Takasu Ryuji is an unnaturally domestic guy with unnaturally intimidating eyes, courtesy of his father, who really was a street man and probably liked it. Ryuji, on the other hand, could have done without everyone who first meets him assuming he’s after their wallet. On the first day of high school, two things go right, and one thing goes…weird. The two things that go right is that his best friend and his long standing though as yet un-confessed-to crush are in his class. The thing that goes weird is that, somehow, he becomes inextricably entangled in the affairs of one Aisaka Taiga, otherwise known as the Palmtop Tiger for being roughly four foot five and fierce enough for eight. She’s got a crush on said best friend, which he accidentally finds out about, which ordinarily would mean death. A ceasefire is achieved via compromise: he will help her to get his friends attention and affection, and she will help him with his crush, who happens to be her best friend. At first this is a relationship founded on mutual benefit, no more. In time, concern for each other’s welfare becomes more personal. And then things really get complicated…
Majima Jimji as Takasu Ryuji
Kugimiya Rie as Aisaka Taiga
Kitamura Eri as Kawashima Ami
Nojima Hirofumi as Kitamura Yusaku
Horie Yui as Kushieda Minori
School, Drama, Romance, Comedy
Once upon a time, a family was on a trip to a city. The city was in the middle of some rather dangerous wilderness, but like any real city in the twenty first century it had a perfectly serviceable road leading straight to it, so this really didn’t matter unless you liked hardcore camping. This family, driving along in their family sized car, reached the place where the wilderness began around the road – and then proceeded to drive straight off the road and initiate a harrowing trial of survival, adventure, and solidarity to reach the city. They survived, emerging intact and even, impossibly, with the car. And of course they had all kinds of incredible stories to tell but sooner or later, everyone who listened had the same question: why didn’t you just stay on the road? And the family had no answer. And after that, everything that had happened to them just seemed…stupid. End of parable.
This, I am sorry to say, more or less captures the essence of the drama in Toradora. The ingredients are excellent: characters, interactions, needs, and some scenes that are simply indescribable…but when it was climax time? The characters would just hare off down the road of difficulty and tragic sacrifice without ever explaining why they couldn’t have simply, to make further use of my analogy, stayed on the road. Oh, they did try to justify it occasionally, but the explanations made no sense (the class president’s speech about why she ‘can’t become an idiot’ was so much teary babble, literally nonsense). In the end, Toradora’s high points in plot are about people taking the hard road apparently for the hell of it. And there is just nothing sympathetic about that. Because Toradora contains scenes so potent no fan of romance should miss them, and there are large tracts of airtime that are simply fun, I give it a three instead of a two. It does manage to justify the time spent. But the plot, unfortunately, lacks those critical ‘road out ahead’ signs that would have given it validity.
First, the characters. Like always. We start with Ryuji, the most genuinely likeable male lead for this genre I’ve seen since Kanon. The characters were never the problem in Toradora, let me tell you. He’s utterly domesticated, but he’s not meek. He’s kind in an extremely natural way I approved of deeply, rather than that artificial ‘I’m too much of a wuss to be mean’ style the romance, harem, and high school genres are so cursed with (don’t even get me started on the syrupy bishounen style kindness, that’s even worse). He’s the sort that finds the most satisfaction in simple accomplishment and being needed, in a real, solid, everyday way – and boy does that adorable basketcase of nerves and violence named Taiga need the balance. She never gets any taller throughout the series: her head doesn’t get far past Ryuji’s waist. And if you step wrong, she’ll go straight for said waist – above the belt, not below, a fact worth noting. She also gets rapidly less violent with people she’s actually friendly with. The combination goes a long way towards removing her from her lesser counterparts. Tiny, strong, and easily flustered, she’s the tsundere poster child, but she is pulled off with great verve and freshness and is an on screen delight whether she’s being comical or serious. Next would be Minorin, I suppose. With short red hair and limitless energy, she’s the Miss Bonzai who is always screaming, cheering, or running. Like Taiga, she’s a stereotype done right: it is used not as the bio entire, but the base from which various quirks and an eventual true individual is grown. The way we are shown her strange hyperactivity covering or expressing various very personal emotions sets her worlds away from her counterparts, and her randomness is genuinely amusing. She’s also the one Ryuji likes and Taiga is friends with. Moving along, we get to Yusaku, the friend of Ryuji and crush of Taiga, who at first glance appears to be the ‘high school nice guy’ that Ryuji isn’t, complete with high popularity. With girls. Is it a cultural thing that in Japan, nice smart guys like that are popular, but in America, it’s all about who’s on the football team or something? Well in any case, if he were really that flat he wouldn’t be in Toradora: he’s got a wacky sense of humor and drama that lets him periodically rap right along with Minorin, and the very genuine drive that makes him an ideal Class President and school council member is also all his own. I’ve saved the most difficult for last: ‘Ami-chan’, the model. I’m not sure just how to handle this…the fact of the matter is that I quickly developed a deeply rooted hatred of Ami that never died throughout the series. Since this is neither the intended impression nor the popular one, I think it would be best that I do not attempt to describe her at all. Of the main supporting characters, she is the least prominent anyway. Thank G-d.
Plot time. Toradora is composed of three major arcs, if you count the first set that introduces and goes through various shorter scenarios an arc, in that it is a section geared towards one ‘stage’ of the set-up. In the first episode, the premise and characters are established. Taiga accidentally puts her love letter to Kitamura Yusaku in Ryuji’s bag. She visits him in the night with a wooden katana to shut him up – yes, it’s just as over the top as it sounds. Over the course of the visit their shared love tangle is revealed, and they agree to work together on this. Of course, as a tsundere, Taiga insists on more servile terms for him at first. After that we have about three or so one shots, during which we become familiar with the nature and dynamics of the characters, where they are, and a decent amount of backstory and less visible layers are brought out. We also have more clean-hearted untainted fun than we ever do again. Ami-chan’s entrance provoked a bit of an upset, and a new set of two or three episodes are required to settle her in. The final episodes of this stage of the storytelling take place in Ami-chan’s vacation home on a beach. She just wanted Ryuji there, but Taiga isn’t easy to get rid of, and then the rest of the gang sort of snuck in via the resulting loopholes. Throughout these times, the details and immediacy of Taiga and Ryuji’s feelings for their crushes are nicely fleshed out. However, even now, the signs of the series eventual Achilles Heel – unregulated drama – show, as several scenes get carried away and get well ahead of themselves in ways that really made me wonder at the time. But it’s nothing that will slow you down much yet. After that, interestingly enough, our focus is Ryuji’s friend, Yusaku, as he goes through an emotional crisis. It was all very good and enjoyable until we started learning details, and it slowly dawns on you that he is seriously over-reacting, and that the whole thing could have been solved quite simply, and that everyone is either making mountains out of molehills or making mountain out of sheer perversity. You can explain why it would make sense for them to do what they do as the other shoe drops all you like (though to be frank, I’d love to hear you try), but if to the watcher it’s still obvious they are just driving off a good road, it still doesn’t work. It really isn’t possible to really explain without spoilers. Let’s just say that even though it is supposed to be a tragedy, to me it stank strongly of farce. In any case, this arc is concluded with much ado, mostly incomprehensible but all very intense and tearful, and now we’re into the final arc. Like the previous one, this started well, and began to deteriorate as it tried to get to the meat of it. We start being regaled with introspection that seems made up on the spot, intense character reactions that seem entirely out of left field, and basically everyone gets more and more irrational, all the while clearly being very serious, albeit for no reason the watcher can comprehend. There’s a little bit in the middle that was good, mostly because it bore no direct connection to events before or after. The rest of the time, you’re basically twiddling your thumbs waiting for everyone to come back to their senses and take the perfectly normal and happy route that was right there the whole time. Except they still don’t, and every fact we know from earlier in the series that has a bearing on the situation suggests there is no good reason for this whatsoever. And so we end, handed a lot of tragic wailing for no reason and a ‘do your best’ resolution when there was nothing to fight against or do your best about in the first place, and you’re still not sure why they’re bothering. The only good part was the last thirty seconds or so, which alleviated some of the fabricated bittersweet flavor, but really didn’t make up for any of it.
And there we have it. Toradora: a bundle of potential train-wrecked by incomprehensible plot twists. By rights this should be a two, or even a one…and yet…I just can’t do it. There are so many fun bits, quite a few good serious moments despite all, and one scene that was simply indescribable. In end, I just can’t give this series a failing grade. Lower than three means it wasn’t worth the time taken to watch, and there are parts of this series I can’t regret getting to. So, a three it is. But make your call carefully.
Final Rating: 3/5
This review was brought to you by Z.N. Singer
Information such as cast and airtime are taken from the ANN encyclopedia. Everything else is and always will be the creation of the author.
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