I love Ami from Toradora, and I don’t mean in an “Oh em gee, she my waifu! So desu kawaii!” type of way. I’m saying this as I’m realizing that a character I found obnoxious and unlikeable for a long time is actually a major reason why Toradora is such an important anime to me. Internet, you have just witnessed a change of heart, and it’s not Bakura revealing his trap card.
So let’s start by getting at the character of Ami. She’s vain, manipulative, and shallow. Right? Well, that’s how she’s introduced. In her debut episode, “Ami Kawashima”, Kitamura describes her as “Spoiled, selfish, and tyrannical. Your typical princess.” And her actions at that point justify that description.
But, we also know Ami is a character of multiple faces. When I first watched Toradora, I disliked Ami before her dark side was revealed, meaning I disliked her within about two minutes of her being introduced, because she appeared to be the same thing we’ve seen in anime over and over. The idealized, beautiful but innocent, shy and pure, just on the line between dim and just plain stupid waifu type. Topped off with the fact that she’s a model. Not something I think anime needs any more of, but she fakes it pretty well.
Through the series she was always the hardest character for me to understand. Between those two personalities, I never knew what to make of her or what kind of tricks she was playing. It didn’t help that most of the show’s clever dialogue came through her, meaning you had to interpret both the writing and the character simultaneously.
But that’s it, you are still having to interpret her character. She is not “Your typical princess,” that’s just another false face, and one that even Kitamura fell for. While these personas do affect the way she generally interacts with people, for the most part Ami is actually extremely straight forward and honest.
Look at this moment from the episode “Fireworks”.
While Ami is clearly wearing her “nice” persona there, she was clear about what she wanted, and true to her word to a kinda surprising degree. This, supposedly manipulative and selfish, character was willing to help and was upfront about what she wanted. Her demand to know what she’s being asked to help with is perfectly reasonable and not selfish, especially when Ryugi is actually the one hiding something. And the surprised on Ryuji’s face when Ami doesn’t help kinda exemplifies just how frank she is; most people wouldn’t be that blunt.
But all this really should only add up to a character I don’t dislike, or even a character I like. But as I said earlier, I love Ami, so what is it that puts her over that edge into being my favourite Toradora character, and one of my favourite characters. It’s self-consciousness.
I don’t mean “self-conscious” as in shy or awkward, I mean it as in self-aware. Ami knows exactly who she is, and while she’s not necessarily comfortable or happy with that, she can accept it. But more than that, I think the writers knew exactly who she was, and went with it anyway.
There’s a reason I groaned when I thought she was just another stupid waifu; because there are already a ton of those. And there’s a reason there’s a ton of them; because anime fans eat them up. Otaku can get seriously invested in their favourite waifu, especially among the Japanese audiences (and Toradora is definitely made with the Japanese audience in mind). A sweet personality, plus attractive character design, equals massive profits on body-pillow sales.
But a character who is manipulative or selfish, who would judge and take advantage of you, isn’t winning a lot of hearts with the male fans who already have enough trouble with girls (and understand, I’m talking about a subset of anime fans here, not the majority). Otaku who go for waifu value honesty. Well, Ami is a realistic depiction of honesty. And though I’ve been talking about Otaku, this can actually apply to anyone. Ami is off putting in her honesty, she doesn’t sugar-coat, she doesn’t euphemize.
This comes about from the episodes “Ami Kawashima” and “True self”. The actual moment of character realization is so spelled out that Ami literally yells it at the end. But the details provide some insight. Ami is scared because she has a stacker with a camera. But as a model, she should be perfectly comfortably being photographed. The difference is, when she’s modeling thing as carefully set up and even fabricated to sell a product. The stalker, however, takes pictures when she isn’t ready, takes pictures of who she is naturally. Ami just isn’t comfortable with who she is, at least, not until the end of those episodes.
Ami’s character isn’t staged to sell a product, body-pillows. It’s an attempt to show a real person, a realistic character. And the fact that her honesty can take you aback sometimes shows how unusual that really is.
Don’t Lose Your Way