I've always had to respect what the Miss Nagatoro series, as an institution, was doing. Existing as an example of the ‘Girl tormenting you’ genre well before the likes of Uzaki-chan bounced onto the scene, Nagatoro eschewed any sense of merely being a fanservice-tinged slice-of-life to instead make abundantly clear how horny the particular brand of fetishized bullying it was selling was. I grasped that sense of flagrant service to its specific audience when I checked out the first episode last week, and resolved that while I totally ‘got’ what it was doing and could even be impressed with its zeal in doing so, this ultimately wasn't my specific kink and so I wouldn't worry about following it further.
But then you fine readers out there decided that, for some reason, Don't Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro was a show you wanted evaluated, professionally, on a weekly basis! I mean if this was the Faustian bargain I had to barter with in order to be allowed to continue my reviewing passion, so be it; I'm nothing if not feal to my work. I guess I'm just a little lost as to what conclusions are supposed to be drawn in this format. Miss Nagatoro, as a product, exists in service to its particular execution in depicting its laser-specific fetish. Lord knows I'm in no position to kinkshame anybody, but I'm just not the target for that. You might as well ask me to hit up DeviantArt and give you my serious critical thoughts on those pictures of women loading up their shopping carts with Wonder Bread. Is this in fact part of the gimmick? Am I too to be bullied by Miss Nagatoro as I spend these weeks wondering how to properly articulate how I feel about her? I guess I've got no choice but to come along for the long haul and see what this is really about, but this better not awaken anything in me.
Just on a basic level what allows the Miss Nagatoro show to work as well as it does is that Nagatoro herself is really, really good at the bit. The pacing and timing of her antics are just masterful most of the time. The presentation of the show coupled with its material makes it a surprising example of how the setups for comedy and horror are built out of a lot of the same framework, with our hapless self-insert Senpai communicating his terror at his initial encounters with Nagatoro, even during moments when her entrance, presented with the exaggerated trappings of a horror story, are clearly meant to be taken anything but seriously. The revelation is in how it turns out depictions of sexualized bullying work well in that same pacing structure as well. The same rules of teasing out situations, escalating the tension at the right pace, then ending with a singular punch-line/climax ramp up the fear and anxiety that are essential to the feelings the show is here to communicate. Having an understanding of that means the anime works, whether it's simply depicting Nagatoro telling Senpai his manga sucks or accosting him in a bit of outlandish vampire play. Mark me down as scared and horny.
That bloodsucking indulgence in the first half of the second episode is the entry that makes clear how non-seriously we're intended to take this show going forward. In case you were worried that Miss Nagatoro would let itself become dependent on any sort of nuance whatsoever, episode 2 cold-opens with its harassing heroine barging into Senpai's art-room while spinning a hula hoop, demanding he jump into it with her, which he relents and prepares to actually do so, only to catch an ill-timed panty shot as a result of his attempt, before getting bludgeoned in the face repeatedly with said hula hoop for his trouble. It just rolls with more ridiculous scenarios like this for the rest of its time, from the aforementioned vampire play to a round of the ‘Nipple Guessing Game’. Where does she even come up with this stuff? Is this the sort of content that magazines are peddling to fashionable young girls now? The show's unbothered by such details, instead simply confident that we're willing to envision ourselves in Senpai's carefully-constructed misery. And given that this is the series created by an artist who then writes Nagatoro as mocking his artist self-insert character for creating a self-insert character, I can't help but be kind of blown away by the sheer self-indulgent meta we're being pulled along with on it. Hell, just in case there were still any qualms to be had about the power dynamics and dubious consent of the whole exercise, they even throw in a scene halfway through that second episode making it abundantly clear that Senpai is indeed into this. The show really has covered every angle!
That notion of expanding on the intricacies of its inscrutably niche content is where I think the more long-term appeal of Miss Nagatoro may lie, at least for me anyway. The last segment of the second episode presents a demonstration of where some of the differences lie between simple dismissive disregard and the kind of genuine, aggressive bullying this show and its target audience are fetishizing. Senpai thinks he's all excited to revel in watching his Miss Nagatoro tear down some other dudes in a restaurant, but while she's still anything but nice to them, her usual manner of wickedness is pointedly missing. It's a knowing articulation of this story's perspective on the practice, the idea that bullying is as much a product of the victim's reaction as it is the bully's choice in doing so. Compared to Senpai, these guys actually have more self-confidence than a groundhog, so Nagatoro couldn't reduce them to tears even if she wanted to. It feeds into the specific personal appeals she's catering to: Did she specifically pick up on targeting Senpai because she realized he was into this kind of harassment play, and would provide the fueling reactions she so desired? That mutual appeal is something Senpai and the audience would like to believe about the true nature of the girl tormenting them, of course. That's a real-world sociological speculation I'd feel just a bit too intense going into at this stage, so for now I'll just concede that as an insight into the science of comical fetish porn vis a vis carefully-considered character reactions, this show is indeed fascinating.
As someone who, on a base level, does appreciate the aesthetics of a mean anime girl, I also have to remark on how effective Nagatoro herself is at carrying the proceedings. Her immediate presentation as a force of nature is something the staff are clearly having a blast depicting, from the seemingly-infinite variations of her trollish facial expressions they can draw, to her portrayal anchored in Sumire Uesaka giving the seiyuu performance of a lifetime. But the show's dedication to not taking its portrayal too seriously ironically allows it to pull back into less grandiose characteristic handling of that material, such as in the ending moments of the guessing game, where it's made clear that Nagatoro is not an ethereal arbiter of sexualized torment, but does indeed have her own foibles governing and limiting her power. Making this person feel real, after all, makes it all that more easier for the audience to slip into the soggy shoes of her victim. It sets up a strong start for this strange show, making clear it has the confidence it needs when its appeal lies in making its viewers feel like they have none.
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.