Personal Growth, If Not Physical: Toradora!

Sometimes I get filled with a certain sense of dread in preparation for a new show based on the information available at the time. “This seems oddly familiar…” is the prevailing feeling. Fortunately, sometimes this is just a false alarm and I end up with something far greater than my expecations. Such is the case with the anime Toradora!

When first reading up on the anime adaptation of the light novel Toradora!, there were a number of warning signs. All we had to go by was that there was a tiny violent tsundere girl played by Kugimiya Rie, master of tiny violent tsundere girls (and also Alphonse Elric), and that it would be set in school and characters would be in love with each other. And while I still quite enjoy these types of shows, the mere fact that I said “these types of shows” implies that a certain formula has been passively agreed upon between these shows.

“Uh oh, I’ve seen this before.” This was the feeling I initially had with Toradora!, but by the end of the first episode I knew how totally wrong I was. This carries on throughout the entire series, with the end result being an incredibly satisfying show to laugh and cry over. Toradora! is different. Toradora! is ambitious. And it’s ambitious within the context of this high school romance-comedy-moe, and that makes it all the better.

Toradora! stars Takasu Ryuuji, a nice fellow with a love of household chores who has reluctantly inherited the deadly stare of his departed Yakuza father, and Aisaka Taiga, a diminuitive girl whose aggression and unsocial personality are legendary at their high school. Though the two of them do not get along, once they realize their respective love interests are best friends with the other they decide to work together to achieve mutual happiness. After the positively energetic Kushieda Minori (best friend of Taiga) and the confident and honest Kitamura Yuusaku (best friend of Ryuuji), the main cast is rounded out by Kitamura’s childhood friend, the two-faced Kawashima Ami who also works as a professional model.

Toradora! takes its name from the first names of the main characters. Taiga is a play on the English word “tiger,” for which “tora” is the Japanese equivalent, and the Ryuu in Ryuuji means “dragon,” or when written out in Japanese romaji, doragon. The tiger and the dragon are famous rivals in Japanese mythology, and if you’ve played Art of Fighting, King of Fighters, or Super Robot Wars (Alpha, OG) then the concept should be somewhat familiar to you.

The character designs are genuinely appealing, being cute and full of life without drowning in its own pool of kawaii, and the backgrounds and animation are executed with skill and grace. The voice work is top notch especially with Kugimiya as Taiga, who reaches new and exciting levels of depth with Taiga on a level of Mizuhashi Kaori playing Ogiue. In terms of presentation though, the biggest stars are, as I’ve said in the previous review, the pacing and atmosphere. It was true then, and it still holds to the very end, except where the early episodes are slow and pleasant, the later ones are passionate and dynamic. And all throughout the show remains surprisingly subtle.

There are many factors as to why Toradora! succeeds, but I feel that the real reason is that the characters actually change. The Taiga you see in episode 1 is not the exact same Taiga you see by episode 13 or by episode 25. All of the characters influence each other, and the result is that you get to see some genuine growth by all of the characters as they deal with the ups and downs of young love.

If you want to know what the difference is between cash-in instant cup moe and honestly good, moving moe, the answers are growth and change. You care for the characters not because you want to see them preserved forever in a glass dome, but because you want to see them fight on, succeed, win in their own little personal battles.

Toradora! is joy. Toradora! is wonder. It’s also heartache and maturation and learning to accept one’s feelings even if there are consequences. So yes, it’s a romantic comedy anime, but if you do not like this sort of thing, scratch that, especially if you do not like this sort of thing, I still advise you to take a look.

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6 thoughts on “Personal Growth, If Not Physical: Toradora!

  1. Well, it’s not April 1st, so I’m going to assume you’re joking.

    And I completely disagree with you. Toradora was, on every level, a major disappointment. Everything from the characters, to the plot, to even the “moe.” How so? Let me explain.

    In the beginning, I was excited for Toradora because it had a some-what different concept than most romantic comedy anime: Two people trying to help each other out get with the person of their dreams. So instead of meaningless inner-dialogue, they are open about their feelings, and are working towards a real goal. Fantastic.

    However, I began to worry when the character Ami came along, and we got our first glimpse of how the writers (or author, if it’s true to the light novels,) just do not understand characterization.

    Ami, as you know, was a stuck up, two faced model character that buttered up to everyone for her own personal enjoyment. That was what he entire first episode was about, with the climax being that she kicks the hell out of that paparazzi. At the end of that episode, we see Ami being more normal and open and overall, a great addition to the show.

    The next episode, she’s back to her old ways as if nothing happened. Granted, she becomes more friendly as the episodes go on, but I feel the damage was done.

    Another example of bad characterization, and a much bigger flaw than Ami, was Minorin, jokingly called Emorin by some fan communities. In the beginning, she was a great, fun, jolly character, with Cho Moruzeee and a bunch of energy. By the end of the first season, and there after, however, she was this emo, self hating, cry more emo kid. And it came from COMPLETELY left field. And for what? What was to be gained by taking this character, a great, fun loving character, and reducing her to NOTHING all to cause some drama?

    The plot was, for the idea of it, fantastic. However, in execution, it was a complete mess. The entire second season was nothing but annoying new characters and a bunch of unnecessary drama, with another characterization flip: Taiga.

    Taiga was a little bitch in the early episodes, and then, when the christmas party arc came, she completely changed, and kept that way there after. Sure, it’s “BECAUSE IT’S CHRISTMAS,” but that just didn’t feel right. And then, when she was consistently “alright,” it left me perplexed for, there was NOTHING that happened to her that would have encouraged such a change.

    Regarding pacing, the show had terrible pacing, again most notoriously in it’s second season. All they did was mope around and talk about what the others were moping around about. It was a big fat waste of time, really, because everything was “resolved” by the end of the episode, only to spark more moping.

    In conclusion, I feel that Toradora is, on all levels, a literary and script writing disaster.

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  2. I think we have a fundamental disagreement on what we consider to be “good” pacing. For me, while I like shows in which events occur one after the other and there’s a very visible buildup, I also particularly like shows where the “buildup” is practically invisible that you almost believe that many of the episodes were fillers or wasterful when in fact they weren’t. This is what you refer to as “moping” when in fact it helped to build up the characters and lead them on their paths. It’s not like they accomplished nothing or were paralyzed. They acted on their feelings (or tried to act against them), and things happened.

    Ami’s character, I don’t know how you’d possibly believe that after an episode where she’s nicer that she would immediately begin some sort of permanent character change and would suddenly be a nicer person by the next episode. Maybe it’s you who doesn’t understand that people don’t change that quickly or easily. Ami’s shift I think is particularly good, possibly better than the others, because she never completely dials back her mean streak, only instead deciding to put it to good use.

    As for Minorin, call her “Emorin” all you want but I believe this to be far more of a flaw in her supposed fans than anything in Minorin herself. It’s not like they didn’t drop hints that she was not 100% max cheerful all the time from way early on. If you want a character who’s just fun and energetic and has not much else to her otherwise, that’s one thing, but Toradora from the start was showing that every character had another side to them. This feels awfully similar to the people who complained that Simon in Gurren-Lagann got too “emo,” when it was an important step in their character development. The only thing I may have found a little off is that Minorin’s voice actor was not as good in the dramatic or emotional scenes as she was playing a ball of boundless joy. To say her more emotioal moments came from “left field” is I think a flawed argument at best, because there was a lot about Minorin being afraid to look at herself too closely for fear that it would cause problems, and it’s simply that she was unable to keep doing that.

    Taiga’s change wasn’t sudden, though it was pronounced during the Christmas part I’ll give you that. But you refer to how she was a bitch in the early episodes, and nice in the much later ones, what about all of those episodes in between? Did you not notice Ryuuji’s influence upon her? To say AGAIN that stuff came out of nowhere, I’m not sure what show you were watching anymore.

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