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.