As of now, I am 12 episodes through Toradora!, which is roughly half of this 25 episode series. When news of this anime based on award-winning light novels first came out, it was one of the most highly anticipated series for the fall 2008 season. So I decided to watch it and see if it was worth all the hype. And it didn’t take more than the first two episodes for me to get hooked…
Episode 1 of Toradora! was good in setting up the basic plot of a series that was either going to excel or fall flat. But luckily it went the former way, and I believe it was episode 2 that really got people into it. Even the very critical folks at ANN felt compelled to add second (and very positive) reviews just for Toradora! episode 2 on their Fall 2008 Anime Preview Guide. That episode really managed to portray Taiga and Ryuuji as very sympathetic and entertaining protagonists rather than completely cookie-cutter stereotypes in a predictable love-triangle series. Although just reading a synopsis of the series is enough for fans to guess that Taiga and Ryuuji will probably end up together, and thus makes the series seem predictable, exactly how they’ll eventually get together, and everything that happens along the way, is anything but predictable, at least in my opinion.
After that, we spend a couple more episodes getting to know them, Minori, Kitamura, and other supporting characters better, before we’re introduced to Ami in episode 5. I wasn’t so sure I liked Ami at first, with her two-faced personality and bitchy treatment of Taiga. But even she managed to convey some decent character development a few episodes later. Now she’s slightly less bitchy and self-centered, and the mutually understanding relationship that she now has with Ryuuji is a definite redeeming quality. Even Minori, who first appeared to be simply a cheerful, hyper, and otherwise uninteresting character has shown more appealing qualities, for example, some of her self-analytical confessions to Ryuuji, and her friendship with Taiga that’s so strong it even caused someone as cheerful as her to have a sincere fight with Ryuuji over Taiga’s father in episode 12. In addition to Minori and Ami, Kitamura also comes off as a fairly likable guy, though any noticeably interesting qualities he may possess have yet to be explored. Even Ryuuji’s mother Yasuko, who first appeared to be just an annoying excuse for comic relief, has shown care and concern for Ryuuji and Taiga, and is not nearly as interrupting to the show as I thought she would be (though I still don’t know why they made Ryuuji’s bird Inko-chan so freaky XD) The lesser supporting characters, such as Taiga and Ryuuji’s other classmates and their homeroom teacher, don’t seem quite as interesting and appear to be nothing but extra comic relief, but I’m willing to give them more time.
While the supporting characters in Toradora! are appealing enough, Ryuuji and Taiga are a big part of what makes the series so good. Despite his appearance, Ryuuji is not your stereotypical yakuza-ish male lead. Even with all of Taiga’s abuse and Ami’s trouble making, he is never condescending or arrogant towards them. He comes off as simply a non-confrontational guy who wants to help Taiga, and get along with everyone else. He even has a few unique qualities, such as his cooking and cleaning skills. And when he realizes in episode 11, that he’s using Taiga’s situation to compensate for his own lack of a father, it becomes apparent that he has his own understandable share of flaws too. And of course there’s Taiga who, despite all her obvious tsundere characteristics, is a tsundere character carried out very well. The relationship that is established between Taiga and Ryuuji, and how Taiga handles her unrequited love for Kitamura, was an early indicator that there was going to be more to her than just the tsundere archetype. In the first few episodes she displays the typical tsundere qualities of being tough and violent on the outside while having vulnerabilities on the inside, such as her shyness around Kitamura and her embarrassment over wearing a swimsuit. However, when Ami comes along, instead of being loudly argumentative with her, Taiga instead seems to bear Ami’s early insults rather than get extremely violent with her, which I thought was kind of interesting. But her true character development has been shining since her father was introduced in episode 11. We now know the reason for Taiga’s angry attitude and short-temper; she obviously felt rejected and abandoned by her own father, which would leave a chip on anyone’s shoulder. But in episode 12, when Taiga starts seeing her father and patching things up with him, her attitude changed significantly; without having to make it glaringly obvious, in that one episode alone, subtle hints show us that she seems much happier and less bitter and negative than when she was still on bad terms with her father. The instigator of Taiga’s constant anger is obviously the loneliness and abandonment she felt. But this episode leaves us with the question of whether her psychological wounds will continue to heal or whether, as Minori seems to think, Taiga’s father is not as good as he appears to be (I’ll admit he should have gone to see Taiga first before taking away all her money…what if there was an emergency?)
As I have discussed above, the characters in Toradora! are the main aspect of what makes the series so appealing and entertaining. While the animation quality and music don’t particularly stand out (except for the hopelessly catchy opening “Pre-Parade”), the characters and their situations more than make up for it. The character designs have a unique look and the seiyuu performance is not too shabby either. Though Rie Kugimiya does little to differentiate Taiga’s voice from Shana’s in Shakugan no Shana, she has that tsundere feel mastered. Quite a change from her rather depressing role as Saya in Blood+, Eri Kitamura does great as Ami. And although I prefer Yui Horie’s voice for more serious characters (like Yuuki in Vampire Knight), she manages to do just fine as the ever cheerful Minori.
Though not every single episode of Toradora! has been spectacular, as a whole the series has great characters and enough memorable moments to stand out. When it’s funny, it’s funny, and when it’s sentimental or dramatic, it doesn’t do a half-assed job. The upcoming episode 13 marks then end of the cultural festival arc, and perhaps a resolution to the situation with Taiga’s father. Unpredictability is another good quality of the series, as I have no idea how things will progress from this point on. But whatever happens, I’m looking forward to it ^_^ The light novels are still ongoing, so perhaps we will see a second season of Toradora! in the future.