We all want and seek love for various reasons, whether it be to avoid the grim darkness of loneliness, adding a new spice into your life, or just something that you wish for – even if have no clue as to why. In the beginning, Toradora starts with a statement that love is a gentle and sweet thing. If you could put your eyes on it, it would be something that you would desire greatly. Therefore, the Earth has hidden it, to make sure that not just anyone can obtain it. Whether or not you will be able to take hold of it is up to you in the end. Is this possibly foreshadowing the events that will later unfold in the show? Possibly, but whatever happens, Toradora – just like most Romantic-Comedies (RomCom for short) – has a slightly hard time striking a balance between romance and comedy, with each half of the plot differing in tones. With the initial half being the weaker of the two, this leads to missed opportunities to establish a foundation for the events later on in the show. Overall, while this show had a lot of the things I like about RomComs, it still has some flaws that cannot be ignored.
One of the things people in love have in common is knowing how hard it is to approach the person they are interested in without fumbling their words all over the place, so they end up relying on someone else to help them with this feat. This is how Toradora begins. The fated encounter between Taiga ‘Palmtop Tiger’ Aisaka and Ryuuji ‘The Delinquent’ Takasu starts with them helping each other out in their quests to conquer their respective love interests, Yuusaku Kitamura and Minori Kushieda. Unfortunately, after forming the pact, their goals are pushed further away after Yuusaku and Minori misinterpret their relationship due to how much time they spend with each other. This starts a common theme throughout Toradora, showing that life does not always go the way you want it to. Nothing is ever promised nor owed to you; not unless you do your best to attain it. Then perhaps — you might be able to take grasp of it.
One of the problems Toradora has is how it inserts emotions into the watcher, giving us a slight clue on how the characters feel, throughout the show’s narrative. Hints that slightly sway you to think that this character has an interest in him or her. For example, when Minori and Ryuuji get trapped in the storage house we see her hand tremble. This could be an indication that she is nervous due to her being alone and stuck with Ryuuji in the storage room, perhaps liking him more than a friend. The problem is not the insertion, it is what happens afterwards as well as the frequency of it. It gets swept away most of the times and gets muddled in the comedy that occurs following it. It is as if it was forgotten. Events popping up like Taiga’s sudden cry and worry of Ryuuji, after he almost drowned due to an accident, being one of the first “drama” tied with the misleading notion that she suddenly cares for her dog, Ryuuji, feels off and unfitting. You could perhaps say that the scene was to show how Taiga reacts to an emergency involving Ryuuji and thus unaware of her emotions reacting in this way. This would be a fine interpretation but once again, this does not really leave much of an impact – if any – and is as I said earlier, this becomes diluted and could be easily forgotten. This whole sum of foundation building leads to the later half where the show starts to show its more serious tone, gripping the actual romance part of RomCom, which is not as well supported as it could have been thus leading to a less enjoyable experience. You could say that the comedy is a bit too much at first.
Once we reach the beach arc we start to notice improvements in humor as well as characterization. The show is lead by the actions of the characters and therefor it has to emphasize the development of them. During the beach arc we get to see an actual beach episode where fanservice is not the all-in-all. This is where the show strikes the balance between humor and build-up for the upcoming drama. With all the characters trying to do their best chiming in on the fun (service), Ryuuji and Taiga trying to scare Minori which does not really go exactly as planned, Ryuuji getting played on by Ami pretending she is showering but she was actually just cleaning the bath, and the never-ending universal argument of how spicy the curry should be. We get to see a lot more interactions which lead on to learning more about the girls, most of all Minori. With Ryuuji and her having a tender scene where they discuss a bit of ghost and love, drawing parallel to both that some people do not believe in ghost and some do, but some people deny their existence even though they have seen one as well as some other people who put in an effort finding it to see one. This scene is filled with imagery which acts as metaphors to how each character feels, Ami even though acting strong she does not seem that fulfilled, Taiga not feeling complete even though she is spending some time alone with Yuusaku, Ryuuji getting slightly down due to how Minori doesn’t believe she will ever experience love. There are even more scenes like these, short ones but fully packed with everything that makes love triangles – or in this case, a love square – worthwhile watching. One more noteworthy part of the beach arc is the cave where the group, with exception of Minori, tries to scare her by making scare traps along the way while they explore the deep cave. The enjoyment when their attempts fail, as well as the continuing trend of keeping two characters all alone together (Ryuuji and Ami), later on solidifying how Ami feels about her situation as well as Minori.
Everyone gets improvement in every way in the central point of the plot, which very well prepares and leads smoothly on to the emotionally heavy core, the climax of the whole plot. Yuusaku gets his own very own arc where we see him lose character and completely change his attitude. This gives him the spotlight he so lacked before his arc. We now get to see all the characters put in effort to help him out to the right path once again. An important part of this arc is how Taiga starts to change how she feels about him after being informed that Yuusaku has feelings for the school council president, Sumire. But weirdly enough it revealed more about the other characters than him. Sure he is in love with Sumire and he gets on the wrong track due to her moving far away abroad. But it doesn’t evolve his character later on, just like what happened in Ami’s arc. Sadly, not everyone’s arc was well done. Even though it happened earlier, Ami’s arc which introduced her to the gang had a lesser impact on the whole. She starts off giving the aura of being an innocent, pretty girl who models for various fashion magazines. The issue which had to be resolve in her arc was this stalker that kept following her around non-stop, disallowing Ami a peace of mind which leads her to go on hiatus from her modelling as well as being constantly paranoid. This is a rather ridiculous way of getting her into the group. She does not join the group because she likes Taiga’s tsun-tsun behavior against her nor is she getting along with Minori like Taiga is. How it goes is that she ends up – somehow – falling in-love with Ryuuji, only for changing her mind on having the facade she used to have and to start being more “honest” with herself. The way this is done is making us believe that she will accept her “ill-natured behavior and look”, but later on we see her continue with the facade, even though it is to a lesser degree than before. She also somehow falls in-love with Ryuuji during the process, which is not really explained, metaphorically nor literally. The sense of not knowing why she feels that way gives the impression of her arc feeling flat.
But with weaknesses comes strength as well, one cannot exist without the other – with the exception of Pupa perhaps – and the later parts of the show is the one that completely toys with everyone’s emotions. It finally digs into the conflict, where all the girls start to understand more about each other’s feelings towards Ryuuji. We get to see Minori watch in the background while Taiga weeps after realizing her mistake of letting him go after Minori to confess. In the process Minori finally shows the side we were all waiting for, the one where she is not holding up this upbeat facade, and now she has to choose a path whether or not to allow Taiga to be with him or be selfish and fulfill her own happiness. But this is just the beginning of the steep hill towards the climax. Just the beginning. Scenes showing Taiga’s care of Ryuuji are now more apparent than ever, an example where she fights for the hairpin which is a precious gift and item symbolizing his love in the form of an object. But staying in the same setting where the status quo is upheld, there has to be a change of setting to force the characters – stubborn one that is, such as taiga – to break out of their shell, with them worried about hurting one another.
In the peak of it all, the group are now in the mountain tops, enjoying their school trip skiing which sets a perfect environment for the characters to – literally – be forced to be close to each other and leave no room for escape. Which brings us to the scene where Ami pokes Minorin non-stop questioning her feelings. Ami has always been the one that keeps on trying to make Taiga and Minori’s shell to burst, because she is tired of watching ever so vigilantly on the “kids” playing around and never getting the the “true” core. Always avoiding the subject of love, which frustrates Ami since she understands how she is not able to win over Taiga — which is continuously shown throughout the show whenever she pokes and flirts with Ryuuji when they are around the others, or whenever a topic that could lead to their realization of their emotions. Ami is not able to follow her heart, being with Ryuuji, which in her mind understands it cannot happen due to how she understand how he feels about Taiga. Instead of trying to hurt herself in an unwinnable war, she tries to brutally poke at Minori and continues to bash on how Minori fools around, which leads us to their fight of the previously mentioned fight in the room. With Taiga attempting to stop the fight, but accidentally falls off the cliff setting off a traumatizing event for everyone involved since they cannot find Taiga and a blizzard storm is now raging outside. Toradora in its final moments at last uses to great effect its side characters as a clam to get Tiger and Dragon together. The ending felt rushed, but it fit how after the event of Taiga’s disappearance, made an adrenaline pumping moment both for all the characters as well as for the viewer, thus making the what seems to be a rushed ending, a fitting one. The distraught coming from how Ami dealt with her fate with Ryuuji adult-like, and how Minori fell together at the end making a pool of tears, a bit like a child who weeps, set off a conclusive ending to both of their arcs — now that fate has chosen Taiga and Ryuuji to be together.
At the beginning we asked if there is such thing as a fateful encounter, and whether it is possible to always stay with our loved ones. Is fate a real thing? Do our actions affect it? Toradora explores these themes by showing us both sides to the story. Midori accepting that Taiga is better suited for Ryuuji, and while accepting that fate she also chooses her own path to make their happiness her own. For Ami, she is a little similar. Early on she understood that this is an unwinnable war, so she does her best to help them both in her own way, even though it may seem harsh. For some, fate does not favour them. After all, fate works in strange ways. One day, perhaps you might meet the love of your life, someone that you compare to. Like two beasts that stand equal to one another, just like Tiger and Dragon.
Recommendation: Toradora is a Romantic-Comedy which sets out to allow the side characters attempt to force the highlighted pair to get together. This show is nicely done overall but with some few basic flaws such as how scenes are lead after another in a way that doesn’t amplify the desired emotion, lagging animation during most scenes, not all characters feel complete, as well as a weak first half that plays around with little consequences. But the later half is what makes the show worthwhile watching – if you manage to get through the first half – and the conflict arises using the side-characters which leads to the climax which goes by like an adrenaline rush. If you like these kinds of shows and don’t mind all too much about its cinematography, then this should be a watch worth while. It doesn’t hurt to note that fans of tsunderes will enjoy this a lot.
- Clannad: A show with similar interests (RomCom, fate, and a place of belonging), but with a much more impactful experience as well as a masterful handling of the main characters development as well as the side-characters. It goes a bit more dramatic than Toradora, but the more lighthearted parts of the show outshines what Toradora has to offer. A masterpiece which has an equally well done – an even better improvement according to some – which is a lot more concentrated on the emotional and heavy events that happens in it.
- Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai!: A different take on the RomCom genre where chuuni is the main ingredient. The characters drive the story forward and as the show progresses they end up together. It is a lot more light-hearted than Clannad and slightly more than Toradora, since it focuses a lot of the two main characters, Yuuta ‘Dark Flame Master’ Togashi, Rikka ‘Wicked Eye’ Takanashi’, and their chuuni side-kicks. In short, a great and enjoyable show.