Toradora Series Review: The King of Rom-Coms


Modern anime is often criticized for being increasingly niche and cliche-driven. While that claim is somewhat reductive, it is also partially true. The difficult prospect of creating a hit-manga or animated series is made easier when that property is being targeted at an existing market. While a sizable percentage of new anime series released each year succumb to tropes in a way that makes them virtually unidentifiable from one another, a rare few take their well-worn central conceits and hone them to perfection. Toradora is a definitive example of this. It takes the formula of the high school romantic comedy and adds a layer of emotional, character, and thematic particularity that distinguishes it from its peers. Its breezy sense of humor naturally extends from its characters, and as they gradually shed their personas, the drama unfurls just as organically. Any rom-com lives or dies by three main points: the likability of its cast, the consistency of its humor, and how convincingly the romance plays out. These three elements are this series’ bread and butter.

The story starts with Ryuji Takasu entering his second year of high school. He’s a nice kid, but he inherited a mean look from his yakuza father, making it tough to get close to his peers. On his way to class he bumps into the diminutive Taiga Aisaka, known throughout the school for her short temper. Taiga doesn’t take this sleight well and throws a vicious uppercut at the unsuspecting Ryuji, knocking him out cold. Later that day, Taiga mistakenly places a love letter in Ryuji’s bag, which was intended for his best friend and desk neighbor Kitamaru. After he discovers the letter, Taiga suddenly bursts though his window. Wielding a wooden katana, she vows to hit Ryuji so hard that he’ll forget what he’s seen. In a desperate attempt to calm her down, Ryuji reveals his own secret crush, Taiga’s best friend Minorin. After laughing at Ryuji for batting out of his league, the two form an agreement, they will help get to know their crushes better.

Toradora’s success as a rom-com largely extends from the hilarious and constantly gratifying chemistry between its two leads. After the initial violent encounter at Ryuji’s home, Taiga becomes a constant addition at Takasu family meals. Having grown up without a father, and with his mother working nights, Ryuji has learned to cook and clean (and enjoys it too). Taiga is ostracized from her family in a large but mostly empty neighboring apartment, and with Ryuji she finally finds a place she feels at home. Taiga and Ryuji’s never-ending biting comments, the hilarious imbalance in the work load, and the warm undertones of this found family are a consistent delight. They both come from fractured home lives, and the two form a seemingly tumultuous, but deeply affectionate connection.

On the surface all of the main characters in the series can be boiled down to tropes. The selfless male protagonist, and fiery tsundere characters have been done ad-naseum, but script writer Mari Okada makes it clear that these personas are merely shields that these kids use to hide their true selves. High school is a time when appearances mean everything, and as a result each of the characters try to carve out a niche for themselves. This concept bursts to the forefront when Ami, a model who is a childhood friend of Kitamaru, joins their class. While she is actually vain and intensely critical of others, she hides behind an airhead persona to get people to like her (and they do). Taiga is the opposite, her troubled home life leading her to treat almost everyone with hostility outside of her best friend Minorin. Minorin herself is a genki and a hilariously weird one at that, but it’s made clear that even she can’t always be a concentrated ball of energy. She harbors fears, doubts, and eventually intense guilt, which becomes increasingly difficult to hide. Essentially every major character in the show has secret feelings and inner complexities. Kind of like, you know, real people.

However, even when these characters are wearing masks, they are written with a sense of particularly that would make them engaging without the additional layers. Taiga playing the heel, Minorin’s intensity, Kitamaru’s fixation with ladders, Ryuji’s cleaning compulsion; all of these gimmicks never fail to deliver. When the plot takes on a more grave demeanor in its final act, it’s hard not to feel a longing for the easy-going days before things got so complicated. But that’s kind of the point, striving for change and the gaining self acceptance are difficult things. Impressively, watching these high school students grapple with their personal issues is just as rewarding as its more light-hearted segments.

The visual humor and specificity of the cast is bolstered by the strong character designs and reaction shots. Taiga’s scowling visage and Minorin’s exuberant arm flailing will remain burned into to my retinas for the foreseeable future. The voice actors also capture the shifting facades of their characters beautifully, and they are fully brought to life when paired with the expressive animation.

While the romance beats rely on the stretched plotting that is typical of the genre, it feels more genuine than just a dramatic contrivance. Both Taiga and Ryuji have put their crushes on a pedestal, afraid of the prospect of actually making a move. They entirely ignore their flaws in a way that makes it hard for them to engage with Minorin and Kitamaru as actual people, allowing their would-be lovers to exist as unassailable ideals. They eventually find the courage to make moves, but then things get complicated. As the tangled web becomes increasingly convoluted near the end of the show, these moments hit like a truck thanks to how well-realized these people are. The script remains strong throughout, the bumps on the roller-coaster ride of emotions being properly foreshadowed through small peeks into the character’s psyches.

Toradora is one of those rare shows that filled me with a distinct sense of melancholy on completion, entirely because of the realization that my window into the protagonists’ lives would be shut. It balances its humor and drama admirably, conveying the perceived gravity of these high schoolers’ lives. While some will undoubtedly deride it as just another rom-com, its musings on the nature of identity and how we curate that identity are profound. And did I mention it’s funny? And really, really charming. Its hard to imagine a show that would accomplish the objectives of the genre any better; its hilarious, heart-felt, and I’d like to spend time with these characters forever.

Rating: A+

Image Source: Crunchyroll


6 thoughts on “Toradora Series Review: The King of Rom-Coms

      1. Ya that’s a great comparison. It’s easy to deride things for being “too tropey”, but there is a reason those tropes have formed over time. If something can capitalize on them perfectly it can make for some of the best storytelling out there.

        Liked by 2 people

  1. I’ve been thinking about watch Toradora for a while but I always skipped over it for some reason. After your review though I really want to give it a try. I’m a personal fan of love stories so I think I’ll give this the chance you say it deserves.

    Liked by 2 people

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