While it’s said that tigers like to crouch and dragons like to hide, it’s anything but when “palm-top tiger” Taiga Aisaka and the angry-eyed Ryuji Takasu collide in their school’s hallway. Despite them both having reputations for being wild and dangerous, they are actually fairly ordinary high schoolers with fairly ordinary issues: Taiga struggles with living on her own due to absentee parents, while Ryuji has to deal with the violent appearance he has inherited from his father, resulting in him having few friends outside of classmate Yusaku Kitamura, his mother and their annoying pet parrot. Quickly setting a precedent, their first encounter leads to a bigger bust-up when Ryuji discovers a love letter from Taiga to Yusaku in his bag, before the girl (who conveniently lives in the giant apartment block next door) bursts in through the window with murderous intent. Revealing his crush on fellow classmate and Taiga’s best friend, Minori Kushieda, the two agree a truce as long as they help each other claim the object of their affections.
Despite hearing many good things about this series since it first aired over ten years ago, I had actually not taken the time to watch it until now and doing so in 2020 was frankly an utter joy, taking me back to a golden age in slice-of-life rom-com anime, something that I have indeed been missing as I was constantly reminded of some of my favourites that this seems very similar to, like The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya for example.
What you get in this series is two great halves, with the first being utter comedy gold with a very light-hearted tone that builds up the characters really well, before setting in for a more dramatic second half as the romantic developments come to a head. Not to take anything away from the latter, I much preferred the first half of the show as I found that’s where the writing and portrayal of the characters was the strongest. Pairing up a suffering, serious character like Ryuji with the hot-headed Taiga makes for an unstoppable duo, with the two of them instantly having great chemistry. Most of their interactions are laugh-out-loud funny, from Taiga trying to attract Ryuji’s attention in a PE class, before becoming distracted herself and having a ball in her face, to their attempts at getting Taiga some photos of Yusaku. Some of these interactions may be in unfortunate situations, but it’s not like the show is being mean to its characters just to be mean; they always grow in some way and continually try to do their best and this makes them very endearing to watch.
This goes for the side characters too, who, like Taiga and Ryuji, have their own issues and romances to deal with, but are always shown earnestly going for it. Even if they come off unlikable at first, like the two-faced teenage model Ami Kawashima, who transfers in to escape from a stalker, each character is written and developed in a way that means you will probably end up liking them anyway, despite their flaws.
That each character gets their own arc of character development is also welcome, as despite the fireworks between the two leads, I think it would be quite hard to drag just their relationship over the full 25 episodes. So using its cast to the full allows you to see things from a different perspective and appreciate the friendships between them more when it really matters, particularly in the second half when the series’ dramatic elements intensify. There’s certainly some very moving moments later in the game and while I sure shed some tears for the characters I had become so invested in, I still feel that I prefer the first half of the show when it was all a bit manic running-around goofiness, rather than trying to be serious.
There’s also no filler or padding here, as the series knows that it doesn’t need it. So much goes on that it just never stops still, with fairly quick pacing that uses every moment to tell something meaningful to the story. While there are a few typical moments like a beach episode and a Christmas episode, they still represent key elements of the overall story, and it’s pleasing to see them used in other ways rather than just an excuse to get the girls in bikinis and Santa outfits.
For a decade-and-a-bit old show it looks pretty good too, with J.C. Staff delivering on some pretty good animation that’s full of life and colour. Although I did notice some panning shots to have some significant jaggedness to the image.
The series however does have a fantastic soundtrack, composed by Yukari Hashimoto, filled with a mixture of vibrant and upbeat tunes that match the series’ energetic vibe, while opting for slower piano and strings for the more emotional moments. The opening and ending themes are pretty iconic at this point, with Pre-Parade and Silky Heart in particular being instantly recognisable jams. The Christmas party song, Holy Night, was also a pleasant surprise and was really well executed within the show itself.
MVM Entertainment’s release of the series features all 25 episodes of the series in both the Japanese with English subtitles and English dub. The voice acting is great in both languages, with the voice actors fitting their characters well, and while Junji Majia and Riekugimiya are obviously the stars of the show playing Ryuji and Taiga, I was also quite fond of Hirofumi Najima’s portrayal of Yusaku, while in the English dub Johnny Yong Bosch also gave a pretty good performance as the same character.
There’s also a substantial number of extras on the third disc, with the True Meaning of Bento OVA, the four Hurray for Gourmands shorts, clean opening and closing animations, a cut scene where Ami is forced to do celebrity impressions, TV spots, and some trailers for other series.
Over a decade since it first aired, Toradora! remains a classic romantic comedy series filled with laughs, lovable characters and dramatic, moving moments. While existing fans are sure to enjoy re-watching the series, if you’re like me and haven’t watched it before, then this is a must-buy as it stands out as one of the finest examples of the genre.