Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro – 10 – Taking It Seriously

A day after feeding Senpai “steamy snaps” (of chicken, not her), Nagatoro watches him lollygagging during a marathon, and makes her displeasure with his performance plain. He tries to say he’s good at nothing but drawing and practicing is only for talented people, but Nagatoro knows better on both counts.

She’s not about to let her Senpai get off with such a lousy defeatist attitude, and orders him to show up at the park bright and early, where she meets him in a skintight two-piece track suit and ponytail, ready to run with him and show him he can do it if he tries.

While I’m sure on some level Nagatoro understands her attire turns Senpai on, to the point he tries to overtake her because he’s too embarrassed to watch her running from behind, that’s just the icing on the cake for her. She wants Senpai to see her and thouroughly enjoys his reactions, but she’s just as invested in helping him improve himself and to dispossess him of the notion it’s okay to just give up because something is hard.

Speaking of hard, Naoto is revealed is extremely inflexible during the crucial post-run stretching, so after putting herself into some teasing poses to get him all red, Nagatoro helps him stretch properly, which gives her an excuse to get as close and physical and sweaty with him as she dares. This culminates in the two doing a side-stretch together when Yosshi stops by with her dog…though at this point it should come as no surprise to her with whom Nagatoro is spending her weekend.

The Cultural Festival is approaching, and Naoto needs to start putting out some work worthy of the Art Club exhibition. He wants to have a male model so he doesn’t get embarrassed looking closely at them, but Nagatoro insists on modelling for him, showing him the sketch of her as a catgirl as proof of where his true artistic desires lie.

When he gives her the condition that she has to model in catgirl cosplay, he feels bad about it later, as he assumes she’d never be able to find such a costume, much less wear it for him. I don’t know why he thought this, considering the clothes she’s worn (or not worn) for him so far, but the next day she shows up in the literal costume of his dreams, courtesy of the needlecraft club.

She is playfully beating him with her big paws for not having complimented her enough when Gamo, Yosshi and Sakura come in, wondering if they interrupted something they shouldn’t have. But eventually the whole group is there hanging out and Naoto settles down and starts drawing Nagatoro.

The girls even offer to help Senpai make his exhibit more “hype”, not because they’re keen to use that scenario to torment him (well, not only because), but because they’re all friends now, and friends help each other out. This is in stark contrast to his relationship to the estranged Art Club President, whose stern, purposeful footsteps Naoto hears approaching and has the girls hide in the prep room.

When the unnamed President (voiced by the effortlessly imperious Mizuki Nana) enters, it’s clear from the couch and the snacks that she believes the “unsavory rumors” she’s heard about the club room becoming a gathering place for some “nasty characters”. At no point in this scene or Naoto’s flashback of her does the President treat Naoto as anyone other than an employee, at an emotional remove but also exerting absolute control.

There’s no give-and-take in their exchange, and both Nagatoro and the others feel bad for Senpai getting reamed out due in large part to their entering his world. When the President asserts that the club room is “no place for merrymaking”—as if you can’t do good work and have fun doing it—and threatens to turn a termination form for the art club into the faculty office, Naoto is unable to speak up for himself.

But before President leaves, Nagatoro emerges from the prep room with the others, having heard quite enough. She calls the President selfish for having been AWOL so long and leaving Senpai all alone only to come back out of nowhere to shut it down. The President doesn’t flinch in her assertion that the club shouldn’t exist if its members won’t take it seriously.

Surely Nagatoro also must realize how unserious she looks in her getup, but it doesn’t matter; she’s going to stand up for her Senpai! She draws upon her amassed wealth of knowledge about Senpai to declare that President simply can’t make that assertion. After all, she hasn’t been watching Senpai off by himself drawing like a man possessed. She has, and she knows he takes it seriously—so seriously, in fact, he wrongly believes he isn’t good at anything else!

The President accepts this challenge to her judgment, and decides to settle the fate of the art club with a festival competition. She will run the art club’s exhibit, while Naoto will have to run his own separate exhibit, and whoever gets more votes will be the victor; in his case, the art club will survive. If she wins it gets shut down.

Naoto can’t even fathom taking on the President all by himself…but he doesn’t have to. Nagatoro puts her hand on Senpai’s shoulder, just like the President did after last year’s successful exhibit. The President said “they made a good memory” but otherwise didn’t him much of anything emotionally, and since then has left him completely alone.

If President hadn’t done this, Nagatoro would have never had the opening she needed to begin her relationship with Senpai, so it’s not all bad. But she, and her girlfriends who were clearly moved by her passionate defense of her boyfriend Senpai, will surely help him do whatever it takes to beat the President. And even if he can’t, who’s to say they can’t start a new club; one will art and fun are allowed?

Episode 10 “Senpai” Count: 29 (+3 “Paisens”)
Total: 363

Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro – 09 – Rolling With the Punches

There have been plenty of cases of Nagatoro committing an unforced error that nets her a little more closeness with Senpai than she had initially bargained for, but let us not forget that Naoto also commits his fair share of blunders. For instance, he lent her a boxing movie, so now she shadowboxes all over the club room and eventually wants to spar with him.

He has no intention of even pretending to hit back, but when he dodges and loses his balance, he falls into her arms, and his self-own turns into hers. Nagatoro also plays with fire by letting her life with her circle of friends overlap with her Senpai time, such as when a bunch of loud gamers lead the four girls to flee the dining hall and make the club room their hangout space.

When Naoto expresses his surprise such otherwise aggressive girls gave up so easily, they say they’re taking care of it by sending Sakura in to flirt with the gamers and turn them against each other. But by going along with this strategy, Nagatoro is setting herself up for potential heartache in a later segment.

With Senpai and her friends in such consistent close contact, Nagatoro ends up in the unusual position of having to defend his honor…or rather, his depravity. Gamo, who is most definitely messing with Nagatoro because she knows she actually likes Senpai, declares him an “herbovore” with no libido.

Nagatoro strongly disagrees, calling Senpai a “closet perv” and insisting on proving it by finding a dirty book hidden somewhere in the club room. The thing is, she’s right: Naoto does have a pretty dirty (but also artistic) book hidden away; just not in the room where Nagatoro bet she’d find it.

When Naoto sees how frustrated Nagatoro gets, he slinks into the prep room and very transparently tries to hide it while she’s watching him. This leads her to pounce on him with with a mixture of joy and relief, clearly ecstatic she had him pegged correctly. Rather than watch further PDA, Gamo and Yoshi leave the club room.

In the next segment, Nagatoro not so subtly shows off her new earring, which Naoto naturally notices immediately and compliments. These two are now so close that the slightest change in appearance is a big deal. As a couple in everything but name and with their dynamic largely right up against the precipice of “real dating”, it’s the little details that excite them.

But this is, at the end of the day, dilly-dallying on the part of both Nagatoro and Naoto, and they’re punished by Sakura, the most complex, inscrutable, and possibly brightest of Nagatoro’s three girlfriends. As a result of flirting with the gamers, one of them is now stalking her, and she wants to get him to stop…by pretending to date Senpai-kun.

Gamo and Yosshi are all for this, and Naoto is too nice to decline, even knowing how Nagatoro will feel about it. Of course, Nagatoro fucking hates this, and never lets us forget it in her facial expressions throughout the segment. To her credit, she doesn’t seem to place outsize blame on the situation on Senpai. After all, if he wasn’t as stupidly nice as he was, she wouldn’t like him!

That doesn’t make it any easier to watch her smartly cardiagned Senpai being clung to by Sakura in a ridiculously cute outfit on their fake date. That’s especially when Gamo starts tapping against the fourth wall, calling this one of those situations from one of the rom-com anime Paisen watches, and how those dates start out fake but the feelings gradually become real.

Of course, Naoto is just too uncomfortable around Sakura, even when he doesn’t know Nagatoro is watching, for that to happen, while it’s pretty clear from the get-go that Sakura is only using Naoto to flush out the stalker. And yet there’s also clearly part of her using this scenario to try to light a fire under Nagatoro.

Gamo is content to mess with Nagatoro, but Sakura is more like me: growing a little impatient with their schtick and waiting for them to get real with each other. But there’s no guarantee that will ever happen. I’m sure both Naoto and Nagatoro harbor a measure of frustration over their “failure to launch”, as it were.

But that doesn’t change the fact that they still enjoy each other’s company and their daily interactions, some of them thrilling in their accidental (or not-so-accidental) steaminess, but ultimately safe in their mutual ambiguity and deniability. That might just be enough for them, and may continue to remain so indefinitely. I hope it isn’t, but I accept that as a distinct possibility as we head into the home stretch.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Episode 9 “Senpai” Count: 23 (+11 “Paisens”)
Total: 331

Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro – 08 – Just Messin’ Around

I imagine a big part of Naoto’s appeal for Nagatoro is that she’s stronger than him, but that sure doesn’t stop her from teasing him for it…or rather, from using that weakness as an excuse to mount him. Because the door to the art room is open, their horseplay becomes PDA when two girls walk past and catch them in the act.

While she may have become more accustomed to her close friends being aware of her special bond with her Senpai, relative strangers are a different story. And yet…why was that door open, except to court danger, thus adding spice to their relationship?

The next segment is all about studying, and whether between making art and Nagatoro making time with him will cause Naoto to repeat his grade. If that’s the case, he’ll be in the same class as Nagatoro…and will she then start calling him by his actual name? ‘Course not…in that scenario, he’ll be known as “Ex-Senpai”!

When Naoto bears down with his studying, Nagatoro is almost hurt; would it be so bad if they shared a class together—and spent an extra year together? Naoto envisions having to massage not only Nagatoro, but Gamo and Yosshi as well, so the answer is no, it wouldn’t be that bad at all. Still, the ever=elusive Sakura admits that all of them other than Nagatoro are in danger of repeating their grade if they don’t study themselves.

In the shortest sequence of the episode—it would an omake were it after the credits—Nagatoro listens through the door of the art club as Gamo, Yosshi, and Sakura say a whole bunch of suggestive things to Senpai, and he responds with some very suspicious noises. When she finally bursts in, she learns he helped Sakura carry some wooden stools, got a splinter, and they were going to take it out for him. Nagatoro swoops in and takes care of it instead.

After school while walking home, Nagatoro is still sore about Naoto two-timing him with the others, and devolves into elementary school mode by challenging him to rock-paper-scissors. The first game backfires when his (accidental) paper beats her rock, and she carries both of their bags. But when he lets her win once, and she wins a second time, she decides that she’ll be his payload going forward, hopping on his back.

The two bask in the thrill of their suddenly close contact, but Naoto’s lack of physical conditioning rears its ugly head and she starts to slip off. His hands slide back to her backside, which proves a bit too much stimulation for Nagatoro, who bolts off like a cat out of hell; her heart about to leap out of her chest.

Bcak home, Naoto does his homework, but his eyes are constantly looking at his phone, worried about Nagatoro and waiting for her to message him. Sure enough, she does, and decides to invert her own embarrassment by making it clear to him that she’s currently taking a bath.

In her mirth over his outsize reaction to this, Nagatoro accidentally switches on her video, giving Naoto a look a her as the Good Lord made her. When Naoto points this out, both of them go red as Atomic Fire Balls, but neither are about to say they regret it happened.

And that’s the thing: all of the teasing and play are almost getting in the way of what could be a perfectly normal and lovely boyfriend-girlfriend relationship. Add up all of the things these two have experienced together (and done to and for each other), there’s real, earnest affection between the two. Nagatoro can bray all she likes about how “gross” Senpai is, but it’s just a façade.

The truth of the matter is, this is a dyed-in-the-wool couple. They’re just avoiding acknowledgement of that because it’s new, and scary, and upheaves their safe, comfortable status quo. Will they ever admit this in the remaining episodes, or keep going in circles? The show seems to indicate the latter, but it’s written itself in a corner by creating a couple that’s just too damn cute to not make official.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Episode 8 “Senpai” Count: 25 (+8 “Ex-Senpais” / 7 “Paisens”)
Total: 297

Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro – 07 – Senpai Unleashed

Naoto knows there’s a summer festival going on, and he knows he wants to go with Nagatoro, but instead of simply texting or calling her, he plays video games and waits for something to happen. When that doesn’t work, he goes to the festival alone, hoping to run into her by chance.

For his passivity he is punished with Gamo-chan and Yosshi for company, though if you ask me, he lucked out, as the two of them are cuties in their own right, even if they insist on putting a literal leash on him. They send a pic of the captured Paisen to Nagatoro, knowing she won’t be able to resist rushing over to reclaim her “pet.”

Of course, “pet” is just a code word for “boy she likes”, and Gamo is well aware of this, making Nagatoro fight to get Paisen back by playing various festival games. While shooting corks at prizes, Nagatoro wonders out loud if Senpai was waiting for her to invite him, then says very directly that if there’s somewhere he wants to go with someone (her), he could always try asking them (again, her).

After Gamo doesn’t accept Nagatoro’s win “by quality” for winning the biggest prize, Nagatoro bribes Yosshi and the girls part ways for the evening. Really, Gamo and Yosshi are giving their friend some time alone with her pe…the boy she likes. She swipes some of his takoyaki; she pops some cotton candy in his mouth…it feels like a date.

Naoto thinks dating requires people to “go through the proper procedures”, but the only procedures are if the two people like each other and want to hang out alone together for the purposes of learning more about each other. That’s really it; it’s not complicated!

He’s saved by the bang of a firework from having to overtly take Nagatoro’s hand when she holds it out, but when she almost gets swept away by the crush of people, he takes her forcefully by the wrist and leads her to a viewing spot he remembers from elementary school, the last time he saw fireworks live. Nagatoro is surprised….and flustered.

When she tries to mess with him by accusing him of taking her somewhere dark to do “something”, Naoto, who knows she has a tendency to be shy at times, nails her down, asking what, pray tell, she might be insinuating, exactly. It’s the first time he counters her virgin-shaming by pointing out that she’s not exactly Gene Simmons either!

When she says “grabbing hold of her and kissing her”, it basically confirms her bark is stronger than her bite when it comes to sexual stuff. It’s a most welcome challenge from Naoto in what’s steadily becoming a more balanced relationship with each passing episode.

And just in case anyone thinks Naoto is mistaken about Nagatoro’s shyness regarding hanky-panky, when she moves in to force a kiss on him, a giant red heart-shaped firework reveals other couples fully making out, the two are equally scandalized and skitter away.

The final sequence involves Naoto passing by when he notices Nagatoro having lunch with her whole “family”, including the rarely-seen, also tanned Sakura. He observes them from behind a tree like David Attenborough watching jaguars, but then two eyeless guys roll in and try to get Nagatoro to go out. One even  puts his arm around her, and she’s clearly not into it.

Naoto tries to move in for a closer look, but steps on a twig, a sound all the others notice. While he initially wavers like a wind dancer at a car dealership when asked what he’s doing there, he steels himself, looks straight at Nagatoro, and says “Let’s Go!” When the guys try to get him to repeat himself, Nagatoro returns the favor for getting her out of an uncomfortable situation, and replies “Let’s go, Senpai.”

Gamo is also all about getting out of there, and Yosshi—who we see is also clearly not interested in those guys in the least—follow Nagatoro’s lead and head out. Sakura has no choice but to abandon the guys and follow her girlfriends.

Naoto may feel like he doesn’t “fit in” at all with these loud, brazen, slightly boorish girls. But it’s clear they don’t feel the same way. They’d much rather hang out with him—whether to mess with him or not—than those boring,  faceless goons. Even Sakura notes his weird “aura”, while Nagatoro goes along with all of the ragging on the boy the four of them explicitly chose over two others who weren’t as fun.

But all Naoto needs to really pay attention to is Nagatoro’s expression when their eyes meet. She couldn’t be happier he rescued her, and that he’s by her side right here and now. This was another instance of things just working out, but hopefully in the near future he works up the nerve to actually ask her to go somewhere. If she’s free, here’s no way in hell she’ll ever say no!

Episode 7 “Senpai” Count: 22 (+8 “Paisens”)
Total: 257

Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro – 06 – RPG Dreams and Triple Teams

Naoto wakes up in a heavenlike place, assigned a mage’s staff, and before he knows it he’s falling from the sky into a fantasy RPG world, complete with Nagatoro in skantily-dressed catgirl cosplay.

He manages to protect her from the fire breath of a dragon (who turns out to be Gamo-chan) and Nekotoro rewards him with a peck on the cheek—which would be his first kiss, were this not obviously a dream.

Because it was only a matter of time before things took a turn when Gamo and Yosshi showed up, the four arrive at the Demon Lord’s castle, where the three girls change into even skimpier outfits and reveal that collectively they are the Demon Lord.

They prepare to make him their toy, and he wakes up screaming…in the middle of the family restaurant, just as Nagatoro and her friends spot him. He quickly flees, but leaves behind his sketchbook…full of drawings of Nekotoro, which Nagatoro is surely secretly happy about.

In the next segment, Naoto is simply relaing in the miracle of air conditioning when he gets a call from Nagatoro—that’s right, a phone call—urging him to join her at the beach. When he meets up, he learns Gamo-chan and Yosshi are also in attendance, which serves as some nice symmetry to his RPG dream.

When they arrive, Gamo does what anyone who arrives at a beach would do: take off her shirt and shorts to reveal her black string bikini. When she notices Paisen gawking, she makes it a point to flaunt her bod, and Yosshi joins in with her frilly pink bikini.

Not to be outdone, Nagatoro removes her oversized undershirt to reveal her black-bordered white bikini…as well as her swim club tan lines. That’s right: no one-piece school swimsuits among these cool girls. Naoto retreats to buy the girls drinks.

Nagatoro, Gamo and Yosshi go swimming in the ocean, but Naoto remains under the beach umbrella sketching, worried about sunburn. Nagatoro engages him, offering to apply sunblock to her Senpai … “gently.” When he says that’s something only people dating should do—and he and her aren’t that—Nagatoro is clearly hurt.

She dispenses swift punishment, in the form of liberally squirting sunblock on Naoto, then rubbing it into his back…with her foot. As she does so, she starts to smirk and blush, and Naoto blushes too, indicating this is something both of them are into.

But when Yosshi puts her foot on Naoto as well, observing that it looked liked fun, Nagatoro makes clear she’s not having fun; she is doing her duty as a domme, putting her sub in his place for putting distance between them.

Gamo also joins in, which means Naoto has three beautiful girls pushing him into the sand with their feet. Once he’s sufficiently sunblocked, Nagatoro takes the lead in pushing him towards the water.

While Naoto is not the strongest swimmer, he’d buoyed—literally—by the fact that it’s easier to float in salt water. He, Nagatoro, Gamo and Yosshi proceed to have a blast swimming and splashing in the ocean and then having ramen at the seaside cafe.

That night, when Naoto is back home, Nagatoro calls him to ask if he had fun, and Naoto admits that he did. Of course he did! Not only did three drop-dead gorgeous girls deign to spend time with him and sully their feet so that he wouldn’t suffer sunburn; he also managed to sketch Nagatoro in a moment of pure joy. Thus his summer was not wasted.

Naoto and Hayase may not be “dating” per se, but it’s made abundantly clear by both his dream and the beach trip that the pair are good friends who enjoy hanging out, and her friends have fully accepted him as someone she genuinely cares about. Sure, they can go overboard in messing with him, but at the end of the day they enjoyed his company and he enjoyed theirs.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Episode 6 “Senpai” Count: 29 (+6 “Paisens”)
Total: 227

Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro – 05 – Shaved Ice and a Haircut

While her feelings about Senpai have been abundantly clear, it’s still nice to get a look inside her head, this time courtesy of a dream she’s having while sleeping on her green sofa. She’s calling Senpai gross, but he’s suddenly stopped reacting. Then Gamo and Yosshi come in, shove her aside, and snatch him…and he’s fine with it!

She wakes up from this dream to a sign the real Senpai wouldn’t feel that way—he sweetly put a blanket over her so she wouldn’t catch cold! Still, it’s clear Nagatoro understands how far she can go without pushing Naoto away, and also genuinely fearful of her friends stealing him.

In the next segment, suddenly Nagatoro is less interested in not crossing lines, first by testing Senpai’s ticklishness, then once again stripping to reveal her swimsuit and inviting Senpai to tickle her if he dares. When it’s clear that he does and will dare, she aborts the bit. Something tells me she’s not ready for Senpai to hear how she sounds when tickled!

Nagatoro then reveals the intense satisfaction she gets from watching a video of a sheep being sheared, and wants to do the same with Senpai’s wooly hair, which is honestly in need of a cut. She whips out some electric clippers she borrowed from her bro, and gets those demonic eyes…but when Naoto makes clear he doesn’t want his hair shaved, she stands down.

What Naoto would be okay with, after he imagines it in his head, is for Nagatoro to give him a trim with scissors. Alas, before she can get started she gets an urgent call from Gamo and Yosshi about math notes. The fears expressed in Nagatoro’s dream are confirmed when it’s revealed Gamo and Yosshi were just trying to separate the lovebirds.

They grab the defenseless Naoto, hold him down, and prepare to shave him bald, but Nagatoro hears his cries and rescues him in the nick of time. Once again, rather than deal with a direct confrontation, Gamo and Yosshi run away. I’m guessing they know she can throw a kick when she needs to! With the interlopers gone, Senpai and Nagatoro settle into pure barber-ic bliss. When she’s done, Naoto is legit impressed how good it looks, and Nagatoro soaks up the praise.

As summer break approaches, the days become hotter and hotter. Nagatoro wants to take Senpai to a nice hole-in-the-wall shaved ice stand, only to find its popularity ballooned after it was featured on TV. Even so, Nagatoro most vociferously dismisses any suggestion of konbini ice cream, grabs Naoto’ arm and insist on waiting in the huge line as long as it takes, decalring it a battle of wills.

Surprisingly, the heat starts getting to Nagatoro before it gets to Naoto. When he spots two older guys leering at the back of her blouse, translucent with sweat and revealing her bra strap, he chivalrously blocks their view with his own person. When Nagatoro starts getting woozy and wobbly, it’s he who grabs her by the arm (for I believe the first time), finds a shady place for her to cool down, and buys her a sports drink to hydrate.

It’s the manliest he’s ever been, and Nagatoro doesn’t dislike it. She thanks him by going to the konbini and buys him a lemon Italian ice, surprising him by touching it to his neck, then offering him a bite from her spoon, which he refuses as it would comprise an indirect kiss.

Later, the two are walking together, and Nagatoro snatches his drink and drinks out of it, demonstrating she doesn’t mind an indirect kiss or two before handing it back to him. She mentions how most of her summer break will be taken up helping out with the swim club, but then asks for his contact info, which she claims is so she can send him a “Perv!” sticker in LINE whenever he’s thinking about something pervy. But we know better, and I think Naoto does too.

I mean, just look at her expression upon receiving his number! She wanted it so they can stay in touch, and so they can hang out when they’re both free, because they’re really no longer tormentor and tormented (or at least not just that). They’re two people who enjoy each other’s company and want to keep a good thing going. Hopefully they don’t spend the whole break apart.

Episode 5 “Senpai” Count: 25 (+1 “Paisen”)
Total: 192

Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro – 04 – Buns of Feel

Nagatoro’s inability to resist any chance to make Senpai squirm results in her insisting on using the same water tap as him to wash her hands, despite there being several taps available. As she suds up and scrubs her hands next to his, she mentions how it’s almost like they’re bathing before sex.

This seems a bit of a stretch, unless you remember Nagatoro’s thoroughly dirty mind. Naoto manages to slip through her soapy fingers (literally!) and dash away, but her lingering blushing indicates she got her Senpai fluster fix for the day.

From there, Naoto is having lunch alone in the art club room, a peace that’s interrupted not by Nagatoro, but her two friends Gamo-chan and Yosshi, who decided to have a little alone time to torture him. They’ve heard from Nagatoro that he’s a pervert, so they both offer their boobs for him to feel up.

When he refuses and runs for it, Yosshi seizes him and makes him grope Gamo-chan, who reveals she was padding her chest with bean buns. Nagatoro arrives with a stare that scares her friends away…but an unattended Senpai is a vulnerable Senpai!

Nagatoro quickly moves to re-establish her claim by inviting Naoto to participate in a bean-bun guessing game, where buns of different quality are hidden under her blouse. Naoto gives in and plays the game, but as his eyes are closed during deliberation one of the buns slips out, so he ends up grabbing the genuine article.

Nagatoro has no one to blame but herself for the resulting discomfort, which is why I felt it was overkill for her to beat him with one of the buns before they quietly ate them together.

The next day, Naoto is watching his classmates playing baseball outside while waiting for Nagatoro, who is late. His reason for caring is that he agreed to let her model for him again. Her lateness is explained as soon as she enters the club room with a huge green sofa she got for free from the crafts club. She also noticed him “staring pensively” out the window, and gets him to admit he’d like to be praised once in a while.

She tells him in order to receive praise, one must dole it out, and plops herself on the couch so he can praise her. While she laughs off his initial woeful attempts at complimenting her hair and lightness of foot, when he tells her her kick in the library was badass she is genuinely moved, and isn’t able to hide it. Then she proceeds to try a number of sexy poses before Naoto tells her to settle down and simply pose normally.

Still, much time passes and he’s unable to draw anything. He blames her constant moving about, but really it’s because he wants to do a good job. She says she’ll reward him if he does, but he assumes that means she’ll pull another fakeout. Nagatoro tells him she has no choice but to back down at the last second, as he “never has the guts”.

But then Nagatoro falls asleep—if nothing else, a sign of how comfortable she is around him—and he’s able to see her in a whole new light. The teasing monster is beautiful in repose, and without her staring back at him he can calm down and draw a portrait that’s much more assured than his first one.

That said, he admits he rushed through it and made a lot of mistakes, but the light-footed Nagatoro is still able to steal a look, and admits she genuinely likes it. Not enough to give him a real kiss quite yet, but enough to make him think his lips touched hers for one wonderful fleeting moment.

Nagatoro and Naoto continue to be extremely fun to watch, and one can hope their continued interactions will continue to wear down Naoto’s defenses until, perhaps one day, he summons those guts she accused him of never having, and manages a way all his own to tease her back. Even if he doesn’t, it’s clear both of them are getting something out of this, and are happy to keep it going.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Episode 4 “Senpai” Count: 25 (+11 “Paisens”)
Total: 166

Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro – 03 – Going Steady

Nagatoro continues her daily intrusions on Naoto’s drawing sessions, but it’s clear it’s not out of malice. She slips off her skirt and top to reveal her school swimsuit for the sheer thrill of it, and to get her fix of that sweet, sweet Naoto fluster. This cold open is nothing new, but when the two are caught in the rain it begins the trend this episode of Nagatoro acting more like Naoto’s friend (and even admirer) and less like his tormentor.

When they find some temporary shelter, Nagatoro plays herself once more by warning Senpai not to look at her as her soaked uniform is see-through. He assumes she’s still wearing the swimsuit underneath, and takes a good long glance at her. You can watch Nagatoro shift from a neutral expression, to a bashful one, and finally to her mischievous one. But when the rain fails to let up, the teasing stops and she suggests they dry off at the nearest house—which is hers.

Once there, it’s Naoto who makes an unforced error by smelling the towel Nagatoro provides, in case she used it first. From there, it’s a pretty standard house visit, or it would be, if it weren’t the very first time Naoto was in a girl’s room. As for Nagatoro, she clearly couldn’t be happier to finally have Naoto firmly ensconced in her lair…so they can play her brother’s video games together!

At first, Naoto kicks Nagatoro’s ass and she is not gracious in defeat. Thinking this could be a way to exact revenge, Naoto presses his attacks, but Nagatoro starts using various forms of physical contact to distract him so she can win. After some tense back-and-forth, the two eventually settle in to having fun together, not worrying about teasing or being teased. Nagatoro seems genuinely touched when Naoto says he had fun before leaving for the day.

Of course, the teasing will never be fully over for Naoto, it will come down to how he chooses to react to it, or whether he ever tells her to flat-out knock if off (which will be never). When he braves the packed cafeteria for lunch, who should have an empty seat next to her but Nagatoro, who uses it to present her new…er…senpai to her two friends Gamo and Yosshi.

Naoto fully expects a three-on-one teasing assault, but both he and Nagatoro’s friends are surprised by how she reacts to them teasing him. While she’s all over him saying he’s her boyfriend/pet/slave, she does not take kindly to Yosshi trying to touch him—giving us the first look at Nagatoro’s “Possessive Face”. Gamo-chan picks up on this and calls Naoto a “bug”, which crosses a line for Nagatoro.

Naoto is shocked to find her getting angry for his sake! This motivates him to stand up for himself and loudly declare that Nagatoro isn’t his girlfriend. The thing is, Nagatoro looks miffed and even a little hurt that he denied it quite so strongly and publicly.

It’s clear from their encounter with Gamo and Yosshi that Nagatoro would much prefer to have her beloved Senpai all to herself. I mean, her demeanor at the restaurant with the other guys compared to her pure unbridled joy hanging out with him at home was as different as night and day. To this end, she attempts to get Nagatoro to fight back…not against her teasing, but the teasing of others.

She suggests the best way to do this is to smack the taunts down with a hearty slap to the shoulder. Nagatoro decides to do a couple of dry runs. The first time he slaps her, she’s surprised by the force and passion he put into it. She in turn cranks up the verbal abuse until once again Naoto is fighting back tears. This time, when he says she doesn’t have to “take it so far”, Nagatoro clearly regrets doing so and apologizes.

Then she changes gears by insisting he give her the shut-down smack, but he’s a little too forceful this time, and his arm ends up smacking against her chest. So he definitely has some work to do . But the bottom line is, even if she’d prefer to tease him at her leisure, she wants him to fight back against others. To her, there’s a clear distinction between their particular “thing” they have, and everyone else.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Episode 3 “Senpai” Count: 36 (+3 “Paisens”)
Total: 130

Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro – 02 – Vampire’s Kissu

This second outing’s segments add more nuance, context, and even turnabout to what was largely a one-sided, antagonistic first episode. For one thing, Nagatoro doesn’t make her senpai cry once! Still, in the stinger, she upsets his zen-like art room calm by hula-hooping in, a veritable Tazmanian Devil of energy.

Nagatoro playfully invites him to find the right moment to jump into the hoop with her, but when he actually tries to do so, ends up accidentally catching a glimpse of her underwear. It showed that she’s not always certain or prepared for how her senpai will respond to her teasing…which is clearly part of the fun for her.

When Naoto buys the newest issue of Big Boob Vampires, Nagatoro catches him making a lewd face. I’m not sure what Naoto was thinking even bringing such a book to school, let alone whipping it out in a room Nagatoro frequents, but after a physical stalemate she embarrasses him with dirty talk and snatches it away.

But here’s the twist: while BBV definitely has some pervy bits, it turns out she genuinely loves vampire stuff, and agrees with him that it’s pretty well written! This builds on her harsh but constructive criticism of senpai’s own manga, but also confirms the two have a shared interest.

When the electricity of the school goes out all too conveniently, a tomato juice-sipping Nagatoro starts to ponder what it would be like to be a vampire, showing Naoto her larger-than-average canines and insisting he let her bite his neck. When she mounts him, he says others might get the wrong idea about “things and stuff”, but it’s his post-yakisoba garlic breath that gets her off him.

Within seconds, she pounces on him again, but awkwardly, and her hand lands right on his crotch. For once, Nagatoro is precisely as flustered as Naoto, as she definitely didn’t mean to put her hand there. But she makes lemonade with crotch-grabbing lemons by congratulating Senpai: he got “accidentally lucky”, just like the MC of BBV!

On their walk home (during another lovely sunset) Nagatoro slowly lurks and stews behind Naoto, asks if it was the first time he was “touched”…as it was most likely the first time she touched. She gets in position to grab him again, only to go for his ribs before bidding him goodbye.

As he tries to read the vampire manga at home, his real-life interactions with Nagatoro that day intrude upon his thoughts. She may not have actually bitten his neck or drank his blood, but she’s gotten under his skin for sure…as if he were in thrall to a vampire.

The next day, Nagatoro interrupts his drawing session to play a game to determine if they can guess the precise location of one another’s nipples. There’s a funny cutaway to her in traditional archer’s garb hitting two bullseyes, followed by swirling her fingers around his nipples.

She doesn’t expect Naoto to even try to do the same to her, but he does agree to try, and the closer he gets to her, the more nervous she gets, until she gets a text alert and runs out of there. Naoto can’t see her face as she leaves, but she’s clearly flustered again; her tomfoolery getting her in over her head once more.

The final segment represents the first time since Nagatoro and her three friends were introduced that Naoto was observing her without her being aware, meaning he gets to see a different side of her. This time, she arrives at the same family restaurant he’s working on his manga, joined by one of her girlfriends and two guys. It’s clear her friend is trying to set her up with one or both of them.

Naoto stays hidden, and watches with relish, expecting Nagatoro to tear both guys a new one. But to his shock, she doesn’t tease either of them; rather, she firmly puts each of them in their place: the first guy for being a pretentious musician, and the second guy for bringing up groping a girl’s boobs when they’ve just met.

Nagatoro’s friend is disappointed she scared them off, but as Nagatoro says, “it’s just that those guys are boring.” Meaning she saw no point in messing with them. You could say that just as Naoto is in her thrall, when it comes to having fun with a boy, no one but her thrall will do.

As he walks home, bathed in gorgeous purple and pink light, Nagatoro ponders what looks to be a very distinct possibility Nagatoro toys with no one but him. Right on cue, Nagatoro appears and slaps him on the back, asking what’s up. Thankfully, she never noticed he was at the family restaurant. I wouldn’t have particularly liked that, since there would’ve been no way to tell if she’d adjusted her behavior knowing he was watching.

Instead, Naoto got the real unvarnished Nagatoro. She begins by teasing him for his unique and “creepy” silhouette, then goes on calling him “squiggly”. It seems like he’s about to ask her why she only toys with him, but decides not to, and she just calls him gross over and over as he denies it and tells her to stop.

I thought this was an improvement on the first episode, as some of Nagatoro’s pranks backfire, while she inadvertently demonstrated that the only guy she seems to pay any attention to is him. It may rarely be the kind of attention he wants, but there’s no doubt that their time together is never dull.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Episode 2 “Senpai” Count: 43
Total: 94

Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro – 01 (First Impressions) – Not Just for the Fun of It

This is going to be one of those shows most viewers will either hate with a steaming passion from the moment the titular Nagatoro first speaks, or follow with a kind of morbid curiosity about just how much teasing, taunting, and straight-up abuse our MC Hachiouji Naoto is ready, willing, and able to endure before he snaps and…asks her out!

Nagatoro’s way with Naoto can be very stressful at times, even for someone who wasn’t bullied as a youth. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is just not a pleasant time for some people, and would totally understand if they want to wash their hands of this show after its first outing made clear what it’s going to be about.

All that said, I came away from Nagatoro thoroughly entertained, and I think a lot of that has to do with tuning into its very particular wavelength. It certainly helps that Uesaka Sumire is so good in voicing Nagatoro’s role, and the visuals are gorgeous and sometimes downright stunning. You have to buy into the idea that for as horrible as she is for much of this episode, this is all really Nagatoro’s way of engaging—and flirting—with Naoto.

Nagatoro is first introduced as one of four faceless gyaru-esque types loudly carrying on in the library, where none of the shyer people around them have the guts to tell them to shut up or leave. Naoto is intimidated by their mere presence on the opposite end of the room, thinking he’s never going to have anything to do with “that species”.

When one of the girls picks up a manga drawing he dropped, Nagatoro seems more interested than the others, and stays behind while they go hang out elsewhere. This is key, as no one else is around during all of the teasing that ensues when she has a flustered Naoto reenact the scene from his manga with her. That’s not an accident; I think she likes it that way.

Nagatoro may be ridiculously irritating and invasive and almost utterly contemptuous of personal boundaries, but she is this way to Naoto and no one else, and with no one else around. It’s the same in the art club, when she makes sure they’re alone before teasing him by offering to be a nude model.

I daresay Nagatoro gets off on dominating the year-older Naoto. Her face does a lot of things throughout the episode, but one thing that stands out is that she’s often blushing just as much if not more than he is while she’s engaged in her teasing. When he’s knocked backwards when she unbuttons her top, she blushes. When she relents and agrees to draw her normally (with her clothes on) she blushes.

She’s loving every minute of this, and seems to be fueled by Naoto’s passivity and submissiveness. Her criticism of his manga and his portrait of her is actually pretty constructive when you think about it, as her goal seems to be to get him to either draw a manga with a character more like him or to become more like his character. She also wants him to draw her better, which means she wants him to draw her again. She was, after all, the first girl he ever looked at so closely.

When Nagatoro makes Naoto cry in the library and she offers him a handkerchief, it almost feels like rubbing salt in the wound. But then when she makes him cry again—after she physically overpowers him and says he’s “so weak”—her demeanor softens considerably and she apologizes while gently drying his eyes, admitting she “had to” mess with him again.

More like she couldn’t resist, because she gets so much pleasure out of riling him up…and also out of drying his eyes. It’s like she’s breaking him down so she can build him back up. In any case, it’s a very cute and tender moment when she realizes she might’ve gone too far there.

That said, Nagatoro continues to pester Naoto as he leaves school, and they apparently share a route home. It’s here whre Nagatoro may actually be hiding a genuine request to go out with her behind a layer of teasing. Sure, even if Naoto straightened up and said “yes”, she’d laugh it off as a joke, but the simple fact that Nagatoro won’t leave him and only him alone means there’s something there.

When she accidentally pushes him into the river (due to some creative physics on the part of the episode) and he comes out soaking but still not letting her have it, she remarks how he never seems to get angry. The thing is, Naoto is used to bullying and used to dealing with it by looking away and closing his mind. Because of that, he doesn’t remember the faces of his previous bullies.

When prompted, he tells Nagatoro that she ticks him off and gets on his nerves, but “he doesn’t hate it that much…talking with [her] and stuff”. Having called her simply “miss” throughout their interactions, Nagatoro finally gets him to ask her for her name, and for good measure, she writes it on his chest with her finger, never passing up a chance to get a rise out of him.

The episode ends with her trademark devilish smirk, but also flushed cheeks as she says “Let’s get to know each other, Senpai.” I’m willing to give Nagatoro the benefit of the doubt because Naoto is, and has dealt with worse treatment before, and to him Nagatoro simply feels different. Perhaps it feels less like a bully and victim, and more like a dom/sub or top/bottom relationship? And it also feels safer because so far all of the humiliation she’s brought upon him has been private?

I doubt at this point that Naoto perceives that Nagatoro harbors genuine attraction to him precisely because he lets her drive him to tears, but as he said, he doesn’t entirely hate it that much. Will the D/s dynamic continue, or will Naoto start to try to assert himself more as he grows more comfortable around her? I’m eager to see where this goes. Your mileage may well vary considerably.

Episode 1 “Senpai” Count: 51

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 02

Mari’s seething wanderlust, as well as her determination not to waste what’s left of her high school youth, makes her extra susceptible to Shirase’s Antarctic plans. When Shirase tells her to get a part-time job at once, Mari is looking for ’em (interestingly, both of them come across the same sketchy job offer for “hospitality” work with guys).

Megumi thus plays the crucial role of managing Mari’s expectations. The expedition Shirase wants to join is in dire financial straits. The safety of those who join it is not guaranteed. They’re not simply going to let high school kids join them just because they really really want to.

When Megumi’s pragmatism slips into Mari’s interactions with Shirase, Shirase can smell the doubt and hesitation, and snaps at Mari, storming off. But Mari doesn’t doubt Shirase, and she does want to do it…she just wants to do it right. As Mari forlornly walks alone, it isn’t long before Shirase returns, realizing she was too harsh, but assuring Mari she does have a plan in place.

That same evening, Mari has a part-time job, at the local convenience store. There, she meets fellow 16-year-old Miyake Hinata (Iguchi Yuka, doing her Araragi Tsukihi voice), who shows an eager Mari the ropes.

The subject of The Trip comes up, and Hinata wants IN. Thankfully, Shirase isn’t particular about who else comes along, and so now the two are three. And while Hinata’s decision to join them seems abrupt (and it kinda is regardless), she’s a person who’s never liked blending in with the crowd, which is why she bypassed high school and is working towards college.

Her time working at the konbini also made her good at observing people, like the students of Mari and Shirase’s school, including the two of them. She always saw something different about them; something she calls “honesty”. Genuine-ness, earnesty, whatever you call it, she knew they were special, and wanted to be a part of what their noble undertaking.

Next stop: Shinjuku, and these three girls from Gunma stick out like a sore thumb-ma (sorry, that was really lame). The intense sights and sounds of the big city make all three a little crazy, but nobody more than Shirase, who reveals that her grand plan was to crash the Antarctic expedition meet-up (in Kabukicho of all places) by…seducing the guys.

The moment Shirase points her head up and tries to act like a “college student” like it’s no big deal, she’s immediately picked up by a guy, and becomes understandably flustered. She’s also adamant that she can’t be the one who attempts the seduction of the expedition team, because they know her.

So Shirase and Hinata shove Mari out, and her old-fashioned sexy pose utterly fails, they shove Shirase out. The people who know her spot her, and the chase is on. Why do the girls run? I’m not sure, but neither are they. Well, Shirase knows, because this isn’t the first time she’s tried to join the expedition.

But despite the fact Shirase’s plan is crumbling before our very eyes, the fact of the matter is that she, Mari, and Hinata are having a hell of a lot of fun running around Shinjuku…Youth In Motion. Unfortunately, none of the three (even Hinata, good in short-distance sprinting) can beat the stamina of their pursuers.

I love how I was just as taken in by the legitimacy and precision of her plan as Mari and Hinata, even with Megumi offering early words of caution. And yet, even with the adults here telling Shirase “this isn’t happening”, even when they refuse her part-time Antarctica fund…even if what she’s doing amounts to chasing her mother’s ghost, I’m still on Shirase’s side.

She has to go to Antarctica. She can’t not. What kind of show would this be if she failed? It’s just, she’s gone about it the wrong way. Seduction and bribes won’t be effective, but maybe something—or someone else will be. Someone like, say, the daughter of the wealthy-looking woman who was with the expedition team.

That girl happens to be on the same train as the other three girls, two of which—Hinata and Mari—vote to relieve Shirase of her leadership role. It’s for her own good. She’s been trying and failing to get on that ship her way for the better part of three years. Now it’s time to see if others have more luck.

Gorgeous, charming, emotionally satisfying, and brimming with the energy of determined youth, and the anticipation of adventure writ both small (Shinjuku) and large (further south), Yorimoi is a no-brainer Winter keeper.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 01 (First Impressions)

Tamaki Mari (voiced by a nicely toned-down Minase Inori) is restless. It’s her second year of high school and she hasn’t done anything to celebrate her youth. She sleeps in too late and keeps a messy room. One day, she decides no more—she’ll skip school, change out of her uni at the train station, go on a trip without a plan.

But the same thing befalls her that always befalls her when attempting to undertake bold endeavors: she chickens out at the last second, blaming the rain for squashing her Tokyo trip, along with the possibility of planes crashing or trains exploding.

In reality, the culprit was a simple and understandable fear of facing the unknown alone; fear of leaving one’s comfort zone and not being able to return. Her classmate and friend Megumi (Kanemoto Hisako) doesn’t think it’s necessarily a bad trait to have, but Mari hates that part of herself. She feels it’s stifling her youth.

Then something strange and auspicious and wonderful is set into motion when Mari sees a beautiful raven-haired girl wearing her school uniform running past her on the train platform. In her haste, the girl drops something: an envelope containing ONE MILLION YEN (about $8800).

The next day, Mari tells Megumi about the giant wad of cash and enlists her aid in locating the raven-haired maiden with the memorable conditioner. Mari spots her entering the bathroom, stuffing herself into a stall, bashing its walls, and quietly sobbing “one million…one million.”

When the girl (voiced by Hanazawa Kana) opens the stall door, Mari presents her with the cash, and after momentary suspicion, the girl has a paroxysm of relief and gratitude, embracing Mari like an old friend. Finding the cash was chance.

Returning every last Fukuzawa to their rightful owner was a choice, and it was the right one, for this strange, expressive girl, who Mari learns is named Kobuchizawa Shirase, is using the cash to do what Mari longs to do: go on a journey.

Shirase’s destination? Antarctica, to find her mother who went missing there after an expedition. Every single peer and adult to hears of her plans all believe the same thing: she’s off her rocker. She spends all non-school time working part-time and saving money instead of having fun with friends.

You could say Shirase is deferring her youth to a later time and a more incredible place (i.e. Antarctica). But girls at school call her “Antarctica”, and some even try to bully her into lending them some of her hard-earned savings.

Enter Mari, who saves Shirase from the bullies and offers her encouragement and excitement over the journey she’s about to undertake, and wants to help in any way she can. Shirase comes right out with it, asking Mari if she’d like to come along.

Mari very much wants to, and prepares to meet up with her at the station, where a train will take them to the icebreaker that will eventually take them to Antarctica, the titular “place further than the universe”, 14,000 km from Japan and the universe Mari knows.

This time, Mari doesn’t chicken out at the last second, and Shirase’s look of elation tells you everything you need to know about how many who claimed to support her backed out at the last second, as Mari was once wont to do. But Mari is committed, inspired as she is by the sheer audacity and dedication Shirase has exhibited. Very soon, they’ll be off, and from the look of the OP, they’ll be joined by two others.

This show was a pleasant surprise for me; I knew nothing but the one-sentence synopsis on MAL when checking it out…that and the fact it was a Madhouse show and that it’s absolutely stacked with voice talent.

Throughout the episode there’s the feeling of a great wave of adventure about to crest, or as Mari puts it, an isolated pool of seawater suddenly breaching and bursting forth, like her youth. As soon as we see the ship, things start to feel real.

Not only that, but both Mari and Shirase exhibit an infectious exuberance that really comes through in their diverse facial expressions and the always-welcome vocal chords of Hanazawa and Minase. I’m looking forward to watching their adventure unfold!

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 08

Thanks to his consulting network, Eizan Etsuya is one of Totsuki’s greatest wheeler-dealers, and his profits greatly exceed the combined tuition fees of the entire enrollment. He has connections with everyone, including the three Shokugeki judges. He also has a fifty-strong eviction force about to knock down Polar Star’s doors. Souma doesn’t have a chance in hell, nor do the Polar Star residents…right?

Well, not so fast. Food Wars didn’t back our friends into a corner just to hit the trap door and send them plummeting to their doom. Simply put, neither Souma nor his dorm-mates are going to take this raw deal sitting down. Even if Eizan and the judges say it’s hopeless, Souma just has to believe…it isn’t.

He finds a degree of support in Rindo, who clearly sees something in Souma, and wouldn’t want to see him expelled. Of course, he wouldn’t have been worth supporting if he does lose; she seems to be waiting for him to show what he can do, which is more than you can say for the dismissive Eizan and his puppet judges.

Satsuma chicken is the ingredient, and Eizan shows that yes, he can still cook by preparing some exquisite Haianese Chicken Rice, a dish as much of strict orthodoxy as it is a dish of elegance and restraint. The judges go nuts over it, and Souma is also impressed by the taste, which is most definitely refined.

But he isn’t going to win this thing, or even get to a point where the judges taste his dish, by trying to surpass Eizan in refinement or sticking to a script. If Eizan is classical, Souma’s got to bring the jazz. Fell deeds awake. Now for wrath, now for ruin, and the red dawn! 

His resulting dish, gyoza made with boned wings and a sauce composed of, among other things, ketchup and Parmesan, does indeed sound like a desperate cobbling together of disparate ingredients that will only do the noble Satsuma fowl a disservice. That’s what everyone thinks, at least.

The judges were in Eizan’s pocket. There was no way they were even going to entertain picking up a fork to taste Souma’s food. They were that sure Eizan’s dish was superior. And yet…I guess the smell was just a bit too irresistible, or maybe Eizan’s rice wasn’t quite filling enough.

Whatever the case, after Eizan tastes the gyoza and is left speechless, one of the judges digs in, then another, then another. And all of sudden, Souma has won 3-0, and the eviction (which had been thwarted by Polar Star in riot gear) is called off. Suddenly, the impossible is possible.

It’s a win for all of Polar Star, not just Souma, as he wouldn’t have stumbled upon the flavor combinations that beat Eizan’s competent but by-the-book cuisine were it not for their input and collaboration. Erina, having witnessed this dorm-as-a-culinary-think-tank, can’t believe such a chaotic system could work. And yet…it did. I wonder what her father will say about this.