Ten years ago last month, Toradora premiered on TV Tokyo and changed expectations for what a high school romantic anime could be, featuring characters with unusual depth, snippets of action that would have fit right into an episode of Naruto, and beautiful animation from opening to closing. To celebrate the anime, our club has gone back to the original source, volume one of the light novel by Yuyuko Takemiya, to see how well the book stands against its classic adaption and whether its a good read in its own right.
TWWK: I definitely thought it was an interesting choice the animators made in how quickly they breezed through the material, as if they felt there was TOO much intimacy between Ryuuji and Taiga early on. By the end of volume one, I was certain Taiga and Ryuuji were meant to be—I didn’t feel that way when watching the series.
Lady Teresa Christina: I have not seen the anime, but I have heard a lot about it. I would say that Taiga always seemed to me to be the stereotypical anime tough girl, from what I knew of the anime, and I was right! Especially in the first chapters, she seemed to be massively tough on the outside, but hiding such a dear heart on the inside. The descriptions of her attacking Ryuji Takasu in the middle of the night was very alarming! But I thought their character dynamics were charming all the same and I enjoyed reading them interact together.
TWWK: Taiga is a beloved character, but she’s one that, for all the love I have for Toradora (it was my favorite anime for years), I’ve really always been meh about. But I like her characterization in volume one of the light novel—we get to know the “-dere” in the words she speaks, the kindness she shows Ryuuji, and the tears she sheds than in the anime. She remains ferocious as a tiger, but also more approachable.
Lady Teresa Christina: I really liked her character. Early on we discover that she isn’t as “strong” as she makes herself out to be. She has a very soft spot, and she’s willing to defend it no matter what. I have a few friends who can probably relate to this. She demonstrated the idea that emotions are private and only the truly worthy get to see them.
TWWK: You’re really hitting on that idea of the tsundere, characters the initially are difficult or, as in Taiga’s case, angry and violent, but show that inner kindness as they open up. What do you think—could you be friends or romantic partners with a tsundere?
stardf29: Heh, sometimes I feel like if my future romantic partner isn’t a tsundere, she’ll become one after a few years of marriage…
Lady Teresa Christina: I could not even be in the same room as a tsundere. Since I am a psychology major, I can see right through people like that. It bothers me when people hide behind their emotions or deny them in some way. I preach authenticity in everything I do and if I am with someone who is using emotions to be obnoxious or act tough when they really are not, I might run after that person and try to counsel them back to “reality” or a home base of emotional stability.
TWWK: Well, and what about our other lead? The story is from Ryuuji’s point of view—what did you think of him as the narrator? Is he a realiable narrator?
Lady Teresa Christina: I think Ryuuji did the best he could. His worldview is rather small, being his age and place in high school. He sees the world through his fear of his smile. But at the same time he is pretty clever. He was a narrator who was simple enough to be a reliable story teller, but he had enough quirks to make the whole story interesting.
stardr29: One thing I do appreciate is that Ryuuji has very well-defined aspects to his personalities, both in terms of quirks and personal issues. This makes him an easy character to get behind as the narrator. He’s definitely not just a generic self-insert light novel protagonist.
TWWK: I like that, too. He engages us like the typical light novel lead, but he’s also different, and that’s engaging, too. I also think he’s slightly unreliable as a narrator. Ryuuji is a teenage boy and also relentlessly kind, which means that he interprets situations in a way that might be a little off. I think that’s absolutely necessary because volume one presses the impending Taiga/Ryuuji pairing very hard. Minori and Kitamura don’t feel like anything more than small obstacles, and that’s problematic. But Ryuuji’s lack of understanding, including his growing feelings toward Taiga, make for maybe a more significant obstacle than the opposing love interests.
Which brings up another question: Does the volume achieve a good balance of the protagonists’ crushes on other students and their burgeoning feelings toward one another?
Lady Teresa Christina: I believe that it is very hard in real life to balance having a crush and running a smooth social life. The act that the book was able to explain the dynamics at all is impressive. It’s hard to read something as realistic when you know in real life that the social situations regarding a significant other is sticky like honey. I think of taking two paper hearts and gluing them together. It’s rich but viscous. And when you pull them apart, you break both sides of the heart. The reason this story is so successful is because it balanced all the dynamics in a cohesive way.
stardf29: I also think the novel does a good job of contrasting the protagonists’ infatuation with their crushes with their growing intimacy with each other. Then again I’m a bit of a sucker for stories where characters realize that the person they like is not the one they had a crush on, but one who is more of a close friend, so I don’t really mind if the focus isn’t so much on their ultimately misleading crushes.
Lady Teresa Christina: I don’t think there is such thing as over stepping bounds in the desire to care for someone, but if defined boundaries are set, then poking at them with aggressive love is unsuitable friendship. I don’t think at that age one can set proper boundaries, or at least vocalize them, so I feel that Ryuuji did the very best he could with what he had.
stardf29: In this case, I think it’s an interesting situation because, as Taiga admits, she never questioned whether he should be taking care of her so much until it inadvertently hurt her chances of getting together with Kitamura, simply because she felt so lonely. And given that Ryuuji admits to being a compulsive caretaker, it ends up being a situation where two people find themselves in this sort of relationship naturally. And by the end of the volume, as much as Taiga tries to cut things off (arguably more for Ryuuji’s sake than her own), in the end she’s too close to Ryuuji that she can’t outright push him away.
TWWK: Speaking of Kitamura, I want to bring up another supporting character—What do you think of Minori’s friendship with Taiga?
stardf29: Honestly, this volume doesn’t really give much information about Minorin. I do get the sense that Taiga is a very important friend to her, but what exactly is the nature of their friendship (e.g. how they became friends) hasn’t been revealed yet. It’s definitely something I’m interested in in future volumes.
TWWK: Minorin is my favorite anime character of all-time—I agree that there’s not much focus here on her yet, but what I did enjoy was the serious bits of her that are already exposed, that I don’t think come out for a couple more episodes in the anime. There’s more clearly going on in Minorin’s head right from the get go than she’s willing to let on. It was also fun for me to see the illustrations of her and the rest—what did you think of the artwork?
stardf29: What I love most about the artwork is how well it captures Taiga’s cuter moments.
TWWK: Absolutely. And the drawings certainly work to help set the tone for the volume, which I might describe as…breezy?
stardf29: The tone of volume one is overall lighthearted, but with moments where things can go more emotional; there’s nothing particularly dark or depressing but the characters do have their issues to work with and it’s not all fun and silliness. It’s a tone I rather like in general, I must say.
TWWK:Would you say it’s similar in tone to the series?
stardf29: And yes, it does match the tone of the anime’s opening episodes.
TWWK: Is the light novel less likeable since you’ve already watched the show?