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Friday, March 9, 2018

Anime Hajime Review: Toradora

***Warning, the following may contain spoilers for Toradora. Reader discretion is advised.***

Series Synopsis

You can never tell what kind of life a person has lived based on looks alone. Ryuji Takasu (voiced by Junji Majima) understands this better than most. Thanks to his rough, delinquent like appearance, most run at the site of him. Ryuji often never gets the chance to let people see the real him.

As luck would have it, he got such a chance in the form of a fiery, albeit small, package.

Ryuji glimpses something he was never meant to see. He catches the aggressive Taiga Aisaka (voiced by Rie Kugimiya) leaving behind a love letter. Dubbed the Palmtop Tiger, Taiga is famous for her violent personality.

Although Ryuji has no intention of revealing her secret, Taiga can’t trust any of his promises. It doesn’t help Ryuji's case that Taiga’s crush is his best friend Yusaku Kitamura (voiced by Hirofumi Nojima). Thus, he decides to level the playing field. Ryuji tells Taiga that he himself has a crush on her best friend Minori Kushieda (voiced by Yui Horie).

With the two now in the same boat, they strike a deal. They will help each other through their love struggles. From that day on, Ryuji and Taiga become the most recognizable duo in their area. They are so often together, it’s almost as if they are a couple themselves.

Series Positives

It wasn’t until after re-watching this series did I realized something. Of the entries for this Pre-Blog Month, Toradora is the oldest anime in my viewing history. What makes this important is where that puts the show in that history.

I have not been watching anime my entire life. As a kid, there were certain series I enjoyed. They were your typical standards. These, of course, being Pokemon and Dragon Ball Z. When I was a little older, I got into shows like Inuyasha. This was also around the time I tried to watch the first Fullmetal Alchemist series. Brotherhood was still a few years away from airing. After a long hiatus, I came across Detective Conan. I also thought it was a good idea to finally give something like Death Note a look.

There were other anime here and there, but I wouldn’t say I was a huge fan. Or at least, it wasn’t like it is now. I enjoyed what I watched. Except my choices were, I guess you would say, safe.

Then I found a certain show. This was a fateful encounter as it changed everything. This was the first series that didn't have some nostalgic value to me. What it started was all this. Reviewing would come much later, yet this is the point I consider as my entry to this medium.

That show was, of all things, Lucky Star.

Did you think I was going to say that? If you did, brownie points for you.

It was Lucky Star that paved the way for what would become LofZOdyssey. I remember enjoying the slice-of-life aspect of the series. Afterward, I wanted to find another show which had similar elements. This was when I heard of Toradora.

Granted, I believe Tokyo Mew Mew, don’t judge, came before. That’s beside the point.

What I’m getting at, Toradora is from my earliest days. Also, this could have been my first romance-centric anime. This was one of the shows that brought me into this world. The rest, as you can see, is history.

This was a long time ago. I have seen a lot between then and now. Coming back to Toradora, yes, there were things I had forgotten. Despite that, this series has held up rather well in my memory. Much better than a lot of others I can name. There were several aspects to this show I had managed to remember. A major one being, me liking this series.

This goes back to a period before LofZOdyssey wasn’t even a thought. Me saying, “I liked this series” has a different connotation from the other times I’ve said something along these lines. My thoughts concerning anime have since become more critical.

Giving Toradora another go meant risking my positive outlook on it. While that is true for every show this month, this would be different. I have never reviewed a series such as this, like this before.

Readers who have been paying close attention will note Death Note was a much earlier watch for me. And I reviewed that last year. That’s undeniable, but we need to be real for a second. It was going to be difficult for me to reconsider my already high opinion of such a show.

A disappointing return to Toradora could have happened. It was a possibility. The worst kind and one that didn’t come to pass. Instead, I got the opposite.

At the low end, you could say this second viewing rejuvenated my enjoyment of this series. On the high end, I like it even more now. If this was my first romance anime, this started so much. This show laid the foundation for LofZOdyssey the viewer and LofZOdyssey the reviewer.

I won’t lie, since watching Toradora, I have seen stronger love series. That notwithstanding, this show has reclaimed a spot high up on my “Best Romance Anime” list.

To speak without the backstory, Toradora was great. There are a lot of things to like about it. Something I’m thankful for, this show warranted being twenty-five episodes long. This extra time was an advantage the series ran with. This was at the source of everything that went right.

It was a long time coming, but I couldn’t be happier I gave Toradora one more look.

The Supporting Cast

Judging Toradora on paper, this show didn’t have a small cast. There were quite a few people in this series. But there were only five characters worth caring anything about.

To be fair though, Ryuji’s mother, Yasuko (voiced by Sayaka Ohara) was fine. She was perfect in her role in this story. There are some things I could say about her. Although none of those things are bad. Yet, if our main five were top-tier, Yasuko would be right below them.

Even as that stands, among these five there was a distinct gap between them. To hint at things to come, I will talk more about Ryuji and Taiga in the next segment. For this one, I want to focus on the three critical support characters. What they provided for this story I cannot emphasize enough. If they were any less than they were, this whole series would have been very different. Would it have been awful? I doubt it. Except things would have been nowhere near as interesting.

Rather than passive passengers, this trio was active in moving the narrative along. They were crucial elements as to why this show was so fun. As well as funny. Thanks in large part to them, there was some solid comedy here. Toradora’s brand of humor was a byproduct of its character’s personalities. As an extra leg up, there were also plenty of physical and situational jokes. This group was a pleasure to have around.

They were indispensable when this series had its more serious moments. This show had several instances of gripping drama. These dramatic elements didn’t involve throwing people into difficult circumstances hoping for the best. This show had its characters react in ways that made sense for them. This came off as more natural.

It’s nice when a series can do this with one person. Then when a show comes along and does the same with several people, that’s special.

The first of these three was Yusaku. Of the cast, he was the most stable. Please take that comment with a grain of salt.

Yusaku was in a unique position. There wasn’t anything, and this will sound wrong, connecting him to his friends. For those who have seen this show and think I’ve lost my mind, let me explain.

There were a lot of romantic feelings going on in this group. One of the most influential was Taiga’s feelings towards Yusaku. So then how can I say he wasn’t connected? I can do as such because Yusaku didn't see any of the other four in that kind of way. He had his own issues, but his friends weren’t at the source of them.

While he may have had a past connection with Taiga, Yusaku was the closest thing this series had to a third-party. He could observe and give advice without the cumbersome baggage the rest of his group had. He was the most neutral element of Toradora.

Another aspect of Yusaku actually did come from his past connection with Taiga. He was, for a while anyway, the only one to have gotten over being rejected. This made one thing he did in this show that much stranger, but we will get to that.

If I had to pick my favorite Yusaku moment, that’s easier said than done. His main role was to support. His more important scenes he shared with others and he wasn’t the cause of them. Plus, his most memorable instance, I have a ton of problems with. Except, again, we will get to that.

Yusaku wasn’t as volatile as his friends, nor did he need to be. He was more than fine as the person others went to when they needed help. He was never a burden or unwanted. As a consequence, this did make him the least interesting of the supporting trio. Too bad someone had to be.

The second of these three was Ami Kawashima (voiced by Eri Kitamura). If you can believe it, her most enduring trait was her nasty personality. This gave her one of the best character arcs of this series. Due to this, it was hard to not like her.

Toradora was clever with how it introduced Ami. When we met her for the first time, she was at her absolute worst. Sure, she went on to say much meaner things later in the story. Except when she did this, she was trying to make a point. This didn’t excuse her actions because they were still very uncalled for. But there was a reason to what she did. Not her opening scene though. No, she was just a brat.

This show needed to make it clear how much of a handful Ami could be. That wouldn’t have been hard to accomplish. Too bad Ami would be a main player in this story. Therefore, she couldn’t be insufferable. Doing both things is not easy. Yet this series found a way to pull it off.

Our main group was aware of Ami’s true personality from the get-go. Thus, everyone could react whenever she started to get out of hand. In addition to that, Taiga toned her down the instant they met.

From that point, Ami and Taiga’s relationship became a highlight of this series. These two had similar personalities. Personalities that caused them to butt heads at the drop of a hat. These girls were vial to each other and never had nice things to say. As they were being rivals though, they were learning more about one another. As this story went on, every now and then they had to work together. It wasn’t out of character when they made for a good team.

Then there was something else about Toradora I know I didn’t appreciate the first time I watched it.

Many characters kept praising Ami for how adult she behaved. Even some of the people who knew what kind of person she was, admired how mature she acted. This series said this so often, it was almost enough to forget something important. It was all an act.

There were several instances that went past what others were projecting. Ami wasn’t a know-it-all. She was as unsure and confused about her own feelings as her friends were about theirs. Her being blunt wasn’t a sign of confidence. She was the kind of person who would push back when someone challenged her. Whether she was right or wrong was of no consequence. Things happened to play out the way she said. Anyone would look better if they found vindication after the fact.

I have seen plenty of shows that have made this misconception of Ami someone’s key trait. This has worked and not worked to varying degrees. Except it was this doubt that made Ami a much more interesting character.

As for my favorite Ami moment, that’s a no-brainer. This came when she confronted the lowlife who had been stalking her.

For the record, what Ami did was beyond dangerous. Please do not do this. Should you ever find yourself in this situation, do not confront such a person in this manner. That said, this guy was a massive bitch. It was beyond satisfying to see this dingus piss himself as Ami put the fear of God into him.

Though this was cool, it shouldn’t overshadow what happened prior. Ami had to rely on Ryuji and Taiga to help deal with this problem. Once she knew there were people willing to be there for her as her true self, we never again saw the spoiled brat.

The third of these three was Minori. I must be careful here. Personality wise, I hold a higher opinion of Ami. But as a character, Minori was the stronger. There were flaws with who she was. And it was those flaws that made her so fascinating.

Like it was with Ami, Toradora did a fantastic job of establishing who Minori was. Yet where this show struck fast with the former, with the latter it waited. When the right moment arrived, it was hard to look at that cheerful smile the same way.

Did this make Minori a bad person? Not in the slightest. Never once did she come close to doing something that would have made me hate her. This series set her up to be an actual person. One whose role was like Ami’s.

Minori had her own idea of what the right path was. As with Ami, she didn’t know the correct answer. The two’s actions came from their own selfishness. The difference was, Minori’s choices ended up not working out. Thus, putting her in the wrong.

There were a couple of great scenes where Minori and Ami’s viewpoints came to a head. Both believed they were the one doing the right thing. Since their emotions where on edge, these clashes didn’t turn out so well.

To give her some slack, Minori had to deal with relationships with both Ryuji and Taiga. No matter how self-serving her intentions were, they were understandable.

Minori loved Taiga and vice versa. The two girls were close. They were each other’s biggest support and their largest source of conflict. Each was willing to lie to protect themselves and one another. Too bad this only made the situation more frustrating.

For my favorite Minori moment, this is also a little difficult. Yet unlike Yusaku who didn’t have many scenes to choose from, Minori has quite a few. But the one that sticks out the most was during the school Cultural Festival. This was a high point for Ryuji too. Taiga was at her lowest. At no other point in this series did she need someone to be there for her as much as she needed someone here. Minori and Ryuji stepped up their game and proved how important Taiga was to them.

These three characters, Yusaku, Ami, and Minori did so much for Toradora. They were a big part of why this series was fun and lighthearted. It was a huge shame that time caused me to forget who they were. This trio helped shaped a story that knew where it wanted to go. They were not wasted.

As this show explored who these three were, their narrative value increased. There was more to them than a goofy disposition. Or a self-centered worldview. Or an energetic personality. They each had their own problems eating away at them. They weren’t one note or flat. Physical traits weren’t their most distinguishable feature. When the mood was silly, they could be silly. When the tone was happy, they could be happy. When everything went serious, they could be serious. That latter point is important because it was a drastic shift in what this series had been doing.

There was a scene near the end of this show that was rather intense. This was worlds apart from the jokey-joke nature of the beginning. While these were two opposite atmospheres, they were both Toradora. They were part of the same story since the narrative made the effort to set them up. This series didn’t throw in a dramatic moment because it could. There was no reliance on the inherent power of a given circumstance. There was a lot more thought and patience here.

Imagine you bought yourself a box of premium fireworks. You set aside a day to light them off. You planned for a big party, it was going to be great, you were set to make this work. When the day arrived, everything was going as smooth as you hoped things would. But you in your mind you knew the best was coming. Those fireworks were going to be the cap to end the festivities.

Except you were the one most excited to get to them. That excitement overwhelmed you and you decided it was time to light things up.

Wouldn’t you know it, those fireworks were impressive. In your mind anyway. Your guests got a decent kick out of them, even if they felt things were underwhelming. No one understood why you lit the fireworks off when you did. I mean, the Sun was still out, why didn’t you wait? Nighttime was coming, there was no need to rush. Everything was going fine. Why would you waste what you had? By being impatient, you took away something that could have been powerful.

The "you" in this scenario is Kore wa Zombie Desu ka by the way. Seeing Toradora take its time drove home how much more Zombie could have been.

This wasn’t the most important thing Yusaku, Ami, and Minori did for this series. That distinction goes to the support they gave to this show’s two main characters.

Ryuji and Taiga

I have a confession to make. A few weeks prior to this review, I listed my Top Ten Couples in Anime. I made a deliberate choice to exclude Ryuji and Taiga. They were in consideration. But I ran into a problem I couldn’t find a solution to. I didn’t know where I should have put them with any confidence.

I had planned for Toradora to be a part of 2018’s Pre-Blog Month a while ago. So, I knew I was going to get a refresher on who these two were. Does that mean I should have held off posting that Top Ten list? In the long run, that might have been the better choice. But it was around Valentine’s Day and there is no more appropriate time to have such a list.

That didn’t stop me from saying Toradora is one of my Top Romance Anime though. Seeing what place I did give this series, I realize I was wrong. And with the Top Couples, Ryuji and Taiga’s inclusion would have had a significant impact.

Where this show and this pair fall on their respective lists, I will save that answer for future updates to both. Updates I do want to do someday.

What I should have done has no bearing on what Toradora did. Ryuji and Taiga’s story is memorable because of how unique it was. Saying “unique” is setting me up to look foolish. I am having trouble coming up with another series that did something similar. If after this segment you think of another couple like them, please tell me. If there is another show out there like this one, I would love to watch it.

Before getting into what made these two a strong pair, we need to discuss why they were good characters.

Part of me doesn’t want to admit this, especially since this was one cause of something I didn’t like about this show. Nevertheless, the character design of Ryuji was super effective in this area. The perma-scowl on his face made him look intimidating. But this enhanced his actual caring and friendly personality.

It’s not as if Ryuji had to work extra hard to overcome his looks. He simply did the things that came naturally to him. One of those main instincts being his desire to be there for the people he cared about. This extended beyond Taiga.

One of Ryuji’s best moments was between him and Minori. Knowing where this came in the story, you could argue he made things more complicated. But what he did wasn’t wrong. Had he not acted, it would have been way too out of character for him.

In the scene, Minori did something that devastated her. Although it was a complete accident, she broke something important to Taiga.

Despite Minori’s desire to fix what she did on her own, Ryuji ignores her protests and helped. Ryuji saw one of his friends, not to mention the person he had a crush on, in trouble.

Earlier in the show, it was Ami who best describe Ryuji. She told him, he was sometimes too kind. That, right there, nails down his character. His kindness was his biggest weakness. He had to learn there was not enough of him to support everyone. Him trying to do that meant he was ignoring what was going on with his own feelings.

This led him to misunderstand something. Important relationships do not go away, but they can evolve. When you try to force a square peg into a round hole, something is going to break. It doesn’t matter how much you want it to fit.

Moving on to Taiga, she was even more complex than Ryuji.

Last year, we covered one of anime’s quintessential yanderes with Mirai Nikki’s, Yuno Gasai. This year we get to talk about one of anime’s quintessential tsunderes. Taiga is the embodiment of this character type. She was cold and standoffish at first, but over time, she opened up and became more affectionate. That is not why I liked her.

Taiga was great because this story gave a reason for her violent personality. On multiple occasions, you could see where she was coming from. For her entire life, she was never in a healthy, supportive environment. Although she was very beautiful, her situation wasn’t the opposite of Ryuji’s. Taiga was intimidating and could look the part too.

Yet when she had the chance to fall into her comfort zone, another side of her personality came out. Taiga was a huge klutz. She had a tendency to make simple mistakes. She ran into Ryuji because she accidentally put her love letter for Yusaku in Ryuji’s bag. Due to her aggressive nature, she freaked out. Except there was nothing for her to worry about because she also forgot to put the letter in the envelope.

There were so many outstanding moments with Taiga. One of my absolute favorites though is one I can’t talk about. I do not want to ruin this for you if you haven’t seen this show. But I also don’t want you to miss it. I urge you to watch the final end credits of this series. It was the perfect way to finish this story.

I have held this off for long enough. If we are going to talk about Toradora we must talk about Ryuji and Taiga and why their relationship was so special.

I’m trying to think of another series where two characters fell in love with each other like Ryuji and Taiga did. Even among my top anime couples, none of them had the same kind of journey that this pair had. When they met, there was zero romantic interest between them.

I can come up with several couples who started from nothing and over time grew closer. But that “over time” part is what I’m trying to get at. When other pairs did this, their respective series focused on them coming together. By the end of their story, they had bridged the gap. Toradora had one critical difference.

For a large chunk of this show, Ryuji and Taiga coming together wasn’t the goal. They were active partners in trying to set the other up. Taiga would attempt to get Ryuji with Minori. Ryuji would help Taiga with Yusaku.

For much of Toradora, Ryuji and Taiga were nothing more than close friends. So much so in fact, this story could have gone that way. Would it have made this series any better? Different, sure, but I won’t say better. The point is, the possibility wasn’t dead.

Ryuji and Taiga were inseparable. You can’t blame anyone for thinking they were already a thing. Toradora knew these two were the best it had to work with. Is it any wonder this story would use them to their fullest?

I have no way of proving what I am about to bring up, but I have a suspicion. A suspicion I am basing off my own experience with this series. There is one part of this show that everyone is remembering. And they are remembering this for good reason. It is the best moment of Toradora. It was that way because it sat on top a foundation of other fantastic moments.

There wasn’t a single bad scene with Ryuji and Taiga. Even when they weren’t together, it was hard to think the other wasn’t there. This show did a great job at making everything these two did be meaningful. Thus, I don’t want these instances to go underappreciated.

I have no intention of going into detail about these following scenes. They all accomplished the same thing. They brought Ryuji and Taiga together.

In no particular order:

-Taiga telling off her entire class when they were judging Ryuji based on his looks.
-Ryuji overhearing Taiga’s confession to Yusaku.
-Ryuji getting Taiga ready for swim class.
-Taiga helping Ryuji the day of her race with Ami.
-Ryuji and Taiga getting scared at the beach house.
-The two working together on Valentine’s Day.
-Them getting ready for a party at their school.

As you can see, the list goes on. But there is one scene I want to make sure I call attention to. This was when Taiga got a visit from “Santa Claus”. Ryuji and Taiga were well on their way to becoming a couple when this moment came up. If you still weren't sure this was where this story was going, what happened here killed whatever doubt remained.

For other shows, this scene would have been the shining crown jewel. For this one though, it was only an appetizer.

Episode 25: Toradora

I was looking forward to this. Of the things I had forgotten about this show, this was something I never could. This was the reason why I put Toradora on my Top Romance list. This is the part of this story I suspect most people are remembering. This is why I wanted to give credit to those other notable scenes. Everything that came before can’t compare.

The final episode, aptly named Toradora, was fantastic.

This was the perfect, most satisfying way to end this series. I can’t come up with a single thing it did wrong.

Since you best believe I’m not going to spoil what happened, I want to talk about something else. Although I now say this ending was satisfying, I once didn’t realize this.

When I first watched this series, I wanted there to be more. Past me thought this story should have kept going. I believed things had not gone far enough. I want to slap this younger version of myself for not appreciating how outstanding this was.

The last episode of Toradora gave so much more than most. It simply wasn't as loud about it. This conclusion was done in a way only this series could have pulled off.

Every so often, I hear people talking about Toradora getting a continuation. I put no stock into this kind of nonsense. At the time of this review, I have seen no announcements of a possible season two.

If one ever did come, yes, I would want to watch it. I may have been happy with this ending, but curiosity is a strong driver. However, if the decision were up to me, I would never support green lighting Toradora 2.

Some stories don’t need to go on. Especially when that story did all that it needed to. This is one of those cases.

Series Negatives

Yes, there were things I didn’t like about this show. There weren’t a lot of things, but problems did exist. This is one of those series where issues stood out more because there were so many things done right.

One aspect about Toradora I couldn’t get into was the main five’s classmates. At best, I didn’t care about them or anything they did. At worst, some of them got a bit annoying.

This series kind of shot itself in the foot. It made the majority of the class, if not the whole, look like a bunch of cowards. This had everything to do with Ryuji’s appearance frightening everyone.

Although this helped Taiga and the other main three because they saw Ryuji as their friend, that came at a price. That price being sacrificing the rest. I’m not saying this was an outrageous cost, but you do feel the effects.

After Taiga straightened this group out, they never became awful. Except they never recovered either.

This was particularly true with the class' homeroom teacher, Yuri Koigakubo (voiced by Rie Tanaka). I find it hard to respect an instructor who cowers in fear at one of her students based on looks alone.

On occasion, Toradora used this class to engage in overused and unwelcomed story tropes. For example, the boys wanted to band together to get the girls in cute outfits during the Cultural Festival. Though both Ryuji and Yusaku added their two cents, they weren’t the ones who brought this up. This series had no reason to go after such low hanging fruit.

Later on in the story, some of these characters tried to play more of a role. I didn’t know these people had names. There was no way I was going to invest any interest in them. Also, it didn’t help that the main five were doing something far more interesting at the same time.

Please keep in mind, this aspect of Toradora was never distracting. It was something that existed, but it was never the focus. It took no effort to ignore any of this.

The same is not true for the next issue.

Yusaku’s Rebellion

Like it was with the last episode, this was another part of Toradora I haven’t forgotten. Except I remembered this for all the wrong reasons. For everything the show did well, this was not one of them.

There was a stretch of two episodes where Yusaku had a bit of a meltdown. The idea behind this was not bad. It could have worked. It could have even worked for the reasons the story gave. The problem was the poor implementation.

Right before this happened, the series tried shoehorning in some foreshadowing. Blink and you will miss it. I only noticed it because I knew what was coming. I was looking for an explanation.

Rushing the narrative was something Toradora had not done before and it didn’t do it after. I don’t know why it did it here.

This makes me wonder what it would have been like had there been zero foreshadowing. What if this did come out of left field? I’m confident the story would have made this work. This show was good at commenting on obvious loopholes.

Had Yusaku appeared one day ready to give up everything, we would have been as confused as the characters.

Yet whether Toradora telegraphed what it was going to do or not, it didn’t matter. The resolution to this story arc did not sit well.

The main character of focus for this segment didn’t have much of a presence. They were in a few scenes. But nothing about them made them come off as important. What the series did succeed in doing was giving us an idea of who this person was. And this person was not someone who had any effect on anything that had happened in the show.

They were around and that was it.

When this conflict came to a head, it didn’t feel genuine. The small amount of characterization we got was not what we were seeing. For Yusaku, this person was special to him. Isn’t it strange then that we never saw these two together in a meaningful way?

How our main five reacted made sense. But this new person was a wild card we didn’t know the rules to. It is fine when a story takes a confident character and gives them a moment of weakness. Except we need to know who this person is if we want to build a connection.

This was a blatant fumble on the part of Toradora.

I’m ignoring the fact this segment was the bridge that brought us to the final episodes. While this may have been necessary, the route this story took was needlessly complex.

Like I said, I had a few problems with this series. Emphasis on the word “few”. I’m done here.

Final Thoughts

This was me going back to my roots. Before restarting this series, I was looking forward to it. Once back in the story though, I realized how much has changed. In this case for the better.

This is one of, if not the show that got me into romance anime. For me, that’s very special. This may not be the reality for you. Luckily, this series has more than enough to stand on its own two feet with pride.

The story was good. The main supporting cast added layers upon layers of intrigue. And our main couple, Ryuji and Taiga went on a journey I have yet to re-encounter. This show was so much better the second time around. But if you are on your first, you are in for a treat.

I’m thrilled to have this one be part of the site. I’m even happier because I get to say this. Toradora is a series I can recommend now and forever.

But these are just my thoughts. What are yours? Have you seen this show? How would you advise Toradora? Leave a comment down below because I would love to hear what you have to say.

And if you liked what you read, be sure to follow me on my social media sites so that you never miss a post or update. Also, please share this review across the internet to help add to the discussion.

I’m LofZOdyssey, and I’ll see you next time.

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