I was primarily an anime fan back in the mid 90's to the early 2000's, watching titles like Cowboy Bebop, Dragon Ball Z, The Big O and Trigun. After something like a 10 year hiatus, I began slowly getting back into anime and one title I was told about on a semi consistent basis was Toradora!, which was originally based on a light novel series by Yuyuko Takemiya. The simplified premise is that it's about a high school romance where two loners being in love with each other's only friends and decide to help one another out, only to find out that the love they seek is a bit closer than they actually realize. Now for the first time, this fan favorite series is finally out on Blu-ray and now equipped with a brand new English dub (also a first for the NIS company), is it worth picking up?
Ryuji Takasu (voiced by Erik Scott Kimerer) is a calm and kind seventeen year old high school student whom just wants to be accepted. He's ostracized for his looks, being dubbed "The Dragon" for his cold looking eyes, earning him the title of a delinquent despite his actual nature. Ryuji has had quite the rough upbringing, he never got the chance to meet his father, whom he was told died just prior to being born, his mother has never really been there for him due to always working and when she's not working, she's partying or sleeping while he takes care of her. Because of this, Ryuji has learned to be quite self sufficient, constantly cleaning the house (to a point of being obsessed), cooking, shopping for groceries etc. His only friend in the world that sees him for who h actually is, is Yūsaku Kitamura (voiced by Johnny Yong Bosch), the student council VP and big ladies man (despite being totally oblivious to it, believing that he has no game.)
Taiga Aisaka (voiced by Cassandra Lee) is the polar opposite from Ryuji, while he is always collected, and mature, she is explosive, easily annoyed, and quite mean spirited. due to this, she is dubbed the "Palmtop Tiger" and is also a loner because no one really wants to be around her. She had a pretty plush upbringing, being born into money and is used to being pampered until she chose to voluntarily abandon her family due to her father falling in love with a younger woman and her mother remarrying, something Taiga resents. Her only friend is that of Minori Kushieda (voiced by Christine Marie Cabanos), a high energy, uplifted and boisterous woman whom Ryuji is in love with. Ironically enough, Taiga happens to be in love with Ryuji's best friend, Kitamura.
As Ryuji is gearing up for his second year of high school, he's elated to find out that both Kitamura and Minori will be sharing his class, he looks at this as his chance to finally begin a relationship with Minori. Unfortunately for him, Taiga is in the class as well, whom instantly takes a disliking of Ryuji. However, she is also elated to be there as she also feels this is her chance with Kitamura. Writing a tell all letter for him, she slips it into his book bag, only to be horrified when she finds out that the letter actually ended up in Ryuji's possession. Sneaking into his house to kill Ryuji for knowing her secret, she comes to find out that he is in love with Minori. The two work out a deal, he will help her with Kitamura, while she helps him with Minori. Upon seeing how she lives (she doesn't know how to cook or clean due to her sheltered life), he vows to help her, and they begin spending nearly every waking moment together.
Things get a bit more complicated for their plan when not only the entire school thinks they're dating due to the inordinate amount of time they're together, but when new girl, Ami Kawashima (voiced by Erika Herlacher), shows up. Ami's the daughter of a famous actress and is currently one of the hottest new models in the world, slowly moving her way up the ladder of success. She shows up as a childhood friend of Kitamura. On the outside, she appears to have that of a bright, bubbly and outgoing personality that will help carry her far. But not everything is as it seems. Yusaku points out in discrete fashion to Ryuji, it's just a ploy as she's actually fairly cruel, vindictive and and has a vicious personality. She instantly crushes on Ryuji and begins feuding with Taiga for his attention.
The show has two very distinct halves. The first half works more as a comedy with a dose of drama, consisting mainly with the high school hijinks that ensue between the characters. For example, we have a two part arc that focuses on a swimming contest between Ami and Taiga, where the winner gets Ryuji for summer vacation. Another is a two part story where the group goes to Ami's summer beach house and some strange supernatural elements begin to occur. Pretty much the only drama in the first 13 episodes is during the three part story that focuses on the school's upcoming culture festival as Taiga's father makes a reappearance in her life, while Taiga wants nothing to do with him. Ryuji steps in and puts the pressure on her to reconcile things with him, despite not knowing their full history. The second half of the series resolves all of the prior buildup with the love stories. There is a lot of teenage angst here as relationships are taken to their breaking points. Emotions run high, friendships are broken and a long awaited love comes to fruition before the bittersweet finale arrives.
Something I really loved about the show was the development of the characters and the fact that they turned the clichés the foundation of the series was built on into something unique. Instead of a string of excuses for Ryuji and Taiga not to get together, the two are fully aware of something being there between them. The two seem to have fallen straight into an old married couple, both of them make the conscious decision to go after something with less practicality and more spark instead of something they feel comfortable just falling into. The fact that the writers didn't beat around the bush with their growing feelings was something I really appreciated about the series. As the story goes along, Kitamura, the goody two shoes of the series, slowly unravels, voicing his concern for his position in life until he has a full on meltdown. Ami, the girl who shows up originally to be the seemingly 5th wheel and new "love interest" to Ryuji, a cliché, quickly realize she has no shot with Ryuji, and stick around to be the voice of reason. Her character development was probably the most shocking and interesting to watch. Even Ryuji's mother, a character whom was one note and one I didn't think they were going to touch on, is shown to have a method to her madness. Every single character has amazing character development, and this is the reason Toradora stands alone in the romantic comedy genre.
+ The one thing that makes Toradora stand out above the rest of the romantic comedy anime out there is it's amazing character development.
+ The cast of characters is one of the best group of characters I've personally watched in a anime.
+ Excellent dub work. All of the actors suit their roles perfectly and deliver excellent performances, It's hard to pick any standouts as all 5 lead actors really nailed it.
+ Turns the standard clichés and tropes into something unique.
+ The OVA. I've read a lot of negative feedback regarding the OVA not continuing upon the story of Taiga and Ryuji, but the thing is, is that their story is over, and this episode is utterly hilarious. Easily one of the best episodes of the entire series.
+ The ending narratively makes sense...
- ... while at the same time, it's not really the ending I was hoping for.
- The ending is pretty rushed and could have used a more proper build up.
- What was the point of the focus on Ryuji's pet bird?
Video and Audio:
The Blu-ray upscale here is simply gorgeous, the transfer is presented in it's original 1.78:1 aspect ratio in 1080p. While the art is pretty simple and bland, it really suits the show. The character designs are beautifully done, they're expressive and each one looks quite unique. A beautiful looking series.
For audio, we have two options here, the original Japanese 2.0 stereo track, and the newly created English dub in a LPCM 2.0 mix. I only watched the English dub, which was fantastically done. I seen no signs of any audio dropouts or distortions throughout the set.
- The primary extra feature for this box set is a gorgeous 32 page hardcover art book, which features character profiles, character designs, production artwork, and just some general artwork pictures to advertise the series. It also has felt lining to keep in the spirit of the tiger aspect of the series.
- Toradora! SOS! Hurray for Gourmands 1-4. Four 5 to 6 minute shorts that focus on the food aspect from the show. Typically shorts like these are not dubbed on anime releases, but these are. All four are pretty much the same... Minori & Taiga loves a certain food, Ryuji criticizes it, makes his own, Minori & Taiga criticizes his, and then Kitamura one ups them all. Ryuji's brain dead pet bird makes a cameo and says a random word. End of segment. They don't add much to the show, but they're fun.
- Clean Openings and Ending theme songs.
- Bonus Clip: Ami's Impersonations - A two minute clip of Taiga forcing Ami to do impressions of various historically significant figures.
- TV Spots for the Japanese release.
- Trailers for NIS titles like Fuse: Memoirs of a Huntress, Cardcaptor Sakura, Wagnaria!!, Nyaruko: Crawling with Love, Yuruyuri, and The Daily Lives of High School Boys.
If I were to recommend only one Slice of life/Romantic comedy anime title to someone, it would be Toradora! While it did execute some clichés throughout the series, the writers would cleverly put a spin on them and use them to their advantage perfectly. I was glued to the screen by the end of the first episode and it didn't let me go until the last screenshot faded away of the OVA episode. The series was filled with amazing characters, character development, funny moments and a fantastic love story. Toradora! is simply a masterpiece in the romantic comedy genre. THIS is how you do a love story correctly. Toradora! gets my first DVD Talk Collectors Series rating.