Some may not be aware of this, but to me, this is akin to revisiting one’s childhood home and reminiscing about the wonderful years in one’s youth.
For the sake of continuity, I’ll regurgitate my history with this series once again: One could say this was my first “real” anime. Not to say Dragon Ball Z, Tenchi Muyo, Hamtaro, or any other mainstream Shounen series aren’t “real” anime, but they all fall within a collective of shows that kind of blend together due to their at-one-point (some still continuing) mainstream accessibility and translation into the (dubbed) English language, which may have filtered out various sequences that made the original what they were. With this criteria, I could also argue that Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann was the first “real” anime I ever watched, but I never actually finished that in one sitting, needing another month or so to see past the first episode in the time-skip sequence. Toradora! is the series that fits every criteria to the exclamation point.
The first(?) week of June. 2012. I was fresh out of high school and unemployed. A friend of mine was watching Toonami one night and really enjoyed what he saw of Deadman Wonderland. He convinced me to watch it, so I did, marathoning the entire series with him on a shitty anime streaming site. I fell in love with the anime medium once again and wanted to dig deeper. I had heard great things about Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann for years and wanted to see it for myself, watching part of the series with my brother, until the time skip put me off to the point where I didn’t want to watch it anymore (Heh, amateur).
Feeling unfulfilled, I skimmed my primary anime streaming site at the time for more interesting titles, wanting something at least two-cour to watch. I come across Toradora!. I read the premise. I looked at the cover photo. Something about it appealed to me, so I gave it a shot. Long story short, the ending gave me the ultimate bout of feels and literally depressed me, garnering the feelings of “I will never watch something quite like this for the rest of my life.” It becomes my unquestioned favorite anime of all-time, after watching exactly two and a half anime up to that point. (This period of time would eventually lead to the first of many Summer of Anime blocks.)
The middle of March. 2015. I’m in the middle of an anime hiatus, with the medium disappointing me with its heavy abundance of crowd-pleasing, sex-fueled harem series (Heh, amateur). I wonder to myself what I could do to reinvigorate my love for anime once again. Rewatch an anime that literally depressed me. Perfect. I did so, and I loved it all over again. It also kickstarted my passion for anime. It was a nice time to be an anime fan for me.
But there is an interesting sequence I glossed over between 2012 and 2015 where I had rewatched Toradora! for the first time, and I didn’t love it. This led to an underlying feeling of “Okay, maybe Toradora! isn’t all that great… Eww, I don’t want that.” Such a feeling was only exacerbated when I rewatched Katanagatari, another favorite of mine, and loved it more the second time, creating an internal conflict of which series I actually preferred as my top favorite. After the 2015 revisit, however, I still held firm that Toradora! deserved that top spot. It meant everything to me. It was, in my own words, “the perfect anime for me.” Notice how I’m still using past tense.
Late September-Early October. 2018. I decide to rewatch Toradora! on a whim. It had been over three years and I figured it would mean no harm to rekindle those old feelings once again. Though at the back of my mind, I had a motivation: I wanted to revisit my favorites and see if they held up under the mountain of anime I’ve seen up to this point (429 series). I had told myself in the past that, “objectively,” Toradora! is more of an 8/10, with a lot of glaring issues during its early and late episodes. Watching it for the fourth time, my heart did not stop me from giving my genuine stamp of quality onto the series.
Okay, seven-hundred words in and now the review can finally begin.
Toradora! is a very intriguing series. On the surface, the premise is rather straightforward, promising a lot of goofy hijinks and an abundance of situations created through misunderstandings. And it plays out as just that, especially in the first three episodes. The first three episodes have more substance to it than many series of the same caliber has in about six. The pace is shockingly fast, with the underlying inevitability of the premise’s twist (that anyone with a functioning brain could predict) taking root in the second episode. All of a sudden, however, the pace slows down tremendously, with a lot of the content prior to the halfway point of the series serving as, but doesn’t entirely feel like, filler. Toradora! does well to include some wholesome and occasionally plot-progressing situations into even the most empty-feeling episodes and scenes.
I began to feel the effects of “Ohhh… Yeah… This wasn’t very enjoyable…” by the middle of episode three, realizing that even in my most adoring state, I was never very fond of two stretches of this anime: the first three episodes and the stretch between episodes twenty and twenty-three. These issues arise from the pacing, which I’ve discussed at some length in the previous paragraph, and—starting with the first three episodes—the focus of the series (I’ll speak upon the issues of the second stretch later on).
There’s something about the first three episodes that feels incredibly devoid of anything, as the tone and direction of the series doesn’t really match the rest of the series going forward. Initially, the premise is that Taiga and Ryuuji want to get with each other’s best friends, so they help each other to do so. Before they can really try, however, they have to clear up the misunderstandings attributed to their sudden relationship at school and the reputations they developed from their appearance. By some point in episode two, there’s some indication that the partnership between Taiga and Ryuuji would end, at episode two, which is a little odd. Meandering to the finish line, the series only picks up upon the inclusion of Ami, who becomes a clear obstacle for Taiga and a character smart enough to cause some tension and push for the initial plot at hand. She kind of saves the series in the beginning.
What problems arise for the second stretch noted—between episodes twenty and twenty-three—is a problem faced through a larger portion of the series as a whole: pretentious writing. Many of the negative criticisms I’ve seen attributed to this series include “melodramatic,” “holier-than-thou script,” and “Taiga is a huge bitch.” All of these, unfortunately, are true to varying extents, though the one I noticed most intensely upon this latest rewatch was definitely within the script. Through all my watches of this series, I have never liked Kushieda as a character. I think she’s odd for no reason and generally annoying, and I realized that part of that is attributed to her dialogue. Speaking about “Seeing ghosts” and blurting out random “LOL XD” remarks instills not just a sense of vague, pseudo-intellectual writing, but tryhard attempts at humors. She is almost never clear about her intentions and even when she is, I never feel like I really understand her personal conflicts.
Without picking on Kushieda specifically, most characters in this series are subject to these pseudo-intellectual monologuing moments, especially the women in the series. Ami actually does so more than anyone else, only with her it feels more competent because her character is established as smart enough to figure out how everyone feels and why she personally feels it’s all bullshit. Not to say she never feels tryhard, but with her it’s a little more of her character’s propensity to do so. Such dialogue also doesn’t always feel pseudo-intellectual, as the more direct monologues characters have that unearth their inner feelings are among the strongest points of the series, most evidenced by the final minutes of episode nineteen. What this reveals to me is that this emphasis on “deep” writing becomes a double-edged sword; the writer uses it far too much in situations that probably don’t need it as much as others, creating a cloud of constant tension in even the more cheery parts of the series’s run, creating that melodramatic stretch. Simultaneously, it makes the more gripping reveals, twists, and emotional appeals all the more heart-wrenching and sweet.
On a less tangible aspect, Toradora! is a series that falls into a category of anime that’s a little harder to really elaborate upon. It’s a title that both feels and doesn’t feel like an anime. The structure of the series and the events that transpire feel almost as though it could’ve been written by any person in any society, creating this flow that allows the story to be bigger than its medium’s restrictions. At the same time, the harem tendencies, the melodramatic ending spurt, and the humor/dialogue makes it indistinguishably Japanese. This sort of universal feeling gives it an all-around level of accessibility that’s hard to find in anime, serving as an entertaining piece for anime and non-anime fans alike.
There were very few points during this rewatch where I found myself fondly remembering the old days. By the halfway point I was convinced that I would completely disregard the past and watch the series as though it was the first time, only I had the knowledge of what would happen next. This would change upon viewing the final episode of the series, which I have now bequeathed the title of best episode (previously held by episode nineteen). From the “Practice wedding” scene to the broader dynamics of Ryuuji’s family situation to the unexpected disappearance of a major character, it wraps itself up in about as interesting a way as I could expect from a series (only I wished it showed a little more before, y’know, the final episode). It was here where my soul had returned to my viewing experience and the deep emotional closeness I had with this series gave me the fond tranquility of the meaning this series had for me years prior. It’s only appropriate to have the feelings most prominent when it’s so close to farewell.
In the end, it’s not quite an 8/10, but it hangs onto the bottom of my favorites list as a reminder of its place in my anime “career.” Toradora! is not a great series, and not even a series I would gladly recommend to everyone in the way I would for most of my favorites. It is, however, still an anime that can expel the deepest sympathies and joyous nostalgia out of my body through its most subliminal moments, reminding me of the journey I’ve taken to get to this point and where the love for the medium truly began. It isn’t quite an ode, but it’s as close to an ode as I can give in the structure of a formal(ish?) review of a series that means so much to me.
The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.