Friday, 19 October 2012

とらドラ! / Toradora!

I didn’t think I was going to bother with Toradora! Another moé anime with loli ovretones, I thought, about a mismatched pair of teenagers who end up in an odd couple relationship but will inevitably realize their feelings for one another after a while. But hey, it’s in a format that I can put on my PS Vita to try out its improved movie player, and I have plenty of space on my memory card. I might as well slip them over.
And then after two or three episodes I got hooked. The truth is, the series is more or less everything I expected to be – it centres on the cuteness of a diminutive high school girl who looks much younger than she is called Aisaka Taiga. She has such a fierce reputation she has been nicknamed ‘Tenori Taiga’, or ‘Palm-top Tiger’, but has a very Shana-like soft side, putting her squarely into the ‘tsundere’ character mould. She is neighbours with Takasu Ryuuji, a gentle boy who loves cleaning but, like Sawamura Seiji in Midori no Hibi, is constantly judged for looking like a violent delinquent, though unlike Seiji has never earned this reputation by getting in fights. Each has a crush on a classmate who is friends with the other, and Taiga needs someone to look after her in her chaotic home life, so they become allies. Throw in a successful model who has a rough and judgemental personality beneath her sickly sweet façade and you get end up with a compelling love hexagon.
 Most of the series follows the usual high school romance clichés – we get a beach episode, a Christmas episode, a school trip episode and all the rest – but somehow, by centring its emotional heart on the theme of people being unable to express their true feelings and putting up a front, tied in with those old Japanese cultural nuggets of honne and tatemae, it manages to resonate beyond JC Staff’s usual fanservice and cuteness.
Ultimately Toradora! isn't what I would call special in any way – it’s all been done before, some episodes are very dull and the humour is often strained slapstick – but it is worth a watch. Because Taiga’s vulnerability, Ryuuji’s believable indecisiveness, Ami’s just-perceptible loneliness, Minori’s selflessness and Kitamura’s likeable but impenetrable ways of distancing those around him seem to cut that bit deeper than most anime characterizations, possibly reflecting the series’ roots in light novels rather than manga. I also like the little deft touches like the explanation for Ryuuji’s face – it comes from his bad-boy, absent father – and the theming of tigers (‘Tora’) and dragons (‘dora(gon)’) for the two main characters. Once or twice there seemed to be a gentle pushing of the envelope, with jokes based on sex and the Japanese word for ‘penis’, as well as presenting the possibility of lesbianism without it being absurd, disgusting or a one-sided played-for-laughs crush.

The last few episodes pushed forward all of Toradora!’s strengths with a surfeit of melodrama, with many tearful pursuits, grand gestures, unkind words that pushed relationship and family dramas to a head and secondary characters left waving off their friends with smiles that faded as soon as they were left alone, and I have to say that it all just worked. It’s a very strong example of its kind, and what holds it back isn’t the writing, the characterisation, the acting or the art – all of which were very high-standard – but merely the fact that I’ve seen all this done before too many times and at its core, it remains a moé tsundere fanservice series with a loli element: witness the cuteness of Taiga on tiptoes!

 After the main series, a few more bits and pieces have followed, including silly chibi SOS gag shorts (wherein silly parakeet Inko-chan got his own mini-segment) and a throwaway OVA where Ryuuji gets obsessed over making the best bento box for lunch – the latter of which actually had the biggest laugh of the series for me, when Ryuuji brought in a rice cooker and tried so ardently to pretend it wasn’t his. I’m not desperate for more Toradora!...but if more arrives, I will most probably watch.


  1. I watched Toradora! weekly when it aired in 2008-2009 and I just couldn't get enough of it. I remember most people's opinions after the first episode was that it wasn't anything special, but the second episode is what changed everyone's feelings towards it. And from then on, it just got better and better. Each of the episodes in the latter half of the series kept me begging for more and the week-long wait between episodes was painful (plus I was watching Clannad After Story weekly at the same time, so all that drama was just killing me!) You're right that it's not a particularly original series, but it's a very strong example of taking a tired anime formula and making it something great - giving us melodrama with a lot of heart and characters with depth behind the typical "moe high school" story.

    I didn't watch Toradora! again until two years later when NISA released the series on DVD in late 2010. I still loved it, but not as much as I did the first time around, probably because the suspense factor I had at the beginning was gone now that I knew everything that was going to happen ;) Plus a lot of the melodrama seemed a bit more over-the-top to me than it did originally. Still a great series though and one that I'll always recommend.