Young people in anime face a lot of pressures. Between school, part-time jobs, and avoiding the ire of the all-powerful student council presidents, they also have to navigate a whole host of personal relationships for the first time. Among the most important of these is that classic coming-of-age trope, first love.
Don’t Toy With Me, Miss Nagatoro is an unusual take on the “first love” story, to be sure, but it is also an interesting one to explore. Throughout the anime, Senpai and Nagatoro are attempting to figure out how to approach their feelings, often times falling back on childish habits to avoid being honest with each other.
I love a good romance story, but it often feels like the majority of romance plots could be solved by two adults having a simple, straightforward conversation with each other — something that only gets more annoying the more often you see it. There are only so many times I can shout at the TV and throw something across the room in frustration at two people simply not acting like functional adults.
The one place this gets a pass from me is, unsurprisingly, in stories where the characters are in kids themselves. In Don’t Toy With Me, Miss Nagatoro, both main characters are in high school, with the unnamed Senpai character being a second year and the titular Nagatoro being a first year, putting them at around sixteen and fifteen, respectively.
Their relationship, with Nagatoro continually teasing and tormenting Senpai, certainly isn’t a healthy one. Nagatoro’s way of hiding her obvious feelings toward Senpai is to bully him and mock the things he enjoys doing, often to the point where he cries. Normally, when an unhealthy relationship dynamic is central to the plot, much of the story becomes how those involved extricate themselves from the relationship, but Don’t Toy With Me, Miss Nagatoro takes a decidedly different approach.
Instead of framing the dynamic as one that Senpai needs to escape from, their relationship is shown for what it is: two kids who clearly have feelings for each other attempting to start a romantic relationship without being the one to actually talk about it explicitly. Though Nagatoro continually mocks Senpai for his interests, she is also eager to take part in the art club’s activities and read his erotic vampire manga simply because it means spending more time with him.
Even when she is making fun of him for being awkward around girls, Nagatoro remains just as shy and uncertain around him. For as much as she pushes him further than he is comfortable going, she is also the first one to flee when he shows any sign of not backing down. Don’t Toy With Me, Miss Nagatoro captures this back and forth dynamic very well, creating a relationship that most of us can remember stumbling our way through in our youth.
Again, Nagatoro and Senpai both show themselves as too immature and uncertain of what they want from a healthy relationship at their age, which is why the show works despite its depiction of Nagatoro’s bullying. Not everyone is ready for dating when they are fifteen or sixteen years old and that is okay. Don’t Toy With Me, Miss Nagatoro is a great representation of two people at the cusp of being ready for that responsibility and just not quite knowing when they’ll truly feel ready.
Perhaps they will laugh at their antics later when they look back at them. Or maybe they’ll cringe in embarrassment, as we all do when thinking back on our teenage years. However, the story behind Don’t Toy With Me, Miss Nagatoro, of two young people confused by these new feelings they are experiencing, is still a worthwhile one to tell. There is a reason it was one of our favourite shows of the Spring season.
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