I forgot I read this book too, actually. Well, it’s a tankobon of a manga, but it’s still a book, so I suppose it counts for this series.
Ijiranaide, Nagatoro – San or translated into Don’t Toy With Me, Miss Nagatoro is a romantic comedy manga by Nanashi (Seven Four, their online handle, if the internet is to be believed). It tells of the titular Nagatoro, a high school freshman, and her antics as she “toys” with Senpai, her senior, a sophomore in the art club (for the majority of the series, Hachiouji – Senpai remains unnamed, and is only ever referred to as Senpai). Beginning from the point where Nagatoro mercilessly rips into him for his ‘obviously a virgin’ amateur fantasy manga, we get to watch Nagatoro and Senpai’s relationship bloom, change, and develop through wacky antics and wonder how Senpai tolerates Nagatoro at all.
In fact, I’ve read online criticism that says Nagatoro’s antics shouldn’t be considered cute or even acceptable, and in fact should be considered outright bullying. It certainly seems that way in the first few chapters (the volumes of which I don’t actually have). The way Nagatoro tears into Senpai is merciless, and does make one think of an emotionally abusive person. The reason for this interpretation, I think, lies in Nagatoro’s origins. You see, Nanashi used to draw porn. Hentai, to be specific. One of his greater works was in fact a Naruto hentai doujinshi of which I am not going to link here and no I have not read it shut up. Anyway, why that’s relevant is because Nanashi started drawing a series based heavily on the masochistic humiliation kink set in a high school setting. Drawn in a first person POV, it invited the reader to see things from Hachiouji – Senpai’s perspective, as a high school sophomore who was dating his junior Nagatoro. And if you thought Nagatoro was emotionally abusive in Ijiranaide…boy, you ain’t seen shit. Most of the comic panels consist of Nagatoro flat out abusing Hachiouji – Senpai in a way that has zero comedic value, that makes people wonder ‘why are you even with him if you hate him so much?’ and realise too late that she doesn’t hate him, but she loves to abuse him, which is fucked up on so many levels.
Being the earlier chapters of Ijiranaide, Nagatoro’s character obviously developed from that base, and so it’s easy to see why her ‘teasing’ doesn’t seem so innocent at first. The love and tenderness that longtime fans have come to associate with the series is a slow burn process, and only comes out in tiny hints throughout the series. For example, when one of her teasing goes too far (acknowledged even by Nagatoro herself), but Senpai does nothing, Nagatoro asks Senpai why he doesn’t get angry at her, seemingly believing that if he did, she would have felt like she deserved it. A White Day special shows Nagatoro getting jealous when she sees Senpai eating chocolate, believing that someone else gave him those. As the story develops, however, we see Nagatoro’s teasing be accepted even by Senpai himself as just that – teasing. Nagatoro herself tones down the pranks, which become more light hearted and comedic in nature as the series progresses.
This change in the character dynamic is part of the charm of the series. Nagatoro grows from a chaotic free spirited girl to an extroverted junior who just wants her Senpai to open up, Senpai grows from a closeted art geek to (as the fandom calls it) an ‘absolute Chad’, and their relationship grows from ‘suffering senpai and his chaotic kouhai’ to ‘will they or won’t they?’ Hell, even the side characters develop in such an amazing manner. Nanashi used to always not draw the eyes of characters he deems unimportant – soon, they not only start to have eyes, but names as well, and finally personalities. Gamo – Chan grows from just the meaner yankee alpha bitch to one of the strongest supporters of the Senpai-Toro relationship, Yoshi grows from Gamo – Chan’s ‘yes girl friday’ to a cute (if dumb) dog lover, and Sakura grows from just that one girl into a total maneater (which adds extra layers of meaning when Sakura asks Senpai to pretend to date her to get rid of a stalker). This sense of character development and progression is mainly why fans love Nagatoro – with each new chapter, you wonder where the characters (and the main characters’ relationships) are going.Not to mention that the comic is also incredibly funny. It’s a rom – com; you’ve gotta have some gags. And, all right, the beautifully drawn girls are a plus, too. Hey, whaddya want? The guy used to draw porn, okay? He obviously knows how to draw attractive people. Aaand I just said that about drawings of high school girls. Oh my God this post was a mistake.
Senpai and Nagatoro’s blossoming relationship is cute and all, but I would be remiss in not mentioning the other main theme of the series – love, and I don’t just mean romantic love because that one is obvious. The recurrent theme I’m speaking of is, well, love of what you are doing, to put it simply. It’s your personal passion, the fire that lights up your heart, the thing without which life would not be worth living. In the manga, this is shown through Senpai’s love of art. Remember I said he was an art geek – he spends a lot of his time in the school art room drawing (it’s not too far of a stretch to assume this is a self – insert on Nanashi’s part). In fact, some of Nagatoro’s teasing involves her trying to get him to draw her, and a significant part of their relationship has to do with her modeling for him. So the theme of love here is shown as Senpai’s love of art, and how his blossoming love for Nagatoro feeds into his art and elevates it to a new level.
To illustrate, Senpai and his Club President (again, only ever referred to as President) are in a contest of sorts – an art off, if you will. The President is one of those girls Nanashi may have drawn earlier in his art career, if you get my drift, and thus her self portraits – sorry, nude self portraits – are described as Virgin Killers. Compared to that, poor Senpai’s common practice on fruit bowls doesn’t stand a frappucino’s chance in hell. After some persuasion, however, Senpai decides to put on display portraits of Nagatoro in her daily life, and because of the love he had for her bleeding through the artwork, they impress even the President. The arc ends with the President reminding Senpai that love is important, and that his art has grown much better because of the love he had when putting his pencil to paper. There are other examples, but this is the most obvious.
The lesson is clear. If you are a creative, you must create with love in your heart. If you do, then the love will come through in your creation, and you will create something sublime. I think this is something Nanashi has discovered, and is sharing with us through his work. Clearly he loves drawing, and clearly he loves drawing beautiful women. Instead of hiding what he loves, he leaned into it. Normally we would shy away from pornography when creating art, since it’s commonly thought to be vulgar and inappropriate, but Nanashi leaned into it, and was honest about his love of beautiful women. It lends an honesty to his art, making his ‘proper’ manga creation the unmistakable air of a labor of love. It gained him a following, and because he worked with love we have ourselves a fun romantic comedy to enjoy.
This honesty is something difficult, something I personally have struggled with. I love writing – I used to think that if only I could draw, I could have a bigger following, or more eyeballs on my work, or I could create something better, but in the end what I care about is story. I care about plot movements, character development, using both of those to tell a coherent message. I care about putting words down, picking the right ones, agonising over a thesaurus to find just that one word that would work (and in the end picking the first choice anyway, but that’s neither here nor there). But I always feel as if sometimes, sometimes I have to censor myself in order to appeal to a wider base or in order to not cause more harm with my writing (witness me fawning over high school girls above). Nagatoro tells us that if we approach the act of creation with anything less than absolute love in our hearts, our creations will feel flat, and we can never create the sublime work of art that we long to create.
A certain videogame (DDLC) raised the question of whether manga is literature or not. I think we’ve answered that. Ijiranaide Nagatoro – San is a wacky, funny, romantic series that has a good message for all creatives, and so I think it counts. The message is simple. The medium (comics, manga, video games, short stories) certainly has an impact on your reader and the message you are trying to convey, but above all, love is important. Love of the medium, love of the subject, love of the process – Nagatoro teaches us that love is the secret ingredient that helps elevate our art. Told through the developing relationship of the two very interesting main characters of the catty minx Nagatoro and her long suffering Senpai, which happens through a lot of comedic situations and truly laugh out loud gags, this is one of my favourite manga of recent times.And no, this is not a 1500 word plus essay of me saying ‘I just read it for the articles’. I truly mean what I said. Hopefully that love came through in my writing, just as Senpai’s love for Nagatoro comes through in his art. I don’t mean that my writing is sublime, but here’s hoping that I can put more love into my labors, and create more beautiful works as a result.