Toradora!

Toradora!

TORADORA!

Watched via fansubs/DVD/Crunchyroll

WHITNEY

CRYSTAL

PLOT: Ryuji Takasu suffers from the misfortune of having a thug-like face, which he inherited from his father. Due to his fierce appearance, he has to deal daily with awkward misunderstandings, such as fellow students thinking he’s going to beat them up for their money. On the first day of classes he accidentally walks straight into the “palm top tiger,” Taiga Aisaka, whose infamous temper has made her a legend at the school. Matters become worse for Ryuji after Taiga mistakes his bag for a classmate’s and slips a love letter into it. Determined to save face, she breaks into his house with the intention of getting back the letter and wiping out Ryuji’s memory. Instead the two settle on a pact of sorts where Ryuji becomes Taiga’s “dog” and works to help her out in hooking her up with his friend, Yusaku Kitamura. In return she agrees to help him out reluctantly with getting to know her friend Minori Kushieda better.

Toradora! is your typical “opposites attract” series. While Ryuji and Taiga work together, they end up forming a special familial-type bond and friendship that brings them closer together. What sets this series apart from all other romantic school dramas is the use of successful comedic elements. I found watching it very engaging and sincere. Typically with this sort of show you get the obvious tonal markings, which tell you instead of showing you if something is supposed to be considered funny. Toradora! on the other hand, manages to be hilarious without all the pandering. I anxiously awaited every episode as it aired in Japan, and even now I’m dying for a re-watch.

PLOT: As Whitney said, at its heart Toradora! is a rom-com about people with opposing personalities getting to know each other. Ryuji’s calm demeanor is a perfect foil to Taiga’s short temper, and their comic interactions are always hilarious. Each of their best friends, Kitamura and Kushieda, are also ridiculous in their own special ways, while the transfer student/model Ami is a delightful skewering of the idea that anyone can be a beautiful airhead without faking it.

There’s a lot more to this show than standard odd-couple comedy or the plights of teens trying to gain love, though. The show follows noticeable arcs, with each one focusing on a character and looking at their insecurities and difficulties. Toradora! forecasts this from the second episode, when Ryuji and Taiga get angry at the world for willfully misunderstanding them and kick a streetlight. I love that each main character in this show has problems, though, and that the series takes time to look at them and analyze why these kids are the way they are.

In fact, you could probably say this show is like an anime version of The Breakfast Club: you’ve got a group of stereotypical teens (delinquent, cutie, jock, brain, model) who all misunderstand crucial aspects of each other and have to work through all of their issues in order to maintain their friendships. There’re a lot of pain and tears along the way, along with a strong dose of comedy, but Toradora! makes it all worth it by showing how there can be more to people than appearances and stereotypes.

You seriously just blew my mind. Never would have made that connection. I’m going to have to chew on that for a while.

SETTING: The characters in Toradora! are mostly all second year students in the same class. Ryuji begins the school year excited that his best friend Kitamura, and love interest Minorin, will both be in the same classroom as him. As I mentioned before he gets conned into helping out a fellow classmate, Taiga, with her love pursuits. Most of the storyline in the series happens in the school classroom or at Ryuji or Taiga’s places of residence. There are times where the plot gets extended to fit events, but the main focus on the series is the familial type relationship that Ryuji and Taiga reluctantly begin to form.

Ryuji lives at home with his single mother, a hostess at a bar. She works all night and as such, Ryuji is left alone at home a lot. Taiga lives on her own, and quickly moves into the daily lives of Ryuji and his mom by having breakfast and dinner every day with them. While school focused dramas are nothing new, I really felt that it was the family aspect of the series that made Toradora! so appealing.

SETTING: Though much of this series focuses on school and other anime clichés (most notably the vacation house at the beach), the most important setting for the series would be the homes of the two main characters. Ryuji and his mother live in a tiny, traditional Japanese home, while Taiga lives by herself in a huge, Western-style apartment. Hilariously, Taiga’s apartment building is right next to Ryuji’s home and towers over it, causing their laundry to take longer to dry and mold to grow. Taiga can also jump into Ryuji’s home from her bedroom window.

These homes function as metaphors for their inhabitants’ lives. Taiga has an empty homelife, since both of her parents have temporarily abandoned raising her, while Ryuji has a cozy, and sometimes cramped, homelife with his mother. The changes in home setting also reflect the development of the characters throughout the series. With so many series giving characters homes and families without a second thought, I appreciate that Toradora! takes the time to think about these settings and how they could realistically affect these teens.

Speaking of backstory and family units, I love that Ryuji hates his father and tolerates/pities his mother while taking care of her. You can feel the family love, but it isn’t just blindly handed out.

CHARACTERS: I love the cast of characters in Toradora! Right now you can watch the first six or so episodes on Crunchyroll, without a membership, and the whole thing if you have one. Believe me when I say, if you watch the first couple of episodes, you’ll be instantly hooked and hoping for that membership to keep on watching. The characters are so lively and charming.

Ryuji is a compulsive cleaner and dreams of becoming cuter to find a girlfriend. He is a very loyal friend and as such gets roped into helping out his friends with their odd misadventures. Through being friends with Taiga he learns to accept himself warts and all.

Taiga could be considered your typical tsundere. She prefers not to get involved with others. I suspect she rejects others before they can reject her. She’s very moe, and as such can’t cook or clean for herself, and appears to have no survival skills. She doesn’t necessarily grow more independent, but does learn what it means to be a part of a family through her interactions with Ryuji and his mom. Taiga tends to be a bit slow thinking and is always endangering her own progress with getting together with her crush.

The supporting cast is also excellent. Minorin and Kitamura aid the main two characters in growing closer in a way that comes off more as “legit” and not superficial. I also am a HUGE fan of Ryuji’s mother, Yasuko, who’s a total airhead. Ami, a transfer student who models part time, helps to create some ripples, but what I really appreciated about her was that she brings a whole new angle to the “model” or “transfer student” with her sour attitude.

I really like how the series develops Yasuko, too, and shows that even parents may not have it all together. She can be an airhead and a crybaby at times, but she’s still a strong woman who’s trying to make the best of a bad situation, and I respect her for that.

CHARACTERS: As I said above, the characters in this series are much more than your typical stereotypes. Beyond that, though, there’s also more to them than you would think based on the first couple of episodes, and the series progressively delves into their personalities as it progresses.

Though Ryuji’s a nice guy who looks tough on the outside, he also has a lot to learn about others. He’s very optimistic, which can harm others when it’s not tempered. Throughout this series, Ryuji becomes more aware of those around him and the impact his actions have on them, which is especially important in his interactions with Taiga and his mother.

Taiga, meanwhile, comes off as a basic tsundere, but she has reasons for those barriers, unlike many tsunderes out there. She’s had a lot of problems with both of her parents and feels rejected by both, so I find her defense mechanisms to be very understandable. Her frilly clothing also reflects her immaturity and the fact that she still wants a happy family, despite her current lack of one. I love the thought that went into this character; instead of Taiga being purely made to appeal to fan fetishes, it feels like the original creator thought of reasons behind the fetishes and infused Taiga with them believably. This is a great use of a common anime stereotype.

The other characters are all also too great for me to write about without making this all about them. Each of them has unique personality with believable, unique flaws, and watching them develop is a great experience. I’d like to see the kinds of adults they become, but that would ruin the ending of the series.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: I love the character designs for Toradora! They strongly fit into the “moe” label, but stop short before getting to the “blush pimple” point. I also like the angular look of the faces and asymmetry that it tends to create. The colors are sharp and bold and really energize the series. In fact, the whole show exudes energy and pizazz. Just watching the opening makes you feel revved up and excited for what the episode is going to bring.

The series has a good budget and there are few shortcuts. There are times when characters are a bit off model, but I mostly noticed stylized changes that reflected emotion more than anything. Toradora!’s animation does well to fit the setting and plot of the series and they all work in harmony to enhance the story, rather than so many series these days, which have limited plot due to animation budgets.

There are so many fun uses of animation in this series! You can tell the animators were jazzed about the sight gags and other elements they could include to help with the series’ comic aspects and tone.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: I’m pretty sure Toradora!’s started a trend in character designs for new anime series. I’ve been increasingly noticing more anime by the same staff looking similar to this show, but then the other day I saw an ad on Anime News Network for Battle Girls: Time Paradox with uncannily similar designs to Toradora!’s. I couldn’t find any overlapping staff between the series, so I’m left with the thought that people must be latching onto this design style. I enjoy the style, so I’m excited by the idea, but it’ll make Toradora! look less original than when it aired.

The people making this series clearly hoped that it would hit a bull’s eye with the otaku fanbase, as it has a good budget for animation. Heck, it even has an original Christmas song sung by two of the female seiyuu! This show cut very few corners, and it’s gorgeous to watch. Too bad NISA was unable to release it on BD over here…. *crawls over to boxes and cries*

OVERALL: If you haven’t already seen Toradora!, I’m not sure what you’re waiting for. It is one of the strongest series to come out in the last several years (oh wait, that was 2008…I’m getting old). Anyways, it’s a great spin on the typical school genre. It isn’t ground breaking, but it really brings all the goodies of the genre to the forefront without all the garbage that often comes with the genre.

As for me, I’m either going to have to ask Crystal to mail me her copy, buy it immediately, or buy a membership on Crunchyroll so I can finish re-watching the series. Six episodes are just enough to get you hooked and crying for me.

OVERALL: I have to differ with Whitney—though Toradora! has a very traditional setup, I think it breaks a lot of ground for high school anime. This series takes a hard look at the lives of its characters, allowing none of them to live perfect, untarnished lives. Furthermore, things get really messy when friends interfere and try to help out. I think this series captures the core of what it’s like to be a teenager while still managing to send the message that things can get better. It also retains comic elements and somehow still appeals to both casual and hardcore fans. This is one of the best anime made recently, and it’s worth watching for any anime fan. I think it’ll continue to have a strong influence on its genre, and I’m excited to see how things progress in the future. Maybe Toradora! will be the launching point for more thoughtful teen series, the way Evangelion led to some other great mecha series.

FINAL SCORE: (9/10) FINAL SCORE: (9/10)
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One thought on “Toradora!

  1. I agree with you that Toradora was surprisingly thoughtful and serious compared to other romantic teen anime. I had similarly hoped that it would be the launching point for other thoughtful teen anime. But five years had passes and nothing has changed -_-

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