Back when I reviewed the manga series Ijiranaide, Nagatoro-san, I didn’t expect that I would love it so much. I hadn’t picked up an ongoing manga in years because I don’t trust authors very much. This one, however, had me hooked so bad that I am still keeping up with Nagatoro to this day. This has been a new experience for me in a lot of ways. Among them being that I now got to experience the anxiety of watching a series I love be adapted into anime. Would it do the manga justice or would it be a shallow cashgrab to get in on the quirky romcom hype? With 2 seasons now out, I decided to finally take the plunge.
As a quick refresher, Nagatoro tells the story of two high schoolers. An awkward geek with extreme social anxiety who is mainly referred to as “Senpai” and the titular Nagatoro herself. She is sociable, athletic, and very assertive; all qualities that Senpai lacks. After having an embarrassing run-in with her, Nagatoro makes it a habit to tease her senpai whenever they meet. At first Senpai fears that she is the latest in a long line of bullies. Yet, as they keep interacting with each other, it soon becomes clear that Nagatoro may be have different, more kind-hearted intentions. Even if her methods imply otherwise.
Stepping into this adaptation, the first thing that struck me is just how weird it felt. Nagatoro is a manga with a lot of character development to it, which we have been following for over a dozen volumes now. To step into an anime and experience these characters as their volume 1 selves again was very odd. It’s a similar feel to when you rewatch or reread a series, but I feel it’s amplified because the manga is still not finished. Bouncing from volume 14 to episode 1 is jarring, though in a way that made me appreciate just how far we have come. I was thrilled to see the anime tackle all that development anew.
As an adaptation, Don’t Toy With Me, Miss Nagatoro is what you’d expect. It follows the story and format of the manga almost to a tee. This is especially clear in the early episodes, which adapt the chapters that mainly serve to establish the dynamic between our protagonists. These are low-stakes storylines where Nagatoro comes up with new ways to tease Senpai, who is still attempting to figure her out. These are certainly fun, but make the episodes feel more like a collection of sketches rather than a unified storyline. Kinda like how Nichijou is formatted.
The animation is handled competently, though I wouldn’t call it spectacular. It was nice getting to see iconic scenes in motion and full color, but it always lacks the impact of the manga. Panels that are centerpiece moments in the source material here fail to make much of an impression. They are still there, but often more zoomed out and less emphasized.
On the flipside, the adaptation does smooth out the manga’s penchant for errors and rushed illustrations. This makes the anime a more consistent experience, at the cost of missing those highlights.
Having watched the English dub, I was very pleased with the voice work. Senpai and Nagatoro are both performed excellently and I was very fond of Gamo and Sakura also. Junstine Lee also does a wonderful job as the president of the art club; transforming a character that I originally disliked into one I appreciated quite a bit.
Lily Ki meanwhile does a good job as Yoshi, but is sabotaged by the adaptation effort. Yoshi was always a weird character with even weirder dialogue. Her way of speaking in the manga is very distinct. For the anime, they didn’t bother to replicate this. Her lines have been changed drastically to be at least slightly sensible. It ruins her mystique and—while she is still plenty fun—it’s a very different appeal they’re going for now. I can’t blame the actress for that.
Speaking of changes, the anime does have some. I won’t nitpick every alteration, both because there aren’t many and some could be argued to be improvements. I will however mention one glaring issue in the dub. Seemingly by mistake, the dub ruins one of the most important scenes between Nagatoro and Senpai. This involves figuring out what Nagatoro’s first name is, which in the manga is treated like a big deal. The dub messes this up by having other characters use her first name in front of Senpai well before this turning point in the story. When they then get to the relevant storyline, they need to awkwardly recontextualize the entire situation. In turn causing the jokes in these scenes to not land very well.
While that may be a shame, it’s but one moment in a 24-episodes series. A series that I overall enjoyed quite a lot. It was great getting to experience a manga I liked in anime format and see it done so well too. Whether you are a fellow manga veteran or a complete newcomer to the series, I can very much recommend this anime.