Toradora! The Complete Series (Cert 15)
4 Discs (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 593 minutes approx.
It is forgivable if the idea of another high school comedy drama causes you to roll your eyes, no doubt being aware of all the clichés and hackneyed conventions and plot lines that await. Well, I won’t lie to you, Toradora does indeed deliver just about every single one of these familiar set ups and character tropes but hold the phone – it actually manages to surprise us with what evolves from a whacky comedy into a rather well thought out emotional drama.
Our main protagonist is Ryuji Takasu, a rather gentle and sensitive chap who unfortunately has the hard look of a delinquent, earning him the reputation of being someone to avoid. Carrying a similar reputation is the more openly aggressive Taiga Aisaka, nicknamed the Palm Top Tiger, due to her fiery personality and small stature. Here’s where it starts to get complicated – Taiga has a crush on Ryuji’s best friend, the bookish Yusaku Kitamura (who is secretly in love with student president Sumire Kanō) while Ryuji has a crush on Taiga’s best friend Minori Kushieda, who unbeknownst to him develops reciprocal feelings for him but says nothing.
Ryuji lives with his ditzy mother Yasuko, the permanently hungover and immature bar hostess who has raised her son alone after the death of Ryuji’s father. As a result Ryuji has become self-sufficient in both cooking and looking after the household. One night Ryuji learns of a new neighbour – Taiga! She comes from rich stock but her parents have separated and after refusing to live with either one, her father pays for her independent dwellings. When Ryuji’s crush on Minori comes to light Taiga agrees to help him get closer to Minori in return for Ryuji being her personal slave.
Chances are you are already predicting the path this story will take, although may be not so accurate on the unrequited love front which is where Toradora does its best to separate itself from the pack. Based on the light novels by Yuyuko Takemiya and adapted for the screen by Mari Okada on behalf of animation studio JC Staff, there is a surprising overarching focus on the central themes which makes a refreshing change from series which sows the seeds then forgets to cultivate them.
Since we are likely to assume that Taiga and Ryuji will eventually end up being the lone happy couple of the show, it is pleasing to report that this aspect of their burgeoning relationship isn’t rushed or contrived. After a physical and rather violent first meeting the growth of feelings between this unlikely pairing is exponential and weathers a fair few storms before the eventual realisation takes hold.
These trials and tribulations are not limited to Taiga and Ryuji as Minori and Yusaka both have a stake in this too and find themselves compromising their own feelings in order to maintain a civil and joyous relationship within the group. But outside forces conspire to throw some pernicious spanners into the works which tests both the bonds of friendships and the individual fortitude of the key players.
Taiga’s home life is rather complex with her father living with a younger pregnant fiancée while her mother is home alone with her new man. Dad wants to be in Taiga’s life and goes to extreme measures to get her attention but ends up letting her down with Ryuji being the one to pick up the pieces. Ryuji’s mother already suspects that Taiga could be her future daughter-in-law but Ryuji is quick to dispel these ideas, adopting the paradoxical role of the adult in the parent-child relationship.
Of the supporting cast, the most interesting character insofar as exactly how she fits into the whole melange is teen model Ami Kawashima. An old friend of Yusaka’s, she appears ditzy and polite but is in fact a complete narcissist aware of her good looks and revels in her lush lifestyle. Only Taiga has seen her true side and responded as only she would – by slapping Ami! Initially her arrival feels incongruous to the story but as it advances Ami proves to be something of a catalyst.
MVM’s decision to releases the entire twenty-five episode series (plus an OVA) in one collection is one that actually pays dividends for the viewer. With so much ground to cover and numerous unique twists and turns along the way, spending time in the company of this esoteric cadre becomes quite an addictive proposition. By having the entire series to hand in set the moreish quality the show possesses is easy to satiate, such is the precision of Okada’s writing that she is able to hit us with a fiendishly fertile hook at the end of each episode to drag us back for more.
The characters are from fairly conventional stock but experience such extreme and relatable life lessons that they take on a deeper resonance than one might at first not expect. They are all equally whacky and prone to the usual comic affectations but once the dramatic storylines take over, of which there are plenty – especially towards the end – we see just how well rounded they are. However Taiga might be hard work for some audiences, taking the tsundere persona a little too far, her excitable and protean personality likely to grate as oppose to endear.
The lesson learned from watching Toradora is that sometimes it is possible to reinvent the wheel. One can pick up on the numerous influences or similarities with other shows of this particular oeuvre – a very subtle Clannad reflection can be found in the later episodes for instance – but the overall package is one that has enough identity of its own to feel fresh.
Whether you’ll end up crying tears of laughter or sobbing with sadness Toradora has enough depth and conviction in its storytelling to leave some kind of lasting impression on you. A pleasant surprise indeed.
Japanese Language 2.0
English Language 2.0
Disc 4 only:
Hurray For Gourmands 1-4
Clean Opening Animation
Clean Closing Animation
Bonus Clip: Ami’s Impressions
Rating – ****
Man In Black