Nov 9, 2012

Anime Review: Toradora!

Toradora logo with main characters Ryuuji and Taiga opposite and supporting cast behind themThe tiger and dragon stand together as equals. Thus does this too-often generic feeling rom-com begin. While funny and sweet and dramatic at times it feels held back by a lot of typically dumb decisions and watered-down commercial appeal. Even so, there is still a lot to like. A fun diversion, if a bit forgettable in the end.

Toradora! derives its name from the two lead characters, Ryuuji and Taiga. Ryuuji’s name contains the root symbol “ryu” which means dragon (think of the “shoryuken” or “dragon punch” from the Street Fighter games) and Taiga’s name… well… just say it out loud: tye-guh. Tiger. Yep. They symbolize fierce and individual predators who typically live solitary lives as a result. This choice of naming is more than just symbolic as it precisely sets up the initial archetypes. Both, for different reasons, are rather “troubled” socially.

Ryuuji’s problem is genetic: his face frightens people and they immediately assume he’s a punk ruffian. This is despite the fact that he is actually a rather kind-hearted, responsible, if shy guy (probably as a result of being shunned so automatically). He also even has a bit of an obsessive-compulsiveness about cleanliness and order. Both of these traits drive a lot of the early comedic moments, although disappointingly the scary-face bit becomes largely forgotten after only a few episodes. Taiga, on the other hand, is a short, child-like, adorable lolita with an incredibly aggressive and intimidating attitude. She attracts a lot of attention due to her looks and yet is quick to anger and bouts of violence, earning her the nickname “The Palm-Top Tiger”.

Palm-top Tiger as explained in the show

Of special mention: as a character, Taiga seems to be specifically bred as the most advanced and pure tsundere girl that science ever created. She’s also voiced by Rie Kugimiya, a veteran if there ever was of tsundere characters (Nagi, Shana, Louise), who at this point knows how to perform the role terrifyingly well. I gotta say, though, it’s impressive and effective, and she’s probably one of the more likable tsundere girls in the end, mostly because she eventually makes real emotional progress as a character.

From the very beginning the show sets up the inevitable coupling and it is basically a matter of wading through 25 episodes to see how they end up together. There are few surprises along the way and not any you cannot figure out several episodes prior. The rest of the bunch is rounded out by the usual friends-of-the-leads, a good-natured popular and smart glasses wearing dude and a bubbly and effervescent out-going girl. Did I mention that each of the leads is secretly in love with the other lead’s best friend? In fact, most of the series is spent with the two helping each other with strategies to get hooked up with their respective friends once they figure out they have compatible I-scratch-your-back-you-scratch-mine goals.

The main cast of five talk at a coffeeshop table

Much of the series is spent going through the usual misunderstandings and complications and it seems like neither will ever be able to win the heart of their desire. All the way we learn a lot about the two plus their friends, as each is usually given an arc of their own to be developed. Laughs and antics are had, tears and blushing are frequent, and the whole thing kind of rides a rollercoaster between pretty good and bad/dumb. Some of the drama feels artificial and obtuse (this would mostly be Ryuuji’s friend, Yuusaku), sometimes it is confusing and poorly executed (mostly the stuff involving Taiga’s family), sometimes it is undermined by the comedy (lots, especially early on, involving Minori the girl Ryuuji secretly likes). And yet, other times, it manages to be subtle, mature, and clever, like the slow and surprising development of Ami’s character. And then there are the times it really shines, thankfully typically involving the two leads and Ryuuji’s family.

Ryuuji and Taiga mock-fightingDespite its predictableness and unoriginality (especially in a lot of the supporting cast), there is still a lot to like here. When it’s good, it tends to be pretty damn good, but it too often gets wobbly and can’t maintain its perch. Often it feels like it is trying too hard to cover all of the bases and be marketable, and it is usually those clichés that frustrate the most. Additionally, I felt that for the majority of the show, the two leads felt way too much like really good siblings. I certainly would have liked to have seen more romantic gestures or hints earlier on, but even with the semi-rushed-romance near the end there is plenty of really good development of trust and intimacy (albeit in a more family kind of way).

As far as technical things go, the animation is competent and mostly pretty good, your typical above-average TV quality. Openings/endings tend to be a little on the meh side, though the endings fair a bit better. Background music is kind of a refreshing boopy electronica at times and I kinda liked it, and it fit the playful feel of the show, but it is still mostly forgettable.

Ryuuji and Taiga talk on a snowy night on a bridge

Maybe it is just me, but it seems like the older I get the more easily I tear up. Even this sometimes-dinky series managed to get me welled up a few times. There are some really touching moments and, especially the last arc, some really dramatic highs. But, then there’s the ending. No spoilers, of course, but… seriously, what? It’s not a bad ending, it actually manages to wrap things up and resolve almost everything, which is more than can be said for a lot of shows. But seriously, what? What the hell is up with that last episode?

Overall, I’d say this still manages to be a pretty good little show, above average even, and with a proper resolution it won’t leave you feeling like you wasted your time. Then again, it suffers from a lot of been-there-done-that as it seems to not want to venture very far from the beaten path. Easy to watch, easy to enjoy, but it probably won’t become one of your all-time-top favorites.

As of this writing, you can watch the first six episodes of Toradora! for free on Crunchyroll. (The remainder is only available for premium users. Since it was only just recently added, it is possible they will make it fully available sometime in the future.)

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