Ijiranaide, Nagatoro-san! (Don’t Toy With Me, Miss Nagatoro!) is a Spring 2021 title that was fairly anticipated by slice of life afficionados for various reasons. The show’s premise was unique, boasting unique characters and a character archetype we very rarely see – the sadodere. However, just because we could tell that we haven’t really seen something like this done this way before, doesn’t mean that we were convinced by any of it by the time the first episode dropped. The manic-pixie-dream-girl archetype is everywhere in anime, but this case sought to highlight some of the worst parts of the archetype and tie it all together with the ribbon that is sadistic tendencies. Anime has played with the dynamic between masochist and sadist for aeons at this point, so Nagatoro-san wasn’t going to have the most receptive crowd at first, but it completely blew all our worries out of the water. This show isn’t just good, it’s the anime you didn’t know you’d love, executed in a way you didn’t think it would be. Let’s get into why we enjoyed Ijiranaide, Nagatoro-san! (Don’t Toy With Me, Miss Nagatoro!) so much!
Who’s There? Sadodere!
The first best thing about this show (yes, “first best”) is the titular character, Nagatoro Hayase. If we were to categorize her, she’d be considered a “gyaru” type, but the layer of her personality that the whole show focuses on is how she enjoys tormenting, teasing or otherwise bullying the object of her attention or affection – the rather unfortunate protagonist, Hachiouji Naoto, a complete pushover, nerd and artistic genius. Their relationship develops from a very uncomfortable first encounter in the library.
Naoto, in his judgmental righteousness, notices that his usual haven has been “invaded” by “these types of girls”. like the titular character and her friends. While trying not to get their attention, Naoto ends up calling a lot of attention to himself. The rest is history—the four begin teasing and provoking him, eventually turning their attention to the manga he’d been working on. After they have their fun, the girls leave. All except for one—first-year student Nagatoro Hayase. She seems to have focused her attention on Naoto, something he had been dreading from the very beginning. She bullies him to the point of tears, then gives him her handkerchief to dry his tears before waving goodbye. This interaction summarizes most of their interactions throughout the show—she toys with him while thinly veiling her interest in him. This is the sadodere character archetype in a nutshell.
The Jokes Keep Coming
Nagatoro-san is a comedy anime that bases all of its humor on the bully/bullied dynamic between Nagatoro and Naoto. This dynamic is prevalent throughout the show and somehow, it never gets old! Nagatoro provoking the unassuming Naoto with sexually charged statements, comments on his apparent virginity, his lack of confidence or appeal as well as his hair continues throughout the series. However, while Nagatoro is in control for the majority of this dynamic, the series shows us something special in the moments when Nagatoro herself feels out of her depth with some of the ways she tries to embarrass or humiliate Naoto because she can get really flustered herself! Those are cute moments that make the developing relationship feel a lot more organic, but it also means that the main gag never loses its vigor. The best part about the sadistic tendencies Nagatoro has is that they never actually go too far—in fact, the worst bout of bullying we see in this series is probably what happened in the first episode when Nagatoro’s onslaught leaves Naoto biting back tears. The show doesn’t go out of its way to be ridiculous, but it shows us that the main characters are just teenagers, which goes a long way in not wearing out the gag.
By the third episode, we already begin to see Nagatoro’s interest in Naoto in how she visits him in the art room every single day. At this point though, it still seems like she’s only there to play with her new toy Naoto, but there is a developing fondness on his end as well. By the time we get to the last few episodes, Naoto and Nagatoro have hung out so much on various occasions, getting to know each other in ways reminiscent of actual human relationships. It never actually feels forced because we are shown their developing affection in ways that aren’t standard for romance anime.
There isn’t any hand-holding, no confession of undying love (at least not in the way we’re used to), but there is still an underlying affection we see Nagatoro and Naoto develop for each other. Naoto had his work cut out for him because he found Nagatoro’s hovering over him incredibly irritating, and it ruined his previous lifestyle of not standing out. Even so, there are moments in which Naoto and Nagatoro steal glances, share a drink together, get caught in the rain together, play a fighting game together, walk home together, and spend lots of time together—alone. These elements enable the characters to develop a relationship that feels natural, even if the characters live on opposite ends of the social food chain.
The best parts are seeing Naoto’s own feelings for her develop as he becomes enamored with drawing Nagatoro in her natural state. These drawings that Naoto creates throughout the series culminate in the ones he does for the school festival, in which the art club is endangered because the president of the art club thinks it has been tainted by the presence of Nagatoro and her friends. In this situation, Nagatoro herself lends all the help she can to Naoto and her friends all show up to do the same, which creates the feeling that despite the consistent teasing, mocking, and overall disrespect Naoto receives at the hands of these girls, a special relationship has formed between them and himself, especially with Nagatoro. The best part? We aren’t left hanging – in the post-credits scene of the final episode, we see Naoto drawing a sleeping Nagatoro, who wakes up briefly, sees him, and smiles. She then looks at the completed artwork and gives Naoto a kiss on the cheek, before running off and giving him a teasing “bleh” while pulling on the skin below her eye. Is this confirmation that they’re an item? Perhaps not, but it’s incredibly satisfying to see that they’ve gotten that close.
Smells Like Team Spirit
When the art club president challenges Naoto to a battle of art during the school festival, he believes that he can’t possibly win because her art is so much better than his. Not willing to see him go down like that, Nagatoro pulls out all the stops in trying to stimulate his creativity by modelling for him. Her affection for him is fully visible for all to see in her dogged attempts to do anything to help him and how mad she gets when he doesn’t seem to be all that interested in drawing her. When the president’s very bold nude art is deemed inappropriate by the student council, it is taken down and she is invited to appeal the decision, which doesn’t go very well until Naoto, eavesdropping with Nagatoro and friends, bursts into the meeting.
He makes a strong case for the president, claiming that he always wanted to be as confident in his art as she is in hers, and that now, like her, he knows exactly what he wants to draw—Nagatoro Hayase. While this wasn’t a traditional confession scene, it was the culmination of Naoto’s relationship with Nagatoro—with her influence, he has become bold enough to burst into the student council meeting to defend his senpai, bold enough to share his opinion and bold enough to admit that Nagatoro is that all he wants to draw! The look of delight on Nagaotoro’s face confirms it—they have feelings for each other and while it wasn’t an “I like you” confession, Naoto declaring that Nagatoro is his muse is a different kind of romance, one that makes the journey of this show not just about a nerd getting bullied by a popular girl, but one of the development of an unlikely friendship and romance.
There isn’t much more to say about this show— it’s fun, it’s hilarious, it’s ridiculous but it is also really sweet and wholesome at times, which is really unexpected. We didn’t have the highest of hopes for this show and even thought it would get old very quickly, but Ijiranaide, Nagatoro-san! (Don’t Toy With Me, Miss Nagatoro!) has been the best slice of life title this season, and dare we say, the best romance too! We’ve never seen anything like this, nor have we seen the sado/maso dichotomy be this muted—normally shows take these identities to their logical conclusion, but here, the sadist and the apparent masochist have very human, age-appropriate bounds to those parts of themselves, and there is ample character development between the two who matter most. Is this a good show? No, Nagatoro-san is brilliant and anyone who likes to laugh and not take things too seriously would love this.