Romcom anime is usually pretty simple. You’re introduced to a couple, then to conflict in the form of live triangles, misunderstandings, personal problems that each has to work through, etc., until an eventual resolution is found and the two come together. The supporting characters exist to help the leads grow closer together, so though they’re often hurt in the process of the the protagonists finding true love, we only feel maybe a second or two of pity toward them; they usually move on, anyway, and so do we. It’s easy to forget about the losers in competition for love because generally, these character are archetypes; they have no real personality.
The supporting characters in Toradora are archetypes, too, especially at first…but then they’re more. Kitamura is the high-achieving best friend who later rebels against his parents, gets into a physical altercation with them, and has to learn what it means to grow up. Ami is the stuck-up model who gains the courage to be herself, but has deep-seated fears that come along with her notoriety and proves to be far kinder and more mature than any other character in the show. Minori is the genki girl and best friend, but reveals herself to be complicated as she’s torn in two between wanting to support her best friend and wanting to just have her own desires fulfilled.
While Kitamura get some resolution to his story, Minori and Ami do not. They both love Ryuuji, but lose out to Taiga. Ami never seriously pursues Ryuuji because she’s gracious enough to step aside. Minori, well, kind of steps aside, but also kind of loses out. One of the great scenes in the series shows the two bonding, with Ami keeping Minori with her in her house to cry and complain, even though the two dislike each other to the point of having come to actual blows just weeks before that scene.
Toradora struck me as something unique when I first watched it as it originally aired, and it still does. Even though Ryuuji x Taiga is expected from the very opening scene, when each narrates how there’s someone out there meant for each of them (and by the title of the series itself), as in real life, nothing is tied up with a tidy bow. The anime ending, much like the complex supporting characters, is messy: Taiga goes away for a long time, and so everybody loses.
So was it worth it? Was it worth it for Ami, who has never been pursued by guys who genuinely knew her and her faults, to put herself second to Taiga? Was it worth it for Minori, who so desperately needs an anchor in her life to help her deal with her tendency to burn out and the complicated feelings she’s dealing with inside, to put again put her best friend first, a best friend who really forsook her as well as Ryuuji when she leaves? Ami and Minori must feel absolutely broken, because not only did they have to deal with the heartbreak of losing Ryuuji, they also had to deal with the betrayal of the one they suffered for leaving them all. And for all the trust in the world you have in your friend, that can’t be enough on lonely nights when you wonder what might have been.
I sometimes wonder the same in my life. I’ve invested in a lot of people who didn’t invest in me when given the chance. It’s sometimes left me bitter. Right now, I’m dealing with someone who I tried desperately hard to help, but who now passively-aggressively christens me a liar and a sinner, and won’t let it go. And although my head knows that grace is the answer, and though I comprehend how how I’m a hypocrite who has done the same and has been rescued in my own right, my heart loudly proclaims, “No, in all those instances, it was not worth it to love.”
But you know what? I think sometimes it’s okay to feel that way. It’s genuine, it’s harsh, it’s real. And as Minori and Ami were able to grow what I imagine was a deep, meaningful relationship through the pain, I will grow, too, in ways I can’t understand right now. And sometimes, a lamp onto my feet, just enough to keep going, has to be enough, to step forward a foot at a time when the darkness is all around, and walking ahead as if love is always worth it, even if right now, I don’t feel that way at all.