Does Toradora hold up today?

Does Toradora hold up today?

Every anime fan remembers the first time a show spoke to them on a deep emotional level. For me it was the 2008 romantic comedy anime Toradora!which I discovered through a AMV I randomly came across it all the way back in high school. It was the first anime that made me cry more than once, and it was also one of the first shows that made me a fan of the slice-of-life/romance anime genre. But does it still evoke that emotional response in me years later? Or has the nostalgia finally given way?


© Yuyuko Takemiya/ASCII Media works/Toradora product range

From the very beginning, Toradora! opens with a promise as two middle school students monologue about how there is something extraordinary in this world that everyone is looking for. That something is never explicitly named, but within the first 10 minutes you get an idea of ​​what kind of show you’re in for. We have a good-hearted yet creepy teenage boy in the form of Ryuji and a struggling girl named Taiga who is short in both mood and stature, earning her the nickname “the palm tree.” Both of these awkward teenagers are in love with the other’s respective best friend, and through the power of teamwork, the two will help each other secure the other’s love.

Yes, one of the biggest complaints often lobbied against Toradora! is that it is too predictable. You know the exact start and end point of the romantic development between all the main cast, which keeps things unsurprising. However, I don’t see Toradora!the predictability is negative since, much like the two main characters who are often judged more for their looks and minds rather than the actual merits of their character, the show isn’t about making sure our two leads get married at the altar at the end.


© Yuyuko Takemiya/ASCII Media works/Toradora product range

This will sound like a gross oversimplification, but there are basically two different types of slice-of-life anime. The first type usually consists of shows that focus on the magic of common hobbies or everyday activities that people may take for granted, such as K-ON!, Relaxed campand Silver spoon. These shows can have excellent character writing and comedy. Yet, by virtue of their focus on a particular activity, they can also feel like comfort food at times: warm, familiar and unchallenging. The second type concerns a character’s transition from one point in life to another, which Mars enters like a lion, Barakamon, Fruit basketand Toradora!. While both types have distinct appeals — and some shows can’t be neatly categorized into either type — I always find myself drawn to the latter because I like to see change. I like to see the effects different circumstances and environments can have on people because everything is constantly changing, whether we like it or not. Sometimes we don’t notice these changes until it’s too late. Yet recognizing the mundane aspects of our lives or watching someone else go through distinct but relatable struggles can inadvertently help us realize who we are or what we want as individuals.

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So what exactly is Ryuji and Taiga going through? At the risk of sounding cliche, they learn to figure out who they are. The show opens with gags about how our two leads aren’t who everyone thinks they are, but that gag gets less and less funny as the series goes on. Ryuji looks the way he does because he inherited his deadbeat father’s signature scowl. It’s an overplayed trope even around the time the show came out. Still, unlike other shows that would stop short of using this as an excuse to make the main character a loner, Ryuji’s outward appearance carries legitimate thematic weight in being judged as a thug, the only gift he ever received from his father. He overcompensates to try to be better than that.

Likewise, Taiga is more complex than just another Rie Kugimiya– voiced tsundere. I don’t think it’s entirely accurate to call Taiga a tsundere, because her prickliness isn’t a front she uses to hide her feelings. She is very jaded by nature, which comes from trying to distance herself from a very difficult family situation and exist independently despite being a little bad at it. The only thing she thinks she’s good at is being direct, even though she’s probably one of the most selfless characters in the series. When she uses her stiffness to hide her emotions, it’s usually for the sake of others, not to get a comedic or confusing audience boost that the trope is traditionally known for.


© Yuyuko Takemiya/ASCII Media works/Toradora product range

Both of these characters feel they have something to prove to the world because they both relate to the experience of not being treated the way they want. Living like this is not easy at any age, but it can be especially tough for teenagers. Don’t get me wrong: Ryuji and Taiga still get their share of comedic moments and hijinks, but there’s always character realizations going on in the background, and once Toradora!its thematic framework becomes clear, we begin to see the way these two perceive their families, their respective crushes, and even the new friends they make in a new light. Toradora! grabs your attention with something basic, but slowly reveals its true self as it goes on, like almost every central cast member.

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Toradora!its tone never becomes too self-deprecating or cynical, thanks to its lovely presentation. The character designs are vibrant and always on model, with occasional moments of impressive sakuga. But the direction is where the show shines, making good use of the lighting and shot composition to emphasize the loneliness these characters feel when they think no one understands them. It’s done the best with Taiga, and as an aside, I’ve always loved the way her hair was animated during certain scenes.

Finally, the great climax is not only a grand romantic confession – it is also first and foremost a recognition of the self. While Ryuji and Taiga had to deal with unfortunate circumstances and try their best to be seen the way they want to be seen, that doesn’t necessarily mean they themselves are who they think they are. They are not adults who have it all figured out, even if they have had to mature faster than usual to cope. They are both still incredibly naive, stubborn and short-sighted, which means that they have much more in common with their families and friends than they might have initially thought. By the end, these two are just starting to realize who they are as they transition into adulthood. The start and end point of their stories may have been clear from the start, but how Toradora! walking that path is rarely a straight line.


© Yuyuko Takemiya/ASCII Media works/Toradora product range

A lot of romance and romantic comedy anime today have forgotten this basic idea that characters can experience individual growth on top of their relationship progression. They focus so much on highlighting the chemistry between their leads that the characters become stagnant. It becomes less about watching characters grow and change and more about waiting for them to realize they should have been together from episode one. These shows can be fun, but they always run the risk of drawing things out. When you have a show like Toradora! that focuses more on the characters growing and coming to realizations about themselves, leading to real chemistry between each other, it leads to a much more satisfying story overall.

I think that’s why Kaguya-sama: Love is war rose in popularity as it did. Yes, it has a fun premise, but there’s always some character work and backstory being fed to you in the background, leading to a much more layered experience as the show goes on. I don’t say Toradora! did this first or even that it is the best example. Still, it’s a testament to how well it highlights that theme of perception versus reality, what it means to be an adult, where affection comes from, and so many other ideas from a straightforward and predictable premise.

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© Yuyuko Takemiya/ASCII Media works/Toradora product range

Toradora! is the show that highlighted to me that the slice of life and romantic comedy genres in anime can be so much more than the boring high school dramas that many make them out to be (although I can’t fault them because a lot of shows still do exactly the). They may be about recognizing the related changes you are still going through as an adult. At their best, they can provide reassurance that it’s OK to make mistakes or take the time to realize what needs improvement. But most importantly, Toradora! does a great job of emphasizing that you never have to go it alone. Our protagonists started out as loners searching for something gentle and beautiful in this world, only to realize that this special something is not something that can be found, but must be built.

Toradora! will always stick with me because I’m still building that special thing as I approach my 30s. I’m still discovering things about myself and struggling with preconceptions about my character, both from those around me and internally. It’s very easy to get so caught up in everything and be stubborn like some of these characters, thinking that you’re the smartest person in the room and that everyone else needs to grow up. But like Toradora! shown, the moment you think you’ve reached the end of maturity is probably when you need to grow up the most; that’s why I still manage to cry sometimes when I watch this series for what feels like the 15th time over 11 years. It’s not because I’m sad because something tragic has happened or it’s over. I do it because I’m just so overwhelmed with happiness at the reminder that I still have room to grow. I am overwhelmed to be reminded that I am not alone and that the end of this story is only the beginning of a much greater journey. It’s fine if I’m alone in thinking that, but what can I say? I still remember everything, just like my first time.

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