That’s right, I broke down and finally watched “Toradora”, an upbeat anime rom-com about teenagers and their romantic drama. And I don’t regret it one bit.
Note: There will be some spoilers below the cut, because to discuss the show properly I need to discuss character development, and that connects directly to the relationships that are formed. Personally I think it’s pretty easy to figure out what the endgame is early on, but if you want to figure it out for yourself I thought I’d give you the heads up.
“Toradora” is considered arguably THE premiere anime rom-com, a classic of the genre and one of the highest rated anime on MyAnimeList. Ryuuji Takasu, a high-schooler with a face that makes him look like a Yakuza member and a personality that makes him seem like a teddy bear, is in love with Minori Kushieda, his super cute oddball classmate he’s too shy to approach. He shares a class with her, his best friend, the friendly, responsible, and upbeat Yuusaku Kitamura, and Minori’s best friend Taiga Aisaka.
Taiga is infamous throughout the school as the “Palmtop Tiger”. She looks tiny and adorable, but don’t let it fool you – she’s violent and mean, with a temper even shorter than she is. A chance encounter at school leads to Ryuuji learning that she’s in love with his best friend (not to mention that Ryuuji and Taiga happen to live next door), and together they strike a deal: They’ll help each other land the other’s romantic target. And thus the show begins in earnest.
If I had to describe “Toradora” in one word it would be “polished”.
The plot is nothing special. The characters follow well-worn archetypes. The animation is perfectly fine but it won’t blow your mind. And the character designs are pretty good but not outstanding…with the exception of Taiga, who has one of the best character designs ever. Outside of her, though, nobody really stands out.
The thing is, while none of it can be classified as “great”, all of it is good. This is a good old-fashioned rom-com to the core, but it is a really, really well-written one. Taiga follows the classic tsundere archetype, but she’s one of the best written tsunderes in anime, not because anything unique is being done with her but because her writing is extremely consistent. The change in Taiga’s feelings towards Ryuuji follows naturally from her character development throughout the series, as does her general change in attitude and temperament.
No arbitrary checking off of the boxes here – Taiga feels like a real person with a real inner life, not a walking trope, an increasingly rare occurrence with the tsundere archetype.
The best written character by far, however, is Ami Kawashima. Ami joins the main cast several episodes in and the dynamic she forms with everyone is a game changer. She’s a model, the childhood friend of Kitamura, and supposedly an adorable airhead. It isn’t difficult for the viewer to figure out it’s a front, especially when she starts manipulating Ryuuji almost immediately.
This is nothing new, but the real stroke of genius is that Ryuuji figures out that Ami is faking almost immediately, except he doesn’t tell her he knows this (Taiga, of course, was never fooled in the first place). Thus you get the layers of irony of Ami believing she’s using her feminine wiles to manipulate Ryuuji while Ryuuji knows she’s manipulating him and doesn’t let on.
As the story evolves Ami’s skill at reading people combined with a willingness to say things that other people don’t want to hear makes her an excellent plot catalyst. As knowledge of her true personality grows her relationship with the other characters also undergoes a slow shift: Like Taiga, Ami is more than her archetype but comes across as a real person.
“Toradora” is full of melodramatic high school romance, where every crush is true love and rejections feel like the end of the world. It’s refreshing in that it takes the feelings of the characters seriously: However silly it might seem to an outsider this is of vital importance to them, and the emotional turmoil being caused is very real. Especially effective is the way the show manages to handle Taiga, the character with easily the worst life of the main five and the most character development. Her transformation from the Palmtop Tiger to the Palmtop Tiger of Happiness is very well-written and welcome to see. It’s hard not to root for her.
“Toradora” also features several standout episodes, the most famous of which being the Christmas party episode – which is, indeed, the best episode of the show. It also features one of the most famous -and satisfying – kisses in anime.
I’ve seen people criticize the ending before. People are dumb, the ending was great.
Look, I have little else to say about “Toradora”. The writing is sharp, the characters are great, it looks good, it sounds good, and it’s just a really fun time. It does get dark sometimes and it explores some serious themes, but ultimately it’s a happy show that’ll leave you in a good mood after you finish it.
All “Toradora” is is a happy, mushy high school rom-com with unusually sharp writing – and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Highly recommended.