I love romance anime. I offer this not only as a disclaimer towards my biases but also as a framework for my review. Love is such a vast and deep subject matter that it is unlikely that even if the world were to remain unchanged for the rest of history, there would still be more stories about love to be told. However, subpar writers, especially those working in the visual medium, have brought us stories that portray love so poorly that many have lost faith in the genre completely. Due to this unfortunate status quo, most romance stories, including romance anime, have required subversions and gimmicks simply to stay ahead of the curve of blandness that is produced by those who play the story straight. Trying to create an anime purely centered around romance seems to be an inevitable invitation to the realms of “the mediocrity zone.”
Toradora! changed these presumptions. It proved that the classic love triangle romance is still alive and well, and despite its many reiterations, can be used as a central plot element, rather than simply something to be thrown into the story like a match to make it more interesting. While Toradora may by the end of the first episode appear to be developing into a typical school life comedy, there are a few key differences that make the story transcend the its forgettable counterparts. First, the events shown are very plot focused rather than stereotypical and arbitrary. Although many of the episode clichés are used in this anime (e.g. school festivals, tests of courage etc.), the plot always significantly advances after each arc, rather than the anime falling into mindless filler. Second, every action the characters take in some way affect the dynamic with the other characters. The relationships between the main cast is the central focus of the anime, and ensuring that there is always pressure on those relationships allows an interesting story. Finally, the story remains honest to real life, acknowledging the life’s difficulties while not being over the top, and creating an atmosphere that makes the interactions between the characters seem real (unlike many harem anime that just throw all the girls at the guy with either inadequate or stereotypical explanation).
The ending kept this anime’s story from being a perfect 10, as I found it to be both slightly anticlimactic and untrue to its established characters. A certain character makes a decision at the end that seems to contradict what the character would do based upon the character’s previous actions. Without spoiling anything, the ending could have been written better, or at the very least explained better. Notwithstanding this flaw, the story of Toradora is one that will stand among my favorites for a very long time.
J.C. Staff is very much a hit and miss studio, even within a given anime. It often demonstrates that it can produce quality work when it tries, but the studio simply doesn’t put in 100% effort all the time (likely due to budget and time constraints). Thankfully, Toradora hits the mark much more than it misses, providing excellent imagery overall and accenting the most important moments with an animation bump. The characters themselves are fairly plain, however, and sometimes this made them stand out against a background that was much more meticulously drawn. Despite this, the animation was above average overall and certainly contributed to the emotional value of the story, which is the most important task for the art of any anime.
Musically, the variety of songs used often added the icing to the cake when setting up a specific mood for a scene, whether it be humorous or dramatic. There are a couple of particular songs that stand out among the others as exceptional, Lost My Pieces and Silky Heart. While the first is an instrumental piece used in the background and the second is the second OP, both effectively convey the feelings of the main characters as they struggle to find their place in the relationships that they’ve forged.
The main cast voice acting was nearly flawless. Rie Kugimiya, one who is often typecasted into her tried and true “tsundere” role, delivers the best performance I’ve ever heard from her. Whenever a particularly emotional scene arose for Taiga, I was amazed by her ability to bring authenticity and pure emotion to the role. Every one of the main cast should be praised as they each brought their own talents to allow the characters to become multi-dimensional. The subtleties in each of the line deliveries, especially during the critical plot moments, enhance the viewing experience by personifying the characters better than most of the anime I’ve watched. As a disclaimer though, there are those who will view the highly emotional moments as over the top and overacted, although I did not find this to be the case.
The main cast is easily a 10/10 as a collective. Taiga plays more than the typical “hot and cold” tsundere by developing other dimensions and dynamics, as well as personal conflicts between elements of herself, the most prominent being between her good-hearted, accepting self (which I call “angel Taiga”) vs. her impatient, hotheaded self. Ryuji acts as the misunderstood delinquent whose life is changed by his meeting of Taiga, and these changes can be observed through all elements of his character, from his actions to his very thoughts. Minori is the happy-go-lucky friend of Taiga who may be the most mysterious character of the bunch despite her appearance as a shallow open book. Ami is the character we all love to hate, providing additional conflict (which is certainly necessary at certain points of the series) and throwing a wrench into the central love relationships. Kitamura is, unfortunately, the weakest link in the group as his arc was perhaps the most disappointing, but he certainly doesn’t lack development and an important role in the plot. It should also be noted that each of the characters has at least one significant monologue during the series which truly brings them out of any stereotypical shells in which the viewer may have placed them.
Unfortunately, some of the minor characters do not receive significant attention to be viewed as much more than annoying hogs of screentime. In particular, Hisamitsu and Maya (whose names I had to look up they were so forgettable) attempt to advance a plot complication which turns out to be weak and unnecessary. I put this fall on the fault of the characters rather than the plot, because this complication would have been interesting had it actually been given any thought.
Despite the shortfalls, all the characters could receive much more analysis than I gave them in this review. Most of the characters have the amount of depth that was required relative to their importance in the story.
Toradora was my first 5/5 anime I’ve watched since Grave of the Fireflies. I do not hesitate to put this anime on the level among the established elite of anime connoisseurs. As far as romance anime is concerned, is has some of the deepest main characters, the most interesting plot dynamics, all while remaining true and down to earth. It is a must watch for romance lovers, those losing faith in the romance genre, and anyone else who is simply searching for an overall entertaining watch.