Welcome to the post that I knew I was going to make long before I watched the first episode of Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro. This anime is a tad controversial, you could say. I said before that I thought this would be “the anime” of the season, as in the one everyone talks about. I was kind of right.
While it isn’t going over quite as bad as I expected (Higehiro is probably getting more flack,) Nagatoro hasn’t been safe from its fair share of debates. In fact, one rather unexpected one, I already talked about last month. That was about the use of the slang “sus,” believe it or not. Something Nagatoro has continued to say.
But the meat and potatoes of this series isn’t whether a fictional character can use slang popularized by memes but with its subject matter. As you might expect from the name (Miss Nagatoro) as I’ll call it, is a series about (you guessed it) Nagatoro, a devious high schooler who can’t get enough of toying with her senpai. That’s literally his name, as far as I know. Mr. Senpai.
She toys with him by generally being pretty awful. Makes fun of him. Calls him gross. Throws insults around like crazy, and pretty much constant sexual harassment, really. Sometimes trying to make Senpai sexually harass her, which is an odd way of toying with him, to say the least, but I respect her creativity. This anime actually has some surprisingly complex jokes for what basically comes down to groping.
From the very little information I gave you, it should be obvious why this series wouldn’t go over well. It sounds like it’s about some girl bullying the hell out of this guy until he cries. This is why I watched it. Not for the crying part, though he does do that. I knew it would be talked about, and as the internet guy I apparently am now, I had a responsibility to discuss it too. I guess. I need to keep my cool, hip image, ok?
The thing is, though, Miss Nagatoro isn’t so cut and dry as you would think. There’s a lot of debate over whether or not Nagatoro can actually be called a bully. Some people call it bullying. Some people call it teasing. Some people say it’s neither. That’s something I didn’t expect.
I assumed the controversy would be about Nagatoro’s constant harassment, not whether or not she was doing anything wrong in the first place. So this is the only real discussion I think the show deserves at the moment. Whether or not Nagatoro can be considered a bully. The answer might surprise you! Or not. I’ve just always wanted to say that.
So, how do we answer this? Well, to start, this will be a very subjective thing. Bullying and things of this nature will be different for every individual. No one person will bully someone the same, as different things will affect different people differently. In that way, a concrete answer may be impossible. So, instead of that, I will be as objective as possible in going about this. Of course, I’ll still give my opinion, though. What fun would there be if I didn’t?
To start out, let’s use our good friend Google and get some definitions. Because the best way to understand if someone is something is to have a good understanding of what that something is. Then we can see what Nagatoro does in the show and figure this all out. Simple, right? As if. First, let’s look at the word “bully.” It means someone who seeks to harm, intimidate, or coerce (someone perceived as vulnerable).
Not too bad. I mean, the word is very bad, but it’s not hard to comprehend. We need to look at three things: whether Nagatoro seeks to harm, intimidate, or coerce her senpai is anyway. The answer to most of this is kind of yes, but there are some caveats. Let’s break them down. First, does Nagatoro seek to harm her senpai?
Kind of! For all of Nagatoro’s antics, she doesn’t actively try and cause harm to him, at least not physically. You can see this in episode one, where she flings Senpai into the river on their way home from school. She mentions that Senpai is light, showing that her plan wasn’t to harm him.
Aside from that, we never see her punch, slap, or do anything like that unprovoked, besides the occasional annoyance like the image above. We even see her allow Senpai to use her bath at home so he doesn’t get sick from being in the rain. Surprisingly, there were no strings attached. She just cared for his health. Mental harm is a whole different ball game.
All of Nagatoro’s insults are digs at Senpai personally. His hair’s gross, he’s gross, he’s a closet pervert, he’s this and that. Everything she says assaults the poor man into crying fits pretty often. And this is something Nagatoro does a lot and seems to get some kind of pleasure from. So she doesn’t harm him physically but very much does mentally. That’s half a point for her being a bully, though we may be able to remove that later.
Next is whether she seeks to intimidate him. I don’t know if she really wants to, but just her presence does, though it’s becoming less so with recent episodes. Not to blame Senpai here, but he’s intimated by literally every other human being that walks. He’s a complete outcast. Nagatoro may be more aggressive, but she’s not all that different. Senpai’s just the timid type.
Still, she does seem to enjoy intimating him, so another bully point for Miss Nagatoro. The last is if she coerces him. Actually, no. Nagatoro’s pretty squeaky clean in this regard. She “makes” Senpai do things but doesn’t “coerce” him into it.
She may make Senpai close his eyes so she can pick on him, but it isn’t with threats of violence or any threats at all. She doesn’t say she’ll punch his lights out if he doesn’t close his eyes. He does it because she offers a reward to do it.
What Senpai imagines that reward to be is between him and his own perverted little pubescent brain, but that’s not coercing someone at all. It’s bribery or quid pro quo if anything. She doesn’t force Senpai to do anything really unless you consider nagging someone as forcing their hand.
So, Nagatoro is now sitting at one and a half bully points out of three. Less than people would expect, I’m sure. But I did say I could get them down some. To do that, I want to look at another definition. Teasing is when someone makes fun of or attempts to provoke (a person or animal) in a playful way. Senpai isn’t an animal, so we’ll treat him as a person.
Teasing is a much more complicated concept than bullying. Bullying is pretty simple. It’s bad. There are quite a few ways to do it, but it all results in roughly the same situation. A person hurts another person for the hell of it or some arbitrary reason. Bullying, by definition, is a hateful thing. It has malice. No “nice” person bullies anyone. The two just don’t mix.
Teasing is another story, though. Teasing and bullying are similar in that they can both revolve around making a person uncomfortable and making fun of them for your own amusement.
The difference is, and this is a very important distinction, teasing is generally done in a loving way or comes from an innocent place. The teaser is poking some fun at somebody they care about, not trying to harm them mentally or otherwise.
Take a great series that is basically wholesome Miss Nagatoro, Teasing Master Takagi-san. Does Takagi poke fun at Nishikata? Of course! She practically feeds off of his embarrassment. Does Nishikata get upset every now and then? Sure, who wouldn’t? But there are no had feelings between them. They both care for each other, and no stupid jokes will change that. They’re close enough to have that kind of relationship.
So, while teasing may inherently seem bad, there is a difference that separates it from bullying. But there is a point where you go too far. Do you see where I’m going with this?
I genuinely believe with all my heart that Nagatoro cares about her senpai. I really do. I truly don’t think she has any malice behind the way she treats him. Her actions are closer to bullying than teasing, but I truly don’t believe she wants to cause him any pain in any way. We see that at many points in the series.
There’s the shower thing I mentioned earlier. The part in episode three where Nagatoro defends Senpai from her “friend” when she calls him a bug. Saying she took it too far and was about to throw fists with her. There’s also a time Nagatoro apologizes to Senpai when he gets really upset. She actually complements his drawing of her as well.
Episode five is nothing but Nagatoro being kind to Senpai. She saves him from getting his hair shaved off by her “friends,” just to calmly cut his hair and give him one of the best moments of his life. Getting rid of the messy thing she pokes fun at all the times, I might add. I don’t know what bully willingly gets rid of their ammo.
While she does many things that look like bullying, she doesn’t have any malice behind it, or at the very least, she takes no enjoyment in seeing him destroyed mentally or otherwise. If there’s no malice behind it, that begs the question of why she does it in the first place. That’s where things get tricky.
What Nagatoro does isn’t bullying and isn’t teasing, despite that it could be interpreted as both. It appears to be that, but to her, it’s neither. It’s a form of escapism. You know she loves Senpai. It’s painfully obvious to everyone but the guy in question. Nagatoro understands this as well, but she doesn’t know how to deal with it. Likely, that’s in part because she’s never felt that way about anyone before.
We see in episode two that Nagatoro isn’t always loud and aggressive like she is with Senpai. When she was brought to dinner with some guys by her “friend”, rather than insult them or something like that, she just acts disinterested and absolutely annihilates them with calm words. She’s composed, smart, and quiet. Not at all how she typically is. This shows that she only acts that way with Senpai, which is obviously because she likes him.
She doesn’t know how to deal with her emotions. Add that in with the fact that she finds his absurd reactions to things funny, and you have a young embarrassed girl trying to talk to her crush but comes off as a terrifying bully instead. Basically, a sadist tsundere, if you will. Or a sadist sadodere, I suppose.
Does that excuse her actions? No. She still treats Senpai awful, but it isn’t her fault, really. There’s one short, pretty subtle scene in episode four that made me think Nagatoro wasn’t a bully. To that point, I could see it, but my opinion changed.
After picking on Senpai for a bit, she sees that he’s about to cry. You can see on her face then that she is actively trying to restrain herself. You can see physical pain, as she’s trying not to go any further. That’s not a bully. Yet, she finally breaks and forces the poor man to tears.
That leads to probably the most damning scenes in the whole show for why she’s a bully. After Senpai breaks down, we see her wiping his tears with a cloth. All the while, she generally has a smile on her face. These shots are terrifying, really. They make her look terrible, and it’s honestly disturbing. Most people probably see that, call her a bully and move on. That’s fair. No matter what, it looks awful. She clearly gets something out of picking on the guy while he’s in tears. At least that’s one interpretation of it.
While you can say that her wiping his tears is a way to hurt him more, you can also say it’s her way of apologizing to him. Remember that she is much shyer than she lets on. She doesn’t do it to keep him crying. She does it to stop him. Remember when she tried to restrain herself before? It was right when he’s about to cry. She never wants him to get to that point. It’s how she knows she needs to stop.
Her wiping his tears is her somewhat twisted way of trying to make him feel better. Once he cries, she lays off of him. She may still say some slightly condescending things as she’s doing it, but it’s all with a very calming voice. And she only does that because she’s uncomfortable being vulnerable, and that’s what she’s doing when she soothes him.
She doesn’t get in his face and continue to spout insults at him. She sits by his side until he stops. She likes to see him struggle in embarrassment a bit, not be genuinely upset. In that way, she and a character like Takagi aren’t that different.
Nagatoro is a character with a lot of inner turmoil. She’s in a balancing act between her loud, obnoxious facade and the really quite shy girl she is on the inside. We see at different points when Senpai acts more aggressively than she expects or something strays from her plan, she gets flustered. Sometimes she even drops the loudness and sulks.
She’s a person that likes to be in control. It’s why she acts the way she does. All Senpai would need to do is stand up for himself every once in a while, and she would cave. She tells him exactly that. That he needs to toughen up, basically. That’s the honest truth. He does need to. Her methods are bad, but her heart is in the right place. She doesn’t want Senpai to be under her thumb. She wants him to be able to deal with her. Perhaps so they can be happy in the future.
This actually reminds me of a situation in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Haruhi treats Mikuru like total crap all the time. Making her do things she’s uncomfortable with. Makes her dress in odd ways. She’s way worse to her than Nagatoro is to Senpai, put it that way. But that treatment is ultimately what taught Mikuru to be confident in herself and is why she grew up to be the strong person she is. Senpai’s similar.
Despite how bad it looks, Senpai does need to become stronger if he’ll ever last in the world. One day he’ll look back on those days and realize that they made him strong. He’ll be happy that he met Nagatoro. Again, her actions aren’t excused, but they will likely have a positive effect on his life. Really, they already have. He’s already starting to show growth. He’s getting better with Nagatoro, and he’s even willing to stand up for himself every now and then. Stand up for her even.
If you remove her facade, Nagatoro isn’t much different from Senpai. They’re both shy people who need to grow. They just both deal with it in equally unhealthy ways. Nagatoro with bullying, and Senpai shutting himself away from the world. Both of them can’t stay that way, and that’s why their meeting each other was actually a good thing.
Little by little, they’ve both started to help each other grow in their problem areas. Nagatoro’s becoming a little softer and is learning to practice restraint, and Senpai’s starting to go out of his comfort zone and grow a pair. I mean, they’re pretty small still, but he’s trying.
Neither one of them are perfect, and I think that’s what people tend to miss. It’s easy to get on Nagatoro for picking on him, but you need to look at the larger picture. He’ll get crushed in the real world the way he is. He’ll encounter people far worse than her in his future. Senpai needs to learn to stand up for himself just as much as Nagatoro needs to take it down a few notches. It’s a situation where neither of them is innocent.
So to answer the question is Nagatoro a bully: objectively, yes, yes, she is. Her actions, though conflicting at times, are that of a bully for the most part. However, if you look at the emotions behind her, no, she’s not a bully. She does not think the way one would, nor does she feed off of Senpai’s pain. This is the long and the short of it: Is Nagatoro a bully? Yes. Is she a bad person? No, she’s not.
Thank you very much for reading
Would you consider Nagatoro a bully or not? Does it even matter, or are her actions irredeemable? I would say they’re not, but let me know.