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There are few anime that actually get to me. To say I’m properly cynical might be an exaggeration, but I can certainly be an ass. So how is it that one of the sappiest romantic comedy stories ever made actually got to me, and still has me fascinated with it? Simple, by being damn good. Today on The Anime Harvest, a review of Toradora.

Toradora is a romantic comedy anime, produced by J.C. Staff in two thousand eight, about true love. Not “true love” in the cheesy, conquers all sense, but in the sense of understanding the difference between infatuation and real love. The word “love-triangle” has been thrown around a lot, as well as other shapes, but that misunderstands and confuses the story. Most simply, highschooler Ryuji Takasu is infatuated with his classmate Minori Kushieda, meanwhile Minori’s best friend Taiga Aisaka likes Yusaku Kitamura, but neither one has the courage to confess their feelings. So Ryuji and Taiga, despite not getting along very well, agree to help each other into relationships with their crushes. Along the way, however, Ryuji and Taiga begin to fall in love with each other.

Toradora review

No, I have not just spoiled the show for you; I trust that you’re not that stupid. It’s clear to the audience from the first episode where this is going –it’s a romance with two characters on the cover art, gee, I wonder if those two characters will like each other– but the point is in the journey, and how is it that these characters come to terms with themselves. Answer: over the course of compelling and sympathetic character development from sheer adolescence to young adults.

We talk about highschool romances a lot in anime, but it’s rare that the “highschool” part means anything deeper than the setting. But Toradora is very much a story of young, often naive love. It’s about characters thinking that they have emotions and ambitions that they really don’t, and learning that the actual emotions are a lot less clear and obvious. It is romance that feeds off of adolescence.

When I say Toradora has emotions, I don’t mean it is just swimming in a shallow pool of anime tears. Each character shows a wide range of emotions that together feed into their motivation. Yes there’re is crying and yelling, but there’s also this.

Toradora Minori baseball

It’s hard to convey the significance of this shot in a review which is premised on the reader being unfamiliar with the show, because the point of that shot is that nothing is immediately apparent about the character, Miniori. Having watched the show I can point out certain things that are unusual and how they reflect on Minori’s character and indicate layers of complexity, but to anyone who hasn’t seen it, that shot doesn’t say anything. Ladies and gentlemen, I introduce you to subtlety, a concept that is rarely seen in the bubbly and over-saturated world of modern anime.

That’s not to say Toradora doesn’t ham it up as well, in fact quiet a lot of events, especially in the second quarter, are heavily overdramatized. But if you just follow the dramatic side of the characters, if you only feel the emotions when they are shoved in your face, you will not understand the characters. It is because of this that I found Toradora’s characters genuinely endearing rather than shallow and emotionally manipulative like so many other romance anime. It creates a clear distinction between the imagined or exaggerated emotion that comes about from a character’s adolescence, and the more complex emotions that aren’t immediately apparent to them.

The story is presented over the course of several arcs, which I didn’t realize on the first watch. Rather than being neatly chopped into sections, the arcs flow together smoothly. While characters and settings do get introduced then suddenly disappear, it always fits in the kind of natural flow of a continuous story. There aren’t large time jumps, and the story builds into each arc gradually. By always focusing on the main cast, they don’t start and end with the introduction and exit of an arc specific character. New characters tend to just accelerate what is already going on.

Similarly, themes don’t just pop in and out. All of the themes Toradora juggles are present throughout, but certain ones work their way to the forefront for certain subplots. It gives the anime a feeling of climaxes, without many jarring returns to form, and every episode feels like part of a larger whole. While overall progression does feel virtually nonexistent for most of the run, the third act gives the viewer moments of reflection and the slow build to it feels warranted, and at least never fails to entertain.

While humor is secondary, Toradora has a good sense for it, taking ever bit of advantage it can from being an anime and thus able to pull off all its silliness. Sometimes it’s just weird for the sake of weirdness, and other times it hits the nail on the head with comedic tone and rhythm. Most of the joke feel like throwaways and you forget them before the episode is even done, but a handful have been so good they partially define different parts of the show.

Toradora boom boom Ami

Just search Toradora Boom Boom on YouTube.

The animation is pretty much what you’d expect from a 2011 show and looks fine, but there’s more to be said about the art style. There are clear (though not always consistent) colour themes to the characters, and the animation sticks to them. Of course they all have ridiculous hair colours (this IS an anime), but the animation palette emphasizes certain hues of red, pink, orange, green and blue. For the most part each of these can correspond to one of the five main characters, but sometimes they’ll switch or a different colour theme will temporarily take over to present things in a different light.

It took me a while to understand how this felt so significant, after all it’s not unusual for anime to have character-colour matchups, but then I thought about it in comparison to some less saturated animation and it hit me. There is a distinct lack of gradient or shadow around these colours. Different shades are made clearly but subtly separate, which helps bring the colours out. It’s not like the show is a bright light show, but it definitely has a certain underplayed style to it.

toradora colours ami minori taiga

As for the ending, it is certainly satisfying. It doesn’t take the Clannad approach of trying to continue long past the initial stages of the relationship (which is not necessarily a bad thing) until it has no natural fulfilling climax, but it also doesn’t simply end with a first kiss. Toradora bounces through the first days of the relationship in a couple adrenalin high final episodes. It climaxes with the same story it had been telling from the beginning, young love confused by youth. It’s a beautiful and sympathetic end, and left me crying when I first watched it.

Toradora is a wonderful romance anime, even for the romantically disinclined. While it does run high on emotions at times, I’d never say that it’s sappy; rather it is best understood through the lens of the young adult characters. It’s got a great sense of humour to balance the drama and angst. Toradora is a deeper and more charming romance than any other anime I’ve seen in the genre.

Don’t Lose Your Way