Oct 3, 2018
TK8878 (All reviews)
Review in brief: Toradora! is full of the usual high-school rom-com tropes and clichés, yet it not only succeeds but excels at nearly everything it works towards. It doesn’t contain those tropes just because they’re standard; it knows how & why they were meant to be used in the first place and uses them to their fullest. By tying them together with a strong central theme, Toradora! becomes an excellent journey crafted out of familiar story elements.

Review in full: The premise of Toradora! is simple; it’s a high school rom-com in which the main characters are trying to hook each other up with their best friends, as they each happen to have crushes on the other's friend. It’s a premise that surprises nobody, and it doesn’t take much thought to correctly guess how things will end up. If you don’t know who the main characters end up with by the end of episode 2 then you simply had to have missed something. At this point Toradora! may sound like a waste of time, but that would be deciding that a cake tastes bad based only on its shape. The “main romance” elements are basically given to the audience from the get-go because they are only a setup for the real goal of Toradora!, and that is to cultivate a character drama around the concept of self-honesty within the artificial world we know as “high-school”.

It starts with the characters, both main & side. On the surface they are quite tropey and in many ways just what you’d expect out of this genre of anime. In this way they also tend to have exaggerated physical and emotional features, emphasizing their feelings and antics towards the other characters. However, in time it is shown that these “typical” behaviors are, much like the rest of high school society, a façade, within which vulnerable teenage self-identities hide in fear and feared personas are cast into by those less caring. These characters aren’t the standard templates they initially appear to be; they are actually defined by their thought processes and emotional reaction points. This refreshing form of characterization is the path that allows what at first is just a typical rom-com cast to grow into the central theme of self-honesty. It’s why the exaggerative covers are there in the first place; the slew of templated, cutout characters in anime’s ubiquitous high-school setting can easily give us viewers the depressing expectation that they’re almost all cover and no book.

Toradora! also makes great use of its generic setting and story arcs therein. It proudly features the anime-school staples: festivals, P.E. swimming, the beachside summer house, and a field trip so blatantly opposite to the norm that it’s a joke. Unlike lesser school anime that merely use these to run their characters through the typical thematic jokes and leave it at that (“It’s high-school, surely you didn’t expect something different!”) Toradora! makes a point of using each situation to allow its characters to bond through necessitated teamwork, enter environments where they’re more willing to peel back their fronts a little, and create moments that snowball over the course of the show to become dramatic scenarios of their own later on.

Because of this, no matter how predictable or generic the main story elements get, Toradora! is always able to deliver a dramatic experience, witty comedy, or even both at the same time via multi-layered character-driven interactions. My only real complaint is that Kitamura's arc could have been handled better in regards to Kitamura's character and development feeling a little lacking up to that point, but it's nothing too serious and builds the setup for the rest of the show.

Toradora! is also doubly entertaining, allowing it to appeal to a wide range of expectations. Firstly, its pace is maintained via arcs of 2-3 episodes, long enough to make each arc matter without dragging any scenarios or plot elements out longer than necessary. Secondly, it possesses a decidedly silly flavor of humor. Most of Toradora!’s comedy doesn't derive from situations or misunderstandings between characters (as one would expect from the genre) but most often just the characters goofing around and having a good time, especially where the outwardly enthusiastic characters are involved. Not that those other forms of comedy can’t be effective (otherwise one would think that they’d be far less common) but Toradora!’s comedy is innately refreshing. By allowing the characters to simply act as they are within these silly moments instead of following a rigid joke scenario it fosters an air of genuineness that gives the whole show a special charm and occasionally even sees characters develop through comedy.

Even the production values of Toradora! end up amounting to more than they initially appear. With its clear and effective use of both color palettes and emotive animation to reflect each scene’s mood, the visual artistry does everything it needs to do to make the end result shine. Of particular note are the dramatic sequences with highly controlled frame-rates, emulating a live-action movie to great effect. The sound (especially the voice acting) is just about a perfect match, with distinct and lively voice acting for nearly every character and catchy music that captures the mood from a high schooler’s mind noticeably well.

Now it must be said that many people who dislike the show cite a disdain for Taiga's violent and reactive character. If you don't like her it will likely detract from your enjoyment. For me, having known people who were surprisingly similar was enough to accept her when she wasn't likable and led to her growing on me over time, which seems to have been the author’s intention. I can say with confidence that Taiga's character is exaggerated to the same degree as the other main characters and didn't come off as comically strange or unnatural to me like other violent tsun-type characters tend to.

Verdict: On the surface, Toradora! is a generic high-school rom-com with a standard premise and a cliché & predictable outcome. Dig deeper and it discards those notions when it turns out to be an intricately developed character drama, complete with moments both tender and lighthearted. It shows us that something doesn't have to be one-of-a-kind to be truly beautiful, special, or even unique. At the end of the day the journey can mean as much as or even more than the destination it leads to. That is Toradora! ~ a whimsical adventure in a familiar neighborhood.

Side note: This review, in part, was made to present the topics discussed in the MAL blog article “Toradora: Maturity and cliché” by Awesomecake with spoiler-free wording. If you’ve already seen Toradora! and want to know more about its underlying themes I highly recommend giving her article a read.