Synopsis: Ryuji Takasu is a misunderstood high school student with the face of a thug, but the hobbies of a housewife. One day after school he encounters Taiga Aisaka, a girl known throughout the school for her violent temper and personality. After accidently recieving a love letter from her intended for his best friend Yuusaku Kitamura, she breaks into his apartment to get it back and ends up finding out his crush on her best friend Minori Kushieda. The two then decide to help each other out with their respective crushes and play matchmaker.
High school romance stories and slice of life shows are a big staple of anime these days. The formula is often while entertaining generally predictable and while the material can sometimes be interesting its rarely memorable. However amongst a sea of similar shows with similar goals, Toradora manages to stand out above the rest not by being noticeably different, but by refining and polishing the many well-worn tropes of the genre.
Ryuji and Taiga start out seemingly very archetypal characters and ones that are very familiar to regular viewers of the genre. Ryuji is the responsible and sarcastic nice guy while Taiga is violent and impulsive, and the two quickly form a dynamic around that with Ryuji eventually declaring that they’re the only ones who can really handle each other. As early as episode 2 though, it becomes apparent that there’s more beneath the surface for both and after a scene where they both vent out their frustrations over their bad social status, begin to make their first steps towards changing themselves.
Nothing like kicking a pole to shake off some of the ol’ angst
Much of the show’s first half is spent in lighthearted comedy and character introductions as Ryuji and Taiga try to push each other towards their respective love interests. Kitamura and Minori both come into their own a bit as characters during this time though Minori more so as her see initially seems to be an extreme ditz but soon shows herself to be more down to earth than expected when it comes to the things she cares about. We also get introduced to Ami Kawashima, a girl who pretends to be an airhead but in reality is snobby and self-centered, and she gains a slight attraction to Ryuji when he sees through her facade and forces her to confront herself. They all quickly form into a group of sorts and one that helps Ryuji and Taiga to grow closer together.
The first real challenge towards their relationship though, occurs towards the end of the first half of the series when Ryuji attempts to help Taiga restore her relationship with her father. He believes his intentions are good and that it’s all in her best interest, but as he realizes how little Taiga’s father actually cares, he soon realizes he’s been pushing his own issues with his father onto her and how much she’s actually suffering. In the aftermath of the events, Ryuji and Taiga are somewhat able to bring their relationship back to normal, but he now knows just how fragile Taiga’s heart actually is and how much she attempts to cover it up.
If my dad ditched me like that I’d be pretty angry too
This all largely plays into the second half of the show, which begins pushing the relationships between the characters as far as it can take them. It kicks off with a bit of development for Kitamura and his implied relationship with the school’s student council president, but much of the focus is on the two leads. In the beginning of the second half, Ami whose romantic interest in Ryuji has diminished somewhat, warns him that the almost father-daughter like relationship between himself and Taiga is unhealthy and will undoubtedly end in someone being hurt. At the time he doesn’t really understand what she means by that but as he gets closer and closer towards Minori, the truth makes itself clear.
When Taiga helps Ryuji make the final step towards confessing his feelings for Minori, she soon realizes that she’s fallen in love with Ryuji herself. Though Minori has feelings for him as well she decides to turn him down after seeing Taiga break down from her realization. and leaves Ryuji heartbroken. However Taiga isn’t quite done playing matchmaker for the two, deciding to bottle up her own feelings them, and things soon spiral out of control as everyone attempts to put aside their feelings for what they think will make the other the happiest.
Who’ll win? My money’s on the redhead
However in the end as the characters all soon realize, only you can truly decide what makes you happy, not others and worrying over that shouldn’t stop you from going after the things that you want. Eventually Taiga does seize hold of her love for Ryuji, which he returns after his own realization, and though the two try to escape from all the problems in their lives together, they know it’s not worth the expense of losing it. Reality soon sets in for them and though the consequences are severe their love perseveres and brings everything to a satisfying conclusion.
J.C. Staff brings a solid looking production for the series. The animation is rarely stand out but it shines in a few instances. It’s art style is similar to many other shows of the genre but the character designs manage to avoid looking too similar to each other. The music for the series isn’t particularly memorable but the theme songs such as “Pre-Parade” by Rie Kugimiya and “Silky Heart” by Yui are pretty catchy and are likely to stick in your head well after finishing the series.
Despite being the first slice of life show dubbed in California in a long time, the English dub by Bang Zoom Entertainment is phenomenal and is a serious contender for the best of the year as each of the actors brings their A-game for the show. Erik Kimerer and Cassandra Lee do a great job as lead characters Ryuji and Taiga respectively, and cover all their hidden aspects well. Christine Marie Cabanos also delivers a surprisingly strong performance for Minori and Erika Harlacher shows off a bit more of her range as Ami. There’s no one role that particularly stands out the best but each performance is fantastic and even if you’ve already seen the show before, it’s a dub still worth checking out.
Toradora is high school romance done right, and done in a way that while not particularly fresh, easily leaves it’s mark in the genre. The struggle and development of the characters feels more real here than in similar shows, and brings everything to an emotional ending while not completely straying from the realism of what the consequences are. It’s a masterpiece amongst it’s craft and one that will not be soon forgotten. It can’t be recommended enough.
Available for streaming on Crunchyroll and on disc at Right Stuff