Don't Toy With Me, Ms. Nagatoro! is a short comedy anime series set in an ordinary high school with a cast led by the meek, artsy second-year student Naoto Hachioji. Naoto is a bit of a doormat, a classic example of the passive anime lead who has strange things happen to him. That's not a bad idea in and of itself, but it's getting stale.
A passive character rarely takes the initiative on anything and might not even have a goal to drive them. Their lives only become exciting when something happens to them, not because of them, and this paradigm is becoming all too common in anime. Here's why making Hayase Nagatoro the series' protagonist instead would shake things up in style.
Naoto Doesn't Have The Drive To Be A Worthwhile Lead
There is some merit to the idea of having a self-insert, generic protagonist like Miss Nagatoro!'s Naoto. It's often easy to identify with such characters, and when a harem of girls forms around him or he goes on an isekai adventure, it can represent solid wish fulfillment for viewers. Passive characters are usually low-risk, since they are rarely breaking any molds or challenging the viewer in a serious way. However, having so many of these types can make them all run together, and there is practically nothing to remember Naoto by. Aside from his skill and interest in sketching at the art club, there's nothing burning inside him. He's as "everyman" as it gets, but anime protagonists can be much more.
By contrast, works of fiction with decisive, goal-oriented leads tend to be much stronger, especially if that character takes on incredible challenges and has personal ambitions. Such characters truly lead the story, rather than being led by it. Other anime leads such as Naruto Uzumaki and Monkey D. Luffy have serious goals. Naruto wants to become a famous Hokage and works hard to achieve that goal. Luffy, meanwhile, dreams of becoming pirate king, and MHA's Izuku Midoriya strives to become the new #1 hero and symbol of peace.
Anime heroes should have goals and a proactive attitude, even in slice-of-life series like Don't Toy With Me, Ms. Nagatoro!, and this is where Naoto falls short. But his co-lead Hayase Nagatoro is a different story.
Hayase Nagatoro As A Heroine Worth Rooting For
Hayase is not only an exciting and amusing sadodere character in Miss Nagatoro!, but she has a firm goal: to become close to Naoto as a friend and show her affection by any means necessary. Hayase's antics are simply her way of expressing her amorous feelings, and even a proactive and lively character like her has challenges to overcome.
She gets easily flustered and isn't always sure how to deduce or convey her feelings, but she is learning bit by bit how to bond with Naoto and become a real friend whom he can appreciate. Hayase is actively striding down the path to her goal and remains highly relatable the entire time. Anyone can identify with a teenager fighting hard to express their feelings and form meaningful connections with others, and they can cheer her on as she makes an effort to succeed.
Better yet, Hayase has her own pseudo-bullies: her own friends, who tease her nonstop. This maintains a balance between Hayase being a proactive person while also responding to outside issues. After all, not everything should happen because of the active lead -- challenges and problems must exist around them too, and Hayase's reverse-psychology friends are ideal for that. What's more, Hayase's distinct personality and worldview would make her memorable, and her opinions, attitude and good humor would make her an intriguingly unreliable narrator for Don't Toy With Me, Miss Nagatoro!. Such narration can add a whole new dimension to an otherwise ordinary setting and premise.