I’ve tried Toradora twice now. The original time was back when it was airing, romance has always been the genre I love most so of course I tried it out once it began, but I found it to be just a mish mash of cliches and archetypes – worse, all of them were the same ones that had been over saturating the industry for several years at that time. I couldn’t stand it, especially not with how hard it was trying to cash in on absolutely every popular trend at the time rather than be good on it’s own merit even if that included plenty of unoriginal ideas. It was about 8 episodes in when I stopped bothering, I think. The second time was, well, now – and I finished it this time.
After the series stopped airing it gained a lot of traction over the years as one of the best romance series and overall anime ever. However, that information itself isn’t trustworthy at all – it comes primarily from people who will even admit they “don’t have much experience with this genre”. Read as people who have no right to claim something is the best or not when they don’t actually have any perspective to base that on. Toradora is, however, fantastic as a gateway series to get people to try something they usually wouldn’t, but that doesn’t mean much on its own. How does it actually stand up on it’s own, and how good is it as a romance? I felt after all this time maybe I only hated it at the time due to the things I mentioned already which all this time later wasn’t as much of a problem because times have changed in the industry since then, so I finally decided on restarting and finally finishing it.
Another thing many people ignore aside the “I don’t actually watch romances” people who review or praise this is that many also try to pretend that this happened in a time when none of what this show does was being done, that it was a genre definer, that it is the source of these cliches. It’s not though, and that’s where I’ll pull my “I know more about anime than most people and have followed the industry and the medium for much longer and more deeply than most as well” card. It’s not elitism, it’s relevant. This show came out in a time when absolutely every anime was exactly this show, and this wasn’t even in the first ‘generation’ of that. The easiest example of when it really started would be with Shakugan no Shana, which aired 3 years prior to Toradora (the LNs are irrelevant, as neither one was popular enough to be worth a shit and these names only became known thanks to the TV shows) which hilariously enough also was the beginning of the end for Kugimiya’s career for literally the next 10 years – 2005 to 2015, wherein she repeatedly played the same shit role while her talent was squandered. Shana is also literally the exact character Taiga is copied from, it’s no coincidence the light novels are from the same publisher and magazine nor that Shana and Taiga are completely identical and even have the same quirks, personalities, and voice. She’s not the only copy pasted element – actually almost everything is.
Toradora is INCREDIBLY derivative, however like I said earlier, I think this time gap helped me dislike it LESS because I could more easily look past the fact it was the same as every other show in that ‘era’ of the medium. It’s less annoying when the last 30 shows you just watched aren’t the exact same thing. This might sound like I’m shitting on the show, but I’m not being sarcastic or ironic when I say it – after all this time the show felt nostalgic thanks to how by the book it was. Normal nostalgia is nothing special and I don’t really think most anime has a nostalgic factor at all, but this is just such a perfect picture of the time it was created in every single way. It definitely gives it a new feeling after all these years than it had back then when it was just yet another same show, and that feeling really helped me enjoy it and want to continue watching it. It’s a special type of charm and I appreciated that.
One thing that didn’t change at first was my feelings for Taiga. She was, and still is even though this type of character isn’t as in-style anymore, designed around pandering to otaku. She is made up of nothing but what was popular at the time. Tsundere, ‘loli’, thigh highs/ZR, Kugimiya reprising her Shana voice, short but aggressive girls, and I could keep going. Taiga is in all ways a product of the time and likely the reason the light novel was adapted when it was. Even looking past that, her personality is pretty lacking throughout the first third or so of the show, but honestly – and very surprisingly to me – she really came into her own after that. She’s still pandering personified, but she became a person on top of that and a likable and pretty cute one at that.
Yet another big issue I originally face yet found a solution for this time was the voice acting. The Japanese audio for this whole show is abysmal. Kugimiya doesn’t fit Taiga’s personality or looks at all and was shoved in due to her popularity at the time, playing the same shitty little ‘tsundere-loli’ shana archetype for probably about the 40th time by this point. Not only was it grating, obnoxious, and unfitting – but it was upsetting because, again, she’s incredibly talented and yet Shana ruined her and Toradora cashed in on that just like everyone else. She wasn’t the only problem – the entire cast was decided on based purely on popularity at the time rather than fit. This time I opted to go with the dub, and I think this may be one of the better dubs I’ve ever heard.
The casting was not only incredibly spot-on for every character, but they even used some VAs with barely any real experience, I mean hell Taiga’s voice actress had only a handful of side character’s to her name before (or since) this yet she manages to make Taiga into Taiga rather than Shana with brown hair. She even sounds much more like the right age, as does the rest of the cast. They were willing to go the Geneon-style route of picking based on the best fit even with inexperienced actors rather than simply reusing the same voices for the same types of roles that they’d know would at least be a ‘safe’ option. Obviously this has several VAs who have been greatly known for ages, but even those that are seemed to have been chosen out of a genuine auditions. The localization was also fantastic and really gave more life to the cast and made what was originally just a bunch of cardboard cutouts of popular archetypes into interesting and fun people. Every character sounded like they were themselves, both in how they spoke, how they sounded, and the things they said. This overall raised the entire quality of the show a step above all by itself.
Music wise I really liked the first OP and ED, and this is a show that does one of my favorite things – that thing where the ED song bleeds into the tail end of the episode. It worked great with the first ED, but the second song used for it is upbeat and just seems to be a random character song from three of the characters and just destroys the atmosphere the moment it starts every single time. The OST was alright, there are a few memorable songs but not much more than that, pretty run of the mill. I do want to point out that godawful song in the Christmas episode though, not only do you have to listen to this just terrible song as an insert song, you have to hear it again at the end of the ep as well. I really could have done without this, especially when it started playing over an important scene. SAAAAaaaaaAAAAAAAAaaaaaa KUUUuuuuuRIIIIsuuUuUUuUuUMAASSSssSSsssSSS. Shut the fuck up, Kugimiya, you can’t sing in this retarded voice you’re being forced to use.
Animation and art quality were also pretty average for the time. Nothing special, nothing terrible with the exception of any scene with a lot of action or “fluid” movement where we’d get Naruto level QUALITY for 90% of the frames. This is especially true for the fighting sequences later on.
Now the important part, what I actually thought about the show in terms of content and characters – the two things kind of intermix so yeah.
It may be hard to believe but I honestly hate that this is true; the show has terrible writing. The most important element in romance is making the characters and their emotions feel natural, believable, and real. This show doesn’t accomplish any of that, and why I said I hate that it’s true is because there are a lot of times where it starts going in a great direction and then just fucking tosses it all. The story is incredibly contrived right from the get go and that only gets worse as it continues and explodes out of nowhere into an ending made up of the most incredibly perfect examples of “forced drama” imaginable all being smushed into a tiny timeframe. It frustrates me so much because there’s so much here to enjoy or be really moved by – and yet all of it goes to waste every time it comes close to doing that.
Instead of making this even longer than it already is going to be, I’ll try to focus on a few key things that just really fucking bother me about the writing in this show. Here’s an easy one: Ami. Why does she exist at all? She serves OBJECTIVELY no purpose in the entire story or any of the side stories aside her personal contained one. Outside of that she has no influence, impact, or relevance to any of the cast or plot threads. Yet she’s treated as a main character and gets focused on just so she can be a bitch in a meaningless throwaway scene from time to time. I said Taiga was the ready-made pandering device earlier, but really Ami is far worse. Taiga actually has a personality and develops, plus she serves a purpose…Ami just is there being a cunt all the way clear through to the end. Even her randomly shoved in feelings for Ryuuji are never explained – he didn’t even help her with the stalker so they can’t pull that corny cliche even though it’s when her feelings began. Worse though, it doesn’t matter why she likes him because she’s just ignored by the entire story and cast, as if she’s some character they put in because someone won some contest where the winner gets to create a ‘main cast member’ and so they had to. Even that random classmate who later has a crush on Kitamura, hell even the dude friends, have more relevance to the characters and the main story.
More important though, after all these years I realized something big. I thought I hated the show because of Taiga – but really she just was part of what turned me off from the show at the time due to the over saturation of characters just like her…but the real problem, the real big issue with this show, is none other than Ryuuji the lead character. He starts off just being your everyday generic lead for a male-lead romance and then he grows to being the most unbelievably inconsistent and obnoxious person in the entire series. I don’t mean his feelings go all over and he doesn’t know what he wants – I mean in terms of the writing they just conveniently ignore basic personality traits and feelings he has unless they would serve a purpose at the time.
For example his feelings for Minori are only consistent for the first three or so episodes. After that they just completely disappear aside for specific little jokes that last half a second then disappear and he’s even around her all the time without seeming to even notice she exists, only coming up when it’s convenient for the plot. He just unnaturally loses interest in this girl he was totally in love with before yet then magically is in love with her again whenever the story dictates it necessary. Even Taiga’s feelings for Kitamura stay in place and continually come up until she fairly naturally comes to form feelings for Ryuuji. It’s stuff like this interest in Minori disappearing then reappearing whenever it’s convenient for a joke or for the story that ruins the entire show.
One scene he’ll be nervous as shit by Minori being 10 feet away from him and blushing up a storm, the next he’ll be fine sitting right next to her and talking to her without even thinking a single thing about her and just wondering about other shit or talking to someone else, then the next ep that same sitting next to each other scenario will play out and he’ll be incredibly embarrasssed and thanking the gods for letting this situation happen, and then he’ll forget she exists for three episodes essentially while she’s even having physical contact with him from time to time let alone talking and being close, and then yet again randomly 10 feet away OH GOD WOW IT’S KUSHIEDA OH GOD THANK YOU SHE’S STANDING SO CLOSE TO ME I CAN BARELY TAKE IT and then another time just outright almost fucking slapping her over shit that has NOTHING TO DO WITH ANYTHING and isn’t even his business. Then you have that and other things intermixed with him at least somewhat interested in Ami and then of course Taiga too and it’s just a fucking mess. How am I supposed to believe he ever loved Minori when he’s like this?
Even all that aside, there’s a point in a later episode where Minori is not only slapped real hard several times, but then punched in the gut even. What’s his response? Stand there and watch. LITERALLY NOTHING ELSE. Oh, he does say “Taiga!” when she’s also just standing there watching because she’s a small statured girl, not a big dude who claims to love the person getting her ass beat (speaking of which, how did she not just completely overpower a fucking model when she’s in incredible shape and is very athletic fighting a dainty nothing who probably barely eats to maintain her figure outside of pigging out post-stalker). What kind of person just watches as the person they supposedly love is being beat on? He doesn’t even try stopping Ami until after they’ve hit the shit out of each other plenty. Oh, it’s not done though. What happens later? She yells right in front of him that she’s in love with him and has been for a really long time – and his reaction is fucking nothing. Yeah, by this episode he’s supposed to like Taiga (for, again, no reason given) but this is the girl who he was still blushing over and in love with LITERALLY LESS THAN 3 MINUTES AGO yet now he just INSTANTLY does not give a shit about her confessing her love? Again, how am I supposed to believe his feelings for her when this type of shit is the norm throughout the series – hell, how am I supposed to believe his feelings for Taiga when they have zero development and also when he’s this fucking fickle?
It only gets worse when you get further along, not only do his feelings about Minori continue in that retarded fashion but he just out of nowhere is in love with Taiga. I’ll admit, I was very pleasantly surprised by how much development Taiga’s feelings for Ryuuji have and how well they were handled, but there was NO development of Ryuuji’s feelings for her. Yes, you can assume this and that, but at that point you’re just deluding yourself that somehow “well you can just guess they came about because of x or y thing that wasn’t even implied, hinted at, or said to have happened even subtly” makes good writing. How can I believe he loves Taiga when all I have to base that off of is the fact this is a fictional piece telling the story of these two getting together rather than ANYTHING in the entire show?
As I said earlier, the most important element in romance is making the characters and their emotions feel natural, believable, and real. Again, I just don’t see that here at all. Oddly enough the most well done, emotional, and believable romance and drama in the entire show was the one between the student council president and Kitamura. One complete side character that barely is in the show and one main-supporting role, and they manage to outshine absolutely everything else in the series. Minori and Taiga feel like their feelings were very well handled too – but the conclusion of both of those situations is fucking awful and out of nowhere.
Toradora is a frustrating story about a cool yet incredibly generic and most importantly amazingly inconsistent lead surrounded by a mostly great cast who aren’t allowed to actually showcase that greatness and how he comes to love a girl but then, within minutes, switch those feelings with another at the last second. There’s no reason this needs to be a 10/10, a masterpiece, an important piece of the medium, a genre definer, a deconstruction, or whatever else but it’s worth saying it definitely ISN’T any of those things. I want to say it’s an average at best romance, I really do, I was hoping to say at LEAST that and was actually leaning more towards an 8/10 or so…but the more I watched the more the show fell apart.
The final 5 episodes are just intolerably terrible. Everything and everyone – and I do mean EVERYONE even classmates who had no relevance until now – all fucking spaz out to the point it’s almost as if the show took a strange twist and went all Higurashi and everyone got poisoned and became insane or something. It becomes a mountain of forced drama, screaming, and random violence. There’s not even a build up to it, it just all erupts at once. There’s multiple fist fights between girls over men, yelling matches between absolutely everyone even if they were never relevant characters at all, even by pure amazing chance the teacher bothering them about those stupid career plan things like 8 times an episode in this last bit and Taiga’s mom who we never met the entire show and Ryuuji’s mom who don’t even know each other happen upon Taiga and Ryuuji randomly in a random street at the same time and both start yelling them about unrelated things which is just the most amazing “coincidence” ever imagined up by anyone. Then that ends up leading up to Ryuuji just completely shitting on his mother by telling her what a failure fuck-up disappointment she is and how she’s a no-life dead-end loser out of goddamn nowhere after she’s done so much to make sure he gets to have a happy normal life and even sells her dignity every night to make sure he can keep living in a nice little apartment and going to school, raging on to the point I thought he was going to hit her.
We also get Taiga accidentally confessing to Ryuuji while she’s goddamn concussed and should be near death from being knocked out in a blizzard for hours, that is of course before Minori just fucking launches her best friend Taiga in a totally serious scene across an entire classroom smashing her into the opposite wall because she’s mad at her which by the way nobody in the show even mentions. That’s also after Minori already tried beating the shit out of Ami an episode or two beforehand. This is all just a small example of what goes on in these last episodes, but none of it is any less nonsensical and over the top and out of nowhere. Don’t worry, Minori ups her victim count up till the final episode where yet again she assaults someone – this time Ryuuji, because apparently she’s just really fucking violent and hits every main character aside Kitamura and herself without hesitation.
And yet with all that, the biggest issue comes from Ryuuji’s magical out of nowhere feelings for Taiga. This is a show that otherwise did pretty good developing everyone’s love for one another on some level aside Ami’s. Ryuuji’s feelings for Minori made sense – and yes, I like Minori, but I don’t say this because of that as I went in knowing he’d get with Taiga and was totally fine with that as Taiga developed and started falling for him really naturally from the start. Ryuuji though in one of the final episodes just drops out of love with Minori and totally in love with Taiga within, and I’m not exaggerating, about 2 minutes and for no actual reason aside…actually, it seems like finding out Minori was in love with him is what made him stop loving her, as incredibly ironic as that is, and just switched immediately to his backup choice. That was the exact moment he never showed feelings for her again then within one more minute later he himself was confessing his love for Taiga to Minori without hesitation, as if all he was really after was shooting this girl down for fun after all this time and then within the next 10 minutes is telling Taiga they’re gonna run away together and get married when 12 minutes ago he had absolutely no romantic interest in her and it’s even treated as a serious thing they genuinely consider throughout the rest of that episode rather than him just blurting out whatever. Even their friends go along with the idea and, oh, they literally do it not to mention after his mom also goes missing and he just doesn’t care about that either. Then Taiga runs away from that too with no real explanation of why aside “s-s-she’s trying to shine brighter” yeah, okay, what’s that have to do with living with her mom? Nothing.
Every bit of those final five episodes are hilarious and yet super frustrating because they throw away everything the show was building up so carefully up to then but does it so sloppily you can’t help but fucking laugh at it while it’s trying to be so serious while it ruins the conclusion of every plot string because it’s so fucking stupid. Sure it had problems along the way, some glaring ones, but this is just an embarrassingly retarded mess of a conclusion to everything. It falls incredibly flat as a romance and a drama and does a terrible job developing and nurturing the entire main focus of the story. It doesn’t even step into the same realm as things like Cross Game, Nana, or Honey & Clover and instead is more suitable to be categorized with low-tier romcoms and harems.
I can see what the show was trying to do, but it doesn’t even come close to achieving it and it’s disappointing because it really had potential to be something that was pretty great. Instead you end up with an insane clusterfuck final portion leading up to the stupidest ending possible that doesn’t even make sense. It’s just ends on a totally random shitstorm of insanity levels of drama, as if the writing staff realized “oh shit, we only have 5 episodes to go and we haven’t actually concluded any of the story for any of the cast” and threw absolutely everything in at the last second completely out of nowhere in the ways that would be resolved quickest (usually violence or yelling). I really wish I was exaggerating about how bad and just completely chaotic it becomes for literally every single person, main or not, existing in the show right when the start of the fifth-to-last episode hits and through until the end. If you saw this awhile back and think I am exaggerating, you may want to think about it a bit more or even go back and refresh your memory – this isn’t me blowing some small shit out of proportion.
In the end, I actually think worse of this show now than I originally did which really sucks when it was actually really pretty great for almost all of it, even with the various issues it had throughout it somehow keeps you interested and caring and needing to see what happens next through most of the show before fucking shitting all over every bit of it.
This may be one of the worst and fucking stupidest endings overall, not just the very ending but that whole conclusion ‘arc’ that spans the entirety of the last 5 episodes, that I’ve ever seen. It’s just such an unbelievably chaotic and unnaturally dramatic stupid fucking clusterfuck of nonsense. While it may not reach Mahoromatic levels of unbelievably shit endings, it’s definitely not all that far behind either.