (I say as this episode opened with her demonstrating a whole new meaning of the term ‘hand job’). Honestly, the restrained, forced faux-boob-grabbing would have some shades of assault to it, were it not consistently clear this was all integral to the fantasy. So instead, this plays out more like some kind of masochist harem series where Senpai's getting the world's worst extra attention lavished on him before Nagatoro herself walks in. Does this count as NTR? Never mind, don't answer that.
Nevertheless, that outlandish seven-layer-dip of fused fetish flavors is the kind of thing I want to see the Miss Nagatoro show push its envelope with. Nagatoro's entry into this situation means she has to make clear, to her friends and the audience if not the hopelessly uncertain Senpai, how personal her attachment to her favorite punching bag is. So we get some more understated facial expressions from her to communicate the emotional multitudes she contains that really make her endearing as she best considers how to re-establish dominance. And between the hot-and-heavy hand-washing from the intro I already mentioned and the brilliant bean-bun boob guessing game she concocts here, I must admit that Nagatoro is on some galaxy-brain shit this week. These are the sorts of things that provoke escalating examples of those oh-so-important funny faces for me to watch while I contemplate what kind of fanservice this even is anymore. And it illustrates the sort of reversal that makes clear how special Senpai and Nagatoro's bond actually is, her own brief flustered reaction at his accidental actual boob-grab being the sort of thing the likes of Maki would never have elicited – even as she does give him a bean-bun beatdown for his trouble.
It becomes clear with this episode that, against the backdrop of all the fetish content, we really are watching a relationship develop between two people here. It's actually kind of sweet in its own extremely weird way, most strongly exemplified in the last segment of this episode. That one even begins with Senpai wistfully wondering when Nagatoro's going to show up, betraying his engagement in their painful play sessions. It's the kind of earnest personal points of connection driving this part of the episode that is only broken up by absurd anime non-sequiturs like Nagatoro pushing a sofa through the art room door. This turns out to assist with setting the scene of her modeling for Senpai, which eventually leads to his own wandering thought of "Why does Nagatoro keep wanting me to draw her". I had been giving this dude the benefit of the doubt, but if he really is that thick, he deserves all the abuse Nagatoro can heap on him. There is plenty of that to be had in this scene, of course, but as it has become increasingly clear in the past few episodes, this may be Nagatoro's offbeat way of trying to encourage him to better himself, or at least provoke some growth into the sort of person she'd consider worthy of laying more conventional affections on.
Nagatoro makes a good point when the conversation turns to the subject of Senpai actually wanting to be praised rather than skulking in confidence-free anonymity: Positivity in relationships is give-and-take, so he needs to reach out and pay people compliments himself if he hopes to receive that kind of likewise encouragement. There is something to be said about the fact that the only things he can think to compliment her on at first are her physical attributes, though it at least makes even more clear how obviously attracted he is to this girl. But then you get to him remarking on how ‘badass’ Nagatoro is and the way that's the one that takes her back. It's interesting to get insight into what someone like Nagatoro actually thinks about herself, apart from her outward tendencies to enact antics on others like Senpai for actualization.
Not to get too over-analytical about this kind of content, but I do think the duo's interactions here signify the potential for their relationship to move into something more conventionally genuine someday. Nagatoro even remarks a couple times here that all her antagonism is at least partially in service of getting Senpai to develop the ‘guts’ to actually take the initiative with his own affection eventually. Far from Senpai's own practiced obliviousness to his own feelings, those moments from Nagatoro along with her earlier reactions to her friends muscling in on her terrorizing territory make clear that she is nursing her own actual crush on this guy she insists on routinely crushing. On the one hand that is just another component of the fantasy, but on a purely character level, it provides shades of an endearing arc for us to follow. Thus, this scene climaxes not with Nagatoro enacting another scheme to own Senpai, but with an oddly sincere sequence where we get an uncompromised look at Senpai drawing, Nagatoro letting her guard down to sleep and let him do so, and more confirmation that for as much as these two can antagonize each other, at the end of the day they are enjoying each other's company.
Nagatoro does wake up and roast his ass afterward, of course. The audience for this wouldn't want it any other way, but there are still layers to this show that indicate them putting way more thoughtfulness into it than they honestly would have needed to. It's that effort, more than anything, that I continue to be most impressed by.
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.