It’s that classic story. Boy meets girl, girl inadvertently reveals her feelings for boy’s friend, boy in turn reveals feelings for girl’s friend, boy and girl conspire to set each other up with said friends and bam presto everybody lives happily ever after…what could possibly go wrong?
Ryuji Takasu is one of the kindest, most mature highschoolers you’ll ever meet, sure he’s a bit oblivious, but nobody’s perfect. Unfortunately for Ryuji however, he looks like his father, causing him to possess an intimidating visage that causes others to immediately dub him a delinquent. Though students will often forget said fear when another particularly infamous student crosses their path. Diminutive in stature and with a temper even shorter still, Aisaka Taiga has come to bear the title Palmtop Tiger. After misplacing a love letter for Kitamura (Ryuji’s friend) into Ryuji’s schoolbag, Taiga breaks into Ryuji’s house at night in order to retrieve her embarrassing declaration. But wouldn’t you know, one thing leads to another and the two wind up revealing to each other that they are in love with each other’s friends. Thus a plan is created. The two will use each other to become closer with Kitamura and Minori (Taiga’s friend) and find a way to begin their desired relationships. But the heart is a fickle and as the series progresses, this plan is complicated by an ever expanding web of love. School life can be tricky sometimes.
As the series progresses, Ryuji and Taiga’s agreement causes them to spend tremendous amount of time with each other. Naturally this causes the school to erupt in rumour that the Delinquent and Palmtop Tiger are a couple, serving to complicate their desired relational result. Though as we dive deeper into the two, we come to see that maybe, just maybe, these rumour hold some truth…not that either of them would admit it.
Though there are countless series revolving around the perils of highschool relationships, Toradora possesses something that makes it stand far above many of them: character development. Like, a lot of character development. As we continue to see the main cast struggle with the emotions and concepts of love, we are actually given reason for their interpretations. Be it an absence of compassion at a young age, the pain of being rejected or even the simple fact that it can be hard to understand your own emotions sometimes, characters slowly express their truths to each other. The result is a cast of characters who actually have the depth necessary to propel this chaotic love story forward. Rather than back off defining relationships, as most of these anime tend to do, Toradora only becomes more serious towards the end. Whether it turns out the way you hoped or not, there are no loose ends, no ridiculous notion that a love triangle, or square or any other shape can continue as a viable option for happiness. There was a choice to be made and, after a grand emotional struggle, made it was…for better or worse.
As a character driven series, Toradora does a nice job of differentiating characters from one another. Though the multitude of vibrant hair colours is the most obvious technique through which this is achieved, character’s faces also possess slight variations from one another. That being said, intense emotions are often punctuated via a character’s gaze, with their eyes being by far the most prominent feature. Certain looks also become fairly synonymous with one particular student as the series progresses, such as Taiga’s death stare. This fact also serves as a nice touch of detail to Ryuji, as his various looks directly relate to his early insecurities. Height also serves this purpose as, despite often being played for humour with Taiga, supports comments regarding Ami’s dynamite figure. Though not continuously referenced, it is nice to see that the series works within its own definitions to convey a consistently designed cast.
Credit also has to go to the entirety of the English dub cast and their performance. No character’s contradicts their character’s in any way, combining with image and plot to complete them. It should also definitely be noted that the voice actor’s do not excel in one particular emotion at the cost of another, providing a consistently great dub regardless of emotion. Which, considering the content of the series, is a fantastic thing. Taiga, for example, wouldn’t have been nearly as redeemable (or adorable) had her voice been flat. Many of the the more extravagant voices of the main cast, such as Minori and Kitamura’s, also served to strengthen sombre moments through contrast alone. Seriously, nobody ever wants to hear the perpetual smiler break down in tears…my fragile heart just can’t take it.
On a lighter note, this release comes with a few neat little features that’re sure to add a smile to you’re face…if you enjoyed the humour of the series that is. Leaning heavily on Ryuji’s self proclaimed housewife nature, an OVA focuses on one of the most intense conflicts to ever grace the halls of Ohashi High: the Bento Battle. Taking place somewhere within the series, this culinary endeavour chronicles Ryuji’s inadequacies about his skills and the trouble that it caused those around him. Though mostly humourous, there are a few moments of sincerity that make this a pretty sweet episode. If you would rather just enjoy your intake of Toradora cusine without said sombre moments, may I suggest checking out the four Hurray for Gourmands mini-episodes. Now in chibi form, our main cast struggles with deciding which food is truly worthy of gracing their palettes. The results are…less than conclusive.
Toradora is a story about love. Though it begins by focusing on mere high school infatuation, characters continue to evolve as they experience both success and failure as they head towards their desire. In the end, this results in a cast truly different from the one we started with. Though Ryuji is still a clean freak and Taiga’s hair trigger temper remains, the important aspects change. Though they began as an obnoxious duo that could do nothing but cower in front of their crushes, they become mature students able to discuss their honest feelings. Though admittedly they still require a pretty hefty push every now and again. Not backing down from the reality of such a complex situation, Toradora! shows us that happiness can be achieved if you have the courage to reach for it. But, no matter how hard you wish against it, there’s a chance that someone may be hurt in the process…
Toradora! and all of its ups and downs can be found at Hanabee.