One of the best titles to come out of the Spring 2021 anime season is Ijiranaide, Nagatoro-san! (Don’t Toy With Me, Miss Nagatoro!)! Boasting a character archetype that we have never really seen as a main character, and a simple yet strong basic concept, Nagatoro-san is one of the surprises of the Spring season. Despite not being an out-and-out romance, this series takes us on a journey with its main pair that has such strong romantic subtext that even though it’s primarily a slice of life comedy, Ijiranaide, Nagatoro-san! (Don’t Toy With Me, Miss Nagatoro!) gave us a will-they-won’t-they for the ages! Enough about that, though, we’re here to discuss yet another surprise this show has brought – a rivalry and a contest!
When Naoto’s senpai and president of the art club makes an unexpected return, she finds that the club room has been invaded by “undesirables”, more specifically, Nagatoro Hayase and company. Upon noticing the open packets of various snacks and treats on the desk and a couch that was not there when she a regular visitor to the art room, Prez believes that the sanctity of the space has been fouled and that it’s time to disband the art club. Naoto is shocked into submission, but lucky for him, his girlfri-, uh, Nagatoro, is there to back him up, challenging Prez’s decision to close down the club. With the culture festival coming up, the art club and others in the school are set to have displays and performances meant to showcase the talent they possess. Prez decides that this is the perfect arena for a showdown – if she wins, the art club is finished, but if Naoto wins, the art club can remain active. Since he doesn’t have much confidence, Naoto resigns to defeat almost immediately, feeling that there’s nothing he can do to top his senpai’s intense nude self-portraits, but his new team isn’t going to let him go down without a fight!
Naoto and Prez prepare for the festival by working on the art that will be on display on their respective ends of the art room, which they subdivide on the day of. Naoto has already given up, but he doesn’t let up his desire to draw the things he wants to draw and compete in his own way. Eventually, he drops trying to draw pictures of fruit for something else entirely – pictures of his muse, Nagatoro! Nagatoro herself is high enthusiastic about helping her boyfri-, uh, senpai, by wearing different costumes and posing in various ways to stimulate his creativity. She gets a bit insecure about it when she sees what Prez did for the festival the previous year, and even gets mad at Naoto for having such high regard for his senior. After a brief spat and an attempt to do it all on his own, Naoto makes up with Nagatoro when he tells her that he doesn’t want her to do wild poses or dress up in provocative cosplays because he thinks that she’s the most attractive when she’s herself.
Naoto draws various beautiful images of his model, Nagatoro, and she and her friends pull out all the stops in trying to draw attention to Naoto’s exhibit. They dress up in cat costumes, with Nagatoro reluctantly leading them in her signature cat-girl costume. The Toro-Cats, as they come to be known, become a very exciting part of the experience of the exhibit because of how they tease and toy with the people looking at the artwork.
Things get a little heated when Prez’s artwork is revealed to be even more striking and provocative than her last, landing her in hot water with the student council, who believe that she’s “preying on the lust of the male students”. They threaten to take down her exhibit, but this show brings the wholesomeness in such unexpected moments. Nagatoro and company saw Prez being accosted by the disciplinary committee of the student council and followed her to the student council office, where they eavesdrop on the conversation between Prez and the disciplinary committee.
Unable to take further criticism of his senpai, Naoto does something uncharacteristic when he bursts into the closed office to challenge the decision to confiscate Prez’s artwork. Prez is close to accepting her fate, blaming it on her inability to capture people’s hearts with that artwork, but Naoto is set alight by her self-flagellation, saying that he admired Prez for her technical ability and wondered about what he wanted to draw. He very aggressively admits that he now knows that the thing he wants to draw the most is Nagatoro. Nagotoro adds her opinion, saying that she considers it a work of art rather than a lewd. Nagatoro’s friends add to the opposition of the disciplinary committee’s decision, eventually winning Prez the opportunity to keep her exhibit open. However, because all that happened, Naoto’s exhibit won the contest by default. Nagatoro and her friends decide to administer Prez’s punishment for losing, putting her to work as a bunny girl promoter and making loads of cash for selling Toro-Cat merch.
In the end, Naoto’s character is shown to have grown immensely from the contest, but also from Nagatoro’s influence. He’s not a completely different character, but he’s grown confident enough to ask Nagatoro to accompany him places, to stand up for his senpai and Nagatoro herself on various occasions. This show was supposed to be something about a manic pixie dream girl subjecting a poor nerd to heaps of emotional torture, but it never went too far, it never lost its way and the consistent teasing and flirting never got stale. While Nagatoro is the aggressor, the series did well to show her charm with both her antics and her low threshold for embarrassment. Nagatoro’s evil grin is one of the standout images from Spring 2021, but her real smile, and her embarrassed blush rival her trademark grin and have been part of some of the best parts of this show.
Watching Nagatoro and Naoto, it’s obvious that the two develop some feelings for each other, or at the very least, grow to care about each other in a mushy sense. Nagatoro’s rampant bullying is exactly that – bullying – however; the way she behaves with certain provocations and antics has also been indicative of some of her key archetypal traits. As a sadodere, and a manic pixie dream girl to boot, Nagatoro is set up to give her romantic interest a hard time, but she’s also prone to subjecting them to inane hijinks, pranks or even wild adventures. With these two archetypes married to form Nagatoro Hayase, her toying with her romantic interest also comes with a desire to bring him out of his shell. We’ve seen this several times this season, most notably with the school festival. Nagatoro is also always with Naoto, and prefers to be alone with him. On Naoto’s end, gaining Nagatoro’s attention was disastrous at first; however, he’s also someone who never gets any attention at all. For his introverted personality, Nagatoro was a nuisance and a presence he’d dread, but all that time spent together enables the two of them to get along despite the obvious torment he experiences. When he sees Nagatoro’s catgirl cosplay, Naoto’s artistic talent (and his teenage brain) are stimulated and he ends up secretly drawing a picture of Nekotoro that she discovers not too long after.
Overall, this ended up becoming a very good romance, one that plays upon the varied meanings of the word and gives us something reminiscent of an older kind of romance – one between artist and muse that is expressed through Naoto’s talent. The comfort between the two grows exponentially and by the end of it, Naoto is able to confess that his ultimate romance as an artist is being able to draw this cute girl who has thoroughly ruined what he thought was his life. The competition between Naoto and his senpai was short-lived, but such a great way to create true conflict in a romance that has been generally devoid of various romantic plot devices. Ijiranaide, Nagatoro-san! (Don’t Toy With Me, Miss Nagatoro!) ended on a high with this short contest arc, and even higher by delivering a satisfying romantic story minus your traditional “I’ve loved you for x long” confession scene, or any hand-holding per se, but a somehow more organic, more unique development of a dynamic between two characters. What did you think of the epic battle between Naoto and his senpai, or the show overall? Drop a comment below and tell us your thoughts!