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

ReLIFE – 02

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The test scores are in, and a great many things become known. In ten years, Kaizaki forgot between 75% and 96% of everything he learned in high school the first time around. Kariu is mad about losing the class rep job to Hishiro not because she can’t get free lunches, but because she has feelings for Ooga. Finally, Onoya has even worse test scores than Kaizaki…and she’s a real high schooler!

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These two need tutoring, and Ooga is happy to serve the role as tutor, but gets more than he bargained for when Kaizaki and An start digging into his relationship with Kariu, including their matching earrings. I’m liking how quickly yet naturally the circle of friends is coming together.

I also liked Kaizaki’s outsize reaction to An whipping out her cell phone; once a capital crime in his day, now students use them with impunity (outside of class, that is). Or how he takes Hishiro’s reaction to his lending her 1000 yen (that he’s like a grown-up) literally; worried the brainy girl is on to him.

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Hishiro comes to dominate the latter half of the episode as Kaizaki makes it his mission to get her to come out of her shell a little more. The fact her forced smiles are so disconcerting is proof of how genuine and straightforward she is; the only smiles she can make are real ones, all of which were triggered by Kaizaki being nice to her.

At the beginning of the episode, Hishiro has no friends; now she has one, and of her own choosing, boldly asking for Kaizaki’s phone number. Hishiro really shines in this episode, greatly aided by her adorable character design…and Kayano Ai’s adorable voice.

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Ryou, who was skulking around corners the whole episode, observing Kaizaki from a distance, not only suggests he try to quit smoking (the smell lingers, plus no one will sell to someone with his new babyface), but also not to get too attached to anyone. Apparently, when the year-long experiment is over, everyone young Kaizaki interacted with will forget him, because he’ll be back to being 27.

Not like that’s something he’ll be able to explain if they every learned, but this still seems like a downer, especially considering Kaizaki will remember them, and will likely not feel so great as a result. When Hishiro told Kaizaki she had to rush things, that this was her last chance, it reminded him how confident he was that his future would go the way he thought it would.

It didn’t, and ReLIFE is ostensibly the path to getting somewhere closer to his ideal future (or even creating a new one). But having to sever all his new bonds at the end of the year seems like a steep price to pay for that future. As I watch the next eleven episodes (at my own pace), it will be interesting to see if he ever tries to haggle over that price. Hishiro—callsign “Sorry Cat”—is someone worth knowing. Could she also be a bond worth preserving, even if it breaks Ryou’s rules?

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