Overall rating: 10/10
Ever since my bashing of Oreimo, Eromannga, and hell, even Tsukigakirei to a degree, people think I just straight up despise the romance and drama genres themselves.That really isn’t true, I just think those shows had awful writing. Genres just dictate what the show is about and tone it’ll take.
So yeah, Toradora, I finished it at least 15 times in the past 10 years. I just finished it again honestly.... I'm speechless. I don't even know what to say, it's just that great. I feel that the shows absolutely NAILS almost everything to a near-perfect degree and I respect that a lot. Why do I like this show so much? What makes this anime stand out from all the other high school romantic comedies?
Though admittedly, the show does a pretty good job of pointing out its own positives as far as the character dynamics and mindsets go. It’s actually pretty nicely handled: whenever a character does something or acts a certain way, there’s usually a bit of time for you yourself to figure out the reasoning behind it before Ryuji or the character themselves explain what’s going on. Still, I don’t want to necessarily just repeat what you already get from the show itself, but I can expand on some of those points and also bring up others examples of good writing in the show.
Anyways, the opening three episodes serve as the introduction, and you know what? I’d even say those three episodes serve as one of the best intros to a show I’ve ever seen. It perfectly sets up the setting, tone, characters, and even the theme of the show; which actually brings me to my first point.
Something I’ve noticed for nearly every review of the show I’ve seen, both positive and negative, is that they mention how it’s obvious that Taiga and Ryuji will end up together and how that’s a negative of varying degrees.
This is kind of weird considering that’s sort of the entire point.
It’s purposely made blatantly obvious in the first episode how the show is going to end, because the entire point of the story isn’t “Who’s going to end up with who?” but Taiga and Ryuji learning about what love really is. They both take the silliest actions concerning their crushes. Ryuji keeps a box filled with items related to Minori or things he wanted to give her as a gift and talks about moving out of the “fantasy stage” and moving onto the “action stage”, and Taiga writes a freaking love letter and just generally has no idea what she’s doing. After Ryuji discovers the love letter, Taiga even asks him if they’re something people still do.
Both of them are feeling and acting the way they think they’re supposed to when it comes to love, probably because society or media taught them that’s how it’s supposed to go. Just look at their silly plans to get the affections of their crushes: they all fail horribly. Hell, Taiga can’t even hold a conversation with Kitamura. The show is trying to portray how this just isn’t natural and that it’s not going to work out. They’re mistaking their immense adoration for love.
Though don’t take this as some massive bashing against crushes and saying they’re completely silly, because that’s not really it. Toradora knows that getting crushes is natural at that age, and that’s fine. You find out later on that Taiga and Ryuji have every reason to feel the way they do about their crushes. All the show is saying is that there’s a point where you grow out of those kinds of feelings, and look back at how silly you were back then. It’s all just a part of growing up.
As for more on why the show makes this all obvious right from the start, I’ll get to that later.
On the actual characters, let’s start with Taiga.
I’m going to start by blowing everyone’s minds and say that no, Taiga is not a tsundere. Maybe at the core definition of the word she portrays both personalities that make up one, but they aren’t for the reasons they should be in order to fit into the archetype. She acts shy and embarrassed around Kitamura due to her feelings, but she doesn’t back out of those moments with violence, she either says or does something stupid, and then it ends. And yeah, Taiga can be violent, but not due to romantic feelings. She’s just violent and antisocial because of how she grew up with her family situation.
While they don’t explicitly mention this reason in the first episode, they do imply there’s more to Taiga than meets the eye. Yeah, you’re supposed to be kind of wary about her after she socks Ryuji for almost no reason, but right after, you see her acting like a normal, if not slightly weird, girl towards Minori. The contrast with her behavior between the two scenes was to imply that there’s probably a reason behind why she acts so differently. She even reveals in the second episode that she has issues with her parents. By then it’s obvious that Taiga had some issues in the past, and whatever those are are probably the reason behind why she acts the way she does.
Ryuji is established right away as the true main character among the cast by a technique you may not have even noticed. Throughout the entire show (except for one specific moment) Ryuji is the only character we’re allowed to hear the thoughts of. Of course he also has a standard “nice guy” personality that main characters usually have, but that technique makes it more blatant.
Though other than establishing Ryuji as a nice guy that thinks about others more than himself, not much else important is shown in regards to him. Not that it’s too big of a deal, because Ryuji’s personality plays a very important part in the events of the story. Hell, it’s the reason pretty much all of the female main characters fall for him: he’s a genuinely nice guy.
Well, actually, there’s the whole thing about Ryuji disliking his deceased father because he inherited his intimidating eyes, but it’s really just used for comedic purposes and to show his relationship with his classmates build as they get over his looks. His eyes don’t have a role in any major plot line or anything.
They do serve one important purpose, though, but it’s not for Ryuji. It’s for Kitamura.
In the first episode it’s established right away that everyone is scared of Ryuji because of his eyes, but Kitamura is shown to already be good friends with him. The point is to show that Kitamura is a good judge of character, or that he can see people for who they really are.
This is actually shown in a major way at the end of the second episode. When Taiga confesses to him, he rejects her without explicitly saying so, but also predicts how the show is going to end with Taiga and Ryuji getting together by saying that he likes the way she looks when she’s around Ryuji.
Minori is the last main character to be introduced fully in the first three episodes, but she gets pretty much the entire third episode dedicated to her. Most of the information about her is blatantly obvious, but there is something important to take away from one of the final scenes.
When Ryuji and Minori are locked in the shed, Ryuji notices that her hand is shaking despite trying to act cheerful, and he does a bit of thinking about her personality. It brings up the possibility that Minori isn’t actually naturally energetic and cheerful, but rather acts that way in order to mask an inner sadness or fear, which brings up the possibility of something unfortunate having happened in the past.
Though the scene does actually have a second possible implication: that being the prospect that Ryuji’s crush may be based more on the kind of aura that Minori gives off, rather than her herself. It could be so endearing to him because it’s the kind of presence he wants to have, since he hates how intimidating he looks.
You get all of this information from just the first three episodes. Within this introduction to the show, you’ve already gotten a good grasp on the characters and probably already like them, you understand there’s more to all of the characters than just what meets the eye, you know what the main message of the show is, and you already have foreshadowing for plenty of things to come. Plus I could even say more if I wanted to. I could add how Ryuji and Taiga’s relationship dynamic is especially interesting considering how similar their mindsets are despite being so different on the surface. Ryuji looks threatening but is an incredibly nice guy, and Taiga looks small and cute but could easily punch your lights out.
The intro just manages to convey so much information in such a little amount of time without being incredibly in-your-face about it. It not only gets you invested in what’s happening, but also gets all of the core information out of the way so the rest of the show can focus on the character relationships, building on them, and having them clash occasionally.
But what’s cool is ToraDora itself even shows this separation between the intro and the main story in a pretty subtle way. At the very start of the fourth episode, there’s a shot of Ryuji at a door pulling a key out of his pocket, when suddenly it switches to a shot showing that it isn’t his house, but Taiga’s apartment.
The way the scene is portrayed shows that Ryuji is clearly comfortable having a key to her place, and that this probably isn’t the first time he’s done this. That means there’s been at least a small skip in time since the previous episode, which is typically used to show a clear separation between events. In this case, it’s to show that the introduction for the show has finished, and that it’s now time to get into story.
And in that main story, the first thing to talk about is Ami.
Now, Ami is a main character, so there’s the question of why the show decided to wait not one, but two episodes after the intro to bring her into the cast. While it’s partly because she flits between the main characters and another group of friends, the bigger reason is because she serves a very specific role due to her personality.
Due to her somewhat manipulative nature, Ami is really good at reading people’s true feelings. She’s pretty much the first one to know who has feelings towards who. She’s sort of similar to Kitamura in this way, except for the fact that Ami will occasionally try to interfere directly. It’s not quite as bad as it sounds though, since usually Ami’s reason for doing so is to get them to face those feelings instead of hide from them. She’s sort of like a well-meaning puppet master.
Though that seems to put her in some great position, it’s actually kind of tragic at the same time. Ami goes through her school life being adored, looked up to, and put on a pedestal by pretty much everyone, and while she does enjoy that, the only people she really respects are the ones that see her as just any other person. Ryuji is one of those people, and because of it, she unsurprisingly develops feelings for him. However, she’s busy making sure other people act on their own feelings. and can’t really do anything about her own. In a way, the puppet master wishes that she too could be a puppet.
She also serves to be the character that enforces the message of the show the most. It kind of fits given her personality, and the show also makes it sort of blatantly obvious. I mean, one piece of dialogue she says during summer-house story arc is, “Adoration never leads to a balanced relationship.” Basically, going out with someone you put on a pedestal is destined for some problems. If that’s not being obvious, I don’t know what is.
Given this, you might think Ami’s character is sacrificed for the sake of spouting the show’s message, but in actuality, it seems to come more from her own background than anything. As I said, Ami has experience being on the receiving end of that kind of affection since she’s a model, and she has more respect for the people who just treat her like a normal human being. It’s natural that she has the same perspective when it comes to romantic relationships, too.
Honestly, Ami is probably one of the better characters in the show. Not that I’d even say there are any bad characters in the show, they’re all good; Ami just stands above most of them. Nearly all of her scenes are done really well, especially when she’s torn between helping one of the main characters out, and her own feelings for Ryuji. Internal conflicts in characters are pretty much the best way to endear them to the audience, even more so if people can relate to whatever that conflict may be. Though even if people can’t, just having the conflict be understandable is enough.
Anyways, for her little introduction arc itself, the message behind it also ties into the overall show’s.
Ami’s immense fear and reservation in regards to her stalker is something that society and maybe people in the industry imbued into her. All she knows is that stalkers are scary, and there’s a certain way to act when dealing with them. Then enters Taiga, who, when confronting the stalker, goes into full retaliation mode and chases him off, which shows Ami that he was nobody to be cowering from.
In the same way that Ami shouldn’t have let others dictate how she was supposed to feel and act in this situation, Taiga and Ryuji shouldn’t be listening to other people’s and media’s idea of what love is supposed to be. Of course, sometimes those other sources are correct. The show isn’t really saying they’re wrong, so much as saying to just think for yourself when it comes to your own personal situations.
So, the next thing I want to talk about is the ending to the swimming contest story arc. Remember before that I said there were more reasons for the show making it obvious right from the start that Taiga and Ryuji will end up together? If you watch the ending to this arc without somehow catching on to that, Taiga’s actions and shouting make it seem like a typical, overdramatic confession scene that she later denies at the café. The audience most likely sighs that the show is backpedaling, and then continue to watch.
However, if you watch this scene with a knowing eye, it actually takes on a different meaning.
Well, not entirely. It’s still sort of an overdramatic confession scene, but you realize that the scene isn’t actually targeted towards the audience, but rather, the other characters. The characters were supposed to be the ones who thought this overdramatic scene was a love confession, and through dramatic irony, you chuckle about it because you know that while they will eventually end up that way, there was a different emotion behind this scene: namely Taiga confirming that she cares immensely about Ryuji because for the most part, they really only have each other.
Maybe the scene isn’t entirely necessary, but it serves the purpose of showing some growth from Taiga, and that’s obviously important for the show to do as it goes on. Plus, it also gives the basis for why the entire class – and more specifically, Minori – think that Taiga has a major thing for Ryuji. Given what happens later on with Minori, it kind of does make sense for an overdramatic scene like this to happen.
But, moving on, let’s talk about the cultural festival arc a bit.
Ami told Ryuji that his mindset of caring more about others than himself was going to cause trouble down the line, and this is the arc where she’s proven right. Ryuji tells Taiga to give her dad a chance because he believes she’d be happier with him in her life, and also because he tries to see the positives in people and doesn’t doubt her father at all.
When he turns out to be wrong and Taiga’s dad hightailed it out-of-town, the scene is done really well. I mean they could have just had him vanish or leave Taiga a note, but instead he goes off who knows how far and then texts Ryuji to ask him to tell Taiga that he had to leave. He didn’t even call or just send the message to Taiga herself, he told Ryuji to do it. That’s one way to emphasize how much of a scumbag someone is.
Minori also had a really nice scene at this part. When Taiga’s up on stage and Ryuji is trying to applaud her to get the focus off the fact that her father didn’t show, it shows Minori in the back helping with the applause. However, you can only see the bottom half of her face, and it’s obvious that she’s crying pretty hard. That’s an example of a crying scene I can get behind.
The scene isn’t just pointing at someone crying and saying, “OH MY LOOK HOW SAD THEY ARE YOU SHOULD PROBABLY GET SAD TOO”, it was portraying that while Minori was really hurting for Taiga, she was doing all she could to help her, powering through her sadness. It really showed how much she cares about Taiga, and was one of the very few times in the show where she isn’t exuding her usual happy-go-lucky atmosphere. It’s a scene where you’ll feel sad for the characters because of what they’re going through and how they’re trying to deal with it, rather than because it showed you some anime tears.
Moving on though, the end of the cultural festival arc marked the halfway point of the show, and the following episode was pretty much perfect for the story being where it was. While it was comedic since it dealt with the silly rumor of Taiga bringing good luck to those that made physical contact with her, it also took the time to reestablish where everyone stood as far as their general feelings and thoughts towards each other goes. Though even more importantly, due to the rumor, it had the main characters at the end wondering what they’d do or what would make them happy, which is a great way to set up for what’s essentially the second half of the show.
So, the real story arc to set off the second half of the show is Kitamura’s arc. Now, this is an arc that people generally agree isn’t handled all that well due to it coming out of nowhere and not having nearly enough investment in the characters (more the student council president than Kitamura). While I’d disagree that it came out of nowhere since it’s foreshadowed as early as the summer-house arc with Ami asking Kitamura if the reason he joined them on the trip was due to problems in the student council, I can somewhat agree with the lack of investment portion of the argument.
To be fair, I get what the show was going for. You’re not really supposed to feel all that much for the student council president, it’s primarily for Kitamura and the other main characters. However that doesn’t change the fact that I do think the scene would have been more effective if we cared more about the relationship between Kitamura and the student council president. Hell, I’m pretty sure they only say her name like, once in the show? It’s why I’m not referring to her by her name.
Though to be honest, I feel like the main character for this arc was Taiga rather than Kitamura. Sure, it was his dilemma, but it seems like Taiga’s reaction to what happens is made out to be the biggest parts of the arc. Though maybe that’s just because the arc ends with one of the best goddamn scenes ever.
The scene I’m talking about is the one where Taiga’s wallet is found to have the picture of her and Kitamura from the school festival, and Minori overhears their comment on how it means that Taiga did indeed have feelings for Kitamura. Then as Ami passes her, she murmurs, “Guilt all gone now?”.
Maybe it was just the perfectly timed music or the red, sunset-looking filter, but that scene sends chills up my spine every time I watch it. It’s just so… confrontational. It both confirms that Minori does have feelings for Ryuji, and that Ami knows about her feelings already. It’s sort of like a call to action, but also an insult, as if saying that it was silly for her to be holding her feelings back regardless of her reasons. And the expression Ami makes after she says that line to her has the possibility of meaning so many things.
The scene just gives you so much in so little time with so few words, and it’s like a point of no return. You know after that line is said that something has to happen, and you just don't know what. It just gets your mind racing, and it’s fantastic.
Anyways, the next scene to talk about is that scene. Yep, the one where Taiga realizes her feelings for Ryuji. You probably think I’m going to tear it to shreds, right?
Well you’re absolutely wrong.
This scene is another example of how to do a crying scene correctly, and is actually written perfectly given the whole message of the show. When Taiga’s on her own saying she’ll be alone again that Christmas, she doesn’t even consider Ryuji. They’re so close at this point that they kind of take each other for granted, so when Taiga tells him to run off and knows full well that Minori will return his feelings, it’s her heart that responds first. It’s like her body knew since a while ago that she actually loves Ryuji, but her mind wasn’t quite there yet. So when she notices she’s crying, that’s when she comes to realize the extent of her feelings. Then after that she just straight up breaks down, which is when she runs into the street and wails.
Again, it’s important to have a reason for the crying other than to make the audience sad, and that scene nailed it.
After that some stuff happens, the class goes on a field trip, Ami and Minori get seriously confrontational because Ami is annoyed at her hiding her feelings but Minori won’t act because she’s too worried about “betraying” Taiga, yadda yadda yadda.
Then we get to the scene where, in a daze, Taiga admits that she loves Ryuji while he’s carrying her. Now, normally I wouldn’t like something like this. I don’t like when progress or revelations in a show happen due to misunderstandings or just pure luck or whatever. However, I think it actually sort of works in Toradora. Taiga and Minori are both way too goddamn stubborn to ever act on either of their feelings, so having something like this happening forces things to actually come to a head later on. Maybe there’s some other way they could have achieved the same result without relying on coincidence, but I think it’s sufficient for what its purpose is.
After that, Ryuji sees Taiga in a new light and starts wondering if he loves her too, there’s eventually a massive confrontation and Taiga and Ryuji end up together, they then decide to elope but shortly after realize it’s childish and should share their happiness by getting their families approval, stuff happens, THE END.
Well obviously it’s more detailed and emotional than that, but there’s not really much for me to add. It was all good, but not really for any standout reason to mention.
Though something I do want to mention is that the scene where Ryuji berates Yasuko for shoving her own expectations onto him always manages to get me close to tears. I don’t even know why, considering Yasuko wasn’t developed pretty much at all, but maybe that worked in her favour. The main – and pretty much only – thing you learn about her is that everything she does, she does for Ryuji. He’s her entire life, so when he was telling her that she was just being selfish and pushing her own unfulfilled desires on him, I just felt horrible for her. The look on her face when she starts crying as if Ryuji just broke her… it’s just sad.
You know, I could go through every single episode of Toradora and analyze the crap out of it, but it doesn’t change the fact that there’s one main reason I love the show so much.
Toradora gets what love is.
We’re taught growing up – especially in the West – that love is this prince and princess kind of thing, with soul mates and how you’re bound to meet “the one”. While that can happen, in actuality, love is this big, weird, confusing, wonderful mess where anything can happen. Toradora understands that you’re just as likely to find love that’s been right next to you the entire time, and while it’s no dragon-slaying knight and princess, that doesn’t make it any less grand, strong, or beautiful.
And that, is why Toradora is the best romantic comedy of all time.