You know, I’m starting to lose all hope when it comes to romance / slice of life anime as they tend to either go in a certain way: they try to be outrageously funny and/or dramatic but it ends up being only one or the other and I’m left cold feeling that have doing nothing remarkable or distinctive to make me care about the characters, what they go through and the story as a whole and if you wondered what title made me like this, let’s say that I’m all out of LOVE for this genre. But, then, there’s Toradora and I have heard mixed things about the series (few either good than bad) but I don’t have the biggest expectations for the show.
Despite Ryuji Takasu’s gentle personality, his eyes make him look like an intimidating delinquent. Class rearrangements on his second high school year put him together with his best friend, Yusaku Kitamura, and his hidden crush, Minori Kushieda. Along with these two comes Kushieda’s best friend, Taiga Aisaka. Her delicate appearance contrasts with her brutal personality. Secretly in love with Kitamura, Taiga agrees to help Ryuji with his love interest as long as he helps her get closer to hers.
Now, as first it may seem like this is going to be some typical love story where the main guy tries to get with this girl by the help of the girl’s said friend and that said friend wants to hook up with the main guy’s best friend and then it turns out that those two might fall in love with each other. BUT…..it actually ends up being more than that. The show illustrates that love is a complicated thing and if something comes crumbling down, no one is going to be left unscathed emotionally, no matter how well you try to hide it. Originally, I was drawn by the comedic aspects of the show as I did had myself a great laugh throughout the earlier episodes but once it gets into the dramatic episodes later on, I was hooked and invested in knowing how the characters will progress throughout. One aspect of the show never overshadowed the other as both the comedy and drama are rightfully balanced without a hint of overexerted awkwardness in the writing.
I really appreciated how the characters in the show remain to be interesting and likable despite being some clichéd character-types at first but they are portrayed as realistic characters and the show equally get in-depth with them as the show goes on. At first, I thought Taiga was just going that annoying tsundere type that I loathe in anime so much, but eventually, she turns out to be an endearing character and reasons why she is what she is (i.e. coming from a broken home, parents don’t give a damn) and how she does stand up for her friends various times and is straight to the point honest. Ryuuji is somebody that isn’t a spineless male lead nor an off-the-wall perverted idiot lead, but a level-headed genuine character that doesn’t come off as Gary Stu-ish or manufactured as he does have his inner struggles to challenge through. Yusaku, to me, can be often funny and OK but he wasn’t really that important of a character to me to get fully invested but he does have a moment in that in the latter half of the series. But the ones to get me fully invested are Minori and Ami. For Minori, she does seems like the energetic best friend character with a nice girl personality that I really did like at first but she really progresses from that as she show signs of her not confronting her true feelings that she seems like a coward even though she does care for her friends. Ami on the other hand, I never would have expect to like someone as her being a bitch-in-sheep’s clothing character but honestly she wants more in friends than just having followers and admirers and while often she does pick on Taiga, she does care if anything were to happen to her.
J.C. Staff animated this production and it was a great effort from their part. However, this is nothing I would call new but more of the standard fare I expect from them as the artwork is gorgeous and the movement is performed smoothly and fluid within the context of the show. Character designs are also much to the standard of many anime characters but it is nothing over-the-top or fan service related but manageable.
For the music portion, “Pre-Parade”, the 1st opening theme performed by the main three female leads (Rie Kugimiya, Yui Horie, and Eri Kitamura) does set the mood for the series’ first half and I got to say, this is a decent track with some small flaws in it like it does sound like it’s over-produced in some areas but I actually like the track enough to not skip it. The 2nd opening theme, “silky heart”, also appropriately set the tone during the latter half of the series remarkably acceptable. The rest of the music delivers the dramatic moments spot-on as did the ending themes, “Vanilla Salt” and “Orange”, which sounds like ingredients for a cake than a song.
Now when I say this show was a surprise to me being good, there is also another surprise.
THIS SHOW ACTUALLY HAS AN ENGLISH DUB!!!!
No, really. This show is licensed by NIS America and normally they do sub-only anime releases and this is their first English dub release and also with the dub being done by Bang Zoom Entertainment and with director Alex Von David on the helm. I’m also proud to say that this is a damn good—no, a damn great dub!! Mainly, it’s because BZ is doing a slice-of-life show for once since recently they have only been dubbing action anime titles for some time and I think the dub shows off the VA’s acting range a bit more. Erik Scott Kimerer and Cassandra Lee Morris give out great performances as Ryuuji and Taiga. Johnny Yong Bosch was rather fine as Yusaka, usually the standard from him but he did his part exceptionally. Personally I think the standouts goes to both Christine Marie Cabanos as Minori and Erika Harlacher as Ami. Cabanos unquestionably delivers more to her acting range as Minori during the dramatic moments as well as her comedic scenes. Most of her comedic scenes did felt like a preview of what to see her as Mako in Kill La Kill (which I’m dying to see in the English dub, BTW). Harlacher sounds very natural as Ami, maintaining both the bitchiness and reasonableness in the character without feeling too overbearing or over the top and this is practically the actress’ best role yet.
FINAL VERDICT: Toradora is a complete surprise from me. Here I was expecting to be some run of the mill cliché romance anime but I got something more from this. Everything from the characters, the basic storyline and the soundtrack was executed well despite being plain on paper. Has this made me look at slice of life romantic anime in a different light? Maybe. This show gave me hope for this genre of anime and I hope future titles can learn from this show and how to make me care for the story, the characters and how they’re able to manage that. Toradora, you are definitely a title that I recommend to people. I should’ve never doubted you.
Therefore, I’m going to give this the highest rating for me possible:
High FIRST CLASS – GETTING THE KSA (THE KING SEAL of APPROVAL!)
TORADORA is available from NIS America on Premium DVD and Blu-ray and was re-released with an English Dub in July 2014. Streaming options are on Crunchyroll (in both sub and dub) and Hulu.
For now, I’m MAK2.0 aka The Blue Hybrid, bringing all the elements in one format because that’s the way it’s meant to be.
TORADORA – animated by J.C. STAFF / distributed by NIS AMERICA