Translation is a tricky business. The same Japanese phrase could mean “don’t tease me,” or “don’t mess with me,” but they went with “don’t toy with me.” Maybe because Takagi’s show already had a girl “teasing” her guy, and there’s something aggressive in “don’t mess with me.” Somehow, though, the act of saying, “Don’t toy with me,” would feel assertive, even angry, which was a little at odds with the everything in this show, not least the character who would be saying it.
Don’t Toy With Me, Miss Nagatoro is something of a high school romantic comedy, anime style. It begins with Naoto Hachioji, an awkward, introverted school boy just trying to get his homework done so he can work on his art. By chance, a few pages of the amateur manga he’s drawn fall out of his bag and are seen by a group of loudmouthed high school girls, who immediately disparage him. One of them, however, sticks around after the others leave to keep messing with him, much more thoroughly. Then she keeps coming around the art club room, where he usually is outside of class, to mock him for his timidity and his interests, often with sexual connotations. And thus does the titular Hayase Nagatoro make her tumultuous, whirlwind entry into this boy’s life, and if she has her way, she won’t ever leave it.
Nagatoro is the anime version of a manic pixie girl. She’s young, pretty, full of vim and vigor that dwarfs most real people, and dead set on living in her boy’s head rent-free. She’s aggressive and suggestive, highly jealous and protective of her boy toy, and almost never knows when to stop. She is pretty much relentless in showering her attentions onto Naoto. It’s almost always annoying in some way, but oddly nice in some ways, like when she gives him a nice hair cut when he really needs it.
Meanwhile, Naoto’s patience is practically without limit as he suddenly has this loud, aggressive girl constantly ragging on him, demanding his attention, putting him down in many ways, but most of which involve tying his awkwardness to his virginity and calling him a closet pervert. Which, I’m not going to lie, I probably would not have put up with that for even ten seconds, and I’d have gotten royally angry at the personal nature of her teasing. But somehow, Naoto is influenced by Nagatoro’s teasing in a way that builds him up instead of tears him down (like all the rest of the bullying in his life has). That would be the most unrealistic part of this, I would say, if not for how Nagatoro actually wants this. She literally teaches him that it’s ok to say, “no,” “stop,” or “shut up,” in a way that makes him less socially awkward. He even starts learning how to call her out on her own game, to turn the tables on her. Even more, he begins learning how to assert himself, to stand his ground and take charge in various situations.
In short, somehow Nagatoro’s unending taunts actually help Naoto grow both as a person and as a man. In light of this, there is a certain sense to Naoto developing a crush on Nagatoro. Not much sense, mind you, as I see it. Certainly, being inundated with her presence and the force of her personality would probably make for some taut sexual attraction, especially considering the lewd nature of a good deal of her teasing, but coming to care for her in a romantic sense? It just seems a little far-fetched to me, though not impossible.
Oddly, this actually makes me somewhat interested in the second season, due at the start of 2023. Since there’s a good deal about this coupling which doesn’t make sense to me, I actually have some interest in seeing it play out. My understanding is that the anime thus far has covered about the first half of the manga series, and though the second season will have been produced by a different company, I still appreciate that they would finish the story. Said story involving the first meeting and early interactions of these two teens, and their friends as well, up until they officially become a couple and go on their first date. The first season basically just establishes the odd dynamic between them and how they obviously like each other.
Overall, though, the show mostly just displays the various hijinks Naoto and Nagatoro get up to. It’s amusing enough to enjoy, and there’s a certain hilarity that comes with what amounts to the sexual awakening of these two inexperienced teens, but somehow it felt lackluster to me. Perhaps because the talk always got around to sexual topics and behaviors, which makes this noticeably not child friendly, but without even the surprising wholesomeness of, say, My Dress-Up Darling. Not to mention how I still don’t get how Naoto put up with Nagatoro’s antics, or even how Nagatoro put up with her friends. They seemed like a rather vicious bunch behind those smiles.
It basically felt like things happened mostly because that was how the author wanted them to happen. It was funny, at times, in a way, and it didn’t actively repel me, but somehow it didn’t entirely grab me either.
All in all, I suppose I feel fairly neutral about this anime.
Rating: 6 stars out of 10.
Grade: C. Just a C.