Note: Review copy supplied by MVM Entertainment
Anime Studio: J.C. Staff
Publisher: MVM Entertainment
Genre: Slice Of Life / High School Romantic Comedy
Released: May 11th, 2020
Language: Japanese / English
Tigers and dragons don’t mix.
It’s a new year for Ryuji Takasu, and despite being classmates with his best friend and crush; he’s also within biting distance of combative Taiga Aisaka – the vicious ‘Palmtop Tiger’.
However first impressions are misleading and while Ryuji might be a nice guy at heart, Taiga has her own softer side she keeps hidden. Misleading appearances aside, the pair might have more in common than they think when they learn that they both share a secret crush for each other’s best friend. Buoyed by each other’s support an unlikely friendship is about to start, but could there be something more?
Todadora! is, in some ways, something you will have seen before. The ‘boy likes girl but ends up falling for the more aggressive girl that he says he doesn’t like’ arc is a common one in anime. In that regard, the safety of it will likely appeal to some viewers; you know how it’s going to end, and it offers no variance from the formula on that base level. In truth though, it is far from generic.
The thing that really surprised me was how enjoyable the cast of characters was. Ordinarily, I find this type of story features a fairly ordinary male lead with a bland nice girl crush and interesting tsundere female lead. The side characters are often okay, but rarely stand out too much. Toradora! does a far better job of balancing the cast.
Both our leads, Ryuji and Taiga, are more than their tropes. They each come from broken homes, and this has affected them in different ways. While perhaps a little slow-moving at times, they both do grow as characters and by the end are noticeably different than the stereotyped roles they appeared to fit at the start of the series.
Ryuji’s best friend Yusaku and the teen idol Ami add some nice variance to proceedings too. Ryuji is perhaps the weaker of the two at first, serving only to act as Ryuji’s best friend and the object of Taiga’s affections, but he is given time to shine as things progress and is instrumental in the final episode playing out the way it did. Ami, on the other hand, is a thoroughly fascinating character from the get-go. She’s manipulative and occasionally cruel but somehow makes you want to see more of her.
The biggest surprise for me though was Ryuji’s crush Minori. Rather than fitting into the nice girl trope that I find so dull, she is actually a ball of energy. She bounces all over the place, bringing some real energy to most of her interactions, and then gives us little snippets of character progression when it’s necessary.
Between Minori, Taiga, and Ami, there wasn’t actually a lead girl that I would have objected to Ryuji ending up with, which was a nice surprise. The series does well outside the romance too though. The episodes do lean on the comedy a fair bit, and it works well here, providing plenty of genuine laughs. At the same time, the emotional moments pack enough of a punch to grab you without going too over the top. Most importantly, the way the friends interact feels suitably real, with each character having clearly defined personalities that aid in not only how they complement each other but how they sometimes clash.
From a technical standpoint, this is another winner from J.C. Staff. Visually, it is perhaps not quite on par with their more picturesque series like Amanchu! or Flying Witch, but certainly sits comfortably above their decent but not standout efforts like Is It Wrong To Pick Up Girls In A Dungeon?: Sword Oratoria. Everything moves the way it should, the design work fits with the setting, and there isn’t anything that feels off. Most scenes are just comfortably good, but certain bigger moments are framed really nicely with just the right camera angles and focus to make them pop.
The audio meanwhile is fine. The ambient sounds are good enough, and the OST manages to be serviceable without standing out. The voice cast – both subbed and dubbed – are very good, however, and clearly enjoyed working with what is a really quite marvelous script.
In terms of what the anime does poorly, that’s really all subjective. I know that some found it to be a little slow moving at times, with the comedy sometimes taking the place of pushing the main story forward. For me, it felt like it did a decent job of balancing it, but it won’t feel the same for everyone. The ending too is fairly standard, with a time skip and time apart period for the leads. I’ve never liked that ending layout, and even when it’s done objectively well, it just doesn’t work for me.
There was one line in episode 13 that could be debatably problematic depending on how you want to take it too. Minori, while discussing Taiga with Ryuji stats, “Sometimes I think I might be a lesbian. I hope not.” Those final three words are the important ones, I think. It would be easy to take it as a subtly anti-LGBTQ sentiment. At the same time though, it could also be seen as Minori commenting on either societal views or not wanting to accept that she may not be attracted to Ryuji. I’ll be honest, it caught me off guard. It didn’t derail things though, so it could be far worse.
So, overall, how do I rate this one? Toradora! is a damn fine example of how to do a slice of life/high school rom-com anime. The characters are phenomenally memorable and good-humored, and the story touches on some heavy issues in a toned-down but effective manner. Despite some minor weaknesses, the series was such an easy watch and never really dragged, even when binge-watching. This is an easy 4 out of 5 for me.