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

Shoujo-tachi wa Kouya wo Mezasu – 02

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Now that Bunta has agreed to make a bishoujo game with Kuroda, he must be properly initiated into the world, which Kuroda achieves by leaving a choice selection of games in his shoe locker. She also shows him where the magic will eventually happen: the room she has reserved for the “Marketing Research Club”, which she helpfully points out is just a front in another quirky discussion between the two.

The Bishoujo Club has a producer in Kuroda and a writer in Bunta, but they’re short, a minimum, four more staff positions: for lead animation, programming, CG Art, and voice acting. She uses English-based acronyms to describe these jobs, but since this isn’t my first otaku rodeo, I found her explanations to Bunta somewhat redundant.

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Despite Kuroda’s belief his social skills would make him the perfect recruiter, Bunta brings back a bunch of unmotivated poseurs. Then Yuuka and Atomu barge into the club to look around, and Bunta realizes Yuuka would be perfect for the voice actress role (of course she is; she’s Hanazawa!) and Yuuka herself is interested in voice acting, even if she doesn’t much care for games.

That leaves Atomu, who isn’t sure how he can contribute, and fails to impress Kuroda…until the subject of dating comes up, and he goes on a bitter rant about how fickle girls are and how he wants nothing more but to abandon the 3D world for 2D paradise. That gets Kuroda’s applause, and she appoints him assistant director.

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Kuroda continues the initiation of her new club members by returning to Akiba. Strangely, Bunta acts like he’s there for the first time despite having gone there just last week with Kuroda alone. Maybe now that he’s into games he’s seeing the place with freshly opened eyes?

There, Kuroda shows them some very nice doujin works (including some by pros) and boldly proclaims they’ll create a game that will leave all the others in the dust. This isn’t a labor of love for her, results matter. Especially when her brother runs a highly successful game company.

After the group breaks up for the day, Bunta visits a maid cafe…where his classmate Andou Teruha just happens to work part-time in secret under the work name “Luka.” I thought sparks would fly, but both parties keep their cool, with Teruha switching from her normal deep voice to the bubbly Luka at the drop of a hat, while making clear her job will remain a secret (she doesn’t have to say “…or else”).

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After spending all night playing games he’s legitimately into, Kuroda’s next task is for him to acquire an artist. He’s not that good at discerning good art from bad, but that’s the person she wants searching for talent: if he’s moved by something, than it’s going to be something special.

Sure enough, while perusing the wares at a bookstore, he comes across a little sign drawn in a style that makes his heart flutter. His research determines it was done by  “Hokikiyo”, alias of the top-ranked-on-Pixi Yuuki Uguisu, who also just happens to attend their school as a first-year, and works at the bookstore Bunta visited.

However, she’s also a painfully skittish milquetoast, however, so the club’s aggressive attempts to recruit her fail at first (i.e., drawing her out with a love letter and then surrounding her menacingly).

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It’s when Teruha sits beside a frustrated Bunta and learns he’s making a girl game and looking for “Hokekiyo”, Teruha reveals she’s a fujoshi (another term defined by side-chatter), is familiar with her work, and helps recruit her, cornering her in the girl’s lavatory and bringing her to the club room. Everyone praises her enough to convince her to createart for their game, though she quietly confesses she really wants to draw for an eroge.

Teruha herself also joins the club as a programmer, and just like that, the team has been assembled, presumably leaving the rest of the show to the production of the game. On this efficiency, I’m a little torn: quickly getting the “building the team” out of the way is satisfying in its way, but it relied on an awful lot of convenient coincidences.

Also, and this is could be an ongoing thing if the two episodes are any indication: the characters all feel rather smoothed over, subdued; as if they lack sharp edges; Atomu’s “breaking”moment being the lone exception. The characterization and accompanying comedy often walks a fine line between understated and overly buttoned-up, even to the point of tedium.

I hope it doesn’t stray too far to the latter side. What with all the intros, there wasn’t a lot of time to go in depth with anyone. Perhaps the show will find a stronger voice once the game-making gets underway in earnest.

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Shoujo-tachi wa Kouya wo Mezasu – 01 (First Impressions)

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Haruchika and Prince of Stride had pleasant enough first episodes, but weren’t particularly dazzling or earth-shattering. To be honest neither is Shoujo-tachi wa Kouya wo Mezasu, but it did do something more often than those other two shows: it made me laugh, and it impressed me with its characterization and snappy-ish dialogue. So far, SKM reminds me of a quieter, less punchy, less fanservice-y Saekano.

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Continuing the theme of honesty into this second paragraph, none of the characters in SKM are staggeringly unique, but they’re well-executed and I quickly came to root for not only the hard-working, gregarious Houjou Buntarou, but also his little circle of friends, the “inconveniently popular” Kai Atomu and in particular his good female buddy/possible childhood friend Kobayakawa Yuuka, a talented girl who wants “to do everything she wants to do” whom Hanazawa Kana breathes life into.

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While the raven-haired loner maiden Kuroda Sayki gazes mysteriously from afar, “Bunta”, as everyone calls him, is always in the thick of it, whether it’s seeing to everyone’s needs at the restaruant where he works, to shooting the breeze with his neighbors, to settling classroom disputes amicably. He’s a nice guy; the only problem is, unlike Yuuka, he has no idea what he truly wants to do.

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Enter Kuroda. In a uncomfortably funny (but not vulgar) scene in the men’s room, she has a very interesting (and also funny) conversation with Buntarou, likely the longest one he’s ever had with her by far. It’s full of compliments: he’s observant, in tune with the needs of those around him, and knowledgeable about the “leisure areas” of town. Their talk ends with Kuroda asking him to arrange a date for them on Saturday, so she can tell him something she can’t say at school.

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From the get-go, I had the feeling this wasn’t anything as simple as a date with a girl who likes him, but rather some kind of evaluation by a girl who might find him useful. Nevertheless, Bunta proceeds as if it were a conventional date, complete with accepting Yuuka’s offer to put him in touch with an underclassman known as the “Bitch Queen” who offers him sage advice on tomorrow. Her line about “cladding herself in innocence for the sake of her bitchiness” was pretty amusing, and I hope we get to put a face to the voice.

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The day of the “date” arrives, and Kuroda encourages Bunta to take the lead, showing her a good time at the amusement park while responding to most of his personal queries with “it’s a secret.” By sundown, he realizes what we viewers realized, but like me, he knows there’s nothing sinister about her motives.

Rather, she takes him to a game store in Akiba, shows him the value of the successful games versus the failures, and lays out what she wants: to make a bishoujo game with him. She believes he has the writing chops and the personality to help make her dreams come true.

As for the details of those dreams, all she’ll tell him is that “the world is a wasteland” where “the innocent are only devoured”, and wants to strike out and stake her claim in that wasteland with Bunta by her side. Bunta, unsure of what to do up until now, has been given an intriguing opportunity; he’d best not waste it!

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Oreimo 2 – 05

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Kyousuke pretends to be Kirino’s boyfriend to convince a modeling agency that she can’t go abroad. It seems to work, but when Kyousuke suggests they go out on a date the next day, they must follow through. After the date, Kirino insinuates she has a real boyfriend, worrying Kyousuke. Ruri tells him she wouldn’t mind if Kirino did. Kyousuke, Kirino and Saori and Ruri go to the Summer Comiket, and they sell out the Maschera doujinshi they made together. While watching a Meruru movie, Kirino is confronted by a young man.

Both Kyousuke and Kirino would prefer to keep everything about their relationship left unsaid between them, whenever possible. The truth is they both care for one another deeply, but neither wants the other to come right out and admit it. When Kirino has said nice things about her brother, it certainly wasn’t when he was present. So when they have to pretend to be a convincing couple (for a pretty flimsy reason, frankly) and they’re asked why they love one another, they’re actually open and honest about it, because they feel they have to be.

That was sweet, and the date is more fun than we thought it would be, but where this episode really shines is pretty much whenever Ruri is on the screen. From her reaction to seeing the “happy couple”, to her unexpected appearance in normal clothes (a Menma-like white dress), to the resumption of talking and having fun with Kyousuke, Ruri proves yet again why she’s our favorite character. That Kirino has a boyfriend neither surprises nor bothers us like it does Kyousuke, because that will just mean he can spend more time with the lovely “Shironeko”.


Rating: 8 (Great)

Stray Observations:

  • Both Kirino and Kyousuke clearly have way more fun on their date than either would ever admit.
  • It is nice to see Kyousuke and Ruri acting like a normal guy and gal. There are a couple moments when Kirino is watching them and we can’t help but see the same jealousy she mocked Kyousuke for having when she mentioned her boyfriend.
  • Those Summer Comiket lines look brutal, but we like the rule about closing the gaps!