I’ve never written a plain old review of a manga series on the site until now, so this will be a first. Maybe not a last, either. And I figured that since I’ve already written about it as a jumping-off point for a more broadly themed post, I owe Don’t Toy With Me, Miss Nagatoro1 an actual review. The series is currently up to 70 chapters as of this writing, but this review is only of the first four volumes that have been officially translated and published in English. Because I’m a fucking weirdo who still likes to own print media, and I actually own these four volumes in physical form, volumes that I think are worth a closer look.
I covered the basic premise of Nagatoro in that first post, but basically it’s about a nerdy artistic loner student who has a run-in with one Nagatoro2, a sporty, popular girl one year his junior. At first, Nagatoro mercilessly mocks this guy (known only as “Senpai”; aside from this generic title he’s never assigned any other name) for his loner ways and his hobby of drawing self-insert power fantasy comics. And it’s damn rough going the first several chapters. Even the sometimes irritating Uzaki has nothing on Nagatoro, who comes off as a sadistic bully in her first interactions with Senpai.
Senpai’s reactions to Nagatoro’s teasing only strength her resolve to mock him, because at first he just can’t take it, openly breaking out into tears the first two times and then cursing himself for it. And the third time they meet, Nagatoro makes him a very obviously fake offer of a date that he completely falls for, after which she mocks him again.
At this point, one might just encourage our poor Senpai to tell Nagatoro to fuck off. However, around the middle of the first volume, it starts to become clear that both Senpai and Nagatoro are enjoying this game they’re playing with each other in a strange way. Senpai soon notices to his surprise that Nagatoro doesn’t mess with any of the other guys at their school the way she does with him, which suggests that she’s giving him special attention, something even Nagatoro doesn’t seem to consciously realize. And that’s why despite initial appearances, Nagatoro is really a romantic comedy. Yeah, our two main characters like each other, but they’re both too awkward and unsure to express it or even to realize it quite yet.
Of course, this “two very different characters fall in love” sort of story is nothing new. Uzaki-chan has a similar premise, and so did the much older Toradora, and outside the realm of anime and manga it’s also a common setup. And I’ve said before that I’m not really that big on romantic comedies like this. So why the hell do I like Nagatoro?
In that post back in August, I talked about how the relatability of Senpai helped me to form a connection with and empathize with him, and also to better enjoy the work as a whole. I still think that’s true, but I also think the manga’s laser focus on its two main characters and their development is more important. Nagatoro tells a pretty simple story in that sense — it does have other characters who play their parts in Senpai and Nagatoro’s story, namely Nagatoro’s small group of female friends who join in on messing with him.
However, these and the few other characters who show up seem to be there just to contribute to the development of this central relationship between Nagatoro and her senior. At one point in Vol. 4 for example, Senpai spots the girls at a park bench getting approached by a couple of jocky male classmates, one of whom clearly has his sights set directly on Nagatoro. This steams the hell out of Senpai, and to his great credit, rather than passively watch Nagatoro get asked out on a date and NTR’d away from him by this guy, he marches up to the bench almost without thinking and says “let’s go home” to her, all the while nervously wondering what the hell he’s doing. But his plan works, because Nagatoro is only too happy to leave with him, and all her friends take the cue and go along with our nerdy protagonist as well, leaving the two jocks sitting on the park bench embarrassed and probably wondering what the hell just happened.
By this point, the pair have more or less become friends, and we already have plenty of hints piled up that they have mutual feelings for each other, so there doesn’t seem to be any danger of a love triangle popping up (though I could certainly be wrong about that.) But of course, Senpai doesn’t know that. And Nagatoro is equally jealous of her exclusive right to mock Senpai as much as she wants, getting into little fights with her own friends when they start to get too familiar with him.
But it’s not just a budding awkward romance — these two characters through their interactions start to change each other for the better. The effect on Senpai is dramatic; by the end of the last officially translated and published volume he’s already noticeably more confident and outgoing thanks to Nagatoro dragging him out of his comfort zone time and again. Though he’s still an introvert, he’s not using his time in the school’s art room just to escape from reality anymore.
One of the most telling (and entertaining to me) signs of this change appears in Senpai’s series of self-insert fantasy comics he draws during downtime at school. At first, we see that he draws himself as a sword-wielding hero who travels with a beautiful swordswoman, with whom he seems to have some sort of thing going. Even after Nagatoro discovers this comic and thoroughly mocks him for this in the manga’s very first chapter, he keeps drawing it. But it changes, with Nagatoro herself becoming a character in the comic and mocking and prodding him in exactly the same way she does in real life, wedging herself even into Senpai’s escapist fantasy world.
There’s also a pretty clear effect on Nagatoro. Throughout the manga, we’re mostly in Senpai’s head hearing his thoughts, so Nagatoro’s own thoughts and feelings sometimes have to be guessed at. But it does seem like initially she just wanted to make fun of Senpai in a mean-spirited way, only discovering later on that she actually likes him. But does she stop mocking him? Absolutely not — she now instead uses her mockery to whip him into shape, to push him into situations where he’ll develop self-confidence since he can’t just run away as he did before. So although she might not realize it herself, Nagatoro’s strange friendship with Senpai seems to have made her a better person as well, with their relationship making them into something like equals. This is especially evident when Senpai finally gets a hit in on Nagatoro every so often and we see her get flustered and somewhat humbled.
It’s for just this reason that the bullying aspect of Nagatoro doesn’t bother me so much. It does start out pretty damn rough, and as I said in my first post dealing with the manga I can’t blame some readers for dropping this one early on because of it. However, the bullying pretty quickly turns into something very different, and it’s pretty easy to see the path these two characters are taking towards both a solid friendship and a romance (way down the road, though, because naturally it’s going to take a long time — that’s just how these series go.) So I’d urge readers to try to stick with Nagatoro if they can. It pays off, at least up to the point I’ve read.
So yeah, I like this manga a lot so far. Senpai and even the sadistic Nagatoro ended up becoming pretty endearing, and I look forward to seeing where they go from here. Both the art and story are done by one person, named only Nanashi (nanashi as in anonymous?) and the art style is nice as well — Nagatoro is especially expressive, which adds a lot to her back-and-forths with Senpai.
As far as the physical volumes themselves go, they’re fine. Though I can’t speak to how good the official translation is since I still barely know Japanese. I assume it’s good, but I’ll leave that for others to judge until I can actually read this language at a competent level. I do have one complaint related to that, though: I wish there were at least a few translation notes, because I think they would have been helpful. For example, a few chapters in, Nagatoro finally bothers to tell Senpai her name (and also refuses to learn his because she says she doesn’t need to know — rough.) Before this, Senpai refers to her as “you” because he doesn’t know her name yet, and Nagatoro replies with “The way you say ‘you’ is creepy.”
This is a weird comment to make, since referring to just about anyone with “you” is completely normal and expected in English. It’s only when you look at the original Japanese and find that Senpai is using the pronoun kimi, which means “you” but seems to be a bit of an either rude or intimate way to refer to someone depending on the context, that Nagatoro’s comment makes sense. I don’t know if it’s possible to directly translate this sort of thing in the conversation itself, since it really doesn’t make sense in English, but I think that’s what translation notes are for.3 This goes especially for a manga like Nagatoro that deals with awkward social situations, where context is important.
Finally, there is some somewhat suggestive material in the manga so far, but it serves to advance the relationship between our two main characters. A lot of it also comes about thanks to Senpai’s overactive imagination, though Nagatoro does encourage him in that with her bullying and teasing. I just don’t get the feeling that it’s gratuitous. There’s actually a very wholesome sort of budding romance under all that when you get into the story. Though there might still be enough such material for another dumb Uzaki-esque moral outrage to flare up when the Nagatoro anime starts airing, but I hope we can avoid that nonsense.
I’m going to keep following these characters — as I said, they’re currently a lot further along in their story than the couple dozen officially translated chapters out now, though you have to look up the original manga if you can read it for that, or else other alternatives that exist around that I probably don’t even have to tell you about. The anime adaptation has also just been announced for the spring season next year, so barring any virus-related delays we’ll be getting that in just a few months. I look forward to seeing how it measures up. 𒀭
1 Since I’m already nitpicking in this review, I may as well bring up the fact that some fans don’t seem to like this translation of the manga’s original title, which is Ijiranaide Nagatoro-san. I’ve heard some say “Don’t Bully Me” would be better, but then from what I can tell, the verb ijiru, 弄る, that’s used here does translate as “to toy with” or “to play with” with the implication of messing around with something, so the English title seems fine to me. But again, I’m no expert. Maybe the people complaining are all bullshitting and it’s just another meme or something, I have no idea.
2 She’s referred to by her family name Nagatoro throughout the manga (and by “Hayacchi” by her other friends, which is a clue to her given name.) Referring to people by their family instead of their given name is apparently still another big cultural difference between Japan and the US. I wouldn’t mind being called by my last name, though. I like that idea for some reason.
3 Or maybe I think this because I’m a bad writer who feels the need to shove way too much extraneous information into footnotes.