Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 3 – 12 (Fin) – Nishikata’s Quest

For three seasons and dozens of vignettes, we’ve watched Nishikata undertake a gradual journey of enlightenment and awakening, from an origin point of modest, adolescent…dumbness. This season and this episode in particular, Nishikata’s brain has finally started to get wise to the fact that it has never been about winning or teasing with Takagi. It was more simply about being with him.

As these confusing feelings sprout up in his dinosaur-filled mind, Takagi must know that he’s distracted by the imminent coming of White Day, even if she doesn’t know that Hamaguchi urged him to confess to her on that day. Faced with such a monumental task, Nishikata retreats into the games, creating his most elaborate yet: Nishikata Quest, a series of boxes containing riddles leading to other riddles.

But when there are no more riddles, and he hopes Takagi to be at her most frustrated and defeated, that he’ll give her his White Day present In other words, when all is said and done he not only wants Takagi to be comforted, he wants to be the one to brighten her mood. Alas, his grand plan is dashed when Takagi is unable to make it to school on White Day due to strong winds delaying her ferry.

When he thinks she’ll only be gone for first period, Nishikata tries his best to take good notes that he’ll share with her. But when she texts him that she won’t be coming at all, he realizes how lonely he is without her sitting at the desk beside him…how things just feel “off”. After school, Hamaguchi gives Houjou some white chocolate, but just can’t manage to confess his love to her. But Houjou still looks happy he at least made the attempt.

When Mina finds the first of Nishikata’s boxes on the floor of the classroom (jostled off Takagi’s chair when Takao and Kimura are fighting), she leads Sanae and Yukari on his epic mind-bending quest. When they find the final box bearing Nishikata’s name, Yukari realizes this was all one big gesture of love for Takagi, and insists they put all the boxes back where they found them, lest they spoil loverboy’s efforts.

When Kimura kept Nishikata company during solo library duty, Nishikata noticed that Kimura was reading the same novel as Takagi when she said “I love you”. Kimura recommends the book and lends it to Nishikata, who reads it when he gets home and can’t find the “I love you” Takagi purportedly took from the page. It’s here where the dusty light bulb in his head finally switches on. That time she said “I love you”, like so many other times he remembers, were Takagi expressing her honest feelings.

For that reason, Nishikata can’t wait until tomorrow to see Takagi or give her her White Day gift. Heck, he can’t wait one more minute, running out the door, onto the bus, and running some more to the docks. When he spots Takagi getting into her car and driving off, he chases the car…on foot. Finally, fate smiles on him as Takagi’s car happens to turn at just such an angle that she spots him running behind, asks to stop the car, gets out, and runs to meet him.

In effect, it’s a romantic climax I’ve probably seen dozens of times both in anime and movies and other TV. But there’s something about the way it’s executed so beautifully, and with all the accumulated feelings and experiences these two have been through in three seasons, that elevates what could have felt clichéd in less skilled hands to truly epic status.

Even better, we don’t need the classic “I love you” confession; the fact Nishikata is there at all, chasing Takagi down, is all Takagi needs to know how he feels. And then he comes right out and says he’s there “because I wanted to see you.”

He may think he failed when his White Day gift got dropped and smashed by a car, but the gift doesn’t matter; she doesn’t even open it, instead taking his scuffed up hands into hers and saying he’s already given her the best gift she could have asked for: him, there, with her.

It’s pretty much the best ending a Takagi-san fan could ask for, made all the more satisfying because there’s an upcoming movie that could well elaborate on their new adorable normal. As we’ve come to the end of this season, there few things I’m looking more forward to than seeing these two on the screen again as soon as humanly possible.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 3 – 11 – Merry Dried Sardine Day

Last week might’ve been the last “standard” episode of Takagi-san,  because this week is anything but normal. It’s suddenly Valentine’s Day, and for much as Takagi and Nishikata interact, there’s hardly any teasing. It’s pretty clear why from the moment Nishikata opens his locker and finds three boxes of chocolates from three different kouhai. For as predictable as Nishikata is, we’ve known Takagi long enough to know what’s up.

Major Kudos to both the animation team and Takahashi Rie for making it plain that Takagi is just a little “off” this week. She came to school early so she could put chocolates in Nishikata’s shoe locker, only to find three girls had beaten her to the punch. That Nishikata tries to hide the fact he got chocolates only makes things more awkward, even though he tries to find the right opportunity to tell her.

Meanwhile, Houjou interrupts Hamaguchi talking with the boys to nonchalantly hand him a bar of store-bought chocolate before sauntering off. Hamaguchi assumes the worst, since he spotted her at the grocery store buying ingredients for homemade chocolate. If he gets a Meiji bar, that means she doesn’t love him! Of course, even here, I knew Houjou must’ve just screwed up the homemade chocolate.

Oftentimes predictability can make a show boring or unengaging, but the opposite was true here. As we watch Nishikata struggle to tell Takagi about the other girls’ chocolate, even trying to intentionally lose a contest to cheer her up, it is wonderfully, heartwarmingly plain that winning and losing those little games doesn’t matter to him nearly as much as wanting to turn Takagi’s frown upside-down. And hey, he does—albeit accidentally when the teacher catches him goofing off.

Fortune favors Nishikata, as Takagi just happens to be walking down the hall when she sees him respectfully return the chocolate to the three girls who gave it to him. Takagi knows why. It doesn’t matter whether the girls made a mistake and meant to put it in another boy’s locker (the one who played the dog at the culture fest). Nishikata takes this entirely in stride, because he’s not interested in those three girls. He never was.

Their innocent mistake may have screwed up Takagi and Nishikata’s February 14th, but after school the universe rights that wrong by once again having the two cross paths by chance. Their timing is so precise, the moment Takagi finally decides on a text to send him, she hears the alert on his phone as he’s already arrived. It’s kismet!

What follows is one of the most serious, dramatic, honest, and beautifulest exchanges between these two in all these three seasons. Takagi admits she was bummed out all day because when she saw those three boxes of chocolates, she was worried Nishikata would mention them, and that she’d respond by “acting mean” again.

Takagi doesn’t like the part of her that’s mean when she’s jealous. I adore the empathy they express for each other in this scene; how awful even the thought of hurting each other makes them feel. That said, all’s well that ends well, and Takagi manages to give Nishikata a box of chocolates. Only the first box she gives him is actually full of dried sardines.

She just happened to prepare that little prank before he mentioned it being “National Dried Sardine Day” (because of how the numbers “214” resemble the Japanese word for dried sardines). That their two adorkable minds thought alike—and are thinking alike more and more—delights Takagi to no end.

The next day, Nishikata sees Hamaguchi sitting in the hall looking super-cool. Since the store-bought/homemade chocolate mixup was all cleared up, he’s resolved to confess his love to Houjou on White Day. Not only that, he tells Nishikata that’d he’d better confess to Takagi on that day too.

And I fuly agree with Hamaguchi…he sure as shit better! Or, if it’s Takagi who confesses to him, he’d better accept his damn destiny. I don’t want any cliffhangers for a fourth season…let’s get this done!

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 3 – 10 – A Better Snowman

Dang photo bombers…your ruining the shot!

Knowing it would be hard-pressed to top last week’s full-length Takagi x Nishikata wonder-date, this week’s episode doesn’t bother; instead it returns to the warm, cozy, less dramatic flow of the couple’s interactions. Last week wasn’t an official acknowledgment that they’re dating now, but such a formality isn’t needed with these two. They’re fine just existing beside one another, fitting like, well, gloves!

To whit: the two didn’t plan to meet at the shrine visit; their families just happened to come at the same time. It sure looks like those two married couples were their parents, doesn’t it? I feel like at some point they’ll have to meet each other’s parents, but that they don’t mean we get more time with these two. hen Takagi is called back to her folks, Nishikata says they should do it again next year…which she says happened to be her shrine wish. Who’s to say it wasn’t?

Yes, that’s right…make that ball bigger…

The next segment is classic Master Teaser, with Takagi up to her old tricks in cornering Nishikata into a snowman-building contest knowing full well that he’ll get to ambitious. While he’s sweatily rolling dirty lumpen mounds trying to build a Snow Titan, Takagi puts a lot of time and care and quite effortlessly builds the cutest lil’ snowman in all the land…so cute Nishikata doubts he’d have won. even if he’d finished…which Takagi helps him do.

NGL, from a distance this looks like a confession…

After Nishikata’s friends and the three girls have their little mini-scenes talking about the new year, we come to “Advice”, when Houjou takes Nishikata aside and asks him what he thinks Hamaguchi might like for his birthday. Yuuki Aoi is masterful at sounding both mature and incredibly hot-and-cold. For his part, Nishikata is both thoughtful and helpful. Then Houjou asks him to keep their chat a secret.

Little did Nishikata know that Takagi spotted him talking with Houjou, and asks him what about. When Nishikata demurs, she guesses correctly on the first guess, and pretty much knows, but Nishikata still won’t break his secret. Takagi’s facial expressions are so subtle here, but you can tell she’s a little mad Nishikata is keeping something from her…even if she knows what it is with 99.99% certainty!

Takagi expresses her jealousy by trying to stoke Nishikata’s, saying she wants to know what to get a “15-year-old boy”—not a Chihuahua, but a third-year middle schooler. This does affect Nishikata, who doesn’t want to give advice for some other guy…even though these two spend so much time together he would know of such a guy!

Of course, this time, Takagi is referring to Nishikata on his next birthday. He’s quite relieved, and apologizes for not being able to break his promise. Takagi apologizes too, owning up to the fact she did do something a little mean. When Nishikata asks her why she doesn’t always think that, she says this and her usual gentle teasing are two different things!

When Nishikata flat-out asks Takagi why she teases him, her answer is as expected…“Who knows?” But she knows, and so does Nishikata, and it’s the same reason they’re already making plans for spending next year together.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 3 – 05 – The Ultimate Prize Catch

We begin with a girl who looks like Takagi beside a boy who doesn’t look like Nishikata sitting in the same part of the classroom as our two lovebirds. The girl is upset about having green peppers in her lunch, so the boy eats them. Her friend tells the girl he doesn’t like peppers either, but ate hers, and teases her, because he likes her.

The girl reacts just like Nishikata would, which makes sense, as she’s his daughter. That’s right, our cold open (which is actually quite warm) takes place in the future when Takagi and Nishikata have a kid. We even see Takagi from behind hanging laundry as the scene ends. Note I didn’t say “a possible” future. I said the future—because this is a sure thing. It’s only matter of time!

Back in the present, we see where their daughter gets her dislike of green peppers. Nishikata had to eat some for breakfast, and it’s enough to let out a big sigh. Because Takagi knows him, she immediately identifies what’s eating him (or rather what he doesn’t like eating).

He, in turn, proceeds to ask her what she dislikes as a new challenge, and she even offers him a number of hints…but not too many. Here’s how she  puts it: “You’ll eventually get it right if I just keep giving you hints forever.” The same can be said of their relationship.

Nishikata guessed wrong this time, but he won’t stay wrong forever about what matters, and Takagi won’t have to keep giving him hints forever. Why am I so sure? Well, why else would we get a glimpse of their adorable daughter?

Mina, Yukari and Sanae have a similar discussion about food dislikes, with Mina eating Yukari’s carrots and offering Yukari a gyoza as thanks. While Mina and Yukari bicker, Sanae snatches it up and eats it. Rather than apologize, she walks off, but soon returns with some melon bread, which she offers to exchange for the rest of Mina’s gyoza.

After that intricate transaction, Sanae, Yukari, and Mina take center stage, as they are the writer, director, and costume designer for the play the class will perform for the culture festival. After their presentation of the story, a mélange of the Princess and the Frog and role-reversal Cinderella, they immediately appoint Takagi for the role of the princess. Naturally, there are no objections.

That leaves the crucial role of the Prince. Naturally, all eyes fall upon Nishikata, as the three girls running the play clearly have him in mind for the role, at least initially. He’d have had it, too, had the girls not been distracted from his heartfelt and very real performance that moves Takagi.

They’re distracted by Nishikata’s own friend Kimura, who is still so verklempt from the class not having a karaage café, switching “karaage” for “hime” instantly wins him the role. Nishikata is consigned to the role of “dumpling A”—unfortunate, and yet oddly appropriate.

While both Takagi and Nishikata are disappointed in their ways, it’s hardly the end of the world. In fact, they’ve shaken it off completely by the next segment, when Nishikata leads Takagi to a fishing pond for their next challenge. Nishikata went out of his way to get up early to prepare the bait and tackle, so Takagi honors that effort by giving it her all.

For some time after they both cast, they’re simply sitting by the pond together, taking it easy, something Takagi points out is super-nice. She’s clearly overjoyed that Nishikata has decided to share something he loves with her.

Then she gets a bite, catches a fish, then shows Nishikata she knows how to unhook it, tosses it back, and catches another fish! She may not have fished before, but she is comfortable handling them since she deals with fish often in the kitchen at home.

A frustrated Nishikata suddenly gets a bite—a big one—and it appears to be the prize catch of the pond: a giant koi. It pulls so hard he gets pulled forward, and would have certainly fallen in the drink…if Takagi doesn’t rescue him in the nick of time by grabbing him from behind.

She tightens her grip around his waist, his line snaps, and the two linger in this embrace for a few moments before Takagi withdraws with catlike quickness, once she realizes just how close she and Nishikata are.

She seems to shake it off and even manages to gently tease Nishikata about it as they walk home during the golden hour. But Nishikata’s heart is thumping like a death metal bass drum. When his inner voice asks “what is this?” Takagi, seemingly hearing his thoughts, says “love”. Well, she says koi, which means both love and the kind of fish that got away from him.

As for his “penalty” for losing the fishing challenge, Takagi decides that he’ll help her prepare for her role as the princess. Nishikata doesn’t protest—it’s her win, so it’s her call. So it’s settled: even if the two won’t share the stage, Takagi will ensure her prince—her koi, her dumpling—is closely involved.

Every week Nishikata seems to make another encouraging stride in the right direction: closer to Takagi. Not only will that likely culminate in their ferry date from the OP and promo art, but also in that cute daughter, carrying on her dad’s tradition of taking a while to realize someone likes them.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 3 – 04 – Tease the Night

The weather is starting to turn in TakaKata Land, but the day Nishikata decides to change to his warmer winter uni, Takagi is still in her short-sleeved summer fuku. We see just how accustomed to losing challenges Nishikata is when she says that because he changed first, he wins a game she had goin on in her head—that doesn’t sit right with him!

He makes up a new game—one he’s sure to lose—in which Takagi loses if she says the word “cold”. He tries to get her to respond in a manner that would sound like the word cold, but as usual she’s too sharp for him. When he tries again, she turns the game to her advantage, drawing very close and asking if she says “cold” like he wants, will he…warm her up?

After the three girls are out of sync due to an undelivered text, Nishikata finds all his usual lunch buddies are out sick (or pretending to be sick), so he resigns himself to eating lunch alone on the steps, which he tries to make the best of but can’t help but feel lonely. Sure enough, Takagi sensed he might be lonely and joins him.

It occurs to me that these two rarely eat lunch together since they each have their own circles of lunch buddies. It’s so lovely to see them just sitting together silently munching away. Then Takagi has Nishikata guess what’s in her onigiri, claiming one of his prized karaage should he be wrong. She wins, but feels bad about taking his food, so gives him one of her crispy lotus roots, acting until the very last second like she was going to feed him, lovey-dovey style.

The next segment involves Nishikata trying to snap a photo of a thrown rock that looks like a UFO in the sky. Takagi helps by doing the throwing, and while she admits she doesn’t really believe, she likes that Nishikata does. It’s part of what makes her adore him. In a lovely whimsical twist, she spots a actual UFO, but he doesn’t see it.

One day the bath in the Nishikata household is inoperable, so he has to use the public baths. Takagi asks him what time he’s going and he tells her, then spends the entire time there either looking for her or wondering why she didn’t come. Then she surprises him by the milk vending machine, admitting she not only came, but came early, perfectly calculating how much longer she’d take compared to him.

Nishikata’s longing for Takagi’s company, even if they were separated by the different sections of the bathhouse, speaks to his growing affection for her and desire to be by her side more often than not. The feeling is obviously (to everyone but him, of course) mutual, as Takagi remarks how they don’t usually walk together at night, and how it obscures their faces.

After Nishikata very foolishly challenges Takagi to a “whose face turns red first” contest— as soon as she leans into him he loses—the two continue their nighttime walk until it’s time to part ways to head to their respective homes. As she departs, Nishikata offers, unbidden, to walk her home, since it’s nighttime and thus not as safe for a young lady.

Takagi is so shocked by his offer, and loves so much how it sounds like something a boyfriend would say, she simply stands there in a perfect blend of befuddlement and delight. Then she thanks Nishikata for the offer and darts off, strategically hiding from him what must be a beet-red face.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 3 – 03 – It’s a Nishikata Thing

It’s a hot October morning, so much so that both Nishikata and Takagi arrive at school early, and find themselves the only ones there. When Nishikata proudly whips out a fan and starts fanning himself, I knew it would only be a matter of time before he was fanning Takagi.

First she asks him straight up to fan her. When he won’t, she makes up a game to see who can move her eraser across her desk further with the fan. Nishikata, like a dolt, furiously fans the eraser, causing it to move…a few millimeters. In the process, he fans Takagi. Then Takagi beats him by pushing the eraser further than him with the fan.

That said, Takagi repositions herself for his fanning so that a.) he gets a bit of the cool air too, and more importantly b.) she can be closer to him!

Takagi’s desire to be closer goes beyond physical proximity. She knows Nishikata and his friends love a new baseball manga, so she baits him with a ping pong ball, then uses a broom to play the role of hitter to his star pitcher. Nishikata allows the fantasy of the manga to wash over him, with the rest of the cast playing the roles of other characters.

Takagi swings through the first pitch, but Nishikata isn’t even able to get her into an 0-2 count as she belts his next pitch “over the wall” for a homer. She said she wouldn’t tell anyone what she saw if he struck her out, and he couldn’t, but when he asks again nicely for her not to tell, she says fine; in exchange, lend her the baseball manga. She wants to know as much as possible about what he likes!

After an interlude featuring the three girls and a supposedly stuck fat cat who turns out to just be fluffy (and I loved that cat’s design and voice), the final segment—simply called “Rain”—has Nishikata in the driver’s seat. Before class is out it starts to rain, but he forgot his umbrella.  Moments after the bell rings, he rushes to the lost-and-found and is in luck: there’s one umbrella left.

He heads home alone with the borrowed pink umbrella, eager not to miss a minute of the baseball/soccer anime crossover where the two teams play kickball. But in his haste to secure an umbrella for a dry walk home, Nishikata neglected to ask Takagi if she had one, and concludes that he can’t be sure she didn’t forget her’s—especially when it’s happened before (back in 2018!).

Sure enough, Takagi is waiting out the rain by staying at school and doing her homework, when Nishikata enters and is surprised to find he didn’t worry needlessly: she did indeed forget her umbrella again. So Nishikata, blushing like a tomato the whole way, manages to ask her if she would “like to go together”. We only see the bottom half of Takagi’s face when the sides of her mouth turn up as high as they’ll go.

Takagi teases him about wanting to “get cozy” under his umbrella again, but checks herself, seeing as how he was kind enough to come back for her. She even knows he missed his special anime episode for her sake, and when he asks her how she knows that, she replies “that’s easy. Because I know everything about you.” She then plans to forget her umbrella next time it rains, too.

The title card parting shot of them walking together under the umbrella is a snapshot of where they stand right now as a couple: Takagi is all-in and having a gas, while Nishikata, all flushed cheeks and elusive gaze, can’t quite temper his self-consciousness. But he’s under the umbrella—this time of his own volition. He went back for her! He put her before anime! I tell ya, the kid’s learning.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 3 – 02 – He Can’t Win…He’s Won

The Blue Marble

For its opening salvo, Takagi-san goes part-Charlie Chaplin, part-Looney Tunes, ditching all dialogue for a full orchestra. Takagi’s instrumentation is predominantly flutes and strings, while Nishikata’s is very horn-forward. It’s PERFECT. But what warrants this sudden change in style? Nothing more than a different take on the pair’s routine walk to school, which is more than worthy!

Takagi is feeling playful and decides to tail Nishikata without being spotted. That said, his “Takagi-Meter” goes off multiple times, turning this into a kind of Sly Cooper sneaking game. The music and silent body language kept me utterly enthralled, while the silent version of Nishikata imagining Takagi losing his “guess what I found on the ground” game contrasts perfectly with the reality that she knows it’s a blue marble, leaving him to ponder whether Takagi has ESP.

“You Didn’t Scare Me, Ma’am”

After the three girls have a little silent segment of their own, we return to Takagi and Nishikata on classroom cleaning duty. Takagi mentions that a  desk check is coming up, and suggests they do a dry run together. This means the two playing the roles of teacher and student.

Naturally, Nishikata is nervous despite having no contraband, while Takagi is cool as a cucumber when they switch roles…only revealing after the check that she did have a manga hidden under her gym clothes…the one he lent her. There wasn’t even going to be a desk check; Takagi just wanted to roleplay and return his book in the most adorable way possible!

“Dinosaurs!!”

Fortune continues to smile on these two, giving them multiple chances to be alone together even during school hours. To whit: library duty. Takagi suggests they pass the time by reading books they choose for each other. She saw how excited Nishikata got about a dinosaur picture book, so picks that out for him. No doubt she genuinely likes that cute childish side of his.

Nishikata accepts it despite his embarrassment, because he really does love dinosaurs. He just picked a random novel for Takagi, but it’s precisely because of that she can blurt out “I love you” and immediately pass it off as a line from the book, when it’s actually another confession. It’s the latest in a series of tentative lines Takagi has cast. Fishing is all about patience, and Takagi seems to have plenty…for now.

Takagi Sweat

The concluding segment begins with Takagi and Nishikata again running into each other by chance; the former is on an afternoon jog, the latter running errands. They chat about his informal jogging regimen, and he can’t help but boast that he once made it all the way to the beach one time.

The problem is, he reads Takagi’s reactions as skeptical rather than impressed—precisely how she intends—and the two part. Nishikata was near the end of his jog, but he’s determined to “defeat” Takagi by impressing her for real. So he fights his fatigue and groaning muscles and jogs all the way to the beach, fueled by the future sight of Takagi in genuine awe of his accomplishment.

I fully expected him to make it to the beach only to realize he hadn’t taken his phone with him to snap the all-important evidence. But that would have been too obvious, and the show knew that. Instead, he takes a photo of the sunset on the water, sends it to Takagi, and gets a sweet response back: “The sunset looks so pretty. Thank you.”

Then, in a beautiful piece of both romantic timing and camera framing, Takagi appears behind Nishikata. She raced to the beach on her bike after finishing her errands, because she knew with certainty Nishikata would go there to prove it to her. She hands him a bottle of Pokari Sweat—a reward for his hard work for her sake—and sits beside him on the sand.

Takagi says it was “so worth it” chasing after him so the two of them could watch the sunset together. Hearing this, and seeing Takagi’s face in the dramatic light and her hair gently flowing in the wind, Nishikata’s face turns red as said sunset, unable to accept that Takagi is being dead serious about all of this.

Then they sit in silence, calling back to earlier silent sessions in the episode. It’s established that once Nishikata calms down and quiets his mind, he can relax and simply exist together with Takagi, without any talking or teasing. Nishikata keeps trying to win in stupid ways, but he’s already long since won what truly matters: Takagi’s heart.

I maintain hope that one day—maybe this season—he’ll accept that win for what it is, and dismiss his lingering doubts for what they are: weak and pathetic excuses.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 3 – Sweet Dreams are Made of Tease

My dreams were answered: Master Teaser Takagi-san has returned for a third wonderfully warm, fuzzy season; the perfect balm for the bracing cold of a mid-Atlantic winter. After last season ended with Nishikata taking Takagi’s hand, this newest outing starts with them holding hands almost right away! After sensing she intended to beat him at the grip exercise tool, rather than hand it to him he took her hand instead.

Suddenly, Nishikata and Takagi are transported back to the steps of the shrine on that night. Then Takagi vanishes, and then he finds himself at the pool, with Takagi taking a dip. Then a number of his friends pretend to be Takagi. Then the main couple from their favorite manga/anime transfer to their class, and Takagi falls for the MC. Then Takagi in cowgirl cosplay shoots him with her six-gun. I believe she also appears in cow-full-stop cosplay, complete with moos.

Turns out the show was teasing us; it was all a dream. Nishikata hasn’t even been back to school since his festival date with Takagi; it’s still summer break. For a few moments, Nishikata panics: what if the festival, and with it all the good times he had with Takagi, was a dream too? He sees the robot mask he bought at one of the stalls and breathes a sigh of relief. It’s a welcome moment of honesty for Nishikata: He doesn’t want that night to be a dream. It happened, and he’s glad it did.

In the next segment, it’s the last day before school re-opens. Nishikata shows off the tan he got from going to the beach, remembering too late that his back was sunburnt and that Takagi would be quick to pat said back if she found out. Not only does she find out instantly, but challenges Nishikata to a guessing game: if he can tell her the reason she asked him to join her today, he wins. For each incorrect guess, he gets a pat on the back.

Nishikata eventually guesses that it was just so Takagi could tease him, but he’s only half-right. She gives him a telling hint: they’ve already been doing what she wanted to do. Even a simpleton like Nishikata can put two and two together: she just wanted to see him. But the challenge is to say the reason, and Nishikata is just too gosh-darn bashful to say it out loud, even if he’s secretly quite happy about it!

After an interstitial involving the trio of girls (who also got tanned and contemplate being three wrinkly grannies together due to the skin damage), the third segment announces itself as the first day of the new semester…yet both Nishikata and Takagi’s tans are gone, which I found odd. What isn’t odd is that Takagi is able to deduce that Nishikata wanted to spook her with a new dino-themed jack-in-the-box he meticulously hand-crafted rather than doing his summer homework.

When she finally opens it, she lets out a little yelp of surprise, thus handing Nishikata one of his only true wins against her! Then the two are transported onto a beach full of fireworks, and then to those same shrine stairs Nishikata dreamed of. Takagi holds out her hand, and as Nishikata reaches out to take it, they’re once more transported to a grove of cherry trees. Then Nishikata seemingly confesses to Takagi…and then she wakes up in her bed.

She throws open her window and basks in the morning sun and summer breeze, happy Nishikata said what he said in her dream, but also hopeful he’ll someday say it to her for real. I may have dreamed for a third season of the sweetest romance committed to television; little did I know dreams would play such a large role in the premiere.

Takagi and Nishikata are well and truly in each other’s heads, but I’m looking even more forward to watching their tender love continue to grow in the waking world in this season to come.

Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro – 12 (Fin) – The Exhibition

With the cultural festival fast approaching, Naoto has managed to belt out a whole series of Nagatoro Being Nagatoro, and her friends are impressed. Hayacchi herself is happy they turned out well, even if they give off “creepy virgin vibes”—though it’s obvious by now she’s a virgin too.

When the others go to the other side of the clubroom to spy on the President’s progress, Naoto doesn’t go with them, and Nagatoro tells him even if the Prez is “Queen of the Lewds”, he can still beat her. That is, until she sees the Prez’s piece and passes out. Gamo assures the two that she, Yosshi and Sakura will figure something out to help them.

Naoto and Prez have a slightly tense but also very honest little scene together, with the Prez making it clear this is less about winning and losing and more about tapping into the artistic potential she knows Naoto has within him. She’s not holding back, so she urges him to “hit her with a soulful work of passion.”

She then produces a “Torocat” strap that closely resembles Nagatoro, and the next day Naoto learns what that’s all about: Yosshi and Sakura are in costume as Torocats to support Nagatoro in her now familiar catgirl cosplay—though it’s clear Nagatoro is not at all into having to “toy with” all the guys who come to visit Senpai’s exhibition.

That said, as the day goes on, she becomes less stiff and starts to have more fun. When Naoto sees her basically flirting with other guys the same way she does with him, it’s hard for him to hide his jealousy.

The reverse occurs when other girls approach Naoto, express how impressed they are with his work, and ask him to teach them how to draw. Nagatoro doesn’t like that one bit!

That said, when Naoto asks her to join him for lunch, she still comes along. She calls him out for suddenly being so popular with the ladies now, and he chalks that up to the paintings turning out so well, for which he credits her. This causes a rapid succession of Nagatoro faces, and ends with her toying with him, but unlike with the other guys, she genuinely enjoys it.

When they return from their break, which essentially serves as a little mini-date during the festival, they find a huge commotion outside the Prez’s side of the club: the Disciplinary Committee is censoring her super-provocative painting, citing it a threat to “moral order” after hearing rumors it was being used to “play with the male students’ lust”.

While I initially thought we saw the Prez meeting with the committee last week to set this whole thing up in order to create more buzz and win the competition, it seems that isn’t the case, and she’s not in on anything. In fact, she’s outraged her art is being censored.

That’s when her kohai Naoto comes in to defend her, stating that her amazing art has inspired him to find the subject he wanted to draw the most: Nagatoro. Gamo and Sakua push Nagatoro in to back Paisen up, and even she admits that Prez’s art is amazing. Yosshi even produces video footage that proves that there were more people were taking the art seriously than horny boys leering at it.

This might’ve been one of my favorite scenes not involving just Naoto and Nagatoro, because it subverts the “competition with the club on the line” trope in favor of something more interesting: doing the right thing, even if the person you’re doing it for is a rival. It’s not just Nagatoro; Yosshi, Sakura, and Gamo are good people at heart!

When the Prez returns, tells the others she worked out a compromise, and voices her appreciation for their support with her very first expression resembling a smile, the girls can’t help but gloat over the fact that she lost. That said, the Prez isn’t a sore loser, and even takes their chosen punishment: that she dress up as a bunny girl to help sell Torocat merch. Naturally, it all sells out.

With the festival in the rearview mirror, Prez pays Naoto a visit on his side, explaining her getup as “the fate of the defeated.” She admits it’s humiliating, but also “a new form of oppression” to “stimulate her creative desire” and bring her “unprecedented deliverance.” Let it never be said Prez doesn’t have a way with words, but Naoto’s reply—“Just get changed already!”—is equally sublime!

When Nagatoro, eager to see Naoto, leaves her friends and enters the club room to find the Prez seemingly about to undress, she nearly flips her shit…but the Prez is only joking. She has a sense of humor! She also admits she likes Naoto’s paintings of Nagatoro, which not only contain “a definite passsion”, but love as well.

She may have lost the competition, but the fact her underclassman learned a valuable lesson about art and vastly improved his work renders that competition moot. As a senpai, the President actually won. When Naoto is hesitant to admit his pieces contain his love for Nagatoro, he’s mercifully saved by the bell for the festival’s closing concert.

Remembering Nagatoro’s words at the summer festival, Naoto meekly comes out and asks her if she’d like to go together. Nagatoro, happy beyond words, asks him to ask again, only louder, then takes him by the hand and off they go!

After the credits, we see Nagatoro and Naoto alone again in the clubroom they won back together. Nagatoro is resting her eyes, but looks up to flash a soft smile before returning to her catnap. When Naoto’s drawing is complete, she tells him to close his eyes and accept his reward, which this time is a real kiss on the cheek.

Even this chaste peck proves too much for Nagatoro, who runs out of the club room after pulling down an eyelid and sticking out her tongue. But she can’t undo that kiss, nor does she want to. This has been a relationship of small but meaningful steps forward all along, and I have no reason to think that slow but steady progress won’t continue.

And that’s a wrap! Don’t Toy with Me may have started out with a sharp edge of kinkiness, but turned out to be one of the sweeter loves stories of the last couple years. We watched both Naoto and Nagatoro come into their own as two people who found each other, navigated the often stormy waters, and found happiness and inspiration in one another. We should all be so lucky!

Episode 12 “Senpai” Count: 9 (+2 “Paisens”)—hardly any at all!
Final Count: 391

Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro – 11 – Art Is Thus To Pursue

The girls try to encourage Senpai by laying into the President and her scolding, scripted manner of speaking, but Naoto doesn’t want them talking shit about her, from whom he’s learned so much about art and still deeply respects.

He’s also dubious about a cosplay art cafe being sufficient to beat the Prez, who helped the Art Club nab sixth place last year—out of over sixty presentations—with a bold, provocative nude self portrait.

Gamo points out what she believes to be a simple fact: when it comes to mass appeal, Senpai and Hayacchi don’t have “the goods” with which to compete with the Prez’s Kardashian-esque proportions. Nagatoro takes it as being dissed—but Gamo still has a point; a lot of horny guys are going to be voting for the better club.

But there’s one horny guy—Naoto—who tells Gamo and the others that he doesn’t think any less of Nagatoro than the President. Both have their charms, and he wants to try to win by depicting Nagatoro as she normally is. Even though he imagines President as a Titan swallowing him whole, he’s still feeling positive.

Nagatoro is determined to ensure he wins, and when her swimsuit isn’t motivating enough, she dons nothing but a white sheet. But in doing so, and with the constant interruptions of the other girls, Naoto becomes increasingly iffy in his drawing, and grows frustrated with the whole venture, deeming any attempt to beat the Prez as futile.

Finally, as the show takes on a de-saturated palette akin to Super Cub, Naoto says this isn’t going to work. He doesn’t want to draw Nagatoro, because if he fails, he’ll drag her down with him. She says she doesn’t care about that, but Naoto insists this is between him and the President. A genuinely angry and hurt Nagatoro storms off in her sheet. The others call Senpai a loser…and in that moment, he absolutely is!

Alone again in his club room (well, half the club room; in an amazingly petty gesture President has cordoned off the other half for third years only!) he gets back to his bread-and-butter: dull still-lifes. President pays him a visit —also wearing only a sheet, as she was taking pictures for her next piece, and tells him it’s dull and no good.

She’s not just being a bitch; she’s right! Naoto’s painting is technically fine, but lacks any kind of passion, other than the desire to be neat and tidy. Prez tells him the most important aspect of a piece isn’t its theme, but love. And when she witnesses Nagatoro peek in and promptly run away after she sees Senpai with her, Prez orders Naoto to pursue her with all due haste.

He does, but when he catches up to her in the hall he blanks on what to say, and the moment is spoiled by two other girls who think he’s stalking Nagatoro. The chase continues until the sun starts to go down, ending at the swimming pool. As he runs after her, he summons all his favorite memories of her, which aren’t of her teasing him, but revealing her genuine self to him.

As she hops from starting block to another away from him, Naoto tells her he wants her to model for him. When she tells him to go back to his precious president, she slips off a block, but before she can go into the pool he grabs her, both demonstrating he does have some strength. When he repeats his desire to draw her the way she usually is, she asks him why, and this time he doesn’t waver: because she’s more attractive to him.

Nagatoro is so shocked by this declaration, and turns so red, she kinda almost has to jump into the pool, taking Senpai with her. They end up walking home soaked, but Naoto’s honesty and the quick plunge into the pool washed away their fight and brought them back together. When he lets slip that he often notices how cute she in ordinary times (as opposed to wearing cosplay) it’s another blushfest for both of them.

Senpai walks right up to the line of confession this week, while Nagatoro leaves no doubt about how she feels when he keeps defending her nemesis. But while she’s scheming something with who I presume to be the StuCo President, the President came off as less of a villain (or Titan) this week.

Instead, she’s issued this challenge to push Naoto out of his comfort zone so he can be the best artist he can be. You can only do that by pursuing your passions—and when it comes to his passions, there’s no beating Nagatoro. Even if he and Nagatoro do lose to her voluptuous magnificence, they’ll lose together, having fought their hardest!

Episode 11 “Senpai” Count: 14 (+3 “Paisens”)—the fewest yet!
Total: 380

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

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