Anime loves to showcase extremes, including everything from outlandish plots to outlandish personalities. Only so many stories can be told, so mixing in more extreme elements can help add that unique flavor. Toradora! is a story of extreme personalities. From the outside, it might appear completely farfetched and unreasonable (and to an extent, that would be an accurate assessment), but if you dig down a little deeper, you’ll see them for what they are: highschool students trying to figure out how they fit into this world. Spoilers ahead.
Toradora! is your classic romantic comedy: Takasu, Ryuuji and Aisaka, Taiga each have a crush on the best friend of the other. They don’t get along themselves, but agree to a ceasefire so they can help each other win over their respective crushes. Of course, by the end, who they really end up loving is each other. It’s a story that has been told countless times, so the best way to keep it interesting is utilizing a unique cast of characters. And Toradora! takes this as far as they possibly can.
Each character is a different version of the embodiment of what I can best describe as “teenager.” You have the overachiever, the model student, the misunderstood loner, the facade, and the angry one. They may sound like one dimensional character tropes, but the strength of these characters comes from their well planned backstories that help define them as more than their personality.
Kushieda, Minori is your classic overachiever. She participates in sports, promotes a good diet, works in her spare time to avoid laziness, tries her best academically, and always pushes those around her to do their best. On the outside, she appears to be a bit of an airhead, but there are many times where it seems to be an excuse to support her bubbly personality without making herself emotionally vulnerable.
Apart from the airhead act, she is a very genuine person. Her drive to constantly improve herself is her motivation. She doesn’t want to simply exist in the world as another face in the crowd. She wants to be seen as someone who is dependable and admired for her work ethic.
The Model Student
Kitamura, Yuusaku perfectly represents the ideal student. His grades are exemplary, he’s both vice president of the student council as well as his class representative. He does not break rules or encourage bad behavior. His life track has been set by his parents and he will follow it. Among the unique cast of characters, he could be seen as the most “normal” of the group, an anchor for all of the eccentric people in his circle of friends.
That isn’t to say he’s always completely perfect. He does experience a breakdown that leads to him dyeing his hair (a big no-no in Japanese schools) and leaving school all-together. The pressure of maintaining perfection eats away at him until he simply wants to be free of it all. Fortunately, the time he invested in helping those around him was not wasted. They were able to identify his need and help guide him back to sanity.
Kawashima, Ami has a nasty secret: she’s actually a pretty terrible person. She’s only interested in how she is perceived by the public. She wants the appearance of popularity and uses her looks and fame as a magazine model to achieve that. If she doesn’t like you, she will use her influence to manipulate your social standing.
The main cast of characters see right through her mask. Surprisingly, they care more about the fact that she isn’t being honest with herself than they do about her bad personality. They want to be her friend, but they find her fake personality off-putting. For most of the series, Kawashima hovers right on the edge of their circle of friends because of this. She enjoys that she can be her true self, but still desires the popularity among the rest of the school. Her adeptness at hiding her true feelings also helps her see when anyone else isn’t being completely honest, and she uses her blunt nature to painfully pry the truth out.
The Misunderstood Loner
Takasu, Ryuuji is the child of a single mother, though you would think he was the parent and she the child with how she acts most of the time. He’s incredibly introverted and has the face of a delinquent (which doesn’t help him make friends). But hidden behind the rough looking face and lack of confidence is someone who is both kind and considerate.
The relationship he forms with Taiga is probably one of the most interesting parts of the show. Early on, she’s incredibly dependent on him for simple things like homecooked meals and maintaining a clean apartment. Their relationship goes beyond their agreement to help one another; whether they see it or not, they are exactly what the other needs at that moment in time, something far deeper than a romantic interest.
Eventually, Ryuuji’s help motivates Taiga to become someone who is independent and mature, able to take care of herself properly.
The Angry One
Aisaka, Taiga is known as the Palm Top Tiger. She’s tiny and even the slightest offense can incur her wrath (which is usually physically violent). She’s incredibly childish and often pretty helpless at menial things. Her family is wealthy, but that wealth negatively impacted her childhood more than it helped. After her parents divorce, she was seen as a nuisance to her father’s new marriage and was instead given an allowance to live alone in a large apartment.
Understandably, the lack of any parental care gave her the aggressive personality. Ryuuji is the first person to really provide a semblance of normal home life. In turn, her aggressive nature slowly turns into something to help Ryuuji grow and step out of his comfort zone. By the end of the series, her devotion to help him find happiness becomes her driving force.
Toradora! spends a lot of time exploring the idea of healthy interpersonal relationships, both romantic and not. How honest is too honest? At what point does hiding your feelings out of courtesy for your friend negatively impact that friendship? Is it really OK to be happy if it comes at the cost of someone else’s happiness?
It’s great to see an anime pursue these kinds of topics so aggressively. Relationship dynamics can be really hard to navigate even as an adult. Toradora! certainly doesn’t represent a perfect execution of how teenagers handle these questions, but the honesty of how it’s all represented is special to see.
It’s hard to watch this anime and not get flashbacks of my time in high school. While I didn’t know anyone who had personalities this extreme (let’s be honest, if anyone acted like Taiga in real life, they’d be blacklisted fast and for good reason), it does a great job of building realistic relationship dynamics between teenagers. They’re emotionally charged and full of that unique teenage flavor of hope (and despair).
It’s a good nostalgia; it’s imperfect while still maintaining that special rose colored lens that many people have for their younger years. With a great cast of supporting characters (it’s hard not to love Yasuko despite her many failings as a mother), Toradora! is easy to fall in love it. I can see why places like Reddit have annual watch parties for this one. It’s not perfect, but in this case, that imperfection only adds to the charm.